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PLA31-24, trip log, Antarctica - Elephant Island - Weddell Sea - Polar Circle

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Ushuaia – Embarkation Day

Ushuaia – Embarkation Day
Date: 07.03.2024
Position: 54° 55.6’S / 67° 25.4’W
Wind: W 2
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +14

Welcome to Plancius, welcome to Oceanwide Expeditions. Today our adventure to Antarctica was going to start and we couldn’t be more excited.

It was a beautiful summer day in Ushuaia with abundant sunshine, hardly any wind and nice mild temperatures. Perfect conditions for some last minute outdoor gear shopping and a last cup of coffee on solid grounds.

At 4 P.M. we were welcome to board our gracious ship M/V Plancius. She was one of the smaller ones in port today, but definitely also the coolest. The expedition team gave us a warm welcome and so did the entire hotel team. Assistant Hotel Manager Alfredo checked us in and we were guided to our cabins by the friendly members of the crew.

At 5:15 P.M. our expedition leader Claudio welcomed us in the lounge where he gave us more information about the mandatory safety drill and abandon ship procedure. After being shown a safety video, the first officer provided us with more information before starting the drill. When the alarm signals had sounded, we made our way back to the lounge together with our large life jackets. We put on our life jackets and then awaited further instructions. Then the abandon ship command was given, and we all made our way to the deck where the life boats are located. The 3rd officer gave us more information about the life boat procedure and after that there was time to have a look inside one of the life boats. Not very comfortable or spacious, but of course necessary in case of emergency.

And then the moment was there; the mooring lines were pulled in and we were leaving Ushuaia Port. Our expedition had officially started! We enjoyed the warm weather and stunning landscapes from the outer decks while Ushuaia slowly became smaller and smaller.

At 6:30 P.M. we were invited to join the expedition team and the captain in the lounge for a toast with some delicious prosecco and tasty snacks. We received more information about how things work on the ship and how the expedition is planned. During the expedition we depend a lot on the weather conditions and Claudio explained that we often have multiple plans in case our Plan A cannot be done. That sounds like a proper expedition which excited us even more!

After a long day it was time to have dinner. Today chef Ivan and his team prepared a delicious buffet menu. We met our fellow passengers in the dining room which was buzzing with chatter and laughter. A perfect way to start the expedition.

The first few hours of the evening the ship would still be very stable, but around midnight we would start sailing the Drake and the first rolling would be felt. Good night!

Day 2: At Sea – Drake Passage

At Sea – Drake Passage
Date: 08.03.2024
Position: 56° 55.5’S / 63° 03.5’W
Wind: NE 6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

Good morning Plancius. Today we woke up in the Drake Passage and it wasn’t all too bad. Some gentle rolling, but nothing too extreme. Yet the dining room had some empty spaces and unfortunately during the mandatory briefings it seemed that seasickness had gotten to some of us.

However, many of us felt good enough to make it to the lounge for the mandatory briefings. The first one was for our zodiac operations. All our landings will be wet landings and as such it is important to embark and disembark the zodiacs in a correct and safe manner. Weather conditions can also change rapidly in Antarctica, so this briefing is very important.

The second was the IAATO briefing. IAATO is the organization of Antarctic Tour Operators who have established certain rules and regulations that members need to abide by. One of those important regulations is biosecurity. To avoid alien species (plants, animals, other) invading this pristine continent, all visitors need to do a proper bio security cleaning. This means properly cleaning all our outdoor gear, backpacks, and boots. This gathering of group cleaning is called a “Vacuum Party” and it is planned for tomorrow.

Other rules relate to keeping distances to wildlife and making sure we’re cleaning our boots after every landing. With avian flu having made its way to Antarctica we need to prevent the virus from spreading so disinfecting our boots is very important.

After lunch it was time for the kayak briefing by Alexis and then it was Marco’s turn. Marco did a great lecture introducing us to Antarctica. Marco delivered the presentation with great passion and with his small jokes he kept the audience engaged.

In the meantime, Koen was on bridge watch. During bridge watch the staff looks for wildlife and around 17:30 Koen spotted an orca. We don’t often see orcas in the Drake so this was quite special. It was a large male with a huge dorsal fin. For adult males the size of this fin can be up to 1.80 meter or 6ft. Unfortunately, we didn’t spot the rest of the pod so we were left with a quick look at this impressive male.

At 18:15 it was time for our first real recap. During recap Claudio informs us about the plans for the next day and tells us about the weather forecast. Usually this is followed by a number of short presentations by the expedition staff.

Steffi talked about the Drake Passage whereas Koen talked about the Antarctic Convergence. Carina closed today’s recap with a short presentation about ships terms and where to look when we spot wildlife.

Time for dinner!

