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HDS23-21, trip log, Antarctic Peninsula, Discovery and Learning Voyage

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation, Ushuaia

Embarkation, Ushuaia
Date: 15.12.2021
Position: 54°48’.5 S, 68°37’.2 W
Wind: W 2
Weather: P. Cloudy
Air Temperature: +11

Most of us flew into Ushuaia the night before our early morning luggage drop-off and sanitation which began at 8am, when many of us caught first sight of our ship, Hondius, already tied up at the pier awaiting our arrival. After drop-off we had time free to explore the southernmost city in the world and have lunch around the charming downtown before making our way in assigned groups to the old chapel (Iglesias Parroquial de Ushuaia) for mandatory covid testing - and our first interaction with the two ship’s doctors and some of the expedition team.

Once all guests had confirmed negative test results, we boarded buses for the short drive to the pier and were dropped off alongside the ship - our home for the next 10 days. We received warm welcomes from the Expedition Team and were escorted onboard, ready to start our adventure! Those of us in the earlier groups had time to explore the ship while we awaited arrival of all the passenger groups. By 4pm all 163 guests were onboard, and we cast off from the wharf at just after 5pm turned our bow to the Beagle Channel and set sail in the direction of the infamous Drake Passage and our destination – Antarctica!

After the mandatory safety drill we all went down for our first meal aboard together, served buffet style. Because of the forecast of rough weather for the next day our expedition leader wisely brought forward the mandatory IAATO briefing to be delivered immediately after dinner, which ensured everyone was able to attend. Afterwards we mingled at the bar or took to the decks to soak up the atmospheric views of the late evening sun in the Beagle Channel and to spot our first albatrosses, dolphins and whale blow of the cruise, in anticipation of many more in the days ahead.

Day 2: The Drake Passage

The Drake Passage
Date: 16.12.2021
Position: 56°44.5’ S, 65°36’.1 W
Wind: W 8
Weather: P. Cloudy
Air Temperature: +3

Today was our first day in the infamous Drake Passage. Just to ensure we would have a truly adventurous start to our voyage to Antarctica, the Drake decided to give us a good old shake – 40+ knot winds and an eight-meter swell. Just like the waves, the team was on a roll, nonetheless. First, we got boots sorted out with most of the passengers braving it down to Deck 3 with sometimes more than just one hand for the ship. Later, Hazel gave a great opening presentation on the amazing seabirds we could encounter on our cruise. After lunch Sasha gave us the first glimpse of Antarctica by giving a very informative lecture on the icy, windy and surprisingly dry continent. All the happy campers and the keen kayakers then had their introductions and briefings from the specialist lead guides in the afternoon.

For those still able of body and mind we were in awe of nature’s display of power as it sent wave upon wave all the way up to the windows of our lounge and restaurant on decks 5 & 4 respectively, where the amazing hotel crew still managed to serve yummy food throughout the day despite the challenging conditions. Other passengers opted to stay hunkered in their cabins to avoid the worst of the effects and slowly develop their ‘sea legs’ (hopefully!?!).

By the evening the conditions had eased a bit and the recap included a briefing from Sara on the next day’s activities (fortunately with a more favourable weather forecast), a short talk on Giant Petrels from Andrew, followed by Bill’s famous ‘’look, see, think” talk. Suitably inspired we all went down to the dining room for another great dinner.

Day 3: The Drake Passage

The Drake Passage
Date: 17.12.2021
Position: 60°35’.5 S, 64°03’.9 W
Wind: WSW 6
Weather: P. Cloudy
Air Temperature: +3

The day dawned bright and breezy as we continued across the Drake Passage. Although conditions had improved considerably on the day before, the ‘Drake Shake’ was still very much present. A look outside revealed a noticeable lack of seabirds - we had left most of the sub-Antarctic species behind. A pair of beautiful Antarctic petrels were now with us, confirming that we were closing in on Antarctica.

