PLA25-22, trip log, Antarctic peninsula - Basecamp

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 22.12.2021
Position: 55°53’S / 067°42’W
Wind: WNW 4
Weather: Part. clouds
Air Temperature: +20

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 flavors and enjoying the sights. Ushuaia marks the end of the road in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, but also the beginning – the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Sitting in the bus, in front of MV Plancius, our home for the next 19 days, we are thrilled to be so close to get on the ship. Eduardo, our expedition leader for the voyage, called us in group to get onboard where we met Aleks, the hotel manager, and all his team. It was time for us to discover our cabins and the ship, which is quite of a maze…

Everyone was on board and for the first time we heard, on the PA system, an announcement. We had to meet in the lounge or the dining room for the security presentation. We all gathered in the lounge on deck five to begin our safety briefing. First was a video, entertaining but also clearly showing us what was important to pay attention to on the ship for our safety. Romanus and Martin gave the different instruction in case something happen, even if it is unlikely, better safe than sorry. We were standing outside waiting for the ship to leave Ushuaia when the alarm announcing the SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) Safety and Lifeboat Drill rung. Everyone went to their cabin picking their life jacket and gathering in their respective muster stations.

Let’s the trip begin, Plancius was slowly leaving the port under Ushuaia’s sunset. Even with the overcast weather, the light was beautiful. Shortly after, around 8pm, Alex called us in the dining room for our first dinner onboard. We could feel the excitement in the air while everyone was enthusiastically chatting waiting for the meal to be served. After dinner, some of us went to the lounge to enjoy the end of the evening, but most of us went directly to bed after an exhausting but oh long-waited day. Knowing that we had a long crossing toward us, we went to bed hoping that tomorrow we will be out of the Beagle channel. The real journey just started, and everyone is excited to arrive in Antarctica.

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

At Sea to Antarctica – Drake’s Passage
Date: 23.12.2021
Position: 56°44.8’S / 065°43.8’W
Wind: W 5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

Our first night in the Drake was a little shaky but not too bad. Eduardo woke us up at 7:30 with one of his mysterious musics that will be part of the the final cruise quiz. After a delicious breakfast our guests were invited to the lounge for a series of mandatory briefings.

The first briefing was the IAATO briefing during which the expedition staff presented itself. Because of our Covid measures we split our passengers into two groups in order to reduce the number of passengers in the observation lounge. The swell was quite big and our passengers had to brave their seasickness to attend the briefings. We then had lunch in the dining room. Our chef and his team spoilt us with a delicious menu.

Right after lunch the weather improved as well as the swell, and the captain opened the upper outer decks. We were able to enjoy the sun while looking for wildlife. There were many prions around, some Wilson’s storm petrel, and a couple of Southern Royal albatrosses. We looked very hard but no whales around yet.

In the afternoon we had to attend the basecamp activity briefings. The first one was about camping by our camping guide Koen, followed by the kayaking briefing by Zet. Right after that we attended the mountaineering and snowshoe briefings given by Martin and Calum, and Maricel respectively.

Eduardo gave us the recap in the observation lounge, explaining tomorrow’s program, the weather for the final day in the Drake, and Maricel gave us a short talk about how albatrosses manage to fly so easily. Pippa gave us a recap about the Antarctic convergence, and Steffi about glaciers.

Our plated dinner was fabulous, and most of the guests mingled in the observation lounge to watch the amazing sunset while sipping a drink from the bar. We are entering the Antarctic convergence as we go to bed, and there should be many more animals around the ship tomorrow morning. We keep our fingers crossed for our first whales, and who knows, maybe the first icebergs of this voyage. There is a distinct Christmas mood growing onboard, and we all look forward to celebrate tomorrow evening as we should be cruising by the Southern Shetland Islands.

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

At Sea to Antarctica – Drake’s Passage
Date: 24.12.2021
Position: 61°17.2’S / 063°22.9’W
Wind: NW 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +2

It is amazing to think that we are arriving in Antarctic waters on Christmas Eve! Eduardo woke us up to another one of his enigmatic songs. After a copious breakfast we jumped right into our zodiac briefings in two groups.

Right after that our guests were invited deck by deck to the boot room where they were handed out the rubber boots that will accompany them on each and every landing during this epic voyage. We manage to expedite this task very efficiently thanks to Steffi’s legendary managing skills.

But the day was only beginning. As the swell in the Drake was still quite challenging, we invited our guests to the observatory lounge to proceed with our biosecurity procedure. Everybody had to bring their outer layers (waterproofs) as well as their gloves, hats, backpacks and walking sticks, not to forget the mountaineering boots to be inspected for biological or mineral residues. Any residues had to be vacuumed in order to avoid importing anything into Antarctica. This task was carried out quite expeditiously as well.

Time for lunch, where we had our first buffet lunch. Everybody was quite ecstatic about the garlic rice our Chef Khabir had prepared for us, and the dessert was just sublime!

