OTL26-19, trip log, Antarctica, Basecamp

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation, Ushuaia

Embarkation, Ushuaia
Date: 18.12.2018
Position: 54°48.6‘S, 068°12.7‘W
Wind: W Bft 4/5
Weather: Part Cloudy
Air Temperature: +10

It was a late afternoon on a glorious sunny day when the first new passengers arrived to board the Ortelius. Our new family, from the young to the young at heart, walked down the pier with clear excitement and anticipation. The expedition staff greeted each guest as they climbed the gangway for the first time and directed them to the Reception to check in. Hotel Manager Sigi and his assistant Melanie quickly had all passengers assigned and shown to their cabins , their homes for the next 11 days.

A few folks lingered in the Dining Room sorting out their rental gear but then came an announcement to meet in the Lecture Room for the mandatory safety briefing followed by an abandon ship drill— practising how to muster and put on the lifejackets. The ship pulled away from the dock with three strong blasts of the ship’s horn during the muster roll-call in the bar so we knew we were on our way! After following our mus-ter captains up on deck to get familiar with the lifeboat locations, the drill was finished offering an excel-lent chance to enjoy more moments in the fresh air, appreciating the gorgeous backdrop of craggy moun-tains surrounding Ushuaia. Next up came Captain’s Cocktails, a chance to meet the ship’s master Ernesto Barria and hear his greeting and thoughts on how to get the most out of this trip, encouraging people to slow down and appreciate your surroundings. Then our Hotel Manager gave a presentation about house rules, how the ship works, and all-important meal times. The Expedition Team then came forward, with Tobias outlining how the team will operate and explaining that everyone was in good hands – all we had to do was just trust the team to keep everyone safe and do as much as we possibly can under Mother Nature’s rules! Each team member introduced themselves briefly, and then everyone was ready to get out of the bar which had become almost like a sauna due to the unusually warm and sunny day!

The outer decks provided a welcome respite, a chance to soak up yet more impressive scenery along the Beagle Channel, with snow-capped mountains and craggy slopes covered in beech trees offering us a fare-well on our journey further south. Too soon for some, and not soon enough for others, Sigi’s announcement came calling us into dinner. A wonderful three-course meal was served by Sigi and his team, much to the delight of all those new aboard and setting the standard for the rest of the cruise. After dinner, with no more briefings or meetings to be had, folks focused on getting comfortable in their cabins, walked the out-er decks, or gathered in the bar chatting about all the exciting things to come during the voyage and bond-ing over a few drinks while Rolando provided wonderful service and witty banter. The doctor also dropped by to discuss with those concerned how to manage sea-sickness over the next few days on the infamous Drake Passage. The staff informed the passengers that during the night we would be leaving the shelter of the Beagle Channel and enter open water so we were advised to prepare for the “motion of the ocean”. Properly set up, we drifted off, cosy in bed, dreaming of the adventures in store.

Day 2: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 19.12.2018
Position: 56°17.5‘S, 065°41.6‘W
Wind: W Bft 8
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +6

Our ship was heaving quite a bit when Tobias‘ voice came through the speakers to wake us up. A rather stormy start but Ortelius was already surrounded by effortlessly flying albatrosses and petrels. Despite the weather, after breakfast the real action started. The day was full of activity briefings, for as we were on a Basecamp voyage, there were many different things for everyone to take part in. There was, in particular, kayaking (with Fran) and mountaineering (with Mal and Trev) briefings to attend. After lunch, Gracie and James gave a briefing on camping, and later in the afternoon Marijke gave a talk about penguins explain-ing their adaption as to how they can survive the cold Antarctic conditions.

Whoever was up and about could watch different sea birds following the ship. The black and white-speckled Cape Petrels, brown Giant Petrels, Black-browed Albatrosses, and the largest of them all: the Wandering and the Royal Albatrosses. The Wandering Albatross is the largest flying bird in the world, a magnificent creature! A sleepy Antarctic Fur Seal woke up when Ortelius sailed past, and a Bottlenose Whale was seen breaching in the distance.
In the afternoon, more people were starting to overcome sea-sickness (a battle between a person’s eyes and brain, with the stomach being the clear winner). During our daily briefing, Tobias informed us about nautical measurements such as knots and nautical miles and about our plans for tomorrow. Mark gave a short overview how to use the snowshoes during our onshore expeditions, and Sandra explained who Abra-ham Ortelius had been – a brilliant cartographer!

After a wonderful dinner served piping hot, everyone slowly made their way to their cabins, into their warm cozy bed and with the sea finally becoming more gently, we were ready for another night of dreams about our upcoming adventures.

Day 3: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 20.12.2018
Position: 60°29.8 S, 063°25.0‘W
Wind: N Bft 4
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: +2

We awoke in the night to the rock and roll of 9 - 10 meters waves and strong winds of the Drake Shake as we crossed the Antarctic Convergence. The morning brought calmer seas but also rain and fog and an in-creasing number of Cape Petrels, Prions, Wandering and Sooty Albatrosses slipstreaming Ortelius as we sailed deeper into the Southern Ocean.