During the night we crossed the Antarctic convergence, the biological boundary of Antarctica - our first major milestone.
After breakfast, the 60th parallel was crossed which marks the geographical boundary of Antarctica. Early mariners referred to these high latitudes as the ‘furious fifties’ and ‘screaming sixties’. We were grateful to be in such a comfortable, well-built ship like Hondius and could only imagine the hardships and suffering of men who ventured into these latitudes in wooden sailing ships.

At 09:30 our lecture programme continued with an informative talk about ‘Glaciers and Glaciation’ by Assistant Expedition Leader Laurence. This set us up very nicely for the frozen continent that awaited us. Expedition Leader Sara followed on at 11:00 with a talk about ‘Penguins of the Southern Ocean’. We were left in awe by Sara’s stunning photos of these wonderful creatures creating an even greater air of excitement and anticipation, as we pondered the prospect of our first penguin encounter.

Lunch was served at 12:30, with the dining room looking the fullest it had been for some time. The Antarctic petrels that had been with us all morning were frequently seen racing down the port and starboard sides, as if playing with the turbulent airs created by the ship. Just after lunch a solitary Grey-headed albatross came out of nowhere, passed across the ships’ bow and carried on its way.

The first half of the afternoon was spent down on deck 3 doing mandatory biosecurity checks on all our outdoor equipment, known affectionately as the ‘Vacuum Party”. The expedition staff were on hand to check for any unwanted foreign bodies that could contaminate Antarctica’s pristine environment.

We all met for a mandatory Zodiac briefing at 16:30 given by Sara. We returned to the lounge at 18:00 for a briefing of our “plan A” for activities in Antarctica tomorrow. This was followed by a warm welcome from our Captain over the public address system, while he appeared on the screens in the lounge. Due to covid protocols the bridge officers are not allowed to mix with guests. A champagne toast concluded the captain’s welcome. We headed off to bed full of excitement for our first zodiac landings on the 7th continent.

Day 4: Orne Harbor, Cuverville Island, Camping

Orne Harbor, Cuverville Island, Camping
Date: 18.12.2021
Position: 64°37’.6 S, 62°32’.4 W
Wind: SW 6
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +2

Our first and only planned ‘continental’ landing…

After a rather bumpy Drake Passage we awoke to our first sight of awesome Antarctica - the horizon filled with glacier clad mountains glistening in beautiful sunshine. The Oceanwide Expeditions brochures had not exaggerated…the reality was spread out in front of us. Excitement mounted as Hondius motored gently to the centre of the bay at Orne Harbour in front of the dramatically towering rock wall of Spiggot Peak - a fabulous location for our first step ashore onto the 7th continent. The Zodiacs were lowered and buzzed busily about the ship as we kitted up in our muck-boots, lifejackets and warm clothing, fully prepared for landing on the rocky outcrop at the base of an intimidatingly looking steep snow slope…our first hillwalking challenge.

Staff marked out a safe red poled route to the chinstrap penguin colony up on the ridge above our landing site. Cameras clicked frantically taking in the endearing antics of the birds and panning around the 360-degree panorama of peaks and glaciers. Far below even Hondius looked small and passengers were reminded of Bill’s lecture comment. ‘We are but nothing in this environment! ‘. Passengers were divided into two alternating groups…one for the landing whilst the other boarded Zodiacs and cruised in the swirling constantly moving brash ice seeking out to photograph the most interesting bergs and crevassed glacier. What a morning!

Adventure continued in the afternoon as Hondius repositioned to Cuverville. Again, logistics demanded that we had to split into two groups; one landed to watch the fascinating restless gentoo penguin colony whilst other cruised around the endlessly interesting, massive, crazily tilted, grounded bergs as they circumnavigated the island.

The major entertainment of the day was a ‘polar plunge’ off the rocky beach. At the appointed signal from our EL, hardy souls of all nationalities came together and rushed, stumbled or gently lowered themselves into freezing cold Antarctic water amid much shrieking, howling and demented laughter. After lots of frenzied splashing and a small amount of swimming, red and purple tingled bodies emerged to frantically towel themselves down before being whisked back to hot showers on Hondius. What a unique experience! What a way to end a fabulous first day in Antarctica!!