In the afternoon we started by our mandatory second Covid testing. Our two doctors from the Netherlands ran the entire procedure swiftly, assisted by Maricel, Pelin, Steffi and Pierre. We were all very much relieved to know that all our passengers, staff and crew still tested negative. We will still be enforcing the use of face masks in all public areas, social distancing, as well as the washing and disinfecting of hands as often as possible.

During the afternoon we enjoyed lecture from George on photography, or “Perfecting Pingu’s Portrait. This was then followed by the activity sign up, where our passengers were able to choose which activities they plan on joining during our time on the Antarctic peninsula. They can choose between mountaineering with our guides Richard and Calum, Kayaking with Zet, photography with George, and/or camping with Koen and Pelin.

The day was very foggy, but around 18pm as we reached the South Shetland Islands the fog lifted and we passed next to Smith Island. First penguins swimming, first humpback whales, and fulmars, snow petrels, storm petrels flying around the ship.

Eventually we all met up again in the longe to listen to the daily recap where Eduardo gave us all the necessary information about tomorrow’s weather forecast, and the different plans for the first day of activities. Koen gave us an introduction on the evolution of penguins and the different species we can expect to see during our voyage. Pippa then gave us an overview of the different marine mammal species we might encounter as well.

Right on time for our Christmas dinner, we all met in the dinner lounge where we savoured our Chef’s menu for Christmas Eve. We all then met in the observatory lounge where we could observe humpback whales while listening to Christmas carols and watching snowflakes fall on Plancius. Some passengers went to the outer deck to have the first snowball fight of the cruise, and we also had our first icebergs passing next to us.

Day 4: Orne Island / Neko Harbour

Orne Island / Neko Harbour
Date: 25.12.2021
Position: 64°282.2’S / 062°26.3’W
Wind: NE 2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 0

We finally made it to the Antarctic Peninsula. The views this morning are breathtaking and are definitely worth the Drake crossing. Eduardo woke us up early because we have big plans for our first day on the first continent. The crew and staff surprised us with a personal delivery to the passenger rooms of chocolates for Christmas.

After a delicious dinner we all got dressed to go on our first landing on Orne Island, while our mountaineers went climbing on George Point, and our kayakers circumnavigated Orne Island. The weather was overcast but with little wind. It was a white Christmas and the snowfall made it all look even more beautiful. On land we were able to visit several penguin colonies in which we observed mixed groups of gentoo and chinstrap penguins. On the landing beach there were even a couple of Adelie penguins. We all enjoyed our first landing until the very last minute.

We came back to the ship to get warm before our second planned landing for the afternoon in Neko harbour. The cruise there was absolutely amazing with snowcapped mountains, huge glaciers and icebergs along the way. Unfortunately upon a delayed arrival in Neko because of the amount of the ice, the density of the sea ice prevented us to carry out the landing. Eduardo then decided to take the ship back to an area of less ice cover, and we went for a zodiac cruise through the ice. Our kayakers were also able to explore this fantastic maze of sea ice and icebergs. We were able to observe different types of icebergs, we witnessed some glacier calvings, and found some seals and penguins on ice floes.

Back on the ship we hurried to the dinner lounge where we enjoyed yet another delicious dinner prepared by our chef Khabir and his team. And just as we thought our first day in Antarctica could not have been better and came to an end, the bridge announced that they had spotted killer whales around the ship. We all hurried to the outer decks with our cameras, and we could not believe what we saw… There were about 50 killer whales spread around the ship, some of them traveling calmly, some other hunting penguins in the distance. And in between this killer whale soup, some humpback whales surfaced close to the ship to display an interesting behaviour of collaborative lunge-feeding. The literally came so close to the ship that they touched it. The orcas came and went to bowride Plancius in small groups, and we spent about an hour with them, until they left, but the humpbacks stayed around the ship feeding. Around midnight another group of orcas came close to the ship. There were adult females and males, but also a couple of orca babies.

This was definitely the best Christmas present anyone of us could have wished for, and we cannot believe that this is only day one…

Mountaineering Orne Island George Point.
0830am departure from Plancius.
2 Guides 12 clients
Weather: Overcast and cloudy.

After a rough crossing on the Drake passage with quite a lot of seasickness on the ship we arrived in the Antarctic Peninsular near Orne Island. For the first mountaineering day of the trip we had a short Zodiac transfer to the shore at George Point with 12 guests and two guides.

Our landing was onto rocks about 30m to the left of a Gentoo penguin rookery.

We encountered very deep rotten snow so stamped out an area to work in and make it easier for the guests to change from their rubber muck boots into mountaineering boots.

We ensured that there were no deep foot holes left that could cause a problem for the nearby penguins.

Because of the deep snow we used snowshoes to travel. The terrain by the landing is probably not glaciated but as we would move onto a glacier higher up and with the deep snow cover we decided to rope up from the start. We ascended the glacier in overcast, cloudy conditions for about 1.5 hours to gain a col on the right-hand side of the glacier in the direction of travel, (true left).

Because of the snow conditions we took a conservative route avoiding slopes over 30 degrees.
At the col we had views back down to the ship and of large icebergs on the water in the other direction. At the col we dug a test snow pit and found an icy layer about 30cm down and then faceted snow from about 60cm down.

