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OTL21-18, trip log, Falkland Islands Exclusive

by Loraine van Huizen

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation, Puerto Madryn

Embarkation, Puerto Madryn
Date: 29.10.2018
Position: 42°45.7‘S, 065°01.5‘W
Wind: S 5
Weather: partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +12

On a sunny, balmy day we made our way towards the pier in Puerto Madryn. Shuttle buses took us to where our home for the next ten days was waiting for us: Ortelius. After we had our luggage scanned at the mobile X-ray station on the pier, we took time to just bask in the sun, take in the views of the town or keep a lookout for wildlife. There were some whale blows in the distance and birdlife aplenty. Around 16:00, we were invited to board the vessel, and we made our way to the Reception where Hotel Manager Dejan – better known as DJ – and his Assistant Alex welcomed us. We settled into our cabins and soon started exploring around the ship.

Once we had all guests on board, Expedition Leader Lynn invited us to the Lecture Room on Deck 3 for the mandatory safety briefing which was followed by a safety drill. We got to hear the ship’s General Alarm; after mustering in the Bar we proceeded out onto the top deck in orderly fashion and single file, having donned our orange lifejackets. Those who wanted were allowed a look into the lifeboats while Ortelius was sailing away from Puerto Madryn and towards the whale blows that could again be seen in the distance. We enjoyed our time out on deck watching the Southern Right Whales; the waters around Puerto Madryn are one of the best spots for observing those rare baleen whales which were hunted heavily in the past. They put on quite a show for us while we were heading out into the open sea.

Soon it was time to gather in the Lounge/Bar on Deck 6 for our official introduction to the ship by DJ. Afterwards, together with Captain Ernesto Barria we raised a toast to the voyage and got introduced to the Expedition Team members. With Ortelius steaming south, we then enjoyed our first dinner on board – very yummy and very welcome after what for most of us had been a long travel day. Some retired to their cabins right after, others stayed out a bit longer to watch the seascapes or went to the Bar for a nightcap.

Day 2: At Sea towards the Falkland Islands

At Sea towards the Falkland Islands
Date: 30.10.2018
Position: 44°52.3’S, 063°31.6’W
Wind: NW 4
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +14

Many of us were already up and around when Lynn made the first wake-up call of the trip, but for those of us still being rocked in our bunks it was time to be up and see what the sea day would bring. It was a bright sunny morning with a little bit of a breeze so a perfect start to our voyage. Plenty of seabirds were presenting themselves, including the mighty albatrosses.

After breakfast there was time to head out on deck and enjoy the sunshine and the birds that were flying around the ship and gathering in large numbers behind the ship as we sailed south. The most common species was the Giant Petrel, both Southern and Northern, but there were also Black-browed Albatrosses, Cape Petrels and Kelp Gulls. Birds habitually follow ships at sea looking for food brought up to the surface by the ship’s wake but also to enjoy the uplift created. We were also able to spot the occasional Fur Seal, Sea Lion, and even some Magellanic Penguins and Dusky Dolphins.

At 10:00, Lynn called us to the Lecture Room for a mandatory briefing regarding the IAATO rules that we need to follow as a member of this organisation. She explained why it is important to follow biosecurity measures to ensure that the wildlife will not be threatened and how it is our responsibility to protect the areas we visit. Shortly afterwards, a very delicious lunch was served. As the gentle movement of the ship was not for everyone however, some of the seats stayed empty.

There was time for a post-lunch snooze and some time on deck before Martin and Brian gave us an introduction into the seabirds that we had seen already or would be likely to encounter along the way providing background information, but also identification tips for our hunt outside on deck.

Right after, we were able to test ourselves on seabird identification on the outside decks. The wind had picked up a little bit, but the sun was still shining and temperatures were also still comfortable.

Later in the afternoon, Tiphanie invited us to the Lecture Room once again to provide us with an overview over the Falkland Islands. As she lives on the Falklands, it was very interesting to hear the facts about this archipelago together with some personal insights. Her love of the islands is very obvious, and it certainly got us even more excited about our visit.

There was time for afternoon tea before spending some more time on deck or further exploring the ship.

At 18:30, Lynn invited us to the Bar for our daily Recap. At this time of the day we would learn about the plans for the following day and get some more information on things that we have seen previously. Martin explained a few details about the Southern Right Whales that had put on a very nice show around Puerto Madryn. Thereafter, Tobias introduced us to the concept of the nautical mile, knots and the Beaufort scale. Afterwards, we were treated with another very delicious dinner in the Restaurant.