Camping Log
After a first day full of emotions and great weather it was our time to aim for camping at Kerr Point on Ronge Island. After our scheduled covid test we went for dinner and then some time to get ready for the night ahead. Axel and Ben took a zodiac one hour before to assess the conditions at the camping spot. Initially, wind speed and nasty looking clouds actually put the activity at risk as the guides thought about a cancellation. But as we all know conditions can change so quickly in Antarctica, so they decided to wait a bit to be 100% sure. Fortunately, the wind dropped and made the operation much easier so the first campers could go now ashore.

After a briefing by the expert guides, we started digging holes and getting ready before the bad weather reached us. As soon as a few spare shovels became available, Ben and Axel began the mission of setting up the toilet facilities. During this time a big avalanche got the attention everybody; in that moment all eyes were on the two guides to see their reaction. However, they knew the chosen site was safe and just laughed about the situation, whilst explaining that the slopes of the mountain above of us would take any snow to the side of us and putting everyone at ease.

By the time we were inside our bivvies the snow arrived and made the camping a real experience under the true conditions of Antarctica. It also made us think about how much effort and responsibility the whole team and company take to themselves in order to ensure a safe and comfortable experience in a place we naturally don’t belong.

A wakeup call at 05:00 for our scheduled 05:30 pick up had us getting ready to return to the comfort of the ship to enjoy of hot coffee or chocolate. The landing site was shallow and difficult for disembarking and conditions actually got more challenging for the return with floating ice and a slippery surface because of the accumulated snow. Despite this the great skill of the drivers allowed them to cope with the situation and take us back safely to the warmth of Hondius.

Day 5: Danco Island, Wilhelmina Bay

Danco Island, Wilhelmina Bay
Date: 19.12.2021
Position: 64°38’.3 S, 61°36’.2 W
Wind: SW 5
Weather: Snow
Air Temperature: -1

This morning we visited Danco Island which provided us with more great views of gentoo penguins. When we arrived some of them quizzically looked at our snowshoes. With crampon like claws on their feet penguins are well adapted for walking about on the snow and ice (or, if it’s too slippery, tobogganing along on their bellies).

High winds whipped around us, accompanied by a flurry of snow. Whilst the conditions may have felt uncomfortable for some of us, the penguins were of course totally unphased. A couple of animals were almost completely buried in the snow with just the tips of their beaks poking out. It was funny to watch their heads appear from beneath the snow jab at any other penguins who passed by too close!

Brown skua and snowy sheathbill loitered nearby; both of these birds will wait for the opportunity to eat penguin eggs if they are not well attended by the parent birds. Sheathbills are patient opportunists who not only eat penguin eggs but also penguin poo!
Skuas, by comparison, will often gang up on penguins; one or more birds will harass and distract the parent whilst others try to take an egg or even small chicks.

In the afternoon we were unable to go to Neko Harbour as planned so we remained on board and Hondius cruised through Wilhelmina Bay (aka whale bay) instead. As the name suggests, this is usually a good area for sighting whales, but despite scouring the area for quite some time we but didn’t encounter any. Nevertheless, we were in awe of the spectacular scenery which surrounded us; colossal mountains coated in thick white snow and ice and bright blue icebergs drifting along through the rough waters.
In the evening the hotel staff treated to a splendid surprise BBQ out on deck. Lots of great food, a few drinks and a chance to chat or ‘boogie-on down’ to the music (taken on by an enthusiastic few), all against an incredible backdrop.