Day 3: At Sea – Elephant Island, Point Wild

At Sea – Elephant Island, Point Wild
Date: 09.03.2024
Position: 60° 18.5’S / 56° 79.8’W
Wind: E 5
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: +2

When we got our wake-up call from Claudio at 7.45 , the sea was quite calm but still some fog around the ship! The navigation plan showed just 123 nm left to Elephant island.

The fog cleared up during the morning and we had the chance to see some whales.

To get ready for our great adventures in Antarctica, we all got our muck boots. After trying for the right size a lot of our passengers also tried them outside and went for a short walk on the outer decks. Low it was time for the mandatory biosecurity treatment of all outer gear, back packs, tripods and muck boots. Beside the vacuum cleaner, we used all sorts of tools including very helpful paper clips, to get any seed, grass or other dirt off the gear. Also some walking sticks and boots had to be washed at the zodiac boarding station.

Now everything was prepared for our first landing in antarctica and we all enjoyed lunch. The afternoon started with the kayakers getting their gear from Alexis and more information about their activities.

Nearly everybody took the chance to get helpful advises for camera settings in Koen’s lecture. It makes a difference if you take pictures of snowy landscape or of a whale in dark water. To be prepared for everything also some passengers have more than 3 different cameras.

Then we had an early dinner, because we hoped to be at Point Wild/ Elephant Island early this evening. During dinner suddenly the first icebergs appeared in the fog and then the rocks of Elephant Island. We made it! We celebrated the view of Point Wild on the bow and saw the bust of Captain Padua, pinguins and a wonderful glacier. Ice cream for dessert was afterwards served in the lounge and there was a lot of chatting before everybody went to bed. Just to be ready for the next day of expedition!

Day 4: Antarctic Sound – Fridtjof Sound – Devil Island

Antarctic Sound – Fridtjof Sound – Devil Island
Date: 10.03.2024
Position: 63° 45.6’S / 62° 52.2’W
Wind: W 2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 0

The day started very early with the wakeup call with an amazing announcement from Claudio, we had officially arrived to our first day of activities in Antarctica! The feeling was overwhelming. We were sailing the Bransfield Strait and with this our memory cards started to fill with images.

Valeria started the morning off with an entertaining presentation about The Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901–1903 led by Otto Nordenskjold. The expeditions’ ship, the Antarctic, captained by CA Larsen, sailed to Snow Hill Island to establish a research station where six members of the expedition overwintered and conducted various scientific studies. The rest of the expedition set sail for the South Orkney Islands. However, after the winter on the way back to Snow Hill Island, the Antarctic got crushed in the ice and sank.

At this point, the expedition members were divided into three groups. One of these overwintered an extra year on Snow Hill Island, and the other two groups were forced to build stone huts to overwinter at Hope Bay and Paulet Island. By complete chance, the party at Hope Bay and Snow Hill Island met on Oct 12th, 1903, at Cape Well-met, commemorating the long-delayed union after twenty months of enforced separation. An Argentinean vessel, Uruguay, then rescued all three parties in November 1903. The expedition team on board the Plancius had fun acting these scenes out, under Valeria’s enthusiastic directing and narration.

We were Sailing the Antarctic Sound, that now we know the history behind the name. Antarctic Sound is about 60 km long (37 miles) and less than 15 km wide (9 miles) at its narrowest part. The Antarctic Sound was first navigated by the vessel Antarctic belonging to the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1902, led by Otto Nordenskjold. This arm of ocean separates the Trinity Peninsula from the Joinville, D’Urville, Dundee islands and the smaller Bransfield and Anderson islands.

In these waters we had the opportunity to see some blows, Humpbacks were starting to show us how much Antarctica has to offer!

Lunch was interrupted by an announcement; amazing tabular icebergs had surrounded us! We all run to the windows to take pictures of this gigantic example of pure nature. We were sailing the Fridjof Sound and the captain demonstrated us the skills needed to sail these waters.

In the afternoon, finally, the moment that we all were waiting; start the exploration by ourselves! Zodiac boarding, gangway all things that we learned about in the last days, now was a reality! Claudio was waiting for us at our first landing site; Devil Island!

We had the opportunity to see for the first time and very close the refined and beautiful Adelie Penguins whereas a few fur seals were resting on the beach, and skuas were flying all around. The brownish landscape with low clouds, made the moment more memorable.

Devil Island is a narrow, rocky island. It has a low valley in the middle, with two peaks at either end. This gives it an uncanny “devil’s horns” look! It’s found in the James Ross Island group of the Antarctic Peninsula.

It was almost time for our daily recap, when another announcement made us run, we had spotted orcas! A large and calm pod of orcas was the cherry on the cake for this day and something that we will never forget.