We had a busy morning following breakfast, first as Expedition Leader Tobias presented the mandatory zodiac safety briefing and IAATO regulations for going ashore, followed by a visit to Deck 3 Lecture Room to get our muck boots and zodiac life vests issued, in anticipation of our arrival at the Antarctic Peninsula the following morning. After lunch we started our biosecurity “Vacuum Party” in the bar, where all of us made sure to pick away seeds and clean dirt from outer wear, hiking equipment and camera bags, to pre-vent non-native species becoming established in this pristine environment.

In the afternoon our South African staff photographer, Werner, gave us his photography tips and tricks for capturing great images of wildlife and the jaw-dropping landscapes of the Great White Continent. The last highlight of the day was our first sighting of a pair of Humpback Whales just a few hundred meters off the ship – welcome to Antarctica!

Day 4: Orne Harbor, Danco Island & Cuverville Island

Orne Harbor, Danco Island & Cuverville Island
Date: 21.12.2018
Position: 64°37.1‘S, 062°33.9‘W
Wind: variable Bft 2
Weather: Party cloudy
Air Temperature: +5

Our first landing day in Antarctica! We woke up to a snowy, foggy morning after two eventful days at sea. Winds were gusting up to 30 knots and therefore the Zodiac cruise around Orne Harbour was cancelled. The Captain decided to sail to Danco Island for our first Antarctic landing instead. Kayakers and Mountain-eers disembarked first to start their adventure around Danco Island. We were greeted by a large Gentoo colony ashore and a Humpback whale showing off her tail between the floating icebergs. For most, it was their first time walking with snowshoes that certainly helped reaching the viewpoint in the soft snow while the keen photographers stayed down low to capture the personalities of the roaming Gentoos.

We headed back to Ortelius just before lunch and to our surprise, Ortelius was a festive wonderland. Christmas has arrived with decorations all around the ship. During lunchtime Ortelius relocated to Cuver-ville Island for an afternoon landing. As we approached the shoreline, we were greeted by a baby elephant seal waving at us. We spread out and walked up to the viewpoint for beautiful views of the bay down be-low. The elephant seal started to get curious and approach the passengers. His main goal was to reach the comfy-looking yellow snowshoe bags before he finally made himself comfortable on top of the landing bags. Certainly a lot warmer than the cold snow! Tobias hosted the recap in the evening and Marijke gave us a little more information about elephant seals. After dinner the campers went ashore for a beautiful night of camping in the snow. The bar was filled with excitement as new friends shared their first experi-ences of their Antarctic adventure.

Kayaking - Danco Island
Arriving at Orne Harbour in the morning, things were not looking promising. Wind rippled over the water, and brash ice chimed on the waves. The first team from Michigan State however got ready to go and by the time we got to Danco Island, it was a different story altogether. The sea was millpond smooth and there were some lovely icebergs just waiting to be explored – not too close of course! We headed off round the north side of the island away from the landing site and found ourselves in amongst the calls of Gentoos, washing and hanging out in rafts over the shore. We detoured to a small island that was tempo-rary home to a seal and also a pair of sheathbills – one very funny moment when a sheathbill took off and flew uncertainly over the group, almost making a landing on Mallory’s head, maybe mistaking her woolly hat for a suitable nest. On the far side of island, ice cliffs revealed fascinating strata of glacial ice, layered with dust and algae and penguin poo. Just as we loaded back into the Zodiacs then we saw an amazing sight of a few hundred penguins in a large sociable raft so we spent five minutes getting a bit closer to these birds in a state of feeding, washing and general off-nest relaxation before we headed back to the ship.

Kayaking - Cuverville Island
Cuverville Island was only a short sail from Danco and the weather remained super calm with wispy layers of cloud and fog wreathing the surrounding mountain scenery. Cuverville is a great island in that it is per-fectly possible to circumnavigate it in a couple of hours and so we did. The channel on the west side was ice free for the first time in a few weeks and the waters are wonderfully shallow so we paddled around over gin-clear water and also noted the few seals and penguins on shore. We took a moment of silence off the south of the island before paddling back along the super-steep cliffs redolent with shag colonies, and kelp gull nests. Most amusingly we found a lone Chinstrap penguin, standing on the outermost fringes of the Gentoo colony, looking a little out of place!

