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PLA29-20, trip log, Antarctic Peninsula Explorer’s Voyage

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 06.02.2020
Position: 54°53’S / 067°42’W
Wind: Calm
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +7

travellers. The duty-free port flourishes with tourism but also thrives on a sizeable crab fishery and a burgeoning electronics industry. Ushuaia (literally “bay that penetrates to the west” in the indigenous Yaghan tongue) clearly benefits from its magnificent, yet remote, setting. The rugged spine of the South American Andes ends here, where two oceans meet. As could be expected from such an exposed setting, the weather has the habit of changing on a whim. However, temperatures during the long days of the austral summer are relatively mild, providing a final blanket of warmth before heading off on our adventures.

For many of us this is the start of a lifelong dream. The excitement comes in different forms for each person, but even the most experienced of us must feel genuine excitement departing on a journey to the Great White Continent. Accordingly, most passengers were promptly at the gangway at 16:00, ready to board the good ship MV Plancius, our home for this Antarctic adventure!

We were greeted at the gangway by members of our Expedition Team including the good doctors Valerie and Ninette where after filling out a health questionnaire and being screened for fever (so that we aren’t subject to a coronavirus threat!) we were directed onboard to meet Hotel and Restaurant Managers, Alex and Dragan. We were then checked into our cabins with the assistance of the fabulous hotel crew. A little while after boarding we convened in the lounge on deck five to meet First Officer Francois, who led us through the details of the required SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) Safety and Lifeboat Drill, assisted by the crew and staff.

Shortly after our first briefing we departed the jetty of Ushuaia and entered the Beagle Channel with an escort of black browed albatross. We were able to enjoy the beautiful weather for a few moments until we were recalled to practice the abandon ship drill, including trying on our huge orange life jackets and walking to the lifeboat stations to become familiar with their locations.

We were then invited once again into the lounge where Hotel Manager Alex gave us an overview of our floating hotel/home for the next 10 days, followed by a few words from our Expedition Leader, Ali Liddle, and the rest of the Expedition Team who will guide us in Antarctica. Finally Ali introduced our Captain Evgeny who after some wise words of welcome, proposed a toast to our voyage. Bon Voyage!

Our first dinner onboard was a chance to chat with other guests and be impressed by what Chef Charlotte and her galley team will be offering us during the voyage. Later, the stunning sunset in the Beagle felt like a good omen as we headed towards open water and our crossing of the Drake Passage!

Day 2: At Sea to Antarctica – Drake’s Passage

At Sea to Antarctica – Drake’s Passage
Date: 07.02.2020
Position: 56°21.1’S / 065°06.6’W
Wind: WSW 3-4
Weather: Clouds
Air Temperature: +7

The first full day onboard Plancius welcomed passengers and crew with really moderate winds, a Drake Lake! Plus some fog which made conditions hard for birdwatching but many were probably very thankful for the easy seas.

After the smooth wake-up call from Ali, our expedition leader, Alex our Hotel Manager announced the breakfast buffet to be open. The queue at the buffet was not as long as one might have thought, as quite many of us were apparently experiencing what seasickness was like despite the relatively calm water.

As the Drake Passage is a good place to observe seabirds, Regis invited us to attend his talk, an interesting introduction to these amazing birds and their adaptations to their harsh environment. At the same moment, the group of 30 divers on the voyage had their mandatory briefing with their four dynamic diving guides: Henrik, Michael, Will, and Peter.

At 11:00 we received our Muck Boots. To ensure a smooth operation in the small storage area, we were called deck by deck to the boot room to try them on and find the right size. All of the activity helped build an appetite for lunch which we enjoyed with fellow passengers getting to know each other.

During the afternoon we had two other lectures to prepare ourselves for the wonderful Antarctic Experience. Ali’s lecture was about penguins-- all you needed to know before landing to appreciate these astonishing creatures and their funny behaviour. Later, Chloé’s lecture was about Life Under the Sea, providing a good preparation for the divers.

Before dinner everyone got together in the lounge for our daily recap, the moment to explain more in depth about relevant topics, as well as the plans for the next day. Tomorrow was just another day at sea with a few briefings so there weren’t too many plans to explain. However, the recap topics were about the circulation of the Southern Ocean. Tom showed a video about how Antarctica separated from South America and how the resulting currents keep Antarctica cold. Joselyn then explained a bit more about the Southern Ocean and about the Antarctic Convergence or Polar Front, and how the warm and cold waters meet and create a biological boundary under the water. She showed how the sea temperature changes as we get closer to the white continent, and we would probably pass the convergence area in the night. Recap will become one of the most important formats over the next couple of days to learn about our voyage and what we are seeing. All staff are definitely prepared to handle our questions and if time might be too short, they assure us they can always be found for more conversation after dinner in the bar.