We returned to the landing area in about 45 minutes and observed and took photos of the Gentoos then transferred back to the ship.

Day 5: Paradise Bay / Orne Harbour

Paradise Bay / Orne Harbour
Date: 26.12.2021
Position: 62°53.6’S / 062°52.7’W
Wind: NNE 5
Air Temperature: +4

Today we were woken up to a different kind of event: one of our passengers tested positive for Corona virus. This led our entire ship crew and staff to enter into safety mode following the protocol that was established by the company in case this situation arose. It was put into effect in a swift and professional manner. All passengers were informed of the situation and we proceeded to the testing of the entire ship. Fortunately enough there were only few positive cases and the appropriate measures were put into place in order to try to keep everybody onboard safe.

The entire staff, hotel management, and crew worked tirelessly to reorganise everything, from activity groups, daily program, lunches and dinners, separating our guests in two groups in order to reduce the risk of spreading. Even though it was an intense time for staff and crew, the ship was directed to a ship cruise through the beautiful scenery of Paradise Bay and our passengers were able to enjoy the incredible scenery and wildlife.

After lunch our normal activities restarted with a double zodiac cruise in Orne harbour, a fabulous place to explore, with its majestic mountain peak dominating a cove filled with glaciers and icebergs. While our intrepid mountaineers were busy climbing this cone-shaped mountain, our kayakers explored the sea-ice and icebergs looking for wildlife amidst the calving glaciers. Our zodiac cruises took us to a mixed colony of gentoo and chinstrap penguins, flanked by nesting blue-eyed shags. Several pairs of Antarctic tern were flying over our heads. The flanks of the mountain were covered in green, yellow and orange liken. We stopped our zodiacs amidst the floating ice to savor the sounds of Antarctica, and we witnessed several glacier calvings, feeling the subsequent long-amplitude waves from a safe distance. There were interesting ice formations floating on the sea, with some intense specimen of blue ice. It took our mountaineers 4 hours to climb the mountain, and on returning to the ship they were all both exhausted and ecstatic from their adventure.

Back on the ship we all enjoyed the warmth and the delicious dinner prepared by our kitchen staff. Eduardo gave us the recap on the weather forecast and the program for tomorrow, and we enjoyed the landscapes a little more from the observatory lounge, with some whales feeding around the ship. The camping activity had to be cancelled because there was a forcast of wet snow and 15mph winds, which would have made it very uncomfortable for our campers. Instead Koen our camping guide decided to move it to tomorrow. Another beautiful day in Antarctica comes to an end.

Mountaineering Orne Harbour Spigot Peak
Afternoon 1430 depart from Plancius
2 guides 4 Clients
Weather: cloudy with occasional sunny spells.

Due to a considerable amount of sea ice in Orne Harbour we landed approximately 200m to the right, closer to the entrance of the bay, than normal. The snow at the beachhead was very wet. From the landing area we traversed across on snowshoes until we were above the usual landing point and then ascended to the ridge. We continued along the ridge observing the chinstrap penguin rookeries. Skuas were also in attendance and were succeeding in stealing eggs from the penguin nests.

As the ridge became steeper, we removed the snowshoes and used crampons. The snow slope from this point to the summit was on good snow, approximately 10cm of soft snow on a firm base. We had experienced quite strong winds up to and along the ridge to the end of the penguin rookeries. But from that point to the summit were in the lee of the summit ridge and the air was calm. The ridge was heavily corniced so the track was put in well away from the edge. We made good progress to the summit and were rewarded with magnificent views in all directions. The ascent took around 1 hour 15 minutes including some photography on the way up and the change over from snowshoes to crampons. We descended back to the penguin rookeries and took advantage of the photo opportunities that the position gave us. From here we descended in snowshoes again to the landing area.

Day 6: Lemaire Channel / Pleneau Island / Port Charcot

Lemaire Channel / Pleneau Island / Port Charcot
Date: 27.12.2021
Position: 65°02.8’S / 063°53.3’W
Wind: NNE 1
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

Eduardo woke us up to one of his mysterious musics and announced that we would be entering the famous and idyllic Lemaire Channel at 7am. We all rushed to the outer decks to witness this incredible monument of nature. Snow-capped hills and mountains on both sides, flanked by gigantic glaciers. We were very lucky that it was actually completely ice free and that we could navigate it up to our first destination, Peterman Island.

Only to find that all the ice was concentrated in front of Peterman Island where we had planned to carry out our landing. During the crossing, our expedition staff and doctors had been carrying out Covid tests on the entire crew, staff and passengers.

Eduardo, Pippa and the captain then decided to move to a zodiac cruise through the ice, while Plancius repositioned itself to Port Charcot, our second destination for the day. Our zodiac cruise was difficult at first because the ice was quite dense, but while finding our way through the sea ice, we noticed that underneath the ice there was an incredible abundance of krill right at the surface. These tiny crustaceans were swimming in huge numbers, busy doing what they do. No one on the expedition staff had ever seen anything like it, and it was incredible to be able to observe these tiny creatures which really are the stars of Antarctica. They represent the largest biomass of animals on this planet, and are the base of the entire ecosystem in Antarctica. Everything here in and around the white continent either feeds on krill, or on an animal that feeds on krill. Small by the size, huge by the importance.

