PLA30-19, trip log, Weddell Sea - Antarctic Discoverer

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation—Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation—Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 11.03.2019
Position: 54 °53’S/067°42’W
Wind: SW 7
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +8

So here we are at last in Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of the world. Well, from Ushuaia we’ll be going 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 of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. During the summer, this rapidly growing frontier town of 55,000 bustles with adventurous travelers. The duty-free port flourishes with tourism but also thrives on a sizable 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. 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 4 pm, ready to board our ship MV Plancius, home for our Antarctic adventure! We were greeted at the gangway by members of our Expedition staff who sent us on board to meet Hotel and Restaurant Managers, Michael and Alex. We were then checked into our cabins with the assistance of our fabulous Filipino crew. A little before leaving the harbour, we met with our Expedition leader, Katja, who introduced herself and she was followed by Michael who gave us an overview of the ship, a floating hotel which will be our home for the next 10 days or so. Finally, we left the harbour to start sailing the Beagle Channel. The weather and light are beautiful, but there is a bit of wind that made the temperature a bit chilly outside. A little while after leaving Ushuaia, 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. We had been prepared for our actual safety drill and on hearing the general alarm, we reconvened at the “muster station”, the lounge, for the mandatory safety briefing and abandon ship drill donning our huge orange life jackets that will keep us safe should the need arise. After all the safety drills, we all gathered outside to enjoy the sunset, the Magellanic penguin porpoising in the water and the albatrosses gliding in the sky. Lucky enough, the bridge and some of the expedition staffs spotted some humpback whale blows of, at least, 3 specimens playing in the water. After a few minutes, they dived, and we had a beautiful view of their tails. After this nice show, we all gathered in the lounge to listen to Katja giving more information about the upcoming days. This was also a chance to meet our Captain, Artur Iakovlev and toast our voyage with a glass of Prosecco. At 7:30 pm, we sampled the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Chef Khabir and his galley staff. This first evening on board was occupied with more exploration of the ship, adjusting to her movements, and settling into our cabins. In the early hours of the morning we will be out into the open waters of the Drake Passage!

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

At Sea to Antarctica—Drake’s Passage
Date: 12.03.2019
Position: 56 °42’S/065°33’W
Wind: WSW 5
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +4

This morning we awoke to Katja’s cheerful morning announcement, the first of many pleasant wake-up calls informing us of our position, the temperature and local conditions! The Drake Passage offered up alluring gray skies and a gentle roll, and we were all able to put the recommendation of “one hand for yourself, one for the ship” into practice right away. The dining room was a little subdued during breakfast, the first sign that some of our seafaring companions may be feeling a little green around the gills! Fortunately, many of us were up and about, and able to enjoy some lovely marine mammals and birds around the ship in the morning - as well as a delicious breakfast - thank you to the team in the galley! At 10 am, we met Katja and the expedition team in the lounge for a briefing on current conditions around Antarctica, and how these will inform our plan. Katja introduced us to her two indispensable decision-making tools: and the ice chart. Between them, these function as Antarctic oracles, guiding our movements around the Peninsula. Due to extensive ice around the northern Antarctic Peninsula, we decided to change our plan to visit the Weddell Sea and instead head south, towards open seas and calm skies. We will aim to follow the good weather north and hope to make our way into the Weddell Sea towards the end of the voyage. Thus informed, we embarked on a jam-packed day of informative presentations and wildlife-watching from the bridge. At least—some of us did! The rest of us took the opportunity to rest, recover from jet lag and gain our sea legs. In the morning, Martin introduced us to some of the seabirds we may encounter, and it was fascinating to learn not only about the identifying features and physiology of these marvelous creatures, but also how they are threatened by some human activities, and what we can do to help. Next up we heard from Laura, our resident geologist and ice specialist, who introduced us to a plethora of ice types and terminologies. Who knew that ice could exist in so many different forms and have so many different names?! Laura also explained how scientists are studying Antarctic ice to understand more about our climate’s past and make predictions about the future. We left this lecture armed not only with some new vocabulary to describe the ice around us, but also some thought-provoking ideas about how Antarctic ice is changing over time. In the afternoon we joined Marijke, our shipboard penguin expert, to learn about some of the delightful penguins we hope to see during our time in Antarctica. There are several species of these flightless birds, emblematic of Antarctica, and Marijke ensured that when we encounter them, we’ll be able to tell the difference between a gentoo, chinstrap and Adelie. If we weren’t already charmed by these resourceful, hardy and well-adapted birds, by the end of this presentation we certainly were! We finished our day with a recap and briefing in the lounge, and are looking forward to tomorrow, each sea day bringing us closer to Antarctica!

