PLA30-16 Trip log | Polar Circle, Antarctica
18.03.2016 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
So here we are at last in Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of the world. Well, from Ushuaia we’ll be going south of south...a long way south. But for today, we ambled about this lovely Patagonian city, savouring the local flavours and enjoying the sights.
Ushuaia marks the end of the road in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, but also the beginning – the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. During the summer this rapidly growing frontier town of 55,000 bustles with adventurous travellers. The duty-free port flourishes with tourism but also thrives on a sizeable crab fishery and a burgeoning electronics industry. Ushuaia (lit. “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 unique person, but even the most experienced of us feels genuine excitement to depart on a journey to the Great White Continent of Antarctica. Most passengers were promptly at the gangway at 16:00, ready to board our ship MV Plancius, home for the next 12 days.
We were greeted at the gangway by members of our Expedition staff who sorted our luggage and sent us on board to meet Hotel and Restaurant Managers, André and Thijs. We were then checked into our cabins with the assistance of our fabulous Filipino crew.
A little while after boarding we convened in the lounge on Deck five to meet First Officer Jaanus, 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. On hearing the alarm we reconvened at the ‘muster station’, the lounge donning our huge orange life jackets that will keep us safe should the need arise. After this lifeboat drill we returned to the outer decks to watch our departure from the jetty of Ushuaia and the last of city life for a while.
We entered the Beagle Channel with an escort of black browed albatross. Once we were on our way into the channel we were invited once again to the lounge to meet our Hotel Manager André who gave us an overview of the ship, a floating hotel which will be our home for the next 10 days or so. We then met our Expedition Leader, Sebastian Arrebola and the rest of the Expedition Team who will guide us in Antarctica. This was also a chance to meet our Captain, Evgeny Levakov and toast our voyage with a glass of Prosecco. At 19:30 we sampled the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Chefs Ralf and Ivan and their galley staff. This first evening on board was occupied with more exploration of the ship, adjusting to her movements, and settling into our cabins. Staff also issued us with rubber boots so that we are almost ready for our arrival in Antarctica. In the early hours of the morning we would be out into the open waters of the Drake Passage and heading South.
During the early hours of the morning the motion of the ship changed a little as we started to make our way out into the Drake Passage but with only 20 knots of wind things were still quite comfortable on board and most people felt ok and managed to make their way to breakfast.
After breakfast there was time to go out on deck and enjoy some fresh air and take the opportunity to get used to the motion of the ship, getting those ‘Sea legs’ which are essential in the Drake Passage. On our way south we were joined by some albatross, Wandering albatross and Black browed albatross were seen throughout the morning as well as the tiny Wilson’s storm petrels.
At 10:30 Christian invited us to the Lounge to give a presentation about the Seabirds of the Southern Oceans and this gave us a huge amount of information about the birds we are likely to see on this voyage, including tips on their identification out at sea. Most of these birds spend the majority of their lives at sea and watching the albatross afterwards it was easy to see how at home they are out here in the Drake Passage.
After lunch there was time for a bit of a siesta or time to enjoy the views from the outer decks before Ali invited us back to the Lounge for a presentation about the non-flying seabirds, the penguins. She talked about the different species we are likely to see when we get to Antarctica and also about how these birds are so perfectly adapted to life on and around the frozen continent of Antarctica. We’re all looking forward to seeing them for ourselves in the coming days.
After the daily afternoon tea treat Sebastian gave a presentation about the geography of Antarctica; how the continent was formed and about the mountains and ice that are now the main features of the continent.
By early evening it was time for the daily re-cap, which is a chance to gather together and look back on the day as well as look ahead to the next day of the trip. Seba outlined the plans for tomorrow – another day at sea in the Drake Passage and Chris talked about our progress and the Antarctic Convergence, where the colder waters of the Antarctic meet the warmer waters of the Atlantic and Pacific. This is where maritime Antarctica begins and Ali talked about presence of krill in these colder waters and how everything down here relies on the presence of krill as a food source during the summer months. The big creatures wouldn’t be here without these little pink critters!
After re-cap it was time for dinner and so our first day in the Drake Passage had passed by pretty well, for most of us anyway!
Another day of navigating the Drake Passage en route towards the Antarctic Peninsula, and again we are fortunate with moderate winds. The ship, however, continues to be rolled by the swell of the ocean and some passengers continue to remain horizontal in their cabins. Overall though, there are more people moving about today as bodies get used to the motion of the seas and excitement builds as we approach the Last Continent.