We then visited some gentoo penguin colonies, which harboured a couple of Adelie penguins as well. It was delightful to observe these gracious animals in the water as they cleaned themselves, porpoised through the water, and occasionally jumped on top of some ice floes. You never get tired of observing these magnificent birds. We then found a crab eater seal and everybody had the opportunity to take a good picture of this amazing marine mammal. We then had a long zodiac cruise to the ship, meandering around endless numbers huge icebergs. Our mountaineers had a short hike on land during which they found an immature emperor penguin, what an incredible discovery!!! Zet took our kayakers on an Odyssey through the ice.

Back on the ship we had a quick but delicious lunch, and then we got ready for our second activity, a landing on Port Charcot. This is one of the most beautiful sheltered places on the peninsula, and the water was flat calm, even though there was some snowfall. Our kayakers found a leopard seal resting on an ice floe, and we were able to take our guests to see it after the landing.

But the day was not over yet… it was then time after dinner for our first group of campers to follow Koen and Pelin, our camping guides, on land for their first night on the ice. Our zodiac drivers abandoned them on a tiny island and we will be picking them up tomorrow morning at five. What an incredible experience lies ahead of them!

Mountaineering Pleneau Island
0930 departure from Plancius
2 Guides 12 Clients
Weather overcast and cloudy with some snow showers.

After a stunning journey through the Lemaire channel we arrived to find large amounts of sea ice making it impossible to land at Petermann Island. We tried to break through the ice in Zodiaks to Hovegaard Island, this also proved impossible but our amazing Zodiac drivers managed to find a way to Pleneau Island. We landed on rocks and had a short steep snow climb where we stashed all the safety equipment. Once again we encountered very soft wet snow so we used snowshoes to make our way up to the flat summit. From here we began traversing towards a penguin rookery on the far side of the island, to our right we observed a very large penguin making its way to the same rookery. Once there we realised that this was a juvenile Emperor penguin visiting the Gentoos. This was a rare sighting of an Emperor penguin this far north, there are usually only a handful of such sightings each season.

After plenty of photos we traversed back via more penguin groups and back to our landing area.

The ice had become considerably thicker and it was only due to the incredible driving skills of Pippa and Steffi that we were picked up. The journey back was great watching them manoeuvre the Zodiacs through leads in the ice, occasionally pushing large blocks out of the way. A late arrival back at Plancius was well worth it for all the excitement of the day.


Mountaineering Port Charcot
1530 departure from Plancius.
2 Guides 8 Clients
Weather overcast and cloudy with snow showers. The shore team went ahead and from the landing point cut a steep track in snow with large steps and a fixed rope as a handrail to help us up from the rocky beach onto the island.

Once ashore again snowshoes were needed to make any progress in the deep wet snow. We left the marked trails put in for the rest of the ships guests and climbed up onto a broad ridge descending a short way on the other side where we had great views out to sea and the enormous icebergs in the bay. We then ascended to a cairn and memorial to some members of the British Antarctic Survey who had died in this place some years before. The cloud became thicker and with the views disappearing we descended to the rest of the shore party and spent the remaining time observing the Gentoo and Adele penguins. Some were lucky enough to see a large Leopard Seal on the journey back to the ship.

Camping Port Charcot
Here we go! After a cancelled night we finally could go camping. The camping guide had found a beautiful island just next to Port Charcot, Booth Island and further then all three species of Pygoscelis penguins (Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adelie) we were going to be utterly alone. We left the ship around 20:30 and had everybody on the island by 21:00. The landing was some big rocks on the northern edge of the island and luckily they were not so slippery. The guides had done an assessment seeing if we needed snow shoes or not and they had decided not to. However, the idea was that everybody had to stay on the trails to avoid making too many deep footsteps on the island. Everybody started building their holes shortly after arriving on the island. Holes of all sorts and sizes were build. Some even with some nice decoration on the side of their walls. At the time that people started to finish their holes we had a visitor that came to take a look what we were doing, a curious Gentoo penguin that came to find a nice hole to rest in.
Meanwhile people were busy making their hole the guides had built the bathroom wall and had made a trail that went to the top of the island to be able to walk a little loop before going to bed.
During the night some had the chance to see some Minke whales in the channel in front of our island. We also had Giant petrels flying close by our holes together with a group of Antarctic terns sitting at the coast next to the group of penguins. Enough entertainment and action for our trip or so we thought…

The next morning started a little bit later than planned for. The guides had spoken with the ship to make sure that they were able to pick us up due to the amount of drift ice in front of us and around the ship. The ship had repositioned and the El and AEL and made the choice to drop 5 zodiacs to be able to pick us all up in one go. This however seemed to be quite the undertaking to be able to reach us at our landing site. Meanwhile the Zodiacs were on their way we had started packing up and filling in all the holes. By the time we were ready to be picked up we could see the zodiacs although it didn't seem like they were able to find a way through the ice yet. While waiting, we had the change to spot several Minky whales, a Weddell Seal and a Leopard seal that got extremely curious swimming all the way up to the rocks we were standing on. Because people were starting to get a bit cold the guides had given the option to walk around on the circuit that we had sat out the day before. Not long after the Zodiacs had made their way through the ice and were able to pick us up. Although the adventure and expedition had not yet ended. The same as getting to the top of a mountain, we were only half way. While loading up the zodiacs we had 2 Crab eater seals laying on a piece of ice just in front of the landing site together with the return of the leopard seal that made another appearance looking what we were still doing there.