Day 3: At Sea to Antarctica – Drake’s Passage

At Sea to Antarctica – Drake’s Passage
Date: 08.02.2020
Position: 60°38.8’S / 061°03.2’W
Wind: WSW 6
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: +3

A second full day at sea. As a matter of fact, there was also enough to do this day! After breakfast, we had a series of mandatory briefings. First, our Expedition Leader Ali showed us how to wear the lifejackets for the zodiac cruises and how to get on and off the zodiacs down the gangway-- something we were looking forward to doing after the long sea crossing. This safety briefing was followed by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) briefings.

We learned about environmental awareness, bio-security procedures, and the correct behaviour in Antarctica: no food ashore, cleaning our boots after each landing, and keeping the appropriate distance (5 meters!) from the wildlife.

Then, it was time to put into practice what we have just learned about biosecurity. We spent the rest of the morning vacuuming our outer clothing, backpacks, and camera bags. The expedition staff were on hand to help and advise how to get rid of seeds and dirt so that we aren’t responsible for introducing an invasive species or disease to Antarctica.

The afternoon flew by as well, with interesting lectures. In the first one, Helene talked about invasive species and their impact in Antarctica and in the Sub Antarctic islands. The second lecture was on seals, presented by Steffi. We learned about the different types of seals living on the white continent and how well they have adapted to their extreme environment.

The lecture was nearly done when we got a call from Ali. The boat was surrounded by humpback whales and chinstrap penguins. We quickly went out on the decks to watch the wildlife, and got another surprise-- by this time, land was in sight! We could see Smith Island, an impressively mountainous and glaciated island in the South Shetland group.

The day ended in the lounge with our daily recap. Ali explained our plans for our first landing in Antarctica. We were due to go to Paulet Island. In order to explain the historical interest of the place and the complex story of the Nordenskjöld expedition, the staff made a funny theatre play. Then, Chloé finished with a small talk about the colossal squid, an endemic species of the Southern Ocean.

Day 4: Paulet Island / Brown Bluff

Paulet Island / Brown Bluff
Date: 09.02.2020
Position: 63°30.2’S / 055°52.8’W
Wind: W 4
Weather: Clear sky
Air Temperature: +8

It all started with an announcement earlier than usual. Ali informed us that the ship was approaching an ice floe with an Emperor penguin on it! Many of us then found ourselves outside, still a little asleep, to observe the rare bird. The conditions were perfect: almost no wind, sunrise brightness, a calm sea. The day started under very good auspices.

Breakfast and several coffees later... the expedition team is waiting for us at the gangway to take us to our first excursion in polar lands: Paulet island.

And what a landing! From the ship, the island seemed to be covered with hundreds of thousands of small dots. As soon as we approached in the zodiac, each dot turned out to be a bird. This small piece of Antarctica is home to a gigantic concentration of Adélie penguins. Once we set foot on land, we followed the instructions of Ali, our expedition leader, to make the most of our presence on the site while avoiding disturbing its numerous inhabitants.

Penguins everywhere! Here were fat chicks drowsing under a blazing sun, and there was an adult feeding its young. We are immersed in their world. Our senses are activated: sight, hearing, smell ... The route established by the expedition team and marked by red poles showed us how to move through the bird colonies, passsing near the remains of a stone hut that sheltered some Antarctic surivors, or out to enjoy a view of a lake filling the bottom of an ancient volcanic crater. And on its flanks, more and more penguins.

Each person experienced the scene in their own way, even taking a seat in front of the native fauna, warming up the camera memory card, and immortalizing the first Antarctic selfie...

Back aboard the Plancius at midday, we regained our strength in anticipation of an equally exciting afternoon. After a navigation transit that allowed everyone to recharge their batteries both literally and figuratively, here we are again aboard the zodiacs, on our way to our second destination of the day. The icing on the cake is that it's no longer an island but THE White Continent! Shortly before the shore we slowed down as we approached an iceberg occupied by three leopard seals, and a group of penguins, all sharing space peacefully. Then after sneaking between rocks and icebergs we disembarked at Brown Bluff.

This pebble beach overhung by imposing ochre-tinted cliffs is home to colonies of Gentoo and Adélie penguins. While some got to know curious gentoo penguin chicks, others enjoyed a view of a glacier or watched a sleeping crabeater seal out on the ice. Once again, the weather was perfect: a little wind, great sunshine, and still a calm sea. Ideal conditions for the afternoon event, the polar plunge. Once the excursion was at the end, the bravest of us got ready for an extreme swim. If some threw themselves without hesitation into the icy waves, others seemed more hesitant ...