Day 3: At Sea towards the Falkland Islands

At Sea towards the Falkland Islands
Date: 31.10.2018
Position: 49°06.5’S, 061°53.8’W
Wind: SW 4
Weather: clear
Air Temperature: +10

After a little rocky night Lynn woke us up just before 08:00 again. The wind had calmed down and the weather was sunny with, unfortunately, not that many birds. The mandatory zodiac briefing after breakfast was followed by us collecting our rubber boots and zodiac life jackets. The sunny and calm weather continued so many of us were found at the bow or on the top deck to look out for wildlife.

After lunch Tobias gave a lecture on the geology of the Falkland Islands which made us understand a lot better the formation of the islands and how tectonic plates work. Moreover, it became clear that the Falklands Islands are not belonging to Argentina nor the United Kingdom at all, but that – based on the geology – South Africa might have the biggest claim on the islands …

In the afternoon the biosecurity protocol was started. To prevent contamination of the islands and introduction of non-native species it is critically important to make sure no seeds or non-endemic or native materials enter the islands via personal clothing, boots, camera bags or backpacks. Therefore, all of us were asked to vacuum the personal belongings they were planning on taking with them during the landings on the Falklands Islands. Deck by deck we were called up to the bar where we could personally make sure not to introduce any pests to the islands – it was quite the vacuum party up there!

During the vacuuming Peale’s dolphins showed up, riding the bow waves in front of the ship. Not long after the blows of whales could be seen on the horizon. As it seemed to be more than just one whale, the Captain decided to make a detour and get us in for a closer look on these whales. Eventually it was possible to confirm these whales were Fin and Sei whales feeding on big patches of krill some of which was nicely visible from the ship. What more could we potentially have been asking for – it had been a perfect day with good weather, calm seas and a variety of wildlife in the afternoon as we drew closer to the Falklands.

Day 4: Falkland Islands: Carcass Island & Steeple Jason Island

Falkland Islands: Carcass Island & Steeple Jason Island
Date: 01.11.2018
Position: 51°18.3’S, 060°33.3’W
Wind: NE 4
Weather: clear
Air Temperature: +9

Finally, after two sea days surrounded by birds, dolphins, whales and even krill, we made it to our first landing: Carcass Island. It was supposed to be the afternoon place to visit but due to weather conditions in Steeple Jason, Captain Ernesto and Expedition Leader Lynn decided to swap turns on the sites.

A beautiful morning welcomed us with sunshine, a fantastic 10 degrees centigrade and friendly wind, so as the conditions were perfect we could divide the landing in two groups. One group landed on Dyke beach and took the 3.1 km hike through the tussock and meadows to reach the settlement where Rod (the owner of the island) lives. On the way there was a lot of birdlife to be observed, and the keen birders got lucky as they had good views of the endemic Cobb’s Wren, of Upland Geese with goslings, of Magellanic and Blackish Oystercatchers, Steamer Ducks, the ubiquitous Tussacbird, Austral Thrushes and Long-tailed Meadowlarks. When this group reached the settlement where the other group had landed directly on the beach, for all of us Rod – with the help of a very nice Chilean family – had prepared an amazing array of really yummy cookies, tea and coffee.

Not only the time and experience of our first activity was good, also the opportunity to rest a bit after eating so much and wander around on the ship decks spotting some birds while Ortelius was relocating to our designated afternoon landing spot.
Little by little the wind picked up but after a scouting team had gone out and found the landing site in manageable conditions, the operations started as planned. This time we visited Steeple Jason Island where we landed at a really slippery, rocky spot all the way into the bay on the south side. It took a while to get us all ashore but it was well worth the effort because after a walk between geese, Caracaras and Gentoo Penguins (and after being greeted by a couple of growling sealions basking on the rocks) we found ourselves right in front of one of the largest colonies of Black-Browed Albatrosses with around 113.000 individuals!

A call from Ortelius’ bridge warned the Staff Team about the wind gusts picking up even more so we in turn were warned that we should consider starting our way back to the comfort of the ship soon – but not before taking (another) thousand pictures of the colony. Just as foreseen by Captain and Chief Officer, the weather change was here – zodiac after zodiac we could see the swell increasing, and the approach to the vessel was not as easy as the departure, but Staff and Crew brought everybody back on board safe and happy after an amazing day full of memories.