Breakfast in the morning is followed by a briefing by Seba in the observation lounge. Where the lectures were optional to attend yesterday, this briefing was mandatory for any passengers wishing to go ashore during our voyage. Needless to say, attendance was strong! Sebastian briefed expeditioners on Zodiac safety, as these rugged, inflatable vessels would be the link between ship and shore, tendering us from the Plancius to the various areas we plan to do landings. Seba also briefed passengers on the appropriate behavior ashore, including the distance to keep from the very docile wildlife we find there. This briefing is put together by IAATO – the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators – and is a requirement for any of its affiliate operators.
The briefing is followed by a self-audited biosecurity cleaning – vacuuming of all shore gear and packs – in order to limit the risk of bringing any foreign seeds or specimens into the pristine Antarctic environment. After a morning of housekeeping and working up a sweat with the vacuum cleaners, we are quite happy to hear Andre’s voice ring across the public announcement system with news of lunch.
We continue sailing throughout the afternoon, with the monotony of an afternoon at sea broken up with a history lecture on Jean-Baptiste Charcot given by Chris, one of the guides on board. Charcot had two expeditions to the Antarctic in the early 1900s, and was a key figure in charting and surveying the western coast of the Antarctic Peninsula – the area we plan to visit. In fact, Charcot was responsible for naming many of the places that we plan to visit.
Seba concludes the day with a recap, as well as going over our plans for the following day. With the Drake behind us by morning, we should wake up with the dramatic backdrop of Antarctica behind our portholes. The plan is a for Zodiac cruise at Foyn Harbour, followed by a landing on the Antarctic continent at Neko Harbour – where there is also a colony of Gentoo penguins. The excitement and anticipation is palpable around the ship as we all look forward to the day ahead – our first in Antarctica!
This morning the wake-up call from Sebastian came early. At 06.45 his voice came out the speakers in the cabins. We were approaching the Gerlache Strait which is a narrow channel with great views at both sides of the ship. We saw our first seals for this trip some in the water, some laying on the ice floats. They were Crabeater seals which are the most numerous seals in Antarctica. The weather was good so most of us went outside and enjoyed the great scenery in the early morning just before breakfast.
At around 08:00 we arrived in the scenic area of Foyn Harbour. The ship was divided into two groups for a Zodiac cruise in the area through some of the small channels and bays.
The main aim of the cruise this morning was an old shipwreck, The Governoren which is a whaling factory ship of the last generation, built in 1912. This 60 metres long ship caught fire in 1915 and was run aground on purpose as they were unable to put the fire out. These kind of factory ships were operating in sheltered bays, processing the whales during the summer months. As we sailed near to the wrack the boilers could still be seen inside and it was eerie to look into the depths of the ship and below the water line.
There was also plenty of wildlife to be seen during the cruise with lots of Fur seals lying up on the rocks. These were mostly young male seals that have travelled to Antarctica from South Georgia after the main breeding season finished there in early January. They have come to feed on the krill which is abundant down here during the summer. On some of the low lying islands we could see Weddell seals lying out on the snow and even our first penguins, Gentoo penguins. There were also some beautiful icebergs grounded in the shallow water providing great photo opportunities for everyone. Towards the end of the cruise some Humpback whales were seen near the ship and we had some nice views as they rested at the surface and then dived, showing their tail flukes as they did so.
By the time we had done two rounds of cruising and the divers and kayakers were also back on board it was time to lift the anchor and set sail towards the mainland of the continent, our first continental landing! Because of the current it took a little time longer to get there but around 16.30 the first Zodiacs were on their way to the landing site at Neko Harbour.
Neko Bay is a very scenic bay with the Deville Glacier close by the landing site. We had to be careful, not staying too low at the shoreline because of waves running up the beach caused by falling ice by the glacier. On shore we visited the Gentoo penguin colony and it was very nice to see them up close, still feeding the chicks. It was however sad to see some penguin carcasses which are a result of a late breeding season due to the presence of snow quite late on into the summer. From the landing site and with Ali up front we hiked up to a viewpoint overlooking the glacier. A really spectacular site!
We took all the time that we could at Neko Harbour so when we went back to the ship it was already dinner time.
Re-cap was held after dinner in the lounge and was more a Pre-cap with explaining the plans for tomorrow. It was a beautiful day today and a perfect start of our visit to the Antarctic continent.