Mountaineering - Danco Island
Our first objective in Antarctica was to have been to Spigot Peak in Orne Harbor – however the wind and weather conspired against us. Instead we changed plans and reset our sights on a smaller yet steeper ob-jective – a small series of ice cliffs on Danco Island. Finding safe seracs (ice cliffs) to climb can be a chal-lenge at times – but with so many areas to choose from down on the Antarctic Peninsula we had multiple options. A very short Zodiac drive from the ship got us ashore not far from the normal landing. As we were getting rigged up to climb, a Humpback Whale casually swam by the beach only 10 m offshore! Gaining the bottom of the ice cliffs seemed to prove to be more difficult than the actual climbing as the loose wet deep snow saw the first team mostly sinking in up to mid-thigh. After Mal and Trevor set up top ropes with strong ice anchors at the top the team got their first taste of swinging tools and climbing vertical ice on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Mountaineering - Cuverville Island
With a larger group this time we landed ashore after lunch on Cuverville Island. This island offers a long slow rising slope up to a broad summit with 360-degree views of the surrounding passage, mountains and glaciers. The team again encountered wet deep unsupportive snow that had the guides working hard as they plug deep wet snow steps despite the snowshoes we were all wearing. A few team members felt that they wanted to stop ½ way up and return to shore – which was relatively easy to accomplish whilst the rest of us made our slow walk up the hill to be rewarded by incredible views, looking down on the sea kayaks as they paddled around Cuverville Island. After a very short snowball fight, we turned back to retrace our steps back to the shore and returned to our Basecamp Vessel Ortelius.

Camping - Kerr Point
After our first amazing day in Antarctica the weather held fine and the first group was able to go ashore for camping! It was a challenging landing due to so much snow, but everyone worked together to help one another until we all got safely ashore. First thing was to put on snow shoes, the only way to traverse the area without sinking to our knees in snow. Our spot for the night was at Kerr Point. We didn’t want to camp too close to shore in case of flooding from a calving glacier, nor did we want to be too close to the cliffs in case of avalanche. So we picked a perfect spot in between, safe from either of these beautiful yet fear-some possibilities. And off we went digging our trenches in the snow, single and double homes all over while Grace worked on building a toilet with a view over the water, icebergs and glaciers across the bay. Once we had our camp set up for the most part, those of us not already cozy in our bivvies gathered in a line to spell ‘ANTARCTICA’. Some had more difficult letters than others, the ‘C’ and ’N’ particularly. But we pulled off quite an impressive photo. Now it was time to get into bed and get warm. Alhough a bit of a wiggle, eventually everyone was inside. We were ‘tucked in’ with a photo of us in our impressive trenches all bundled up, then spent some time listening to the noises of calvings all around as we fell asleep. Morn-ing came early, the weather had picked up a bit in the night but was still not too bad. A good amount of snow fell through the night and we woke with a layer over our bivvy bags. Also several seals had come up on the island next to us. We packed up our camping kits, got ready to go and again all helped each other into the Zodiacs. One last task on the ship was to hang up our gear to dry. And finally, to our rooms for warm showers, sleep and comfortable toilets. What a wonderful night we had had camping!

Day 5: Neko Harbour, Brown Station & Skontorp Cove

Neko Harbour, Brown Station & Skontorp Cove
Date: 22.12.2018
Position: 64°51.0‘S, 062°33.8‘W
Wind: SE Bft 1
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +7

We awoke to snowflakes tumbling in calm air, with ice floes and icebergs around the ship. The happy campers had been picked up after their adventurous night out, and during breakfast Ortelius arrived at Neko Harbour, our intended spot for the morning. Both the glacier front and the landing site only slowly appeared out of the fog; additionally, the landing was blocked by a huge amount of brash ice and bergy bits. The first few Zodiacs with the staff and the mountaineers dared to push through but then the Expedi-tion Team decided that it was not safe to continue.

Within minutes, plan B came into action: Since the ice was already there – as were groups of Gentoo penguins literally everywhere – a Zodiac cruise in the ice it would be! More boats were launched and we all set out. The fog, the stillness of the air, the otherworldly surroundings made for a very atmospheric cruise. Slowly weaving through brash ice and slaloming inside the icy labyrinth, there was so much to see! We observed penguins quite close, porpoising, swimming, even jumping onto or from the ice. We marvelled at beautifully sculpted icebergs and curiously picked up a small piece of ice to inspect the delicate air bubbles trapped inside. Way to soon it was time to return to the ship.

During lunch Ortelius made her way towards Paradise Harbour. Low clouds were hiding some of the scen-ery of mountains and glaciers but soon movements in the water caught the attention of the Bridge team: Orcas! We rushed to the outside decks to see the triangular-shaped dorsal fins appear and disappear as the pod of whales moved on. Right after, a Humpback whale showed up close to the ship so we felt very wel-come right away – It seemed a paradise indeed, not just for the scenery. While half of us made a landing at the Argentine Brown Station to get up close and personal with even more penguins, the other half ex-plored Skontorp Cove by Zodiac before we swapped groups halfway through. Those who were cruising the glacier-lined bay spent some time looking at nesting shags and bathing Cape petrels before they spotted another pod of Orca.