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

At Sea to Antarctica—Drake’s Passage
Date: 13.03.2019
Position: 60 °42’S/063°22’W
Wind: W 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +2

Despite some rolling we had made good progress during the night and in the morning, we were already well beyond the Antarctic convergence and now steaming towards the South Shetland Islands. Katja woke us with news of the weather and after breakfast we received our muck boots to wear down in Antarctica. At 10 am, Katja gave a mandatory briefing about Zodiac operations so that we can be familiar with all the safety measures in place to get off the ship, on shore and back on the ship safely. Following this, Katja briefed us on IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) protocol and biosecurity, so that we will have minimal impact on the pristine environment of Antarctica. They explained how we should behave whilst in Antarctica to ensure the protection and conservation of this incredible, but very fragile environment. It is important that we follow certain protocols to ensure that we leave no trace of our visit and only take away nothing more than memories and photos. In order to ensure we follow these protocols, we had to vacuum our outerwear; ensuring no seeds or plant material was hiding in our pockets and Velcro. After lunch, many of us took the opportunity to have a little siesta as the mist came rolling in which reduced our chances to spot any exciting marine mammals and whales. At 3 pm, Carolina gave a lecture about prehistoric birds on the Antarctic continent. Amazing that some of the now extinct penguins reached a length of 180 cm! After tea and cake, Nina gave a lecture about the discovery of the Antarctic continent. Quite astonishing that it took several hundred years to set foot on the continent, and poor Captain James Cook that circumnavigated the entire continent without actually reaching land. After this lecture, we cruised through Boyd Strait, Snow Island on our port side and Smith Island to our starboard. Unfortunately, the mist was so thick that it was impossible to spot land. Many us managed, however, to spot a fin whale not too far from the ship. At 6:30 we gathered in the lounge to hear about the plans for tomorrow from Katja followed by a short presentation about aliens from Andrea and Argo floats by Hans. After which, we made our way down to dinner, full of excitement at what the following days would bring.

Day 4: Neko Harbour/Stony Point

Neko Harbour/Stony Point
Date: 14.03.2019
Position: 64 °49’S/062°39’W
Wind: WSW 3
Weather: Snow
Air Temperature: 0