Kayaking Log 1
The morning was quiet, the sky grey mix with breaks of blue. It had been snowing before we arrived in this wild place. Everything ready for our baptism on the coldest, driest, windiest continent on earth. We were 16 on the water taking on challenging conditions with the fog hiding the panorama from us. It rained occasionally so we got wet, but nothing was going to stop us - we came here to challenge & celebrate this. During this first paddle we got to know and feel how these beautiful kayaks travel through the brash ice, how they react to our command. We also started to come together as a group. After more than an hour of paddling around the foggy bay we decided to turn back and find our mother ship to dry our clothes and take a hot shower to warm our bodies again. The guides were so excited and happy with the performance of the whole team. We loved it!

Day 6: Paradise Harbour, Base Brown

Paradise Harbour, Base Brown
Date: 20.12.2021
Position: 64°54’.6 S, 62°54’.24 W
Wind: W 6
Weather: Good
Air Temperature: +1

Our day started early, although for an expedition cruise it was an ordinary thing. From our windows we could see the stunning beauty of Paradise Bay - the name given to this bay a century ago by whalers - hard-working men who were very far from being sentimental and this fact only emphasizes the beauty of the place.

The first ones to disembark were the kayakers. Led by our highly experienced kayak guides and all equipped with their specialist gear, they started paddling across the bay towards the ice and began maneuvering between growlers (small icebergs).
The rest of us boarded the zodiacs for a cruise where we were lucky to spot a Humpback whale logging on the surface - this is a term used when cetaceans rest by just floating on the surface. It then started to become more active and we were able observe it showing off its tail flukes from time to time when taking a deep dive to feed. Three Weddell seals were spotted sleeping on the shore with another swimming in the water. Rafts of Gentoo penguins were porpoising here and there with Blue eyed shags and Antarctic terns in the air or resting on the ice floes and icebergs.

In the afternoon we had an opportunity to take a look at Paradise Bay from the Antarctic terns’ point of view. We had a landing at Argentine station Almirante Brown. It was an early season, so the scientists had not arrived yet hence we had the entire station to ourselves. Of course, it does not mean we were allowed to enter the buildings but we were fine to make our way through the station to the peak of the nearest slope. It was very steep and on the summit there was only place for 10 of us at a time but the climb was definitely worth it! The panoramic view of the bay and all the surrounding mountains was magnificent! Because this landing site was our plan B due to weather conditions at our original destination, it is worth recording that it was our second continental landing for the cruise.

Again, the landing was matched by a zodiac cruise allowing us to take in different parts of Paradise Harbour that we hadn’t visited in the morning. After a long day we got back onboard just in time for another fabulous dinner. That was a great day!

Kayaking Log 2
Wow! What a wonderful weather conditions in one of the most beautiful spots of the entire Peninsula! In an electric blue sea full of ice growlers all around us we were just floating and paddling in between all this nature forces.
We worked as a solid group forming a raft configuration to receive the briefing from the guides and then paddled towards the big glacier that connects the Peninsula with Paradise Bay. Gentoo penguins were popping up around us, we also saw Skuas & Antarctic. Following the coast, we came into an iceberg graveyard and paddled safely amongst these gorgeous ice formations. It was an amazing opportunity to improve our capabilities, whilst enjoying this unique spot.
In the afternoon the weather the wind got up with more waves coming from the northeast, but it was sunny and clear. The Argentinian Base was our target on the starboard side, 45 minutes away from us with ice in our way and the wind was causing us to correct our course constantly. After more than an hour we were able to into the final bay where we made a shore landing. Some of us had our doubts but we did it, together.

A message from your guides: It’s important to trust in your abilities to go further. Remember to feel the special energy of Antarctica and help spread to the rest of the planet. Keep coming back to this place inside your mind for inspiration. Thank you, team…..it was an unforgettable experience for all of us. Alexis & Keirron

Day 7: Foyn Harbour, Portal Point

Foyn Harbour, Portal Point
Date: 21.12.2021
Position: 64°29’.9 S, 61°44’.5 W
Wind: Var. 1
Weather: P. Cloudy
Air Temperature: -1

This morning we had a very early start with zodiacs on the water at 4:30am (ouch!) ready for cruising. Thankfully, the conditions were incredible and well worth forcing ourselves up for - brilliant sunshine, flat calm waters and, as ever, breathtakingly beautiful scenery. Our first stop was Foyn Harbour within which lies the wreckage of the The Governoren (‘The Governor’). This ship was a Norwegian whaling vessel, a waterborne factory for processing the great whales hunted in Antarctic waters. Although we now condemn the unethical commercial slaughter of whales, historically this was a highly lucrative field of work. However, it was not easy to reap the rewards; whaling was incredibly hard work and the end of a long successful season of harvesting whales was cause for celebration.