In order to take full advantage of such favourable locations and conditions, the return to the vessel is deliberately delayed and so the regular daily recap is shortened to the essentials, namely the programme for the next day. We are already on our way to our next destinations. What a day!

Day 5: Eckener Point / Portal Point

Eckener Point / Portal Point
Date: 10.02.2020
Position: 64°06.5’S / 061°16.6’W
Wind: N 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

This morning we sailed to Charlotte Bay and had a busy morning onboard during the sail to our afternoon destination. After breakfast we saw some superb humpback whale shows. We had a few glimpses in the distance at first, then a whole group that we watched very closely while they were feeding. The whales created a flow of water and a current of bubbles that encouraged the krill to rise to the surface, known as “bubble net feeding”. Once the krill were concentrated by the “net” of bubbles surrounding them, the whales would finish by lunging up through the surface, opening their mouths wide to feed and gulp down kilograms of krill. We enjoyed the show for a long time, then finally moving on to leave the gentle giants to feed alone again. Then, with perfect timing, Chloe gave us a lecture about whales and their physiological adaptations which helped us understand some of what we had been seeing live and in person.

After a good lunch, we were instructed to dress up warm for our afternoon adventure. The weather had gotten a little worse through the morning but that did not stop us or the team from getting out to experience another part of Antarctica—a cruise of Eckener Point at the edge of Charlotte Bay. The boat was surrounded by icebergs that we were able to approach to observe all the shades of blue in the ice. Then we headed to a more sheltered area next to the land. The way to the sheltered bay was wet and windy, but we were happy to experience a real polar adventure. We found a chinstrap penguin colony and Antarctic shag rookery which was even possible to see from the ship using the “pink carpet” method—their guano stained the rocks and so was visible from very far away. After viewing the colonies up close, we then crisscrossed the bay along impressive glaciers and looked for imaginary shapes in the ice sculptures around (like the cute baby elephant!)

After 2 hours in the waves and facing the glaciers, we were happy to warm up on the boat. But the day was far from being over. After a recap and a dinner buffet served early in the evening, we went out again to land at Portal Point—many of us were up for the challenge to get two excursions for the day and experience more true Antarctic weather! There were two short walks set up to different viewpoints, allowing us to enjoy a view of the bay and to take some nice souvenir pictures at the top.

A few chinstrap penguins and a fur seal approached and posed for more photos. After a wavy ride back to the ship, returning just before nightfall, the excitement was felt by everyone-- happy to share impressions and memories of this wet and cold day, but rich in emotions!

Day 6: Cuverville Island / Stony Point

Cuverville Island / Stony Point
Date: 11.02.2020
Position: 64°40.2’S / 062°37.8’W
Wind: N 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

After a good night’s sleep we had an early wake-up call this morning. After breakfast we headed out to Cuverville Island, home of a big Gentoo penguin colony. Upon approaching the beach, we could already smell we were getting near. And indeed, fat chicks and adults were welcoming us. Strolling around towards the colonies we could see old whale bones on the shore. A Weddell seal paid a visit and on the way back to the ship we had a small detour to enjoy the Icebergs in the bay before heading back to Plancius for lunch. After lunch Plancius sailed to our second site for the day: Stony Point.

Here we had a split zodiac cruise and landing. Ashore we put on snowshoes to hike up the glacier to enjoy the view. On the lower part of the glacier there were two Weddell seals resting on the ice. We also did a zodiac cruise where some of us encountered crabeater seals, a leopard seal, and lots of fantastically shaped ice-bergs.

Getting back to the ship, we could smell that the BBQs on the aft-deck were already being fired up. The galley team provided us with a fantastic barbeque dinner, different kinds of meat, mulled wine, and great desserts—which all resulted in a big dancing party! While the ship steamed away for our next day’s adventure a small group of humpback whales waved us goodbye with some blows and a final tail-dive.

Day 7: Danco Island / Orne Harbour

Danco Island / Orne Harbour
Date: 12.02.2020
Position: 64°43.3’S / 062°35.2’W
Wind: NE 7
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +1

After our well-deserved after-barbeque-dancing-rest, we got our daily friendly wake-up call by Ali. In front of our windows we saw a special Antarctic scene: brash ice covering the surface of the sea, moving around by the currents and in between some blue, shining icebergs. Danco Island with the cute gentoo penguins was just ahead of us. We boarded the Zodiacs and after taking some time to make way through the chunks of ice we were dropped at the end of the beach. There was plenty of things we could explore here onshore. Some people went up to the top of the island and others stayed down below and the scenery along the beach.