It was an early morning wake-up call this morning as we made our way to the entrance of the Lemaire Channel. This is a very narrow scenic passage which has often been referred to as the ‘Kodak Gap’ due to the thousands of photos that have been taken by tourists over the years. This morning we made our way through and it was a beautiful morning with the mountains of Cape Reynard and Scott Peak standing out starkly against the grey sky. It was a very monochrome black and white landscape with fresh snow adding to the true Antarctic landscape.
Once we were through the channel (and had added a few more photos to the collection) we turned right into Port Charcot and made our way up to Booth Island, passing by icebergs along the way. The plan for the morning was to land at the end of Port Charcot, which is a 2.4km wide bay on Booth Island, an 8km long Y-shaped island forming the western side of the Lemaire Channel.
Once we had enjoyed breakfast we wrapped up and headed to the gangway ready to go ashore. The staff had prepared the landing so that we were able to land safely on the rocks on the southern beach of the NW arm Salpêtrière Bay and then make our way up into the snow. From the landing site there were a couple of options for the morning; a hike with Ali up to the cairn on the top of a 50m hill where the remains of the Charcot’s expedition can be found or a walk to see the Chinstrap penguins with Ab.
The hike was an easy one through the snow and as we gained height the views really began to open up and we could see right across the iceberg strewn bay into Français Cove and into Port Charcot itself which is sometimes called the Iceberg Graveyard as so many icebergs get stranded in the shallow and offshore rocky islets. It was pretty windy up on the top but everyone enjoyed the views and the photo opportunity the summit provided and stayed a while to soak up the real Antarctic environment.
From the summit the walk back followed the same route down and then across the island to where the penguin colonies can be found. Among species to be seen were Chinstrap penguins, Gentoo penguins and a lone Adélie penguin. There were Kelp gulls, Antarctic terns, Snowy sheathbills, and Antarctic shags. There were a number of Fur seals lying on the rocky outcrops around the lower part of the island and out in the bay an unusual quantity -hundreds- of Crabeater seals could be seen around icebergs and in the open waters of the bay. It was a lovely morning, despite the cold wind that was blowing across the bay and before too long it was time to go back to the ship to warm up, enjoy lunch and get ready for the afternoon landing around the corner at Petermann Island.
So after lunch Plancius was repositioned to a more southerly location, Petermann Island which lies at 65°10.5 south, and used to be the southernmost point of nesting Gentoo penguins but they are now found at Cape Tuxen, Galindez Island and other southern places. Maybe a result of a warming climate? Petermann Island was discovered by a German expedition in 1873-4 and is named after the German geographer August Petermann.
We cruised past some amazing tabular icebergs before dropping anchor just off the island.
The zodiacs shuttled us ashore into a small cove where we were met by staff and of course Gentoo penguins. Once on shore there were again a few options for our time on shore. Christian and Ab had found some moulting Adélie penguins near their traditional breeding areas so it was a chance to get a little closer to these, the most southerly of all the penguins. They are comical little birds with a distinctive white eye ring and as well as these penguins Blue-eyed shags and South Polar skuas were seen by many.
During the afternoon the skies became brighter and the visibility around the bay area got better and better as the mountains were revealed. It turned into a beautiful day with very little wind and even some sunshine. Ali and Seba had flagged some other walking routes to various viewpoints around the island and we were able to look across to the other side to see the icebergs, many of which had Crabeater seals lying out on them. It was the perfect afternoon to stop, sit and just enjoy the views in this beautiful part of Antarctica.
By early evening it was time to head back down to the landing site and make our way back to the ship where there was time for a short re-cap during which time the landing the plans for the next day were presented by Seba and a special Antarctic dinner was announced.
We were invited to the aft deck behind the dining room for a special BBQ and it was fabulous to sit and enjoy the delicious food prepared by the chefs and crew whilst watching the icebergs float past on the current. The dancing went on late into the night for many! What an amazing end to an incredible day here in Antarctica!
Sebastian made the wake-up call at 07.15, which was a little early for some after the late night at the BBQ but it was well worth the effort to get up and make a start on the day. After breakfast we found ourselves in position not too far from where had been sailing in the night, the Penola Strait and just a short zodiac drive from our planned landing for the morning at Vernadsky Station. The weather wasn’t as clear as it had been yesterday and with some snow falling it really felt like the end of the season in Antarctica. Undeterred we put our lifejackets and prepared for another good day and set our course to Vernadsky Station. This is a Ukrainian research station situated in one of the Argentine islands and used to be the British base, Faraday.