At the end of the 1915 season the crew of The Governoren, with a ship full of barrels of whale oil, threw a party to mark the end of many months of labour. Unfortunately, amid the frivolity, a lamp was knocked over causing a huge fire on board. As the flames raged the captain was left with no choice but to run the ship aground in order to try and save his crew. This plan worked and all survived, but The Governoren, her whale oil cargo and the crew’s earnings were destroyed. The rusting remains now provide nesting habitat for Antarctic terns which were seen perching and flitting delicately overhead. This site also gave great views of all three brushtail penguin species; gentoo, chinstrap and Adélie. There was also a close encounter with a Humpback whale for all zodiacs

Still with most of the morning ahead of us we set for our second landing at Portal Point within Charlotte Bay - our third continental landing. This time we were able to enjoy a shore landing, relishing the glorious weather and stretching our legs with a short hike to viewpoints offering, arguably, the best vistas of the whole trip. Zodiac cruising this beautiful site also rewarded us with great views of Crabeater and Weddell seals but the unexpected highlight was an immature male Southern elephant seal hauled out resting. These animals are not an ‘ice seal’ species and breed on Sub-Antarctic islands rather than the frozen continent itself, but they do undertake long distance foraging trips. When he reaches maturity the animal we saw will weigh up to 3700kg.

Several Humpback whales were sighted but quickly dived and disappeared from view. By contrast, a curious Antarctic minke whale approached the zodiac being driven by AEL Mark, giving him and the lucky guests on board an incredible close encounter! The rest of us weren’t jealous at all………….NOT!

After our last day exploring the Antarctic peninsula spirits were high on board but many of us also felt we could do with a nap! We all enjoyed a relaxed afternoon on board talking over the exciting events of the morning.

Day 8: At Sea – The Drake Passage

At Sea – The Drake Passage
Date: 22.12.2021
Position: 60°56’.0 S, 63°33’.0 W
Wind: WNW 6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 0

Back in the Drake! After a well-earned sleep, we awoke to the ‘motion of the ocean’ once again. This time it was in a more civilised mood, with a mere 25-28 knots of wind and a moderate swell. It has some of us were feeling a bit under the weather but breakfast was well attended and there was lots of chatter about the incredible experiences that Antarctica had delivered. After breakfast, the kayakers returned equipment to the specialist guides, Alexis and Kierron.

At 09:30 AEL Mark led the way with the days’ lecture programme, with a talk entitled ‘Living in Antarctica: Life at McMurdo’. It was a fascinating insight into life at the largest base in Antarctica, where Mark had clearly enjoyed his time supporting the U.S. scientific program. The other lecture was ‘High-latitude bathymetry: the world beneath the waves”. This was presented by AEL, Laurence and the title says it all. We learnt that mapping of the sea floor was a science in its infancy and we know more about the surface on Mars than we do our own world beneath the waves.

Outside more and more seabirds were appearing. It was especially nice to see Albatrosses back with us again, the Black-browed Albatross being the most common. These true marathon birds fly extraordinary distances during their lifetime and are considered to be the bird of good omen by mariners. Legend has it that every Albatross carries the soul of a sailor lost at sea and one passing across in front of a ship’s bow is seen as good luck. Samuel Taylor Coleridge summed it up in his epic poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’

‘At length did cross an Albatross, thorough the fog it came. As if it had been a Christian soul, we hailed it in Gods’ name. And a good south wind sprung up behind, the Albatross did follow. And every day, for food or play, came to the mariner’s hollo’

There was an opportunity to relax after lunch - siesta time. Later in the afternoon artist extraordinaire and expedition guide, Bill, gave a presentation entitled ‘Paintings of the sea’. Bill is a man of many talents and we all enjoyed his growing collection of cartoons and caricatures that were on display in the observation lounge.