Day 5: The Naze – James Ross Island – Snow Hill

The Naze – James Ross Island – Snow Hill
Date: 11.03.2024
Position: 63° 56.4’S / 56° 55.8’W
Wind: SE 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: -2

It’s the morning of day two of the adventure in the Weddell Sea. We were sailing further to James Ross Island to the northern tip of the Naze/Comb Ridge. As we arrived fog came in but it cleared up a soon after so we could start our morning operation. As we landed at the beach, we gathered all together and Marco led us for a long hike through the rocky ground. It was nice to stretch our legs a bit more after being on the ship for some days. We even found some fossils on the other side of the beach. Sadly, plan A had to be canceled as the fog came back to the island, so we had to go back the same way we came. But it was a nice calm morning.

Back on the ship, we set sail to reach our afternoon destination, Snow Hill Island. It took us further south into the Weddel Sea. After a cup of tea/coffee we heard the announcement for the lunch. We were a bit hungry after our morning activities, so we enjoyed the food and recharged our energy levels.

After the lunch we had time to rest a bit before we headed out again.

As we were sailing towards Snow Hill Island, we encountered a lot of icebergs, and our bridge team navigated us nicely through these big icy chunks. It was a beautiful landscape and as we came closer to Snow Hill Island, we could see the hut of the Swedish Expedition Nordenskjold. We were all excited to see the legendary and historic hut with Valeria’s lecture still fresh in our minds. It’s hard to imagine being stuck here in this remote place not knowing if you’re going to be picked up or not.

We reached our position and we saw the team going to shore to prepare everything for us. Then it was time for us to go ashore and see the hut and the fossils around. The hut was quite small inside, but it had everything which was needed to survive. Before we left the hut, we could sign the guestbook. Then we could go all the way uphill to a stunning viewpoint.

We embraced this small workout and once on the high point we enjoyed beautiful and distant views all around. We took a lot of pictures before we headed back to the ship. It had been a beautiful day with lots of history to see and witness. Time to get ready for recap and yet another delicious meal!

Day 6: Beak Island

Beak Island
Date: 12.03.2024
Position: 63° 38.2’S / 56° 46.3’W
Wind: N 7
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +1

Good morning! Smooth and calm waters were gently disturbed by the bow waves created by M/V Plancius as she stealthy creeped into Duse Bay. On the starboard side, right behind the volcanic cliffs of the Tabarin peninsula, sunlight started to appear on the horizon. Violet and orange striation appeared on the almost cleared sky, whilst on the port side the craggy cliffs of Beak island started to get lit by the early sun rays. A beautiful and calm morning, perfect for another day of pure exploration in the Weddell Sea.

Overnight the ship had repositioned north, after leaving the Admiralty sound between Snow Hill and James Ross islands. Now we found ourselves transiting on the west coast of the northeastern tip of the peninsula. A bit more than a hundred years ago, the second party of the Swedish Antarctic Expedition, was left in Hope bay due to the extended sea ice that hadn’t allow the Antarctic, the ship commanded by Carl Anton Larsen, to reach and retrieve the main party of the expedition who had wintered in Snow Hill island.

The three-man party, led by Andersson, managed to cross the narrowest point of the Peninsula to reach what they hoped would lead them across the sea ice towards Snow Hill island. Unfortunately, they found open water in the embayment that nowadays bears the name of Simon Duse, one of the members of the expedition.

We landed on the North shore of Beak island, another of the volcanic islands that belongs to the James Ross Island Volcanic Group. A calm and warm day offered us magnificent conditions for a nice hike. Once on shore we were guided alongside the little bay, with several Antarctic Fur seals welcoming and posing for us, whilst South Polar Skuas patrolled the area flying over our heads. A thin layer of fresh snow from past night covered the ground, allowing us to observe some interesting ground patterns, polygons of irregular shapes that can be visible in periglacial terrains created by the freezing and thawing sequence of the seasons.

The path led us on top of a small morainic ridge from where we could enjoy the view of the southern side of the island, dotted by a couple of freshwater lakes, hence the high concentration of skuas. The skuas most likely use them for drinking and cleaning purposes.

After a few switchbacks we conquered an intermediate vantage point over Duse Bay and the Tabarin peninsula. Quickly a small crowd gather for pictures, whilst continuing our last bid for the summit. Meanwhile ominous lenticular clouds had started to form right on top of some of the peaks that stood out from Mott Snowfield. The wind would soon pick up.

Back to the shoreline a long-lasting tradition of Antarctic Expedition voyages were put into place. We stripped off our outer layers and we enjoyed a joyful and exciting polar plunge right on time before the wind picked up.

Back on the ship, the anchor was lifted, and we started to sail East to round the Tabarin peninsula and navigated the narrow channel of Fridtjof Sound. Big tabular icebergs were still guarding the entrance whilst the lenticular clouds started to increase and pile up in the sky. As we battled our way through the channel against a strong current of 4 knots, M/V Plancius reached the rocky outcrop of Brown Bluff.