The plan for the morning was for a split landing at the base and a zodiac cruise around the narrow channels nearby. The first group went ashore at the base where the base personnel gave us a very warm welcome and gave us a guided tour around the base. We saw their accommodation and science area and, leaving the best for the end we were invited to chill out at the bar of the station famous for the Vernadsky Vodka. The bar itself was built by the British when they owned the base up until 1996 when they sold it to the Ukrainians for £1:00. The wood used was supposed to be for a new jetty but bad weather and heavy snow prevented the building and so much of the wood was put to good use in the construction of the bar! There was a chance to buy and mail postcard as well as buy some of the handmade souvenirs that had been made on the base by the staff. The last thing to do whilst ashore was to get an Antarctic/Ukrainian stamp in our passports!
While the first group was ashore in the warmth of the base the other group of passengers were out in the zodiacs cruising in the channels nearby. It was a great cruise with some super icebergs, Crabeater seals out on the ice itself and Gentoo penguins who share the land whit the people from the base. We stopped by the historic Wordie House which was a British Antarctic Survey base for many years through the 1950’s and 1960’s. After just over an hour or so the two groups swapped over and enjoyed the landing and cruising respectively. It had been a great morning, despite the snow and we returned to Plancius in time for lunch.
During lunch we only had to sail a short distance to relocate to our afternoon destination, the Yalour Islands where we planned to do two rounds of zodiac cruising. The visibility wasn’t great as the anchor was dropped and there was snow falling but with the chance to cruise near Adélie penguins and some lovely icebergs most people wrapped up and got ready for the snowy ride. The first group headed out towards and iceberg where they found a group of Crabeater seals swimming at the side of the ice and in the central pool of the iceberg and while we were watching the seals a few whale blows were seen nearby so we drove slowly to see if we could get closer to the Humpback whales. We found a mother and calf and they were quite curious about our boats and we had a great encounter when the engines were turned off and the whales came for a much closer look. We could hear their breaths and they finally dived down nearby showing their tails as they did so.
From here we went to the islands themselves where we found some Adelie penguins standing in groups on the slopes of the islands. These were moulting adults and they were there in quite large numbers in place. We saw a number of Crabeater seals on the ice floes around the islands and of course there were some beautiful icebergs.
After just over an hour the two groups swapped over and the second group braved the snow and headed out on a cruise. By this time the snow was quite heavy which provided great ammunition for snowball fights between the boats but not great visibility. Towards the end of the cruise however the snow eased and the fog lifted and Humpback whales could be seen quite near to the ship. Once again the zodiacs approached the whales carefully and quietly and enabled everyone to get a great view of these amazing animals. The passengers on board also had great views as the whales swam around the ship and past the gangway and as Ali and Kelvin were waiting to be lifted back on board they had a wonderful experience as two whales swam under their boats before heading off into the snow and mist. What a surprisingly great afternoon!
From here we had a long way to go south to reach the Polar Circle and our destination for the following morning, Detaille Island. As we made our way out to the west the sea conditions began to change and we found ourselves rolling quite heavily as we passed by huge tabular icebergs. We really felt like we were heading to a remote corner of the planet. Let’s see what tomorrow brings!
As Sebastian made the wake-up call this morning we emerged to find ourselves in the beautiful Crystal Sound and already south of the Antarctic Circle, further south than most of us have ever been before. It was certainly a crystal clear morning with views out over the Antarctic Peninsula and icebergs scattered in the bay. As the sun came up it coloured the tops of the mountains pink and the icebergs seemed to glow in the early morning light. It looked like it was going to be a perfect Antarctic morning.
After breakfast we found ourselves in position just off Detaille Island where we hoped to go ashore for the morning and once the anchor had been dropped the staff went ashore and found a suitable landing spot on the rocks along the shore. Before too long we found ourselves heading ashore too and were soon scrambling our way up the snow slope and making our way to onto the island.
On shore we were able to visit the historic British Antarctic Survey hut known as Base ‘W’ as well as walk to the top of the island and enjoy the stunning views around the whole area. Base ‘W’ was built in 1956 but was only used for three years before it was abandoned in 1959 due to the area being so difficult to access due to the sea ice and icebergs in the bay. When the relief ship the ‘Biscoe’ came to resupply the base in March 1959 it could only get to within 30 miles so the men were ordered to pack up and travel by sled over the sea ice to meet the ship. The hut was abandoned and today we could explore the building and found it as it had been left nearly 50 years ago. There were tins of food on the shelves, clothes on the beds and magazines on the table. The doctor’s room still had medicine and bandages out on the shelves. It was a true step back in time.