Our first day out in Antarctica certainly started with a bang. Perhaps many were a bit hesitant about going ashore on such a misty cold morning … but those who braved the intimidating scenery was well rewarded. Besides getting to land on the continent of Antarctica itself, there was a lot to focus on. The first close-up penguin experience of the trip did not disappoint. Many people chose to simply stay close to the beach and enjoy the comings and going of the funny creatures waddling their way up and down the snowy slopes and across the rocky shore. These gentoo but others who wanted (or needed!) a bit of a leg stretch continued following the red pole track around to the side of the hill where there was a slight pause, to wait for any penguins using their highway to get down to the water to feed, or return to the colony to feed their chick. After the coast was clear, folks continued climbing up the snowy slope to see the hilltop perch of the gentoo … and then beyond once the fog lifted a bit from the higher ridge. The experience of looking down on the glacier front from above, or maybe just taking a moment to sit and appreciate the quiet snowfall and big white spaces … it was a special moment. Those who spent more time up on high were rewarded later in the landing also with ever-increasing views of the surrounding scenery, as well as increasingly bluer appearances of the water and glacier face below. We had time to enjoy gentoo family drama, skuas on the hunt, and even a much hoped for calving off the front of the glacier of a small piece of ice. The swell created was enough to throw some small waves crashing onshore but fortunately for us and the gentoo it was nothing like the tsunami-size waves that we had been warned were possible. After an excellent lunch back on board Plancius, we arrived at our afternoon excursion location, Stony Point. It was hard to see at times in fact, due to the thick snowflake streaming down from the sky, but we trusted our guides to navigate the zodiacs safely through the ice, fog, and snow to land us safely onshore. The weather had closed in so much that the planned split excursion (landing and zodiac cruise) was changed to a simple landing so that everyone could enjoy time on land together and not spend too much time outdoors in the more adverse weather conditions. Again, many folks chose to spend their time near the landing and shoreline, to get more experiences with the gentoo and their bathing routines. The rest headed up the hill on a nice track, zig zagging back and forth—almost looking like a Christmas tree from afar. The view from the top came and went with the snow and fog but it wasn’t too hard to imagine being surrounded by ice cliffs and the wonder of Antarctica. A few folks who headed back to the ship early went on a short cruise while the ship relocated into a better position—which gave them time to appreciate the variety of icebergs that needed navigating around, plus the new sea ice forming with the help of calm waters and the snowfall accumulating from above. Eventually everyone was recovered from shore—perhaps a few with wet boots as we had to step from rock to rock to get to the best spot at low tide to board the zodiacs. Once back on board everyone was surely in the mood for a hot drink, or at least some kind of drink, as we celebrated our first day in Antarctica together at recap and on afterwards at dinner and the bar. How could this special first day with true Antarctic weather be topped?

Day 5: Danco Island/Enterprise Island

Danco Island/Enterprise Island
Date: 15.03.2019
Position: 64 °41’S/062°30’W
Wind: ESE 2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +2

Our expedition leader woke us at 7 am this morning with the news that there were humpback and minke whales very close to the ship. Those of us who had been up and running for sunrise weren’t disappointed: the colours were a sight for sore eyes! After breakfast, we cruised around more humpback whales and admired them fluking. Thanks to the Bridge for slowing the ship and letting us begin our morning with some first-class whale-watching! At 8:45 am, we shuttled to Danco Island. On our way through the magnificently iceberg- and growler-strewn waters and we took some detours to admire Crabeater seals resting on ice. A lucky Zodiac was “visited” by a humpback whale who swam close to the boat, possibly resting or maybe checking us out. We heard and saw the incredible blows from up close and finally witnessed the fluking. On shore, we were greeted by curious Gentoos who came to inspect the strange, colourful visitors. There were swarms of Gentoos porpoising near the beach. A cheeky Snowy Sheathbill, otherwise known as the Antarctic chicken, foraged the shore and didn’t think anything of picking at the shore bags, backpacks laying on the ground, and the snow shoes too. For those of us who were keen to try snow shoeing, our guides had laid them out on the beach. Trudging up the hill either with or without the shoes was great exercise (and a good opportunity to work off some of the delicious food we had been enjoying!), and we were rewarded with spectacular views over the bay and the Gerlache Strait. Between the icebergs, we could just make out our ship which was anchored a breezy 5 Zodiac minutes away. Nice to be out on land, but good to know our floating, warm home was waiting for us! At a Gentoo colony, many of us got to witness a spectacle that only nature can deliver: a Giant Petrel preyed on a group of Gentoo youngsters and succeeded in catching one. The other Gentoo chicks huddled together as soon as the petrel caught its prey—an amazing survival strategy which worked for all except the unlucky chick that was caught. It put up a valiant fight but lost in the end—while it was hard to watch for many of us, this is life here in the icy wilderness: petrels need to feed their young ones, too. We had the opportunity to make our way further up the hill where we enjoyed panoramic views and the chance to breathe deeply. Those of us brave (or mad) enough to do the polar plunge did so at 11 am—it was quite a number of them, cheered on by the other (more sane?) passengers who watched with a mixture of horror and elation as person after person courageously waded into the waters. The beach was alive with squeaks and squeals! Toweled off and shuttled back to the Plancius, we enjoyed a hot shower and a nourishing lunch, before we had time for a nap while our captain and crew sailed us some 30 nautical miles further north, to where our next adventure awaited us: Enterprise Island! Here, we split in two groups by cabin numbers, and our expedition guides took us for a refreshing, snowy Zodiac ride around the wonders of this region. We saw the remains of the Governor, a whaling ship that in 1915 caught fire and was run aground to save the lives of those sailing on it. A few crosses on the surrounding rocks marked the loss of whalers’ lives in the bay and served as an eerie reminder of the challenges and tragedies of this harsh region. On a more chipper note, we saw leopard seals lounging in the water, head and tail just above the surface of the water, eyeing our zodiacs curiously. We saw Antarctic shags nesting on the rocks, crabeater seals and Antarctic fur seals, one of which approached a couple of our little boats and circled it. The occasional Gentoo penguin delighted us, as did the lichens and mosses we discovered on some rock formations. For many of us, this was the first truly cold expedition day—snow and wind reminded us that we are indeed in the Antarctic! But again, our trusty ship awaited us at the end of our day, and we were served a truly Antarctic feast: a BBQ that was served on the back deck. Some of us braved the conditions and could be observed, bundled up, enjoying their food in the open, whereas most of us preferred to dine in the warm dining room. It was a great end for another exciting day south!