From the outer decks we could see the ancient structure of the subglacial volcano that created this interesting landscape. Brown Bluff is a tuya, a subglacial volcanic edifice formed around 1 million years ago under a thick 500-600m of ice sheet. Pillow lava fields and hyaloclastic palagonitic tuff deposits were visible from the ship, while we observed the operations unveiling despite the gust had picked up and were reaching 25-28 knots. Carina and Marco were bobbling around in the zodiacs trying to approach the gangway for several times to pick up the rest of the landing party. However, the swell and the wind were playing against us and Claudio decided to wrap up the operation just in time before the wind started to gust at 40-45 knots.

Quickly a prompt decision was made to move to our next destination on the Western side of the Peninsula, which would give us a chance to see Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins. M/V Plancius then started to sail North along the Active Sound and around the tip of the Peninsula. In the meantime, Steffi presented us with an interesting lecture about the cetaceans we hoped to see during the next days. Right before dinner Claudio presented us the plans for the next days. We were leaving the Weddell sea behind after three fantastic days spent in this unique area of the Antarctic Peninsula; ahead of us new adventures and exploratory days awaited on the rich waters of De Gerlache strait and the Lemaire Channel.

Day 7: D’Hainaut Island – Mikkelsen Harbour – Cierva Cove

D’Hainaut Island – Mikkelsen Harbour – Cierva Cove
Date: 13.03.2024
Position: 64° 04.6’S / 61° 05.1’W
Wind: Calm
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 0

During the night M/V Plancius sailed south following the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. During breakfast time we arrived at our destination. Our expedition team offered a landing at D’Hainaut Island which is situated and well protected in Mikkelsen Harbour. The island forming that sheltered place is called Trinity Island. After breakfast we went by zodiac to the island. Brash ice in front of the landing site made the landing interesting, however the experienced zodiac drivers managed to reach the shoreline.

Right next to the landing site the remains of a wooden boat and a lot of huge whalebones covered the beach. The island is home for a big colony of Gentoo penguins, and we were greeted by quite a few generation 23/24 youngsters. They looked at us as if they had never seen humans before. Hundreds of penguins covered the remaining shorelines, swimming in pools, but also going through their annual moulting process. It was interesting to watch their behaviour, but also get an impression how they smell. That fragrance will probably not be the new Chanel number 5 ;).

By crossing the island, we reached a small bay which was at that time a feeding ground of Wilsons Storm Petrels. It was magical to observe them. It looked like they walk on the ocean with their long legs by flying like butterflies. In between the penguins, a lot of Pale Faced Sheathbills walked around and of course, skuas were present as well. We enjoyed the time onshore a lot and a warm tea onboard helped us warming up after returning.

During lunch we relaxed a bit and looked forward for the next activity. Plancius passed the Gerlache Strait and entered Cierva Cove of the Antarctic Peninsula. The landscape was amazing, flat calm sea, huge icebergs in a bay surrounded by massive glacier fronts, calving in the sea. Beside those massive icebergs, a lot of pieces of various sizes drifted around and we had the possibility to explore the area by zodiac.

We all had close encounters of whales, both humpback and minke whales. It was amazing to listen to how they breathe. Some of them were obviously feeding and dived deep by showing the fluke. Two species of penguins are breeding in the area, Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins, and we visited both in their separated colonies.

We also had amazing encounters of leopard seals. Most of them were resting on ice floes, but some of us were lucky to see how they hunt and eat a penguin. This was a magical afternoon filled with a wide variety of wildlife and action.

Day 8: Paradise Bay – Punta Vidt – Continental Landing

Paradise Bay – Punta Vidt – Continental Landing
Date: 14.03.2024
Position: 64° 53.6’S / 63° 10.9’W
Wind: E 3
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +5

[…] Another beautiful day in Antarctica […] Every morning we heard these few specific words over the PA-System from our expedition leader Claudio with the last words Thank you! This morning we sailed into Paradise Bay for our morning operations.

Dressed warmly, we joined the zodiacs for a stunning morning cruise along glaciers, beautiful rock formations and wildlife. We started at the Argentinian Research Station Brown Station which is mostly occupied during the summer time.

While we were approaching the station, we saw some people busy repainting the station and also, we could smell the Gentoo penguin rookery which was around the station, a smell we probably won’t miss too much. At the station we talked with the guys there and handed over some provisions and very welcome wine. They were happy to see some other people.

The research station wasn’t the original one anymore as there was a desperate doctor who burned the whole station down because he wanted to go home (he was supposed to stay a second winter there). After he burned down the station they got rescued and he managed to go home. Back home he wanted to marry his wife, but she wasn’t happy with his actions, so she left him. Not really a happy ending.

We saw one humpback whale as well as some minke whales, and there were seals and penguins around. The surrounding landscapes were full of glacier fronts and icebergs.

During the zodiac cruise we decided to set foot on land for a 10-minute stroll. Punta Vidt itself is a small site, but what makes it special is that this little peninsula is part of mainland Antarctica! Every Zodiac landed so everybody could go ashore, tick off the continental landing, take some pictures and selfies, and ‘talk’ to some curious Gentoo penguins.