Outside on the ridge above the hut many people had gathered to witness the marriage of Rula and Erik in the beautiful, sunny surroundings here below the Antarctic Circle. Nacho did the honours reading the vows and the happy couple enjoyed a photo shoot in the sunshine afterwards. We wish them all the very best for their future together!
After the wedding everyone took time to walk along the top of the island, find a spot in the sunshine and just enjoy the incredible surroundings. It really was a perfect morning and showed the best side of Antarctica after the snow and grey weather of yesterday. On the neighbouring island there were groups of Adélie penguins standing in the sunshine enduring their annual moult and on the tiny island near the landing site there were some Weddell seals and Fur seals hauled out enjoying the sunshine as much as we were.
All too soon it was time to make our way back to the landing site and head back to the ship for lunch. It had been an amazing morning here on Detaille Island.
During lunch we started to make our way out of Crystal Sound and as we did so we left the sunshine behind and found ourselves under clouds once again. It seems we were blessed this morning. We sailed past some incredible icebergs on the way and could see the tails of Humpback whales on occasion as they dived down below the surface in search of krill.
At 2:30 we were invited to the upper deck behind the Bridge to toast the crossing of the Polar Circle once again. André and Thijs provided the bubbles and Matei on the Bridge provided the loud ship’s horn as we crossed over 66°33’.46S. Cheers everyone!
Later on in the afternoon Christian invited everyone to the Lounge for a presentation about the discovery of penguins by the first explorers who visited the Antarctic Continent.
Before dinner we had a short re-cap where Sebastian talked about ice and Ali outlined the plans for tomorrow.
In true expedition fashion, the day started with a change of plans. While we were planning on visiting Damoy Point in the morning, strong winds coming down the Neumayer Channel forced our expedition leader Seba to look for a more protected location to safely bring passengers ashore. The expedition team decided on Jougla Point, which is on the same island (Wiencke Island) as Damoy Point but on the leeward side of the island – adjacent to Port Lockroy.
While Jougla Point was indeed more protected, winds were still gusting at over 25 knots as the expedition team lowered the Zodiacs in preparation for the landing. The team went ashore, but unlike past landings we remained waiting at the gangway for the go ahead to start boarding the Zodiacs. The wind was relentless, and the expedition team decided to wait until it moderated before bringing passengers ashore. After a roughly 30 minute wait the green light was given to commence Zodiac operations and we loaded in the vessels for a windy ride to Jougla Point. The wind continued to howl, albeit at a much more manageable 20 knots.
On shore we were greeted by the familiar site, smell and sound of Gentoo penguins. While there were many on the site in various stages of fledging and moulting, the expedition staff informs us that the remaining penguins are only a fraction of the numbers that are present in the colony in the middle of the Antarctic summer. As we are nearing the end of summer here on the Antarctic Peninsula, most penguins have headed out to sea to forage for the winter.
On land we saw a beautiful display of whale bones that was surrounded by a Weddell seal and an elephant seal – the first one we’ve seen on our voyage. Many passengers remained by the bones to observe the seals and penguins, while others braved the gusty winds to hike to high point with Chris where they were treated to breath-taking views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers on Wiencke and Anvers Island.
We were back on the ship for lunch and continued sailing north through the beautiful Neumayer Channel. As we made our way through the picturesque channel, we noticed that the clouds that were ever-present in the morning were getting blown away and the sun was starting to shine. By the time we had finished sailing southeast across the Gerlache Channel and into Paradise Harbour – the location of our afternoon activities – there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the wind had completely abated. Fitting conditions for a place called Paradise!
The ship dropped anchor in front of the Argentine station Almirante Brown, and we began our activities at around 3:00pm. The plan was to do a split landing, with half the passengers going ashore at the station, while the other half went on a Zodiac cruise in Skontorp Cove – a cove directly behind Almirante Brown station. Halfway through the landing, the groups were then switched.
The weather felt almost tropical compared to the conditions in the morning, with the sun shining brightly and the wind not blowing a breath. After we are treated to a stunning walk to a viewpoint at the station and a Zodiac cruise among the glaciers and icebergs of Skontorp cove, we were offered a final activity for the day – a polar plunge!