This group was coming towards the zodiacs, and we got fantastic views of a large male with its huge dorsal fin but there were also a curious calf and at least one juvenile Orca in the pod. Sitting quietly in our Zodiacs with the engines turned off, the whales did not seem to mind our presence at all. What an experience! While the second group went ashore after their cruise, the wind picked up con-siderably, and the ride back to the ship was completely different from the way in. After we all had made it safely back on board Ortelius, the Expedition Team invited us for recap – and Expedition Leader Tobias reminded us that we had gotten a very good impression today what traveling in Antarctica actually meant, from the change of plans in the morning to the change of conditions in the afternoon and all the unex-pected encounters. With regards to changes of plans, another one was still to happen: Due to adverse con-ditions, camping unfortunately had to be postponed – the winds were simply too much for safe operations.

Kayaking - Brown Station
Brown Station never fails to deliver a quality outing and Fran, the kayak guide, said it was her favourite place for kayaking – something that the group came to understand by the end of the day. To start with we were distracted by orcas off the stern of the ship but once we had torn ourselves away, we were quickly on the water and able to follow them into Skontorp Cove. We lost sight of them but luckily, two humpbacks appeared so we set off towards them. However, they were traveling rather faster than us and slightly away from us and we realized that there were other things that could be better viewed from a kayak. Namely the tiny cove off Skontorp, which holds a small anchorage and some stunning, rather precarious looking blue ice cliffs. It was also home to a small ice floe packed with seals – mainly Weddell and Crabeaters in a cosy group, resting up and lazily scratching, occasionally raising their heads to look at the six red intruders. Finally, we headed back under the steep cliffs admiring the complex banding of sedimentary rock strata, punctured by bright green streaks of copper, and watching the low flying cormorants coming back to their fat brown fluffy chicks already exercising their wings in anticipation of future flight. The wind got up just as we rounded to Brown Station but we were quickly back to the ship in time for a recap.

Mountaineering - Neko Harbor
Concerns about the shifting ice and poor visibility meant that we ended up cancelling the day and doing a Zodiac cruise instead.

Mountaineering - Brown Station
Calm conditions and seas on our arrival combined with very little ice meant that the afternoon activities were full steam ahead. The mountaineers were again the first group off the ship to make an attempt on a small peak behind Brown Station. Here again we were thwarted in a full summit due to the snow conditions. Our guides were concerned about possible avalanche conditions up the final slope leading towards the small peak and summit so despite snow conditions being good for making easy steps up the slope we stopped at the small col below the peak. From this point we could see the kayakers moving around the ice below us on one side as they approached a group of seals hanging out on the ice. To the other side we had a small inlet coming in from the entrance near Brown Station. Of course, having turned around it was much faster walking back to near the base on our already well-trodden tracks. The small rocky outcrop above the base was to be our summit for today and a small bonus was the pre-built snow slide we could use for a bit of fun before returning, again, to Ortelius.

Camping - Damoy Point
While the day had been beautiful, come evening some rough weather had made its way in. By the time we were at our camp site for the night the winds were blowing up to 56 knots. Looking outside it was obvious that not only was it unsafe to go ashore, but if we did it would be an unbearably miserable night of camping. So group two was moved to camping night five in hopes of fairer weather on their second attempt.

Day 6: Damoy Point/Dorian Bay, Peltier Channel & Port Lockroy

Damoy Point/Dorian Bay, Peltier Channel & Port Lockroy
Date: 23.12.2018
Position: 64°47.9‘S, 063°30.6‘W
Wind: Variable
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

When we awoke in the morning with high hopes for the day, low clouds hugged the mountains, a fog bank threatened to approach and the winds lingered so Plan B it was again: Captain Ernesto took Ortelius into the very scenic Peltier Channel which is less known than the Lemaire Channel but very much worth a visit with steep rock walls and ice cliffs on either side. On the approach, Sandra gave a multi-faceted talk about the White Continent, touching on history, the name, geography, climate and wildlife. As soon as she had finished, we grabbed our jackets and cameras and headed out onto the decks to marvel at the beauty pass-ing on either side of the ship. A bit later Mal talked about glaciers and climate change, and we learned a lot about the ‘Rivers of Ice’ and how fragile they are.

Meanwhile, all of us were hoping for conditions to improve so that we would be able to visit Port Lockroy in the afternoon, and indeed: When we arrived in front of Goudier Island with the British Base A and histor-ic Bransfield House, the mountains were still covered in low clouds but the winds had calmed down enough to launch the Zodiacs. Off they went, taking half of us first to Port Lockroy and the other half to the pen-guins and seals of Jougla Point, a nearby island on which the team had marked a snowshoe route. The kayakers went out to enjoy the silence and the scenery before coming to join the others for the landing at Port Lockroy. The mountaineers made their way up a slope in the back of the bay to do some ice climbing; they were visible as small colorful dots on a big white screen. There was still a lot of fast ice in the bay with a sailing yacht anchored to it; there were also leopard seals hauled out right on the edge which gave us a good opportunity to watch them from up close. Those at Port Lockroy strolled to the museum, stamped their passports, sent postcards, bought last-minute Christmas presents in the shop or entertained them-selves with watching the delightful Gentoos inhabiting most of the place. At halftime, we swapped groups – time flew, and there was so much to see! As we returned on board Ortelius, all of us were glad that the weather had allowed for the afternoon activities to go ahead as it would have been a real pity if conditions had been adverse. So very happy visitors/very happy shoppers attended the daily Recap in which Tobias outlined the plans for tomorrow.