Day 6: Portal Point/Cierva Cove

Portal Point/Cierva Cove
Date: 16.03.2019
Position: 64 °22’S/061°47’W
Wind: Var
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +2

Today, Plancius wakes up early to the voice of our Expedition Leader Katja. The morning was beautiful with a soft light that reflected on the different icebergs you could see in the bay. After breakfast, a visit to Portal Point scheduled. Portal Point was used by the British in the 1950s as a base for survey works into the interior of the Antarctic Peninsula. There, dog sledge teams were able to make their way onto the slope. At Portal Point, the expedition members were split in two groups for landing and Zodiac cruise, halfway through the morning the groups were swapped. The Point is a scenic landing where all had a chance to walk up the snow dome for a view over the iceberg littered bay. People had a nice time playing in the snow or just sitting and enjoying the beautiful view of the bay. There was a crabeater seal welcoming us on shore. However, it was sleeping and did not really move during the whole landing. It was still surprising to see them on the rock than on ice, because it is quite unusual. On the other side of the neck, there was a fur seal, also resting. They were probably back from a busy morning. During the Zodiac cruise, several Humpback Whales were seen feeding in the bay. Also, we had the chance to drive around icebergs and along to coast of Portal Point and waves at the people at the landing. Upon the return to Plancius, guest lecturer Javier presented in the Lounge us his finding of “Dinosaurs, plesiosaurs and other ancient vertebrates from Gondwana”. A talk about the fossil record in Antarctica and his insight secrets about what paleontologists really do in the field. In the middle of the afternoon Plancius had arrived at Cierva Cove. On the other side of the bay, there is an Argentinean base called Primavera that is only open during summer. This wide bay, with several icebergs and brash ice, is created by multiple glaciers feeding into the area. The islands in the bay are full of wildlife, with both Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins breading here. These colonies attract birds like Southern Giant Petrel, South Polar Skua and Snowy Sheathbill. We also saw a few whales in the horizon, but it was too far to reach it with the Zodiacs. Along the shoreline several Leopard Seals were seen patrolling. Also, we saw hundred of gentoo penguins porpoising around the zodiac. During the second group of Zodiacs cruise, the second cruise was lucky enough to so leopard seals feeding on Gentoo. The seal was smashing the penguin on the water to try to remove the skin of the animal and easy access the blubber. It was an amazing and a bit bloody show that everyone enjoys, even the guide that saw that behaviour for the first time too. After two amazing cruises, at 6 pm, we were all back on board Plancius and we set a course for the Antarctic Sound on the Eastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula for the next day! The day finished as usual with a Recap, a drink from the bar and an amazing dinner.