After two hours of zodiac cruising, we went back to the ship and set sail south to our next destination, which was the Lemaire channel. Lemaire is an amazing passage with beautiful steep mountain ranges. The channel has the nickname “Kodak Gap” as it has been photographed so many times. During our passage we already spotted a good number of whales, a good token of what came next.

Shortly before we entered the Lemaire channel hot chocolate with some rum was served on Deck 5 while sailing through the channel. Nice to enjoy the beauty of Lemaire with a hot beverage.

Once we reached more open waters, the number of whales increased. At one point it seemed two humpback whales were following the ship. Steffi called the bridge and asked them if it was possible to slow down. What happened then was nothing less than amazing. The two whales that were following us decided to approach the ship and gave us an unforgettable encounter. They swam under the ship from portside to starboard side and back offering us fantastic looks at their huge sizes and gentle movements. These are wild intelligent and conscious giants that do this at their own initiative. If only we could know what they are thinking. It was a great experience for us, and the day couldn’t have ended better.

Day 9: Fish Islands – Crystal Sound – Antarctic Circle

Fish Islands – Crystal Sound – Antarctic Circle
Date: 15.03.2024
Position: 66° 02.9’S / 65° 42.69’W
Wind: SE 7
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +1

Another quiet and peaceful morning welcomed us as we slowly walked to the outer decks to admire the soft dusky light of another beautiful sunrise in Antarctica. M/V Plancius had completed the navigation of the Grandidier channel over night and was now sailing past the West coast of Larrouy island in the icy and icebergs clogged waters of the Maskeline channel. As we rounded the island from the South on the starboard side of the ship the rugged peaks of the Antarctic peninsula appeared in the horizon.

On our approach to the Fish Islands a few humpback whales greeted us with some gentle blows: a good omen for another great zodiac cruise in the White continent. The Fish islands are a small archipelago of 8 islands located at the western end of Prospect point. Among them Perch, Flounder and Mackerel are the largest ones; all of them harbouring breeding sites of Adélie and Blue-eye Shags. The Fish islands were charted and named by the British Graham Land Expedition (1934-37) under the leadership of John Rymill. This expedition is one of the last expeditions of the heroic age of exploration.

The BGLE applied traditional and modern practices in the Antarctic exploration, using both dog teams and motor sledges as well as single engine De Havilland Fox Moth aircraft to determine eventually that Graham land was indeed connected to the rest of the continent and not an archipelago as it had been speculated during previous surveys.

Clear skies and still conditions on the water offered us the chance to quickly hop in the zodiacs immediately after breakfast to start the exploration of this beautiful area. The little embayments around the archipelago were dotted with glimmering bergy-bits and small icebergs, and some of the narrow channels were clogged with brash ice and ice floes which had been moved towards the mainland by the strong gales of the previous days. Our skilled guides drove the boats carefully in the maze of ice that surrounded the islands, and soon enough we had a close encounter with a curious leopard seal. Using a small ice floe to protect its back, the agile seal was swimming quickly around the zodiacs, popping its head up from time to time with an inquisitive although not aggressive attitude. It was a privilege to witness such a moment.

The cruise carried on in a fantastic landscape of brash ice, a glaciated dome-shape island, and the knife-edge mountains of Sharp peak and the extensive Windmark Ice piedmont in the background. Here and there small group of curious Adelie penguins had gathered to observe us either on small rocky and shallow areas or sometimes on flat and comfortable ice floes. Their psychic look and funny attire kept us entertained for quite some time, until the moment to return to the ship arrived and soon we found ourselves walking up the gangway once again.

Right before noon M/V Plancius started to move West into the Mudge passage, rounding Trump island and navigating into the magic waters of Crystal sound. Our due course South towards the Antarctic Circle. After lunch a few of us lingered around on the outer decks to bask in the sun and recharge batteries, whilst passing by a few active humpbacks and even one of them breaching several times.

Marco gave us an interesting talk about glacier formation and glaciers’ dynamics, followed immediately after by Claudio’s plans for the next day. Back to pure expedition style again with the intention of exploring the area south of the Antarctic Circle in between Adelaide island and the Arrowsmith peninsula. As usual ice dependent.

Eventually the afternoon ended with a nice celebration when we reached the Antarctic Circle. The guides and hotel department had prepared a nice setting with growlers that were picked up in the morning and glasses of prosecco cheering the air. A frame was hung in the bow to take some celebratory pictures of the moment, whilst outside the wind had picked up and was blowing 40-45 knots, making the ship lean to the starboard side.

Dinner was served soon afterwards when we reached the protection of Liard island and we could finally go back to calm and sheltered waters as we had been in the past few days. The night fell upon the waters of Hanusse bay, while the restaurant was vibrantly alive with great expectations for the next day.