On the way up to the top, we passed different sized colonies with plenty of lively chicks around. The cute little penguins were just leaving the protected environment of the nest, so it was easy to observe the life of these heartbreakingly sweet birds. After several stops, we enjoyed a fantastic view over the Errera Channel and our temporary home Plancius. We used the time with the big view to take a deep breath and inhale this atmosphere. The cold wind eventually made the decision easier to go down again and explore the area around the beaches. We could see a leopard seal patrolling the beach in search of food. This top predator gave our diver group on board the biggest present they were hoping for by joining in with their group in the water. The seal checked out the divers and snorkelers and spent almost an hour swimming with them… it was a once in a lifetime moment. Well, perhaps it was a nice experience for this animal as well!

The time on the beach with a lazy Weddell seal and fur seals was great and some passengers worked on their own little science project: How long does it take for a penguin to get up the penguin highway? The answer, there at Danco, was 13 minutes. So now it is official, the gentoo penguin is a much better mountainhiker than us!

Slowly we headed back to the ship and set sail towards Orne Harbour, our afternoon destination.
After arrival Ali and her team scouted the area and unfortunately the ice situation on the steep ridge was not ideal. So we got the chance to enjoy the bay by Zodiac. But often the Plan B stands for “Better”: the cruise was full of wildlife sightings! We saw 2 leopard seals and fur seals on the ice. And plenty of chinstrap and gentoo penguins moving around in the bay. We found more fur seals hanging out at the rocks at the base of the icy slopes, with a highlight of seeing a penguin “staircase”. There was a deep rockdrop from the colony into the ocean and we saw them climbing down until the last bit when they had to jump into the water. Not all dives were executed gracefully… some looked like a belly-first smash into the water, or even a bad attempt at flying. We enjoyed the scenery and give a lot of respect to these little creatures for the fun and joy they are delivering us.

The end of the cruise was topped out by a group of humpback whales that passed by our Zodiacs. What a privilege to watch! Another fantastic day full of new experiences came to an end. We are happy and grateful to be here.

Day 8: Whaler’s Bay / Half Moon Island

Whaler’s Bay / Half Moon Island
Date: 13.02.2020
Position: 62°59.0’S / 060°33.5’W
Wind: WSW 4
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +3

After a night a little agitated by the wind and the waves, we were able to enjoy a beautiful arrival in the crater of Deception Island. This island of volcanic origin was a major site for the whaling industry at the beginning of the 20th century.
We landed on a beach along which many remains of historical buildings illustrate this era. There are still many artifacts in place on the ground, as well as entire buildings or rusty steel tanks that were used to store the oil extracted from the whale fat.

The last eruption of the crater in 1969 put an end to this industry.
In addition to the visit around the buildings, we enjoyed a beautiful walk to the viewpoint at Neptune’s Window—a gap in the crater’s wall offering a clear view outside the crater.

Back aboard the Plancius for lunch, we sailed 3 hours to our final destination Half Moon Island.
This site is home to several colonies of chinstrap penguins, plus a few scattered gentoo penguins and fur seals enjoying a bath in the bay or a rest on shore.

Just to remind us how lucky we had been with the weather, Antarctica reminded us how quickly she can change. After the beautiful blue sky in the morning, we had to cover ourselves from the rain during the afternoon. Still, we all wanted to take advantage of this last excursion to an Antarctic site and of course get close to the penguins once again.

Once we were well and truly wet, and satisfied with our final pictures of penguins and seals, we finally went back on board to warm up with a hot drink and listen to the recap of the day including a video on the history of Deception Island as well as an explanation of the plants, lichens, and mosses that we had seen during the landings.

The sad news now was that it was time to set sail for Ushuaia. The good news however was that the weather forecast looks relatively mild for our return across the Drake!

Day 9: At Sea to Ushuaia

At Sea to Ushuaia
Date: 14.02.2020
Position: 60°32.0’S / 061°31.0’W
Wind: ENE 3
Weather: Overcast, mist
Air Temperature: +4

This morning, habits changed. No disembarkation. Since last night, we've begun our return to Ushuaia. The Drake passage, so often feared, seems for the moment to want to remain relatively calm, which is not exactly a disappointment. In other good news, there was no wake-up call from Ali. On this Valentine's day, we enjoyed a few more minutes of sleep before having breakfast in a dining room that has been remodeled for the occasion.

We are slowly getting used to the rhythm of cruising in sea day mode, and looked forward to several talks as well as some quiet time to nap or sort through the hundreds (thousands?!) of photos taken.