Kayaking
Although the morning session was cancelled it was lucky that by the afternoon, the conditions had calmed enough for us to put on the water and paddle around Goudier Island and Alice Bay. As well as the many penguins of Port Lockroy, we were lucky enough to get close to two very sleepy leopard seals – a female and a younger one – who had hauled out on the ice at the back of the bay. It was most amusing to see a penguin leap out of the water right next to the seal – only to beat a hasty retreat once it spotted the sleepy predator. We enjoyed a pleasant afternoon on the water and then headed to the Penguin Post Office to look at the museum and spend our money on some presents for family and friends back home and our own Antarctic mementos.

Mountaineering - Port Lockroy
Rising winds, deteriorating visibility and snow meant that we had to again make a change of plans – we had intended to climb Mount Jabet, which would have taken roughly ¾ of a day. However, we shifted to a shorter afternoon outing to another ice cliff behind the Penguin Post Office at Port Lockroy. There was still a large amount of fast ice in the region with plenty of seals out resting and we needed to walk around the edge of the ice to make sure we didn’t fall through the ice and into the underlying sea. The climbing itself was on a 35 m wall of ice with a large bank of snow at its base – gradually steepening up as we climbed closer to the top. Our Guides had climbed up a snow arete earlier to create an anchor as we put on our crampons, checked each other for safety and then clipped into the ropes and began to swing our tools to get a taste of near-vertical ice. After finishing we also had the chance to visit Port Lockroy, get passports stamped, checked out all the Gentoo Penguins nesting around the base before calling our Zodiac Uber Drivers to deliver us again back to the Ortelius.

Camping - Damoy Point
While big puffy snowflakes were falling, conditions were good enough for camping to be a go! Everyone got ready in their gear and headed up to Deck 6 to collect their camping kit for the night. We were camp-ing at Damoy Point, a spot just next to a Gentoo penguin colony. It was a slippery rock landing, but with the help of Gracie and Jim, using a proper sailors grip, we were all able to get on shore without slipping into the freezing pool. No one wanted to participate in an unexpected polar plunge! As we were setting up camp something amazing happened for the first time on our expedition, blue skies started to appear in the distance. Soon the snow stopped, the wind calmed and the sun was peeking through, creating beautiful colors on the clouds of pink and orange. Everyone was speedy at setting up their camp and soon after we gathered to take our group photo, it was a bit of a process to assign letters to everyone and spell out ‘Ant-arctica’ but we managed it not once, but twice. The second time was with all the Michigan State students proudly holding up their University flags on either side.

As the conditions were so lovely we made a short hike up to the hilltop for more amazing views. Then seeing as it was near midnight, with wake up only five hours away, we all started getting into our bivvy bags settling in for the night. Some of us slept warm and cozy while others stayed up most or all of the night, but slightly dozing at least. As we were woken up in the morning and got out of our bivvies we could see the wind had picked up, and the temperature had dropped. We made quick work getting our campsites tidied, our holes filled in to make sure no penguins would get stuck, and headed down to catch our Zodiac back to the ship. After helping to hang up our camping gear to dry we were free to enjoy warm beds, hots showers and await delicious breakfast. While it’s not always the most comfortable to camp in Antarctica, it was definitely an unforgettable experience and we were all happy to have done it.

Day 7: Lemaire Channel, Pleneau Island & Petermann Island

Lemaire Channel, Pleneau Island & Petermann Island
Date: 24.12.2018
Position: 65°02.6‘S, 063°53.8‘W
Wind: N Bft 2
Weather: Snow
Air Temperature: +2

On Christmas Eve we woke up to a snowy day. After having sailed through the famous Lemaire Channel which happened to be just open enough for Ortelius and the Captain to do their waltz around the icebergs, the Expedition Staff prepared the Zodiacs for a cruise. Dressed up and ready to go we set out to explore the bay. Lots of blue icebergs were floating around with many occupied by Gentoo penguins. The Gentoos put on a show jumping up and down ice floes.

Further along the island we discovered a few Adelie pen-guins between the Gentoos. The snow started falling really heavily with some hail in between. We all headed back to the ship to warm up and have lunch. In came a surprise announcement over the PA system: Killer whales were circling a piece of ice with about 10 Crabeater seals on it. They tried to create a wave to cause the ice to move and a seal to slide off. Marijke suspected that the behavior of the whales indicat-ed that a seal was captured. While repositioning to Petermann Island for the afternoon landing the clouds opened up. The weather cleared, and we were experiencing the first blue skies of the cruise!