Day 10: The Gunnel – Detaille Island – Southern Most Position

The Gunnel – Detaille Island – Southern Most Position
Date: 16.03.2024
Position: 59° 33.3’S / 62° 23.5’W
Wind: NW 6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

The day started a little bit earlier than planned because we had a great scenery outside. Claudio woke us up at a quarter to seven and announced that we were already at the entrance of the Gunnel Channel. A lot of big icebergs surrounded us and in the channel we could see a lot of icebergs too.

Plan A was to go through the Tickle Channel with the ship to the Gullet and then go back with the zodiacs through Gunnel Channel. The meeting point with the ship would then be the northern entrance of Gunnel Channel. But the last days there had been a strong southerly wind, blowing a lot of ice into the channels and the Gullet. So plan B was actioned; start a zodiac cruise into the Gunnel channel and explore how far we could get in and then back. Off we went and at the narrowest point of the channel, we found a great iceberg with a great arch.

Heading south we found some crabeaters, skuas and a lot of brash ice. Driving through the ice we made our way to the southernmost point at: 67’ 07.902’S /067’ 33.638’W.

As we made our way back to the ship, we had a nice surprise in the brash ice. Steffi and the Hotel Team came with a “floating bar” to every zodiac and served hot apple cider with a nice alcoholic addition! This warmed us up perfectly and we made our way back to the ship.

Just in front of the ship 3 whales were playing around our zodiacs, but we couldn’t stay too long as we had to go back to the ship for lunch and repositioning. We had to start our way back north and as such we started our navigation to Detaille Island. Detaille Island is the location where you can find the historic hut of Base W, established in 1956 and already closed in 1959.

It was a British research station with scientific studies related to meteorology, topography surveys, and geology. Because the winter freeze of 1958 produced solid ice, the supply ship in summer 1959 could not reach the base. Because of this the base had to be abandoned overnight and the scientists could only take their most essential scientific records and personal belongings with them on dog sledges and met the ship 30 miles north of the station.

Because of this quick abandoning, there were many things left behind and this hut shows a lot of items that remind us of the life of the scientists during that time. We made a split landing, so half of us went to the island and the other started with a zodiac cruise around the islands.

Entering the hut was like opening up a time capsule. The workshop, the bedroom, kitchen and working rooms showed a lot of interesting things. At the back of the hut, there was the dog kennel. Going around the kennel we reached a viewpoint on top of a small hill. From here we had a good overview of the islands and at the Adelie pinguin colonies and some porpoising Crabeater seals.

The zodiac cruise was a great circumnavigation of the island. We found big floats of Adelie pinguins which surrounded our zodiac porpoising, Crabeater seals were lying on an ice floe and a large group was playing around some icebergs and our zodiacs. What a stunning encounter!

After our departure from Detaille Island the day still wasn’t over. The Hotel team had prepared the back deck for a very special dinner – BBQ in Antarctica! It was a great night with all the icebergs around, free drinks, BBQ and plenty of dessert! Afterwards we danced some of the calories away. Some party people even celebrated until the early morning hours…

Day 11: Winter Island – Wordie Hut – Lemaire Channel

Winter Island – Wordie Hut – Lemaire Channel
Date: 17.03.2024
Position: 65° 14.8’S / 64° 13.7’W
Wind: Light air
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: 0

During the night we sailed in calm conditions north through the Crystal Sound. At the time of the wakeup call at 7:45 o’clock we found “ourselves” in deep snow. During the night it was snowing and PLANCIUS was nicely covered. The sun was shining in the morning and the sea was like a mirror and a lot of ice surrounded us. The whales also started having breakfast with us. It was an amazing scenery.

Plan A of yesterday was to sail in the morning, however during the night we covered already a bigger distance than expected, so our expedition team offered us instead a landing at Winter Island with Wordie House (Base F), right next to Vernadsky Station.

Winter Island belongs the archipelago of the Argentine Islands, south of the Lemaire Channel. It was interesting to drive through the narrow channels in between the islands to reach the hut. We visited the well-preserved hut but had as well the possibility to reach a viewpoint on the nearby low icecap.

After lunch the next highlight was waiting, the crossing of the iconic Lemaire Channel, this time from south to north. Still a lot of whales were feeding in the area, but also seals rested on ice floes. The scenery was beautiful, calm conditions, clear sky and very pleasant to enjoy on the outside decks.

A group of Humpback whales seemed to be very interested on us and approached. The bridge team stopped PLANCIUS and let the whales do whatever they wanted to do and they sure used this opportunity well! We spent around 45 min with them, during which they dived from port to starboard and back and from the front to the back of the ship and back. All of us spent an unforgettable time with the whales. They were so close to the ship, even the smell while breathing will stay forever in our head. It was absolutely amazing. We continued our way north passing Flandres Bay continuing through the Gerlache Strait. However, the Lemaire Channel was still in sight, when our great expedition team spotted a group of Orcas and Claudio announced it via the PA-system. Excited we went out and approached the Orcas slowly. Soon we found us surrounded by group of about 15 whales. Huge dorsal fins all around us. They are fast swimmers, and we were able to see this. Another crazy sighing in a stunning landscape. During the dinner we talked about today’s adventures while Plancius sailed north through the Gerlache Strait.