Our way back was luckily less adventurous then that we thought. We had another two zodiacs launched from the ship who had found a relatively easy and open way to get back to the ship. This had made the way back much faster which was a good thing because everybody was starting to get quite cold. During our way back the sun started to rise and made for some nice warm thoughts and feelings whilst getting closer to the ship. By the time we had arrived at the ship it was already 7:20 in the morning. We had woken up at 4:30 that morning which meant this whole operation had taken us almost up to 3 hours in total. If this doesn't show us that we are an expedition ship were everything can change primarily due to the weather, I don’t what will. My complements to the camping group that kept themselves calm during the whole time and to the zodiac drivers that made it all happen even though the ice was telling them otherwise. Great job everybody!!

Day 7: Lemaire Channel / Damoy Point

Lemaire Channel / Damoy Point
Date: 28.12.2021
Position: 65°01.3’S / 063°49.3’W
Wind: W 4/5
Weather: P. clouds
Air Temperature: 0

First things first, we had to go pick up our passengers who went camping overnight on a little island close to Port Charcot. The ship had to reposition because the wind had blown in a lot of sea ice in the area. So our pick-up team set out on 5 zodiacs to go and collect our intrepid campers. But as they got within eyesight of our campers, our zodiacs got caught in the sea ice because the wind was pushing it in their direction. Usually we are able to navigate our way through this type of sea ice, but the wind was just about strong enough to immobilize our efforts to escape. So there we were, trying to push the ice away, but not moving at all.

At some point the ice was moving so fast from all sides that our zodiacs were lifted onto the ice, loosing all contact with the water. And out of nowhere appeared an inquisitive leopard seal who looked like it was choosing which one of our zodiac drivers it would have for breakfast. Eventually, the wind pushed the entire ice further in the direction of our campers, and by joining forces pushing one large piece of ice with 3 zodiacs we managed to get out of this trap. Once at our campers, we collected them all as well as the gear, but we still had to find a way back to the ship. Thankfully we had 2 other zodiacs coming our way and exploring possible passages. We all made it safe and sound back to Plancius, but what should have taken us half an hour became a 3 hour adventure. This is Antarctica!

Back on the ship, the rest of the staff had already started our Covid testing protocol. We all went for breakfast, got tested and then enjoyed our way back North through the Lemaire Channel. Because of the extensive ice, it took us longer to reach our next destination, and our morning landing had to be cancelled. We then made it to Jougla Point where we started our afternoon activities after lunch. We took all our passengers on land to visit the penguin colonies, as well as the British shelter which is part of the Antarctic Heritage. This shelter is open to anybody visiting the area and needing a place to stay. There are beds, a kitchen with provisions etc...

While disembarking our passengers, a humpback whale surfaced right next to the gangway, and we were able to observe it for a couple of breaths before it dove down showing us her impressive tail. The landing site is beautiful, with a sheltered cove, and is surrounded by magnificent mountain peaks. We even had the sun making its appearance. George took his group on a zodiac for a photography workshop, and the mountaineers went for a hike. At 6 pm we were all back on the ship for a delicious dinner, and our campers got ready for another night out on the ice. They were brought to Jougla Point where they would spend the night sleeping with penguins and a breathtaking view. This was quite an exhausting day, and we all went to bed filled with amazing pictures of snow-covered landscapes, penguin colonies, and whales.

Mountaineering Damoy Bay
Afternoon departure 1500hrs
2 Guides 9 clients
Weather overcast with sunny spells.

On observation our primary objective showed signs of avalanche activity on nearby slopes. The main slope we intended to climb also had large cornices above it indicating potential snow loading and again an avalanche risk. We therefore chose to change objectives and opt for a safer but shorter circuit.

We transferred to shore and a wet landing as the Zodiacs could not manage to reach the beach due to the shallow water. The ships muck boots kept everyone dry as they waded to shore.

After putting on snowshoes and roping up we walked up past the old Argentinian and British Antarctic Survey huts to the ridge above, a little further on we could look down into Port Lockroy and the lonely looking BAS huts. These are usually occupied for research in the summer months. Our viewpoint used to be a small icy runway for twin otter planes to bring supplies into the area.

We then followed the edge of the ice cap round and up to a small summit containing a Gentoo rookery. Here we met the marked trails the shore guides had put in for all passengers visiting the landing site. We observed Skuas trying their best to steal eggs from the nesting Gentoos. After following the trails back to the huts and visiting the one designated as an Historical Monument we returned to the Zodiacs and back to Plancius.