While the conditions were relatively warm on land and the sun was shining, the water remained frigid. A couple dozen brave expeditioners decided to test the waters, and the view was surreal from the Plancius as we saw them swimming among bits of ice off the rocky beach of Almirante Brown. There were some interesting looking faces in various stages of shock as folks threw themselves in the nearly frozen sea!
We are back on board just in time for Seba to give us our plans for tomorrow before dinner. The plan is to head north to the Shetland Islands, with stops at Deception Island in the morning and Half Moon Island in the afternoon. It’s hard to believe that tomorrow will be the final day of activities before heading north back to Ushuaia! While we are sad to think of the expedition coming to an end shortly, we stay in the moment with smiles glued to our faces after a truly exceptional day in Paradise!
Seba made the wake-up call at around 07:10 as at 07.30 this morning we were at the entrance to the flooded caldera of Deception Island, Neptune’s Bellows. This is the only place in the world where vessels can sail directly into the centre of a restless volcanic caldera. The area inside had a long history of human activity since 1820, including exploration, scaling, whaling, aviation and scientific research. The narrow entrance required precise navigation by the Captain due the presence of a rock in the middle of the channel called Raven Rock.
After breakfast we went ashore on Whaler’s Bay, for a visit of the remains of the Norwegian Hektor whaling station, the cemetery and other artefacts some of which pre-date the whaling station are the most significant whaling remains in the Antarctic. Also in Whaler’s Bay is the former British “Base B” which was established in the abandoned whaling station. This was the first base of the secret World War 2 expedition “Operation Tabarin”, the forerunner to the British Antarctic Survey.
On land we encountered lots of Antarctic fur seals along the shore. These are very nice animals but you have to keep your distance from them as they are all young males that are testing their place in the hierarchy of the seal world and are always keen to chase and mock charge anyone walking past. The group was split up into several smaller groups to visit the site. Christian took a guided walk which started from the landing site and went through the remains of the whaling station. Nacho led a hike past the aeroplane hanger to the summit of Roland’s Hill which provided us with great views over the Whaler’s Bay and the caldera known as Port Foster. It was a bit blowy and snowy at the top but it felt very Antarctic as we sat and enjoyed the views in the shelter of the snow drift. The way down was a little easier than the way up with a chance to slide down a snow gully which was great fun. From the summit there was a chance to walk through the buildings of the station and visit the cemetery situated near the base of the base.
By midday we had to be back on the ship, for lunch and because we had four hours of sailing time ahead of us to reach our final landing site of this voyage on Half Moon Island.
Half Moon is a 2 km long, crescent shaped island between Greenwich and Livingston Island. On the island is a colony of Chinstrap penguins and also the Argentine Antarctic summer station Camara. The station was already closed when we arrived today but the Chinstraps were there, and in big numbers. Hundreds, maybe thousands of moulting birds were standing on the rocks waiting for their old feathers to drop out and the new ones to grow through.
From the landing site we could walk the flagged route to the other side of the island where our luck continued as Christian found one Macaroni penguin between the many Chinstraps. The walk was easy except for the Fur seals that seemed to take great pleasure in chasing people as they walked along the shore. They were sometimes a bit aggressive but always great to see and we could stand and watch them play fighting with each other, building their skills for the future when they will have to defend and harem of females for real.
During the late afternoon the clouds cleared once again and the summit mountains of Livingston Island were revealed and as the sun began to set the light for photography just got better and better. The landing was superb, a great one to finish with but unfortunately time flies and we had to get back to the ship and start heading back across the Drake towards Ushuaia. We have been very lucky people on this trip and have some amazing memories of our time here in Antarctica.
During the night the motion of the ocean had increased a little as we made our way out into the Drake Passage but considering this is classed as one of the roughest stretches of water on the planet we were doing very well and with only 20 knots of wind conditions were good.
There were a few spaces, however at breakfast but this might have been due to the ‘end of landings/diving/kayaking’ party that had gone on until the early hours of the morning rather than being due to seasickness!
After breakfast André and Thijs opened up the ‘Ship Shop’ at Reception allowing us all to buy some Plancius and Antarctic souvenirs as memento of our voyage. Trade was brisk and many people came away with fleeces, patches and cuddly penguins to take home along with the photos and memories.