Day 12: Deception Island – Telefon Bay & Edinburg Hill

Deception Island – Telefon Bay & Edinburg Hill
Date: 18.03.2024
Position: 62° 47.7’S / 60° 05.9’W
Wind: W 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: -2

It was an early wakeup call made by Claudio on the PA system for our last day of operations on land in Antarctica before starting the 2-day crossing of the Drake passage, sadly on our way back home. It had been an amazing trip full of great wildlife encounters, spectacular navigations through narrow and scenic passage and a good variety of landscapes around the Antarctic peninsula. During our last day we were privileged to have reached to South Shetland islands and, looming in the distance we could see outside of the windows the volcanic walls of Deception island.

The South Shetlands Island are an archipelago of volcanic island located in between the Bransfield strait and the Drake Passage; situated at the same latitude as the Shetland islands in Northern Scotland between 61° and 63° South, hence the name. The archipelago comprises a group of 11 major islands and several islet and rocks, being Livingston and King George the biggest in size. It was discovered in 1819 by William Smith and fully surveyed a year later by Edward Bransfield, vice admiral of the British Navy located in Valparaiso, Chile. The islands form a magmatic arc from the early Miocene (20-14 million years ago) that was created by the almost complete subduction of the old Phoenix plate under the Antarctic plate.

Nowadays the Shetlands Microplate, continues the subduction at a very steep angle and has created during the Quaternary a phenomenon called Trench Roll-back. The plate has been pulling down the Shetland microplate creating a rift in the middle of the Bransfield strait. Currently rifting at a rate of approximately 10 mm/year, the Bransfield strait is the centre of the volcanic activity of the last couple of millions of years at this latitude in Antarctica. That is where the islands of Deception, Bridgeman and Penguin are located, which are the most recent in geological time for this area.

Our captain positioned the bow of M/V Plancius strait into the Neptune’s Bellows, the narrow 90-metre gap that connects the Bransfield strait with the inner waters of Port Foster, the flooded volcanic caldera of Deception island. We were greeted by flocks of Chinstrap penguins cleaning their feathers in the water, and the navigation through the Bellows was spectacular and smooth at the same time. Vertical walls of basaltic and volcanic tuff guarded the entrance, while a thick fog was glooming over the highest peaks that surround Port Foster. Our destination for the morning was Telefon Bay, name after the whaling ship Telefon which was used to moor in here for her operation in the early 20th century.

The expedition guides shuttled us a shore and a nice 2,3 km hike had been marked across a completely new terrain for us. We followed the path up on a small lateral moraine, hiking on volcanic ashes dotted by vesicular basalt, pumice and palagonitic tuff rocks. A thin layer of fresh snow gave a real Antarctic touch to the landscape, and after conquering a small hill we continued our hike alongside the ridge of a cinder cone enjoying the view over Port Foster and some small proglacial lakes. We carefully descended the last slope and down to the shoreline we reached our boats to the shuttle back to Plancius.

Lunch was served quickly since we had an early breakfast and meanwhile we crossed the Bellows again on our way Northeast towards Livington island. The transit to our afternoon cruise was quite long, allowing us to take a nap or go through the thousands of pictures we had taken during the past week. Eventually around 4 o’clock in the afternoon we reached the MacFarlaine strait and hopped in the zodiacs for one last ride. It was a quick one, but Claudio and the expedition team wanted to show us another geological marvel of Mother Nature.

On the East coast of Livingston island, marking the entrance of Moon Bay; Edinburgh Hill is a spectacularly jointed column doleritic plug of circa 250m across and 110m high, which raises steeply from the cold Antarctic waters. We lingered around the rock formation with the zodiacs bringing us close to these incredible “organ pipes” that reminded us of the Giant’s Causeway of Northern Ireland or the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

Sadly, it was time to return to the ship, however, Claudio had some good news for the next day. The first day across the Drake looked quite promising: a moderate swell of 1,2-1,5 metres and around 20-22 knots of South-westerly winds. The recap for the day was concluded by Marco and Carina and then the galley team opened up the restaurant for another delicious dinner.

Day 13: At Sea – Drake Passage

At Sea – Drake Passage
Date: 19.03.2024
Position: 59° 35.4’S / 62° 23.5’W
Wind: W 5
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: 0

Good morning dear guests onboard M/V Plancius! Not a bad morning to wake up to, very little ships movement and sunny weather. Hard to believe we are on the legendary Drake Passage. But for most of us this is just the way we want it, let others take the Drake Shake, we’ll just be fine with smooth movements and little rolling.