Camping in Damoy Point

Camping out in the Antarctic peninsula is by far one of the most unique experiences one can ever have. The moment one’s ship sails away , one starts to feel the silence and chill in his bones. Together with few fellow travellers appreciating the sublime beauty and the real wilderness of the white continent is simply priceless.

For our second night camping with our guests from the Blue group, we chose the Damoy Point in Wiencke island. Our camping spot has a significant historical importance. One almost feels the souls of the people that once occupied this place. Damoy Hut which is a humble but cosy shelter was frequently used between 1973-1993 by the members of British Antarctic Survey. Small airstrip build on the island helped to move British scientists to the further south bases during the early spring months when sea ice made the access to these bases very difficult. To handle the airstrip operation, three to four people occupied the Damoy Hut throughout the spring and summer months. Today Damoy Hut is preserved as a historical monument and maintained by UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Around 20.45 our first guests started to land to the Damoy point. Everyone seemed very excited for the night ahead of them. First group led by Camping Guide Koen started to prepare their igloos on the snow behind the Damoy Hut. Then the second group following Pelin arrived to the camping spot. For some minutes everyone was working hard digging the snow to build the most comfortable shelters for the night. Soon, some pretty impressive castle-like snow structures began to appear. One snow castle even had a small window for the wildlife watching.

While everyone focused on their work, several very curious Gentoo penguins started to show up around the camping ground. They seemed quite surprised about these uninvited guests taking over their island for the night. After a curious inspection, they gave us their blessing to spend the night in their territory.

Towards midnight Antarctic sky also offered us its best colors. We witnessed a wonderful sunset with orange, yellow and pink colors just before tucked in our sleeping bags.

At 4.15 am after an early morning wake up call from the guides everybody went back to the work of covering up the holes to leave the camping ground exactly as we found it. Then around 05.00 am our zodiacs started to come to pick us up for a journey back to Plancius. We sadly left the place with unforgettable memories that will accompany us until the end of our lives.

Day 8: Cuverville / Danco

Cuverville / Danco
Date: 29.12.2021
Position: 64°40.5’S / 062°37.6’W
Wind: SE 2
Weather: Part. Clouds
Air Temperature: +6

What a beautiful day to wake up to! The sky is blue, there is zero wind, and the sea is flat. Our campers spent a beautiful night on the ice and they were picked up at 5am.

Back on the ship, pastries, juices and hot drinks were waiting for them. The ship then repositioned to get close to our first landing site of the day. After a delicious breakfast we all boarded the zodiacs to Cuverville. The conditions were ideal. There was not a single cloud in the sky and the scenery was beautiful. In front of our landing site a multitude of icebergs of different shapes, textures and colours were grounded. On land we had several colonies of gentoo penguins to visit. Our kayakers had an amazing experience paddling around the icebergs and spotting crab eater seals. Our mountaineers also went for a climb in this magnificent weather. We all had to be reminded to put on some sun screen because the sun is very intense in Antarctica during the summer.

We all came back to the ship for lunch and for another round of Covid testing. But soon after that we were already at our second landing site. This time we were at Danco. Another breathtaking site with incredible mountain peaks surrounding glaciers and waterways. We climbed to different colonies of gentoo penguins to enjoy the beautiful views and the nice sun. There was even a solar halo around the sun. At the end of our landing we all gathered at the landing beach to perform our polar plunge, and almost everybody participated.

We were all rewarded by a hot chocolate with some rum, which warmed both our bodies and hearts. Back on the ship we all enjoyed a great dinner. It was barbecue night with ribs, grilled chicken, beef and sausages. And we all had free drinks as well! What an incredible day in this beautiful weather in Antarctica. Just when you thought it could not get any better, nature astounds you again!

Mountaineering Cuverville Island
Morning departure 0900
2 guides 9 clients
Wether sunny and warm with blue skies.

A beautiful transfer on the Zodiacs past icebergs and swimming penguins took us to the island.

Snowshoes were again needed in the wet snow at the start, we climbed diagonally to the right of the landing above Gentoo rookeries until the slop steepened and we ascended a broad ridge back up left to the large flat summit. The snow underfoot became firm as we ascended but the snowshoes were able to grip sufficiently.

On the summit we were rewarded with the most spectacular 360 degree panorama with amazing glaciers and high alpine peaks in every direction. After photos and time to soak in the awe inspiring vista we retraced our steps to the landing point.

Mountaineering Danco island
Afternoon departure 1430
2 guides 14 clients
Weather sunny and warm.

Calum left ahead of the ice climbing group to begin setting up some top ropes for the afternoons ice climbing session. Once we arrived on the beach the group spent some time putting on crampons and helmets and then learning some belaying techniques to safeguard each other while they were ice climbing.

We had three separate ropes each one or route slightly harder than the one before from left to right. The team had a great deal of fun, in some cases battling up the climbs, in other cases showing a surprising amount of skill and excellent ice climbing technique. Either way the afternoon was a great success, and everybody was smiling in the warm afternoon sunshine.