At 11:00 Ali invited us to the Lounge for her presentation entitled ‘Ice Maidens – Women in Antarctica’ which looked at some of the women behind the men who travelled here at the beginning of the 20th Century with the aim of reaching the South Pole, men such as Shackleton and Scott. She also talked about the struggle women had to gain access to Antarctica and what they are achieving now in Antarctica in the 21st Century.
By the time the talk was over it was almost time for lunch and after lunch it was very quiet around the ship as most people had an afternoon rest or sleep after what had been busy Antarctic days. The post lunch slumber was ended by the announcement for Peter’s talk about his time with the British Antarctic Survey working as a dive guide at Rothera Base. He over wintered and at the end of his time had some exciting trips to the deep field to help with re-supplies of fuel for the following summer season. It was a fascinating talk with some lovely photos showing aspects of life in Antarctica that few of us will ever experience.
Later in the afternoon Chris was on hand in the Lounge to give a presentation about Adrian de Gerlache, a Belgian explorer who led two expeditions to Antarctic between 1904 and 1909 and left his mark on the continent by naming many island and bays. The main channel for cruise ships in the area is known as the Gerlache Strait.
At 18:30 we were invited back to the Lounge for daily re-cap where Ali talked about the Fur seals we saw on Deception Island and Half Moon Island, all young males that have travelled here from South Georgia after the end of the breeding season. Sebastian showed an old film clip from 1958 showing the first ever tourist cruise ship travelling to Antarctica. Zodiac operations and passenger behaviour were very different in those days!
The dining room was as lively as ever and the bar full of chatter at the end of the evening.
The weather conditions had been a little bumpy during the night with some quite big swells but most people managed a reasonable night of sleep and made it to the dining room for breakfast. The motion of the ship was still quite comfortable and most people were up and around.
The first presentation of the morning was given by Ali who talked about Seabird Conservation. For many years there albatross and petrel numbers have been decreasing due to incidental mortality associated with the long line fishing and trawling. She talked about the Black browed albatross of the Falkland Islands and how Falklands Conservation have been working with international agencies to find ways to stop the decline by a series of simple mitigation methods.
Out on the Bridge wings a number of species of seabirds could be seen flying around the ship. We saw our familiar friends the Cape petrels, Giant petrels and Black browed albatross but we also had a Wandering albatross pass by on a number of occasions which are always fantastic to see. With their 3.5 metre wingspans they are big, majestic birds.
After lunch it was time to settle our on board accounts with André and Thijs. Sadly all those drinks from Charlotte’s bar and souvenirs from the ‘Ship Shop’ have to be paid for at some point and with this, the last afternoon of our voyage it was time to find credit cards, Euros and Dollars from depths of our cabins and settle up. During the afternoon the wind decreased 15 knots and the sun began to shine making life altogether more pleasant on board. The outer decks were opened and many of us made our way out onto the decks to enjoy the afternoon and the approach to the Beagle Channel.
With the weather conditions calmer staff were able to open to boot room for the collection of rubber boots which had been invaluable in keeping our feet warm and dry and penguin poop free!
The last presentation of the trip was from the divers themselves and it was a great opportunity to get a glimpse under the icy waters of Antarctica to see what they saw and all from the comfort of the warm Lounge!
With Captain’s Cocktails it was a chance to toast our voyage and the many people who have made this trip such a success, from the Captain himself and his deck crew to the Expedition staff, to the members of the hotel department, those in the engine room and even the laundry staff. It has been a team effort and as a result a successful and enjoyable voyage. Pete had put together a lovely slide show and movie of our trip allowing us to relive the memories together with new found friends and travel companions.
Today is disembarkation day in Ushuaia. Coming alongside, we were boarded by the Argentine officials who cleared our vessel and allowed us to disembark. On the pier we bade farewell to many of the friends we have come to know over the past 12 days, and had one last look at the Plancius, the ship that took us safely on such an incredible voyage from Ushuaia, across the infamous Drake Passage to Antarctica and south of the Polar Circle. We have hiked, dived, kayaked and simply enjoyed the wildlife and scenery of this very special continent and are privileged that we were able to do so. This trip will last us a lifetime – in our memories, our imaginations, and in our dreams.
Thank you all for such a wonderful voyage, for your company, good humour and enthusiasm. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!
Total distance sailed on our voyage:
Nautical miles: 2014 nm
Kilometres: 3729 km
On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Levakov, Expedition Leader Sebastian Arrebola and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.