Day 5: Falkland Islands: West Point Island & Saunders Island

Falkland Islands: West Point Island & Saunders Island
Date: 02.11.2018
Position: 51°20.8’S, 060°40.3’W
Wind: NW 4
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +9

Another calm, sunny morning saw Ortelius approaching West Point Island. Lynn had (again) woken us up quite early, and while we still wondered where the settlement might be that she had mentioned in her recap the night before, the Expedition Team was already busy manning zodiacs and speeding off into the bay on the east side of the island. On our ride, Peale’s Dolphins found the rubber boats to be ideal toys to play with, and we were delighted by the shenanigans of our lively entourage escorting us towards the pier. Much to our surprise, there was even a red carpet waiting for us, and so we stepped onto the wooden pier and made our way towards the shore with flowering gorse and plenty of waterfowl lined up on the beach.

It seemed to be Luxury Day today: a dolphin escort, the red carpet, wildlife in abundance, and now we were to learn that the islanders were even offering a taxi service! So we climbed into the back of the Land Rovers and were shuttled over to the west side of the island, right next to several colonies of White-browed Albatrosses and Rockhopper Penguins. Siskins were flitting about, the sun was shining, and those who decided to walk had a bit more time to take in the gorgeous views along the way. At the colony, we found ourselves right next to what seemed to be hundreds of Black-browed Albatrosses and an equal number of Rockhopper Penguins. It was marvelous to just sit (or stand, the tussac was rather tall) and watch, listen, observe, and enjoy.

On the way back, some of us got to witness the local FIGAS airplane arrive and take off again; others observed a myriad of birds along the well-marked path. Lunch came in handy to refill our energy depots while Ortelius made her way towards Saunders Island. When the ship was in position and we could clearly see the white sandy beach at The Neck, another surprise was waiting for us: There was a Leopard Seal resting on the sand. Unfortunately, it left before we got ashore but once the zodiacs had landed us on shore, there was a wide variety of other wildlife to be observed: We encountered Oystercatchers and Dolphin Gulls, Caracaras and Vultures – and had reason to rename Saunders Island into Five Penguin Island as we found Magellanic, Gentoo, Rockhopper and King Penguins as well as a single Macaroni Penguin amongst the Rockhoppers. Wherever we looked there was something to see, and time flew past at an astonishing speed. Way too soon we had to head back from where we had spent our time, and we were VERY reluctant to leave. The last meters to the beach seemed to stretch forever in our attempt to make those moments last – what a wonderful day we had spent at the Islands of Plenty!

Day 6: Falkland Islands: Volunteer Point & Stanley

Falkland Islands: Volunteer Point & Stanley
Date: 03.11.2018
Position: 51°41.2’S, 057°51.1’W
Wind: N 4
Weather: clear
Air Temperature: +11

After some 12 hours of sailing from the West to the East Falklands we approached Volunteer Point just before breakfast. Our plan for the morning was to land on the Volunteer beach to spend some time at the Falklands’ largest King Penguin colony. At first glance, the weather seemed excellent with clear blue sky and bright sunshine but unfortunately, the swell from the open ocean didn’t allow us to land. Through the binoculars we could see waves two to three meters high crashing onto the beach where we were supposed to land with our Zodiacs. With no landing possible and no alternative within reach the Captain set course towards our next destination. Despite a little bit of rolling, the cruise to Stanley was very productive in terms of wildlife. Several whales were spotted, bow-riding Peale’s Dolphins observed, and to our birdwatchers’ delight, both Antarctic Fulmars and a Grey-headed Albatross were seen from deck.

At midday we arrived to Stanley, a beautiful settlement home to some 2500 inhabitants. To our delight the weather stayed fine – blue skies, sunshine, only a bit of wind – and we landed in the harbour with our Zodiacs. Some of us went to the museum and the gift shop, others chose to go out birding or visit any of the nine local pubs. During the afternoon, the wind picked up again, and for this reason the Captain decided to leave Stanley a wee bit earlier than planned to make sure we would be able to go through the Narrows before the anticipated storm hit the Falkland Islands. It turned out to be a good decision; as we came out into the open sea, the wind had picked up significantly. As it was supposed to reach storm force tonight we crossed our fingers that maybe the storm might have passed already by the morning when we would reach our next destination, Bleaker Island.