Day 7: The Antarctic Sound

The Antarctic Sound
Date: 17.03.2019
Position: 63°01’S/058°08’W
Wind: NNW 6
Weather: Rain, Overcast
Air Temperature: 0

During the morning, we were on our way to the Antarctic Sound; the entrance to the Weddell Sea. Many eager guests were waiting to explore the magnificent surroundings of the Weddell Sea, but as we approach the sound, the wind picked up to 42 knots, which is too high for us to operate safely with the Zodiacs. Instead, we spent the morning on the ship observing the roaring ocean and the snow-capped mountains surrounding us. At 10:30 am Andrea gave a lecture about Women in Antarctica; the story about women’s fight for equal rights to set foot on the continent. At the same time, up on the bridge, Hanz and Marjike were looking for the much expected … killer whale! No luck in the morning, but we had nice encounter with humpbacks and a lot of different sea birds which made up for it. After lunch, the expedition team left the ship to scout Brown Bluff’s landing. This time, the wind had dropped significantly and conditions looked quite promising. Unfortunately, a high swell from this morning wind, in combination with large pieces of ice along the shoreline made landing impossible. Plan B: Ship cruise into the Weddell Sea! Luckily, the strong wind during the morning had pushed the ice further east, which allowed us to travel further into the Weddell Sea than expected. The wind had dropped significantly, and the sun was shining from a blue sky. We sailed towards a big tabular iceberg and, because this type of iceberg is more stable than the usual iceberg, we were able to cruise around it. The sun was shining and reflecting on the ice which enhanced the different features and colors of the ice. Humpback whales surfaced around the ship and Antarctic fur seals and crab eater seals were scattered out on ice floes. Suddenly we spotted several blows at one o’clock, Killer Whales!!! First widely spread and in a loose group, they moved closer together and we could see a several big males with huge dorsal fins. What a sight! These were the Orca Type-B, or Pack Ice Orca as they are also called. The entire pod totally consisting of around 45 individuals were probably fishing and originally moving away from us, but one group broke away from the main pod and to swim straight towards us to ultimately give some incredible views reasonably close to the ship. This was an amazing show and made up for the canceled landing. We were relieved we were not on land because we would have missed it. The day ended in a stunning sunset and since most of us wanted to spend the early evening outside we decided to push the recap until after dinner. We made our way down to dinner, full of excitement at what the following day would bring.

Day 8: Brown Bluff/Antarctic Sound

Brown Bluff/Antarctic Sound
Date: 18.03.2019
Position: 63 °25’S/056°44’W
Wind: ESE 2
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: 0