After three hours the team walked 100 metres or so round to the main landing area where they took part in the Polar Plunge before jumping on a Zodiac for a quick hot chocolate, in some cases laced with rum before returning to the ship and hot showers.

Day 9: Mikkelson Bay / Cierva Cove

Mikkelson Bay / Cierva Cove
Date: 30.12.2021
Position: 63°54.3’S / 060°46.0’W
Wind: Calm
Weather: Part. clouds
Air Temperature: +10

Eduardo woke us up with another of his psychedelic musics, and invited our guests to go for breakfast. At that time our Covid testing team was already set up in the lounge and we were all called by groups to undergo our daily covid test. Fortunately enough there were no new cases today.

Our daily activities started at Mikkelson Bay where we had a split zodiac cruise and landing. The landing site is beautiful, with a small Argentinian hut, a couple of gentoo penguin colonies in which we also found a chinstrap, and at the back of the island there were the remains of the ancient whaling activities: whale bones scattered all over the place and the remains of an old wooden whaling boat. There were a couple of Weddell seals hauled out on the snow. At the same time our zodiac cruisers explored icebergs and found a huge group of crab eater seals, and some Weddell seals. Our mountaineers went on a long climb and we had to wait for them to return in order to relocate the ship for our afternoon activity.

But first we enjoyed another delicious lunch prepared by the kitchen crew. Because we were a little delayed and because there was a lot of ice on the way, we arrived at Cierva Cove quite late, and Eduardo decided to make a short landing on the Antarctic continent. It took us a little while to reach land because of the extensive sea ice cover, but it was a lot of fun trying to find our way through the ice. Upon arrival we were greeted by a subadult humpback whale which surfaced right next to our zodiacs. The landscape was amazing! Giant glaciers surrounded by impressive mountain peaks, and the beauty of the sea ice and the sun. On our way back to the ship we came across a leopard seal resting on an ice floe. Even though we were already late for dinner, we could not miss this opportunity to observe this majestic predator.

Back on the ship we headed straight for dinner, and after that Eduardo updated us all on the current Covid situation, as well as on the program for tomorrow, our last day in Antarctica, and the last day of 2021! We all enjoyed the sunset surrounded by countless humpback whales feeding around the ship. We should stay here forever!!!

Mountaineering Mikkelson Harbour
Morning departure 0930
2 guides 11 clients
Weather warm, overcast with some sunny spells.

The Zodiacs took us to a rocky landing point where we were able to scramble up the rocks to a large, protected ledge above the sea. Here we left our lifejackets and muck boots before climbing up onto the snow and fixing the snowshoes to our feet. We roped up from the start as there were obvious crevasses on the slope above. Callum chose a great line up the peak avoiding the crevasses although we did have to step over one large deep hole in the snow. The long stretches of rope between each member of the group meant we were safe and we could protect each other as we stepped over the crevasse. The ascent was straightforward but quite long, about 90 minutes saw us standing on the summit with fantastic views in all directions. We could see the Zodiacs cruising in the bay below and a spouting whale in the middle of the harbour. The descent took about an hour for one group but a little longer for the second group due to some tired and sore knees.

Day 10: Deception Island / Elephant Point

Deception Island / Elephant Point
Date: 31.12.2021
Position: 63°00.2’S / 060°30.5’W
Wind: NE 8
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +2

On the last day of 2021 Eduardo woke us up with his usual music greeting. At 8 am We heard through the PA system that we would be entering Deception Island through Neptune Bellows, the narrow passage leading into the volcanic caldera. This is one of the 3 only calderas in the world that can be entered on a ship.

Once inside the caldera, Plancius dropped anchor in Whaler’s Bay. Even though it is a sheltered bay, there was a cold wind blowing from shore, and there was no possibility for Plancius to give lee on the gangway. We all then stepped into the zodiacs and took a short but wet ride to shore.

There we could see the old remains of the whaling station, rusty and deformed by the harsh weather and past volcanic eruptions. On the far left side is the plane hangar from which the first flights over Antarctica took place. And of course the ruins of the former British Antarctic Survey station. Right next to the landing site we discovered a leucistic chin strapped penguin. This animal has an abnormal pigmentation which gives all the black feathers a yellowish color, and makes it look very different from its conspecifics. At the very end of the beach there was a leopard seals hauled out on the sand sleeping. It seemed to have an old injury as one of its back flippers was missing. But he seemed to be in good condition, which means he is still able to feed properly. Everybody climbed up to Neptune’s window to have a look at the Bransfield Strait. But the wind would not stop blowing strong and cold. Our mountaineers went all the way up the hill and back. Bay noon we were all back on the ship, but soaked by the bumpy zodiac ride and the climbing up of the swelly gangway.