The remainder of the afternoon was taken up with another round of Antigen testing. Regarded by everyone as a necessary evil, the tests sought confirmation that we were a healthy ship. The announcement at recap that everyone was negative brought a hearty round of applause. The recap was rounded off with a brief overview of tomorrow’s programme before Hotel Manager Sigi invited us to dinner.

Day 9: At Sea -The Drake Passage

At Sea -The Drake Passage
Date: 23.12.2021
Position: 56°10’.3 S, 65°42’.7 W
Wind: W 6
Weather: Moderate
Air Temperature: +5

A calm, more relaxed start to the day today. It was an overcast morning with a gentle, rolling swell and several Wandering albatross gliding alongside the ship. After the penultimate buffet breakfast provided by Sigi and his amazing team, it was time for the muck boot and gear rental return. Guide Ben made sure the music was playing and people were bopping along to the beat and in just half an hour all were returned and stowed away safely! With no hanging around, the first two colour groups then gathered in the lecture room for the next antigen test. Whilst the testing was going on, for the other half of the passengers, Andrew and Felicity were each giving a short lecture. Andrew talked about the importance of nature photography and the use of photos for citizen science projects whilst Felicity discussed the presence of plastic pollution in the Antarctic and what we as individuals can do to help this crisis. All groups then swapped over and by midday we were all tested and clued up on citizen science projects and the background of microplastics.

For lunch pizza’s were delivered to Hondius by the Cape Horn Pizza Delivery Service. With salad, soup, pizzas and four kinds of ice cream we were truly spoilt! If you didn’t head back to your cabin in a food coma, the next round of lectures was kicked off with Ben, who talked about the history of the Yamana’s and the Beagle Channel. As the afternoon rolled on, the seas became calmer, and the sun started to shine through the clouds. It was a relatively quiet day for wildlife, with only a handful of albatross, giant petrels and storm petrels flying alongside. However, midafternoon we had a surprise visit from a large pod (30+) long-finned pilot whales! This kicked off a string of cetacean sightings with Peale’s and Dusky Dolphins plus Sei Whales, all in close to the ship.

To mark the end of our cruise all passengers and staff gathered on the bow for a group photo - a reminder of what a great team we had all become during this trip. The evening then started with Captain’s Cocktails and our first look of the much-anticipated slideshow - an incredible video summarising our journey to the Antarctic Peninsula, showcasing all the different species wildlife, the incredible scenery and the many happy, smiling faces. We then all sat down for another superb dinner with a good glass of wine and enjoyed our last few moments at sea before reaching Ushuaia.

Day 24: Disembarkation, Ushuaia

Disembarkation, Ushuaia
Date: 24.12.2021
Position: at 0800: 54°48’.67 S, 68°17’.9 W | at 1200: 54°48’.5 S, 68°37’.2 W
Wind: W2
Weather: Fine
Air Temperature: +9

We arrived back in Ushuaia on board Hondius having completed our Antarctic expedition of Discovery & Learning Voyage!

Thank you all for such a wonderful voyage, for your company, good humour, enthusiasm, patience, and support with our covid safety protocols!
We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!

Total distance sailed on our voyage: 1545.2 nautical miles
Furthest south: 64°54’.9 S, 062°54’.3 W

On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Artur Iakovlev, Expedition Leader Sara Jenner, Hotel Manager Sigi Penzenleitner and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you!

Details

Tripcode: HDS23-21
Dates: 15 Dec - 24 Dec, 2021
Duration: 9 nights
Ship: m/v Hondius
Embark: Ushuaia
Disembark: Ushuaia

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