Today we got to sleep in a bit as Claudio didn’t wake us up until 07:45. After breakfast a nice program of lectures was planned.

At 09:30 Koen kicked off the day with a presentation about Lightroom. This photo processing software from Adobe allows you to get more out of your images. The program is very extensive and requires a lot of self-learning, however Koen gave us some useful tips and showed us what effect the main function sliders have when you use them.

Not much later it was Carina’s turn with her lecture about penguins. Ever since Carina became a polar guide she has been in awe with penguins, and she shared her penguin passion with us during her interesting lecture. The part where she talked about the micro sleeps of penguins was very fascinating in particular.

Soon it was time for lunch again and shortly after we were called to the boot room to return our beloved Mug Boots. These boots kept our feet warm and dry and for sure we’re going to miss having them.

At 15:30 Tanja started her lecture about the history of diving in Antarctic waters. Not only did she show us what equipment was used back in the day compared to modern times, but she also shared with us some amazing photos of what divers see underwater. The oceans might often seem like empty deserts, and you may not expect much life below the surface in such cold waters, but there’s truly abundant life deep down with beautiful shapes and vibrant colours.

Alexis and Valeria then joined hands together for a session of “How to make the best Mate” Argentina’s popular drink.

Recap closed the lecture program and dinner soon followed. Thank you for a calm day at the Drake, fingers crossed that tomorrow will be the same.

Day 14: At Sea – Drake Passage

At Sea – Drake Passage
Date: 20.03.2024
Position: 55° 20.9’S / 66° 10.7’W
Wind: W 6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

When we woke up today it felt as if we were in some sheltered bay. Hardly any ships movement and yet we were still in the middle of the Drake Passage. A nice surprise to have a Drake Lake on our way back to Ushuaia.

As usual the voice of Claudio woke us up soon followed by breakfast. Today more lectures are planned, but also a documentary is scheduled.

Michael Green talked about the history of whaling. We saw many of these amazing creatures during our expedition and it is great seeing them when you realise we almost hunted them to full extinction. Micheal’s lecture was powerful and made us think. He also addressed krill fishing which could now be seen as new era of whaling as huge fishing vessels are literally taking the krill away from the whales with large drift nets as they fish in areas where whales are feeding. When the whales and many of the other marina mammals that depend on krill for survival no longer have food the effects on their future survival will be catastrophic.

Right before lunch a documentary was shown about sailing around Cape Horn. Sailing around Cape Horn used to be a challenging endeavour back in the days. The seas around the cape can be harsh with massive waves and unpredictable winds leading to many ships getting into trouble or even sinking in this infamous area. Old footage and photographs showed us what it must have been in earlier times.

We had favourable weather conditions during our passage back and we soon started to see land and the mountains of Patagonia. Alexis shared his knowledge in an interesting lecture about the indigenous people of Patagonia.

And then it was time for some official festivities. We were nice and sheltered in the Beagle Channel when the champagne flutes were being topped once more. Our fantastic captain came down from the bridge to make a final toast and to wish everyone a safe onward journey. An incredible adventure was about to end, but our minds and memory cards were filled with beautiful memories and the time to start processing everything had arrived. What a wonderful trip it has been.

Dinner was fantastic as usual, and the dining room was buzzing from excitement. After our main course it was time to thank the entire hotel department. Hotel Manager Ingrid introduced each team member and they were treated with loud cheering and applause. Many of the crew work behind the scenes and it was really nice to see them in the spotlight to receive the appreciation they deserve.

The lights of Ushuaia slowly came into sight, but luckily we had one more night on the ship that gave us so many unforgettable moments. Good night one last time!

Day 15: Ushuaia - Disembarkation Day

Ushuaia - Disembarkation Day
Date: 21.03.2024
Position: 54° 48.6’S / 68° 17.’W
Wind: Variable
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +7

After more than two days on the Drake Passage, the inevitable moment had unfortunately arrived. Today we arrived back in Ushuaia and it was time to say goodbye to our gracious M/V Plancius and its crew and staff. We felt happy and excited about our wonderful expedition, yet at the same time we felt sad that it was really ending.

Of course Oceanwide wouldn’t let us disembark without a last breakfast. Here and there contact details were exchanged and promises to meet each other again were made. These expeditions often lead to new friendships and it is wonderful to see how everyone connected.

Then it was time to say our goodbyes. Not a very fast process as there was a lot of hugging and laughter. Saying goodbye is never easy especially when the expedition has been so spectacular. For sure we hope to meet again in the future and who knows, maybe onboard this gracious ship again. Have a safe onward journey and until next time! Thank you for your enthusiasm and support, but most of all for joining us on this adventurous Elephant Island, Weddel Sea and Antarctic Polar Circle voyage. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!


Tripcode: PLA31-24
Dates: 7 Mar - 21 Mar, 2024
Duration: 14 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Ushuaia
Disembark: Ushuaia

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