The morning dawned clear with only a thin layer of high-altitude clouds blocking the blue beyond, promising a lovely morning for our landing at Brown Bluff. As forecast, the winds had died down and after the team’s scout boat had gone to shore it became clear that the landing was a go. As we approached the beach—navigating through icebergs and brash ice on the zodiacs-- we saw the team had found a small break in the large bergy bits clogging the entire beach front. It was through this narrow channel we were able to sneak ashore to enjoy an incredible morning on the continent. The brown and gold cliffs behind the beach created an impressive backdrop to the spectacle of molting gentoo in the foreground and then the black volcanic-rock beach covered with sparkling mounds of white and blue ice. Even though Brown Bluff is known for its adelie penguin colony, being so late in the season most of the penguins had already left out to sea. Thankfully the sharp eyes of the expedition team found us one or two adelie penguins so that we could appreciate this properly Antarctic penguin species before ending our trip. The Adelies were noticeably smaller than all the fat gentoo lazing around on the beach and uplands, and that short black bill and white eye ring help to create an unmistakable air of attitude surrounding their sturdy compact bodies. Everything was so relaxed on shore—penguins hanging around chilling out, fur seals lazing and flopping in the sun, people wandering amongst the stranded bergy bits … we should have brought a Sunday picnic to shore. There were many folks, however, who opted for a more energetic activity, walking up a moraine slope to get a view point over and along a glacier. Walking along the track, it was surprising to notice that even on that steep rubbly slope there were bits and pieces of moss growing in and amongst the rubble—what hardy organisms! The rocky shoreline on either side of the landing site provided nice platforms from which to observe the surroundings in peace: Antarctic shags and juvenile kelp gulls flying to and from on their morning commute, fur seals playing in the water or adjusting position during a brief nap break, and even our fellow humans exploring and pausing every now and again to capture some sight or detail as a treasured digital memory. Even after four hours on shore it felt too soon to head back to the ship. But really we were just in time as the tide was rising and bergy bits were beginning to move into shore—the last boat to leave the shore just squeaked through between two large chunks of ice that were about to close off the passage to open water. Nicely done, everyone! It was difficult to be indoors once back on the ship as the sun was shining, showing off Antarctica in all its finest. We were on our way deeper into the Weddell Sea to see what we could see. After an excellent lunch, the decks were busy with folks enjoying the scenery and spectacle of ice on the horizon … but much nearer than yesterday! In the night, the currents brought the drifting ice further into Antarctic Sound, where we were not able to get much further than level with Rosamel Island, where we had passed her by several miles on our cruise of yesterday. It was a great example of how much condition can change day to day, and even minute by minute as we were to experience later. A call came of a dead whale to port, being fed upon by flocks of giant petrels. A bit of a gruesome sight, but interesting to think about how many organisms will benefit from this huge windfall of sustenance—everything from the GPs and skuas ripping and tearing chunks from the carcass and on down to the Wilson storm petrel going after floating scraps and all manner of zooplankton who would be filter feeding up all the tiny bits and pieces. It was decided to go for a zodiac cruise in this spot to take advantage of such a concentration of species—but by the time all the boats were in the water it was apparent that the currents in the area were strong and moving the ice in complicated ways. More concerningly the ship was slowly drifting towards shallow waters and so had to relocate to more open and deeper waters. By the time passengers were loaded the ice had closed in around the carcass and feeding frenzy so it turned out the ship had been the best viewing platform which is often the case. This did not deter our trusty guides, however, as there is always something interesting to find, one just has to look with open eyes and minds. The afternoon cruise was excellent! Several seals on ice were seen including a close-up view of crabeater and fur seals, and a special time with a “pretty dead” leopard seal, who lazed and stretched and then showed off how big and wide its mouth could really stretch and just how many teeth it really had! The team gave us special treat—getting to land on an ice floe! It seemed easy enough to run the zodiac up on the edge of the ice, surprisingly the edge was quite firm and held the boats while we all got out and took a walk around. It was a bit surreal to notice that the floe was moving as we were on it; perhaps more than one person was glad to get back to the safety of the zodiac. The cruise continued through more and more ice, it was so incredible to look out over glassy calm water to endless views of ice, ice, and more ice. And so many shapes and sizes! Long flat floes of sea ice—where you could see layers of snowfall lying on top of the denser bluer ice frozen from the sea, big bulky glacier-calved icebergs, ice chunks so blue that we knew they had to come from the bottom of a glacier to get all the air bubbles squeezed out, and everything in between. So many different sculpted forms, it’s likely that many memory cards were maxed out by the end of the day. Just when we were feeling a bit cold and finally on the way back to the ship after a three hours tour … whales were sighted, again! Some were gifted with a lucky encounter just off the ship’s bow and as the humpbacks swam away it felt like they were giving us a sweet send off farewell on what would now be our return journey north. This day was not over yet, the scenery continued to astound as the sun grew lower in the sky, the water was calm, and the ice provided endless variation for photographs. Out on deck, smiles and eyes got bigger and bigger as the colors got deeper and more intense—blues, purples, pinks, orange … could it get any better? Of course—orcas were spotted off the bow and graced us with their presence for a few moments. And then, what is that there—is that a space ship? No, it was the moon, rising orange and alien-like above the distance icy landscape. Everywhere you turned there was something amazing happening, so hard to take in and process. Michael sure had a difficult time encouraging folks to come in to dinner but eventually the pull of a warm hearty meal and the ever-decreasing temperatures on deck combined to bring everyone to the table. The dining-room scene was a boisterous affair, with spirits high after such an incredible day. The evening came to a close with an after-dinner recap, touching on the finer points of the day—as if we needed reminding of how stunning it all was! Our rest tonight would be the sleep of contentment, with still a slight buzz of how fortunate we have been … and bittersweet thoughts of our final landing tomorrow.