Day 7: Falkland Islands: Bleaker Island & Sea Lion Island

Falkland Islands: Bleaker Island & Sea Lion Island
Date: 04.11.2018
Position: 52°07.8’S, 058°47.3’W
Wind: NNE 7/8
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +7

The ship arrived at Bleaker Island to find very windy and swelly conditions. A 1.4-metre swell was observed making zodiac operations impossible. Ortelius travelled down between Bleaker and East Falklands searching for better conditions and awaiting a drop of the wind. Unfortunately, the weather stayed the same and the local forecast gave no glimpse of hope either so the decision was made to move on. Ortelius then travelled back around to the outer side of the island and headed south for Sealion Island. In mid-morning Martin gave a lecture on birds of the Falklands followed by an identification session inviting all passengers to bring their photos. As the ship made its way down the coast, some Commerson’s Dolphins were observed bow-riding and a White-Headed Petrel was spotted, the latter a rare find in the Falkland Islands. Weather conditions were windy and cold but many of us braved the decks to inspect the coastline and watch the sea birds following the vessel.

Lunch was served and we were delighted that the homemade ice-cream station was back again for those who missed it whilst ashore in Stanley yesterday. After lunch Sea Lion Island appeared in the mist, but unfortunately even though the sun had come out, the swell had not dissipated. 1.3-metre waves still crashed against the bow of the ship and upon talking with the lodge manager on Sea Lion, conditions were found to be unsafe on the landing site as well. The decision was taken to cancel the landing for safety reasons with hopes of better luck tomorrow at New Island. The ship then sailed along the coast of Sea Lion Island for some time, allowing opportunity to at least from a distance observe the Elephant Seals on the white sandy beaches.

After some time observing the marine life, late in the afternoon Ortelius turned NW towards Eagle Passage, passing between East Falklands and the Speedwell Island group, the latter owned by local guide Tiphanie May’s parents. Upon sailing along George and Barren Island and later Speedwell, many birds were sighted amongst the smaller islands. As the ship passed Speedwell, the main settlement was sighted with the purple house of the owners showing up brightly against the island. On the starboard side the May’s boat Theo was observed moored in Flores Harbour.

In the late afternoon Tiphanie herself gave a talk about the daily life of a Falkland Islander with quite an extensive question-and-answer session afterwards discussing some of the more unusual quirks of island life. More bird and marine-life watching were held on the decks until Recap time was called in the Bar. Lynn gave a quick overview of the day’s activities and a brief on possible landings. This was followed by Brian who gave an interesting talk on the wingspan of tubenose birds (petrels and albatrosses) using a marked string stretched across the bar supported by Celine. Finally, Celine gave a fascinating presentation on the presence of contaminants in seabirds and how science had come to find out about this. At this time supper was called and we were treated to a wonderful meal of locally sourced Patagonian Toothfish.

Day 8: Falkland Islands: New Island

Falkland Islands: New Island
Date: 05.11.2018
Position: 51°43.6’S, 061°16.9’W
Wind: WSW 5
Weather: clear
Air Temperature: +10

A 7:15 wake-up call! After a day without landing, everybody was looking forward to hearing Lynn’s news about the weather and, of course, also about our first landing of today. News were good indeed; the landing in New Island South settlement was going ahead. New Island is the most westerly island of the group, and it is now a nature reserve managed by the New Island Conservation Trust.

Sun was shining and the wind was stable. The lovely bay with its white sandy beach where we landed was completely sheltered (in contrast to the zodiac ride which at least in the beginning was not) and the sweet light of the morning made for a very special atmosphere. There was a beautiful old shipwreck right next to the landing site with three Night Herons inside taking a sunbath. At the beach we were welcomed by the owner in the Barnard building which dates from 1831. In 2006 it was completely restored and now contains a small museum also serving as visitor centre, and a small shop.

On the island we could decide to either opt for the long walk over the hill to the Fur Seals carefully avoiding the burrows of the Petrels, or for the much shorter and easier walk to the rookeries of Rockhopper Penguins and Cormorants. As the weather was treating us kindly we had lots of time ashore, and the last shuttle back was not till 12:20. On the way back to the ship we could already feel the wind picking up, and not everybody stayed completely dry on the ride.

During lunch Ortelius repositioned to the north side of New Island but unfortunately the wind had picked up even more. The Captain tried various spots for keeping the ship in position in order to enable another landing but neither of them proved safe so unfortunately the afternoon activity had to be cancelled. So here we were, turning towards South America and heading for Ushuaia! To the great pleasure of many of us, on the outside decks the fantastic birdwatching continued, and there was even a new species sighted for this trip: the Grey-backed Storm-Petrel.

Just before dinner it was Recap time again: Lynn with the plans for the following day, after which Marcel – one of the three trainees – together with the other trainees Miriam and Sebastian explained in a very funny way and showed in many photos what they had done “behind the scenes” and what they had learned from their mentor Jan Belgers in the Oceanwide Development Program on board Ortelius.