On Petermann, we put on snowshoes and hiked to a large Adelie penguin colony. The views across to the mountains of the Antarctic mainland were stunning, and we took it all in until the very last minute. Today was also – finally! – the eagerly anticipated big day for all the adventurous souls to do the polar plunge. About 40 passengers stripped down to their swimsuits and went for a swim in -1˚C water. Everyone sur-vived and with the adrenaline pumping we headed back to the ship the celebrate Christmas Eve. To our surprise the Captain took us for a cruise through very densely packed sea ice. Penguins and seals were resting on larger pieces as we sailed past. This was the perfect time for a Christmas BBQ on the heli deck. The hotel staff prepared the best BBQ in the polar regions. As the snow started falling again we took a pas-senger group photo on the back of the deck and eventually headed to the bar for Christmas carols and cel-ebrations. Merry Christmas everyone!

Kayaking - Pleneau Island & Petermann Island
It isn’t always that we managed to get out south of the Lemaire Channel but this Christmas Eve the weath-er delivered. The group who went out in the morning was met by very Christmassy snow showers and we were wearing full winter kit including googles. We hugged the very pretty rocky coastline, peppered with penguins – all Gentoos except for one lone Adelie. We even caught a glimpse of a leopard seal!
From Peterman we could see the line of old winter fast ice to our south, we really felt as if we were in the deep south of Antarctica by now. Although the wind was still playing around with waves, we got ready and once we were in against the islands, we were quite well protected. We practiced some skills like turning the kayaks in as small of circle as possible and holding our position relative to the land – all useful skills to have in the unpredictable waters of Antarctica.

We tried to get through some of the small islets to the south of Peterman but large bergs blocked all our ways. No matter, the sun had decided to come out and it was a really beautiful afternoon. In fact, it was so warm and sunny that most of the group decided they wanted to do the polar plunge so we came back to the ship to uplift kayaks and head for the shore. Their screams of shock suggested that it wasn’t quite as warm as they might have wanted!

Mountaineering - Hovgaard Island
With no visibility, heavy snow and possible increasing wind the morning’s plan to try a traverse of Hov-gaard Island were quickly changed. Instead we took the opportunity to do survival training. The team got to practice how to use a group shelter called a Bothy Bag. It is essentially a large water- and windproof bag that up to 8-9 people can sit inside of. It very quickly gets warm and gives great shelter from any wind. Whilst this was going on the other activity was building snowcaves! We learnt just how warm AND wet you can get in the snow while we tunnelled into a snow slope and then dug out a living/survival space under the snow. It may not have been a typical mountaineering day, but the skills we were shown were a great in-sight into being prepared when going out into the hills in Antarctica or indeed anywhere in the world.

Mountaineering - Petermann Island
Our second summit for the trip and our actual first day of sunshine! Petermann Island gave us a reasonably steep slope to climb with a long flat broad ridge before reaching the very open summit – the views were again amazing with finally a sunny calm day. Snow Angels were requested on the way down, so we lay our-selves on the line to create them before continuing back down our tracks to find a short safe slope where we created our own slide – everybody’s laughs were added to the cry of the Gentoo colony on the Island. And while it was a short day out doing the mountaineering activity, this meant that we could get back to shore to join in with the Polar Plunge before returning to the Ortelius.

Camping - Splitwind Island
Christmas Eve camping was a bit touch and go. We were on standby for quite some time. Due to ice condi-tions and potential ice moving in to block our way out of the Lemaire Channel, we had to search for an alternative camp spot a bit farther north than planned. We came to a beautiful island in the Lemaire itself and were finally called to get ready and collect our camping kits. The Expedition Staff went out in Zodiacs first to land the gear and prepare the camp spot. As we were waiting at the gangway ready to go, they were battling the 1-2 meters swell around the island, trying to find a safe spot to land. As Grace and Mark were offloading the gear, the swell caused one Zodiac to be nearly vertical in the water, a very dangerous position to be in and not too far from slipping backwards. The Team kept on searching to find a place where it was safe to land, but due to the sea conditions it had to be called off. Us, being the good, easygoing lot that we are, were super understanding that everything possible had been done to try and make the camping happen. While of course a bit disappointed, we were hopeful for another chance tomorrow, handed back in our camp kits and made our way either to the bar or to our beds.

Day 8: Useful Island & Ketley Point

Useful Island & Ketley Point
Date: 25.12.2018
Position: 64°44.1‘S, 062°54.3‘W
Wind: SW Bft 4
Weather: Sun
Air Temperature: +3

Christmas Day was special in many regards, for we explored two places no member of the Expedition Team had ever visited before – a true Expedition Day! As neither Useful Island nor Ketley Point on Rongé Island had been part of any trip route before, the Staff Team scouted those sites before starting landing operations. In the morning, it was quite a stretch from the ship to Useful Island but the Zodiac ride was part of the exciting experience. Following a narrow pathway in the snow, we walked to the top of the island and were treated to beautiful weather conditions with clear skies and sun, and incredible views all across the Gerlache Strait and towards Rongé Island all the while we were surrounded by Gentoo and even some Chinstrap penguins! Never mind that the return to the ship was against the wind and not completely dry …

During lunch, the team scouted the second landing site – and again, what a great time we had at Ketley Point! From inside a tiny cove we made our way to the top of the hill passing through different groups of Gentoo penguins and Chinstrap penguins. Again, the views were amazing: The bay was full of huge ice-bergs and some whales were taking a rest in the bay just in front of us.