Tom got the ball rolling with a presentation on the geology of the Antarctic region and how ice is being affected by different sources of warming temperatures. Then it was Ali's turn to talk about the women of Antarctica—whether it was the ones the men left behind or those that were blazing trails of their own as scientists and current day explorers.

In the afternoon, as the ship continued to travel on a reasonable sea, Céline discussed how the travels of seabirds and seals are followed at sea, how the results are used to better understand their life stories (how deep do penguins dive, what do seals eat?) as well as how to protect them. Surprisingly it is possible that the animals themselves are doing research—elephant seals can help scientists understand different conditions in the ocean-- such as currents and temperatures-- that humans are otherwise unable to experience and research. Finally, Steffi presented about different adaptations developed by animals living in extreme environments in order to survive in such conditions.

The day ended with the traditional daily recap. Régis told us more about the intelligence of birds and the sometime complex skills that certain species have developed. Hélène answered the question that many have already asked themselves: Why on earth is the ice sometimes so blue?

After yet another excellent meal by the galley team, just at the end of the meal an announcement was made: considering our good progress and the mild weather forecast, the captain plans to bring us closer to Cape Horn tomorrow for a glimpse at the very tip of South America. Another way to liven up our last day at sea!

Day 10: At Sea to Ushuaia

At Sea to Ushuaia
Date: 15.02.2020
Position: 56°47.1’S / 066°04.6’W
Wind: NE 5
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +8

It was a relatively mild evening with calm seas but despite that it seemed that it was a quite morning with a few people still feeling a bit affected by the motion of the ocean. Nevertheless, the day’s schedule was full of lectures. To begin Helene and Regis spoke about their experience of living and working at the French research station complex on Kerguelen Island in the Indian Ocean sector of the sub-Antarctic. They saw both summer and winter conditions there, researching the native animals (king penguins, elephant seals, albatross) as well as trying to understand the impacts of non-native and even invasive species (rabbits, cats, beetles).

Joselyn provided another glimpse of station life with her talk about working at McMurdo and South Pole stations for the USA program. The logistics to make science happen in the Antarctic are complex but it seems that those that want to be there and do the work are definitely interested in experiencing a different life and climate! One of the experienced divers, Becky, gave a presentation also about how to improve techniques for underwater photography as well as technical tips on how to process the images and footage afterwards.

Just after lunch Ali announced that we had already approached within the allowed 3-mile-limit of Cape Horn so everyone put on coats and went out on the bow to see the most southerly point of land before the great Southern Ocean, full of seafaring history. Not many ships are allowed to approach nor is the weather often calm enough to be in this stretch of water so it was clear that our luck for this trip was still on our side. After a nice few moments observing the Cape, we had to continue on our way to make the rendezvous with the pilot at their station in the Beagle Channel.

We still had a few things to look forward to this afternoon however. The divers gave an excellent talk to us, sharing the results of all their dives—what incredible photos! It was amazing to see small windows into the special underwater world that they were able to glimpse… it’s easier to understand why anyone would struggle to dress in so many pieces of gear and equipment after seeing some examples of what is there to be seen under the water. Finally though, there was clear evidence our wonderful voyage was coming to an end… we came together in the lounge for Captain’s Cocktails, an opportunity to hear a few words from our Captain about the trip and to celebrate him, the expedition team, and rest of the crew who have worked so hard to deliver a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us. We toasted everyone for a job well done, even the passengers because without them and their flexibility and good attitudes the voyage would not be enjoyable or even possible to begin with! Once in the calm waters of the Beagle Channel it was even more possible to believe that we would be onshore tomorrow, and so it was perhaps easier to bring ourselves to begin packing and preparing for the next part of our unforgettable journey.

Day 11: Disembarkation - Ushuaia

Disembarkation - Ushuaia
Date: 16.02.2020

After picking up the pilot at 2am we approached Ushuaia in the early morning hours, ready to disembark for the final time. No zodiac ride to shore this morning, it will be a dry landing! The last 10 days have taken us on a remarkable journey to Antarctica and allowed us a glimpse of life in this remote and sometimes inhospitable place. We will all have different memories of our trip but whatever the memories, whether it was the gentoo penguins at Danco or the sight of icebergs for the first time they are memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Bon voyage!

Total distance sailed on our voyage: 1833 Nautical Miles

Furthest South: 64°54.8’S / 063°00.0’W

On behalf of everyone on board we thank you for travelling with us and wish you a safe journey home.

Details

Tripcode: PLA29-20
Dates: 6 Feb – 16 Feb, 2020
Duration: 10 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Ushuaia
Disembark: Ushuaia

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The ice-strengthened vessel Plancius is an ideal vessel for polar expedition cruises in the Arctic and Antarctic.

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