After dinner still a lot of us went outside to make photos of flying birds in the sunset. A lot of Giant Petrels and Cape Petrels were still around. Some of us were lucky enough to even get nice pictures of the green flash at the exact moment the sun disappeared behind the horizon.

Day 9: At Sea towards Ushuaia

At Sea towards Ushuaia
Date: 06.11.2018
Position: 53°38.0’S, 063°36.0’W
Wind: WNW 9
Weather: partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +7

“At sea in the Furious Fifties” clearly was the motto of the day: We had had some strong winds to deal with a couple of days ago in the Falklands, but really the worst of that was not being able to go ashore. We had been able to stay close to the islands there and avoid the biggest seas. We also had had a mostly down-sea tack which also helped. This morning however, we were taking it on the chin, quartering into big open ocean swells, and the wind had increased considerably. The outside decks were closed for our safety.

This is a place of strong winds. Many have heard of the “Roaring Forties”, the band of latitude so named by sailors for the winds that blow. We were below that in the “Furious Fifties” nearer to Cape Horn and the Drake Passage, an area of legendary storms and seas. Sometimes one gets lucky and crosses during a lull, but today was not one of those days. We had 40 knots of wind early this morning, later on getting close to 50 knots. The ship was handling it superbly, but as always it was a struggle for us as humans. Many were hunkered down in cabins and those who were up and about were certainly holding on tightly. The bridge offered a good vantage point for seabirding, but it was one hand for the ship at all times.

The seabirds were going on about their business. Some were following the ship. We had a squadron of Cape Petrels in tow and the obligatory Giant Petrels. Three species of albatross crossed our bow this morning. We had hoped for a big day of pelagic birding outside, but it was more of a day for the birds. We peered out of the windows to get a look, and we enjoyed the comfort of our sturdy ship. As an old friend once remarked “these birds don’t have any houses to go to out here”. Indeed. Their realm is the sea and the air and today most of them were better off in the air.

Aloft, these sailing birds can travel vast distances on a day such as this. The albatrosses might travel a few hundred miles in a single day. Some are content to follow the ship. Others are just seen in passing. In the Falkland Islands, we had encountered the Southern Royal Albatross, a gigantic bird that actually nests in New Zealand but disperses eastward to feed in the rich shelf waters off Patagonia during its first couple of years. The Sooty Shearwaters that nest down here also make a long trek to the North Atlantic for the Austral winter. We might think of ourselves as world travelers, but seabirds have been doing it as a matter of course for a long time.

Fortunately, sea conditions changed as we got nearer to the coast. Proximity to shore means less fetch and slighter seas. As we approached Isla de Los Estados, we got the green light to go out on deck. There was much to see and it was nice to be outdoors again, taking in fresh air and the views.

At 18:15 we gathered for our last Recap and some closing remarks from Captain Ernesto – and a toast to our voyage! From there, it was onward to the Farewell Dinner during which we got to know the galley team whom we cannot thank enough for the fantastic meals we got to enjoy during our cruise. It’s been a great trip, and some of us passed the last hour of daylight enjoying the scenery and more birds, including a handful of Blue Petrels from the Antarctic. The wind had not exactly let up, but it was much smoother sailing in here, and we retired to our cabins eager to see the beautiful scenery that awaits us in the morning.

Day 10: Disembarkation in Ushuaia

Disembarkation in Ushuaia
Date: 07.11.2018
Position: 54°48.6‘S, 068°17‘W

Having spent the night in the sheltered waters of the Beagle Channel, the morning saw us coming into the bay of Ushuaia in beautiful early light. For the last time (at least during this voyage) we woke to Lynn’s voice, and for the last time (at least during this voyage) we headed to the Dining Room for breakfast. The Expedition Staff had asked us to put our check-in luggage outside our cabins before coming to breakfast so they could take it to the pier for us, and after the vessel had been cleared by immigration and customs, we were allowed to step outside as well. It was sad to leave Ortelius and her crew, and a great many good-byes were said before we finally departed – some to the airport, some into town to spend a bit more time at the end of the world, Fin del Mundo. And quite a few of us had already made plans to return one day to see and explore more of the beauty of the polar and subpolar regions accessible only by ship. Maybe South Georgia? Maybe the High Arctic? We will find out in due time …

Details

Tripcode: OTL21-18
Dates: 29 Oct – 7 Nov, 2018
Duration: 9 nights
Ship: m/v Ortelius
Embark: Puerto Madryn
Disembark: Ushuaia

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