After the landing we returned to the ship for the special Christmas Dinner the chefs and the galley team had prepared, and still we were surrounded by the beauty of the Gerlache with ice-clad mountains and the odd whale blow in the distance. In order to shorten the distance on the way back and to make most of the calm conditions, Ortelius repositioned to a new location for the camping night: Melchior Island. While the campers set out for a night on top of a snow dome, many of the others gathered in the Bar for a very spe-cial Christmas party. Merry Christmas everyone!

Kayaking - Ketley Point
It was a bit touch and go whether we would be able to get on the water as there was a decent wind in the Gerlache Strait over lunch, however closer in to shore, it eased enough to allow us to launch 12 kayaks. Ketley Point was a new venue and there were quite a few penguin colonies – however the slight swell kept us at a bit of a distance from the shore and we eased our way up and down under some nice snow slopes, keeping a respectful distance from the occasional ice face. It was pretty challenging keeping the kayaks in a straight line with the wind behind us, and it also took some effort to come round into the wind but we all managed!

Mountaineering - Ketley Point
A trip with a difference – today our guides were driving their own Zodiacs and we were going to visit a location that the Expedition Team and ship’s Crew had never visited before – so we were definitely out on an adventure expedition morning (Adventure: Activity with an Unknown Outcome). Our guides found a safe landing site after driving the Zodiacs around several different possible landing spots and mountaineering routes. There were about 15 knots of wind on our backs as we motored away from Ortelius – which meant that we would need to come back all the way into the wind! After finding the landing site we had to get all our gear ashore – avoiding annoying the Gentoos and seals lounging about, and then we had just enough time to do a short hike up the slope before returning to find our Zodiacs well and truly grounded as the tide had run out! 10 minutes of hard labour and standing in deep water with our Muck Boots keeping our socks dry, and we were again in the water and on our way back to Ortelius – with a little bit of extra spray and waves as we wove our way around large icebergs.

Mountaineering - Ketley Point
With a great deal of thanks to the morning’s team we were able to make faster time up to the previous group’s high point where we could continue on and upwards. The wind and cloud were increasing so in-stead of going for the small summit above us we traversed towards a small rock – which turned out to be a Gentoo Penguin hanging out about 250m above the sea! We weren’t quite sure why he was there and he wasn’t that willing to tell us – perhaps he was simply enjoying the mountains the same as us. As we re-turned to our landing area our guides took the ropes off and got us to wait just above a steep slope not far from the landing site – the snow had become incredibly soft and wet and the guides were concerned with the avalanche hazard. After kicking off a series of small wet slide avalanches to make the slope safe enough we were then able to enjoy quite a steep slide back down to near the landing site, a quick gear resort and our final Zodiac journey back to Ortelius. This was the last mountaineering trip of this voyage – a huge thanks from Mal and Trev for everybody being attentive and listening well to safety briefs, bringing the right gear and enjoying the mountain environment so much! Keep on having fun!

Camping - Melchior Island
This was our last chance to go camping. After a stunning and blue-sky day hopes were high that the night would be good weather as well. We made our way to an Argentinian base, Melchior. We were waiting on standby and finally the announcement came: Yes, we were going camping! Of the 33 spots available to go camping, exactly 33 people wanted to go, so it worked out perfectly despite two nights having been can-celled due to the weather. It was a bit of a climb arriving to the camp spot but once on top it had the most amazing views in all directions. It was a narrow island, narrowed down even more by the overhanging cliff all along one side, requiring a large portion to be marked off as ‘no go’ zone. However, there was plenty of room for everyone to dig their camp trench all in a row. We managed to find a spot to take an amazing ‘Antarctica photo’. By this time it was already nearly midnight and everyone started getting into their bivvy bags. Gracie walked down the line and tucked us all in with a bedtime photo cozy in our bags. And we fell asleep to the peaceful sounds of wild Antarctica.

Day 9: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 26.12.2018
Position: 64°01.3’S, 062°54.6’W
Wind: E Bft 5
Weather: snow
Air Temperature: 0

After a rather gentle night of slight rolling, the morning broke cloudy and overcast. The campers had had an early wake up with humpback whales breaching in the distance as they made it back onboard. The Orte-lius rocked back and forth as the call for breakfast came through the airwaves. We were heading out onto the open seas!

At 09:30 Marijke gave a talk about Antarctic whales, how to identify them and also how they have adapted themselves to surviving in such extreme conditions. Most of us took the latter part of the morning to rest up after a series of impressive but very busy days on the Antarctic Peninsula.