Day 9: Half Moon Island

Half Moon Island
Date: 19.03.2019
Position: 62 °35’S/059°31’W
Wind: NW 2–3
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +1

Our expedition leader Katja woke us up at 7 am. We had the opportunity to enjoy another beautiful pastel-colored sunrise sky before heading to breakfast. Outside, Livingstone Island and its peaks, some of them reaching 1500m height, gleamed in the morning light. What a sight to enjoy our (proverbial) oatmeal too! At 7:45 am, we took the Zodiacs to Half Moon Island. While there are volcanic rocks and the appearances of craters, it has indeed been millions of years since the last volcanic activity. Near the landing site, fur seals and chinstrap penguins greeted us. In the background, the remains of a wooden dory reminded us that this area had once seen sealing activities. We liberated ourselves from our life jackets and set out exploring. A nearby chinstrap colony provided not only the sound of several dozen penguins communicating noisily with each other, but also the smell. A rich array of different-colored lichens and mosses on the rocks made the hearts of botanists and naturalists in our group beat faster. The sunshine made the rocks light up and provided fantastic opportunities for photography. Those of us who had signed up to the long hike left with four of our guides at 9 am. Passing through a cobbled beach is dotted with fur seals, we first came to an Argentine summer research station called Camara, now closed because the scientists have recently packed up for the season. Walking up through loose rocks and some snow wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but the spectacular views over the sea and Half Moon Island made the effort worth it. The rest of us had four hours and a lot of sunshine to explore this beautiful little island. Walking up to a saddle, we had spectacular views in all directions: jousting fur seals on the beach below, a chinstrap colony on the ridges, the peaks and glaciers of Livingston island, and our trusty ship on the water. On the beach on the far side of the island, three female elephant seals lay nestled up against each other, enjoying the sun and the warmth of the rock. When it was time to return to the ship, the weather had turned: it was snowing, temperatures dropped, and we were both sad to be leaving Antarctica and glad to be able to return to the warm ship and a hot lunch. In the afternoon, our expedition team organized a climate change panel: Katja, Laura, Martin, and Jos presented the scientific status quo on this topic in regards to Antarctica, and a lively discussion followed, in which it became clear that passion and expertise often go hand in hand. After recap, in which Katja told us what the next couple of days will look like, Andrea talked about ice babies and geopolitics, and Marijke presented facts and (otherworldly) sounds about Antarctic seals, we reminisced about the day and our trip so far over dinner.

Day 10: At Sea to Ushuaia

At Sea to Ushuaia
Date: 20.03.2019
Position: 59 °32’S/060°03’W
Wind: NW 7
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: +4