The ship the exited Neptune’s bellows and took its course towards the second destination of the day, Elephant Island. It took us 3 hours to reposition the ship. On site, the wind was at 25 knots, which is very close to the limit of our operation capacities with the zodiacs. We launched our zodiacs but very soon noticed that there were gusts of wind over 30 knots, and the conditions at the gangway made it impossible for our guests to disembark. Even though the zodiacs were already in the water, Eduardo decided to call the landing off, and instead we stayed anchored in front of Elephant Point observing the many humpback whales feeding around the ship.

In the afternoon we had an extended recap where Eduardo gave us all the information about weather and timings for our next days crossing of the Drake, Pippa talked about the different citizen science projects in which our passengers can participate, Steffi showed a video on Deception Island, and Pierre talked about killer whales.

Later in the evening we had a small new year’s eve celebration with bubbles and finger food, and some of us lingered a little longer at the bar celebration with social distancing.

Mountaineering Deception Island
Morning departure 0930
2 guides 6 clients 2 Doctors
Weather cloudy and very windy.

Deception island is an incredible place, a Caldera with entry into the volcanic crater through some narrow straights. Once Plancius had anchored we took the Zodiacs ashore and having changed into mountaineering boots we began a steep ascent up a broad ridge on volcanic ash and then onto rock slabs. We reached a small summit where it was very windy. From here we descended to a small col where thankfully we were out of the wind. This allowed us to comfortably put on our crampons to begin the ascent of the firm snow slope to the summit.

Callum led the group upwards while I descended with one of the team members. Eduardo walked up to meet us and having safely delivered the descending guest I retraced my steps back up to the snow-line put on my crampons and carried on up. After a short distance I met Callum and his team returning from the summit and we all descended back down to the beach.

We had time to walk over and view the old whaling station further along the beach and visit a sleeping and snoring leopard seal at the other end of the beach before transferring back to the ship.

Day 11: Sea day toward Ushuaia

Sea day toward Ushuaia
Date: 01.01.2022
Position: 61°09.6’S / 063°07.6’W
Wind: ENE 3
Weather: P. clouds
Air Temperature: +4

Today everybody was allowed to have a late sleep. The Drake was not too bad and the weather was even a little sunny. We were able to observe some seabirds: storm petrels, prions, southern giant petrel, and even some wandering Albatross. Eduardo then drew our attention to some fin whales swimming next to the ship.

During lunch we all went through the routine Covid testing, and we were all happy to learn that we all tested negative. Then it was time to return our boots to the boot room, and the staff made it all happen very swiftly.

Eduardo and Pippa gave us a lecture each simultaneously in the lounge and in the dinner lounge, on Science in Antarctica, and , respectively. In the afternoon we then had a lecture by Koen on Explorations in Antarctica, and by George on the Antarctic Treaty.

Before dinner Eduardo gave us a recap on the coming weather in the Drake for tomorrow, and it looks like we will experience the Drake in all its terrible glory by tomorrow late afternoon, when getting close to Cape Horn. But once we enter the sheltering waters of the Beagle Channel we should be in safe waters again.

We then enjoyed a delicious dinner prepared by Khabir’s team, and most people went to bed early to escape the rolling of the ship.

Day 12: Sea day toward Ushuaia

Sea day toward Ushuaia
Date: 02.01.2022
Position: 56°27.6’S / 065°38.8’W
Wind: W 8
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

Today we had a normal start as we were still crossing the Drake Passage towards Ushuaia. Eduardo had warned us that the sea conditions would get worse during the day, and we woke up to serious rolling. We nevertheless attended our daily Covid testing during breakfast.

After that the sea conditions got even worse, and we had to cancel all the lectures in the morning because it was actually too rough to invite people in the lounge. We all battled to stay alive, some of us lying in bed, others sitting in the lounge watching the impressive waves. At some point we had winds of 70 mph and some waves were up to 12 meters.

This was even too rough to have lunch in the dinner lounge, and during breakfast lots of cutlery had been flying around. So the hotel management made the call to have food delivered to our passenger’s rooms, and our crew and staff were mobilised to deliver it.

In the afternoon we had to endure these conditions up until about 5pm, when we finally entered the Beagle Channel and the wind dropped. We were finally able to walk in the corridors. Our passengers had been watching some documentaries in the lounge. Afterwards, Eduardo gave us the latest updates concerning what would happen tomorrow.

We then had an extensive recap and we watched the trip slideshow produced by George. It was the occasion to revisited all the amazing moments we have experienced together during this amazing trip. It is hard to believe that we have seen and done so many things in such a short time. All these moments were very special to all of us, and having this photographic memory is a very nice souvenir. We were all very fortunate to visit Antarctica, to have had such favourable weather conditions, and to be able to carry out all of our activities.

Day 13: Disembarkation in Ushuaia

Disembarkation in Ushuaia
Date: 03.01.2022

Total distance sailed on our voyage: 1726 NM

Furthest South: 65°10.6’S / 064°06.3’W

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

Details

Tripcode: PLA25-22
Dates: 22 Dec, 2021 - 3 Jan, 2022
Duration: 12 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Ushuaia
Disembark: Ushuaia

Have you been on this voyage?

Aboard m/v Plancius

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

More about the m/v Plancius »
Loading