After lunch Claudio gave a lecture on climate change – a serious problem that is having a big impact on the fragile Antarctic ecosystem. Some humpback whales cruised close by the Ortelius, waving their flukes and flippers as to say goodbye to us. In the late afternoon Mark told us everything about how life is on the Antarctic station McMurdo.

After dinner we were accompanied by three beautiful Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses – they came close to the bow using the upward draft the vessel is creating whilst we were steaming north into mild winds. Tiny Wilson’s storm-petrels were dancing on the waves when the day came to an end and everyone slowly made their way to their cabins.

Day 10: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 27.12.2018
Position: 59°51.44‘S, 063°47‘W
Wind: NNW 3 Bft
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +5

This morning we were allowed to stay in bed longer – there was no wake-up call, just Sigi’s gentle voice reminding us of breakfast. The Drake gave us a little break from the rough seas she had thrown at us on our first crossing, with warm sunshine and a little calmer sea in the morning, followed by some fog in the afternoon as Ortelius crossed the Antarctic Convergence. While some remained in their cabins, many were in the Bar throughout the day, writing journals, editing photos, playing board and card games, and visiting amongst the passengers. At 10:00, we were invited to attend Tobias’s lecture about the geology of Antarc-tica. He explained the breakup of Pangaea, plate tectonics and how the Antarctic continent drifted to its current location. As we sailed north, we were accompanied by Cape petrels and an albatross or two.
In the afternoon, those who weren’t enjoying a well-earned nap, attended Fran’s fascinating talk about the Historic British huts on the Antarctic Peninsula. Then Gracie treated us all to an Antarctic Trivia contest in the Bar, where many of the passengers gave it their squawking all, with impersonations of their favorite penguins!
Just before dinner, we met in the Bar for the daily recap where Gracie showed us just how big Antarctic birds’ wingspans are, using a knotted rope and a passenger volunteer to assist. Then it was off to dinner, followed by some retiring to the cabins while others headed back to the bar to upload photos to the share folder, more card games or a nightcap.

Day 11: Drake Passage & Isla de los Estados (Staten Island)

Drake Passage & Isla de los Estados (Staten Island)
Date: 28.12.2018
Position: 37°21.1‘S, 064°25.4‘W
Wind: SW Bft 5
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +6

During the night the ship’s movement first increased, then eased again, and in the morning we found our-selves sailing under a sunny sky with only moderate waves reminding us that we were still in the Drake, after all. As we had made such good progress due to much better conditions than anticipated, the Captain had decided to apply for a permit to sail closer to the Argentinian shoreline to the east of Cape Horn. Orte-lius headed towards Isla de los Estados (Staten Island), and after breakfast we had land in sight! While the ship was inching ever closer, Sandra gave a talk about Frank Hurley, the photographer of Shackleton’s fa-mous expedition.

Afterwards, most of us headed out onto the decks to take in the views of the coastline so surprisingly green, a color that had been missing almost entirely during our stay in Antarctica. There was plenty of wildlife to observe: sea lions, albatrosses, penguins, dolphins, they all came by to pay the ship a visit. Under a blue sky with the sun shining, we thoroughly enjoyed this very special finale to our cruise – hardly ever we experience such a calm Drake which allows for some extra activity.

In the afternoon it was time to hand in our trusted rubber boots and Zodiac lifejackets, and unfortunately it was also time to settle our ship’s accounts with Sigi and Melanie at Reception. Once this was done, Marijke gave a very interesting and entertaining talk about special encounters at sea, and finally we gathered again in the Bar to raise a glass with the Captain and the Staff to what had been an incredible voyage to Antarctica.

Day 12: Ushuaia

Ushuaia
Date: 29.12.2018
Position: 54°48.6‘S, 068°17‘W

All good things come to an end, as they say. Today was our last morning on Ortelius. After a last night in the cabin which had started to feel like home, we were instructed to put our suitcases in the corridors this morning so the crew could take them out and off the ship to be ready for transport to the airport or the storage facility in town. After one more breakfast it was time to say goodbye. Goodbye to the ship and its crew and staff, and to all new friends. Appointments were made to stay in touch and farewells were said. All could look back to a very nice and successful trip. At 08:30 everyone handed in the keys to the cabins, picked up the luggage from the pier, and set off by bus or foot towards our individual destinies, heading for new adventures and with many great memories.

Thank you all for such a wonderful voyage, for your company, good humour and enthusiasm.
We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!

Furthest South: 65˚13.258’S 064˚08.071’W
Total Distance Sailed: 1.752 nm

On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Ernesto Barria, Expedition Leader Tobias Brehm, Hotel Manager Sigi Penzenleitner, and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.

Details

Tripcode: OTL26-19
Dates: 18 Dec – 29 Dec, 2018
Duration: 11 nights
Ship: m/v Ortelius
Embark: Ushuaia
Disembark: Ushuaia

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Fortified for both poles of the planet, the ice-strengthened Ortelius is thoroughly outfitted to provide you an up-close experience of the Arctic and Antarctic.

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