It’s the first day on the Drake Passage of the return voyage to Ushuaia. The notorious Drake shows itself from its mild side with 7 Beauford winds and waves of about 4 meters in the morning. Our Expedition Leader Katja wakes us up at 7:59 am followed by hotel manager Michael at 8 am for his breakfast call. The morning lecture is given by Hans on the Whales and Dolphins of the Southern Ocean. In his talk, he gave an overview of the cetacean species that can be seen on the Drake Passage and how to identify them. The lecture also included a short overview of the whaling history and reasons to protect and research whales in the Southern Ocean. During the afternoon the wind picks up to 9 Beauford and the waves to about 8 meters. In the afternoon, Jos give her insights in “A day in the life of the US Antarctic Program”. Jos has spent two winters and one summer at the American McMurdo & South Pole Stations. She shares her unique experiences of the station life, showing how people live, rest, eat, work and recreate on the stations. The afternoon program is completed by our guest lecturers Carolina and Javier in their talk about amazing fossil records from Antarctica, “Nature’s recipe: Transforming life into fossils”. Just before the beginning of the talk, we had the chance to spot a group of hourglass dolphins playing in the waves next to the boat. It was beautiful to see those black and white creatures so close to the boat. At Recap our Head Chef Khabir presented a video about the work he and his team are doing every day in the galley. After the weather update from Katja another video was shown of the work that is being done in the engine room of Plancius and Martin gave a recap about the top ten birds in Antarctica. Not everyone agrees with the top place, but he is expert … so he is probably right! Plancius continues its crossing of the Drake Passage into the night with heading set for the Beagle Channel.

Day 11: At Sea to Ushuaia

At Sea to Ushuaia
Date: 21.03.2019
Position: 56 °17’S/064°46’W
Wind: NNW 2
Weather: Drizzle
Air Temperature: +7

It is already 8 am, and for the last morning of the trip in the Drake Passage, we are woken up by Katja and Michael voices that told us it was time to get up and go for breakfast. It was a bit of a rocky night with ship rolling quite a lot. We were happy to hear that the wind had dropped, and that swell should follow soon. It is a cloudy morning, but the sun is trying to shine through. After breakfast, most of us gathered in the lounge to look at the horizon, read a book or sort out all the photos they took during this adventure. It brought up a lot of memory and everyone made us realized that this trip is coming to an end. 10:30 am, Katja presented her experience with overwintering in Antarctica for 15 months at the German base, Neumayer. It was fascinating to hear about the experience of someone that spent such a long time in this cold, but beautiful, environment. For some us, it made us which we could do the same and the others were glad that our trip only lasted 12 days. After that, we had a bit of time before lunch and we stayed in the lounge or outside on the different decks to try to spot some albatrosses, whales and maybe dolphins. Finally, Michael called us for lunch and we all go down in the dining room enjoying our last lunch on Plancius. The afternoon goes slowly and, just before 3 pm, some orcas are spotted next to a fishing boat. We decided to postponed the lecture and go toward the creatures. While we were getting closer, we could see more and more bird flying around the boat. We saw some black-browed Albatross, Southern Royal Albatross, White morph Giant Petrel… Attracted by the smell of the fishing boat, they were flying around. We finally saw the orcas. At least three families were following the boat. We could not get too close because the fishing vessel was working. However, we had a good look of juveniles breaching, long male dorsal fin… What an amazing welcoming to the entrance of the Beagle Channel. After that, Andrea presented what goes on in the mind of over-winters, how do they prepare for this long journey and what happens on the way back. It was really interesting to hear about the polar psychology, especially after Jos and Katja talks about their own experiences. No one reacts the same with isolation and Andrea gave a good overview of the process. After the talk, we were all called by deck to bring back our rubber boots and rental gears. This is another step towards leaving the ship tomorrow. At 6:15 pm we began our farewells with Captains cocktails followed by a slideshow presentation of our trip that had been compiled by Martin, we enjoyed a smooth evening in the bar before going to bed at the end of our Antarctic expedition.

Day 12: Disembarkation—Ushuaia

Date: 22.03.2019

After picking up the pilot at 1 am, and a leisurely sail into port, we arrived at the pier early in the morning. In store for us this morning was a dry landing onto the dock—and a different kind of journey ahead-- involving planes, trains, and automobiles instead of ships, zodiacs, and kayaks. The last 10 days have taken us on a remarkable adventure 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, the massive glaciers from Danco or the sight of zodiacs surrounded by ice and fog, they are memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Total distance sailed on our voyage: 1974 Nautical miles Furthest South: 64 °54’S 062°55’W On behalf of everyone on board we thank you for traveling with us and wish you a safe journey home.

Have you been on this voyage?