Classic Antarctica – On board USHUAIA
Expedition Log: January 28th to February 6th, 2011
South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula
- MASTER of the VESSEL: Alejandro Font
- ICE PILOT: Sergio Osiroff
- EXPEDITION LEADER: Agustín Ullmann
- HOTEL MANAGER: Angel Quiroga
- CHEF: Hector Maturana
- LECTURERS/GUIDES: Dany Martinioni (AEL), Mariano Albano, Cecilia Ratto & Andrea Raya Rey
- PHYSICIAN: Dr. Konstantin Petrosyan
- January 28: Ushuaia, Argentina, Beagle Channel.
- January 29: Drake Passage.
- January 30: Drake Passage. Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands.
- January 31: Danco Island. Brown Station-Skontorp Cove, Paradise Bay (continent).
- February 1: Lemaire Channel. Vernadsky Station-Wordie House, Argentine Islands. Iceberg Alley-Port Charcot, Booth Island. Petermann Island.
- February 2: Neko Harbour (continent). Foyn Harbour, Wilhelmina Bay.
- February 3: Telefon Bay, Deception Island. Hannah Point, Livingston Island.
- February 4: Drake Passage.
- February 5: Drake Passage. Mouth of the Beagle Channel.
- February 6: Ushuaia, Argentina.
Total navigated distance: 1653 nautical miles.
Log of our voyage
Friday, January 28th – Ushuaia, Argentina (Lat. 54º 48′ S, Long. 68º 18′ W)
Evening Temp: 12ºC, Winds: 4 knots NE
Antarctica is a continent capped by an inland ice sheet up to 4.8 km thick, containing about 90% of the world’s fresh water.
The ice sheet is so heavy that it has pushed the land below sea level in places. Because of the thickness of the ice sheet, Antarctica has the highest average altitude of all of the continents.
It was a nice and warm day as people struggled down the port to board the ship just after 4pm. Departure was scheduled for 6pm and shortly after this time the ropes were lifted from the quayside and at last our expedition ship the Ushuaia moved off and headed out into the Beagle Channel to begin the long journey south to Antarctica.
Once onboard, we settled into our cabins before gathering in the bar for a Welcome Cocktail of chilled champagne and a fabulous spread of fruit, cold meat and canapés. This gave us all a chance to meet our fellow passengers and the staff of the USHUAIA. The Expedition Leader, Agustín Ullmann, presented the staff that would accompany us during the landings and help us to understand how sensitive the ecosystem in Antarctica is. Dany Martinioni, Mariano Albano, Cecilia Ratto and Andrea Raya Rey would share with us a lot of interesting details about the wildlife, history, geography, geology and conservation, and would guide us safely through the landscapes of this wild part of the world.
During our first briefing, which included the full lifeboat safety brief, we were introduced to our Captain, Alejandro Font, the man responsible for taking us safely across the Drake Passage and beyond. Our Hotel Manager, Angel Quiroga would take care of all our accommodation needs and Doctor Konstantin Petrosyan would care for our health should the need arise during the expedition.
After the brief we awaited the lifeboat drill in our cabins and, with our big, orange life jackets we made our way to the lounge and to our muster stations. Some of us ventured into the lifeboats and of course these boats are the one part of the ship where we hope we never have to spend any time at all.
After the drill we enjoyed the views of the Beagle Channel as we sailed out between the shores of Argentina and Chile.
We had late dinner, our first meal onboard and after dinner there was a chance to watch an Antarctic wildlife film although many of us chose to have an early night in preparation for the days in the Drake Passage.
Saturday, January 29th – Drake Passage
Morning Temp.: 8ºC, Winds: 4 knots NW
Evening Temp.: 17ºC, Winds: 2 knots NW
The Antarctic Convergence marks the true ecological margin of Antarctica, being formed by the meeting between warmer water masses flowing southward from the tropics and colder waters flowing northward from Antarctica. At this point, the cold and dense Antarctic Water dives beneath the warmer water.
Further south, the upwelling of a deeper water mass is pushed apart by the opposing West and East Wind Drift systems to bring nutrients to the surface, which feed the vast sea of plankton in the area.
Most of us enjoy the gentle movement of the ship while getting use to the ship and admiring the seabirds that share with us the cross of the Drake Passage.
Our first lecture of the morning was with Andrea presenting a lecture about ‘Albatrosses and Petrels, birds of the Southern Ocean’. It gave us some background into these amazing birds life history and gave us useful tips for identifying some of the species whilst at sea.
Later on, Agustín gave us a lecture about the extreme features that make Antarctica such a particular place in his “Antarctica land of records”.
After lunch, the weather was really nice and we enjoyed with the staff members bird watching on the outer decks. We were lucky enough to see Wandering and Royal Albatrosses effortlessly soaring around the ship, the true masters of the Southern Oceans. They were also joined by one of the smallest seabirds, the Wilson’s storm petrels as well as Black browed albatross, Southern giant petrels, White chinned petrels and Antarctic prions.
After a sunny afternoon for many the lecture programme continued giving us more valuable information in preparation for our arrival in Antarctica. Cecilia gave a detailed talk about “Myths of Antarctica” and the stories of the earlier explorers.
After dinner the film ‘‘Shackleton Adventure’ was shown in the conference room and it was another quiet evening for many on board the M/V Ushuaia. What a beautiful cross of the Drake Passage!
Sunday, January 30th – Drake Passage, Half Moon Island (Lat. 62º 35’S, 59º 54’ W )
Morning Temp.: 5ºC, Winds: 2 knots N
Evening Temp.: 5ºC , Winds: 2 knots W
Antarctica is a cold desert, with snowfall equivalent to only 150 mm of water each year.
This snow builds up gradually, and ice flows towards the coast as huge glaciers. In many places, these extend out over the sea as massive ice shelves.
The morning began with a lecture from Andrea about Penguins from the Antarctic Peninsula, these iconic little birds which we are all looking forward to seeing over the coming days.
Immediately after Andrea´s talk, Agustín gave the IAATO and zodiac brief ready for our arrival in Antarctica. This outlines all the guidelines and regulations necessary for travelling in this remote part of the world where the priority is to leave the pristine environment and its wildlife undisturbed. We were then issued with zodiac lifejackets and rubber boots, everything we needed for our first beach landing.
The Drake Passage has been so kind with us that by lunch time we were approaching the South Shetland Islands.
After lunch we had the chance to do our first landing in Antarctica, Half Moon Island was waiting for us under a dense mist that made the scene more impressive. Half Moon Island is a tiny crescent shaped island located in Mac Farlane Strait to the eastern end of the South Shetlands. To begin our visit to this beautiful little island some of us walked to the western end towards the penguin highway, where the chinstraps could be seen making their way up to the colonies high up on the rocky bluffs. From there we walked along to the Argentine station Cámara, where the base-staff made us all feel very welcome with coffee and freedom to walk around the station to see what life on a remote Antarctic base is like. We have the chance to spot our first Weddell seals, Antarctic fur seals, Blue eyed shags, Snowy sheathbills and of course our first penguins the Chinstraps.
After dinner, Dany gave a detailed talk about the “Geology of the Antarctic Peninsula”, the rocks beneath the ice.
What a fantastic end to our first day in Antarctica.
Monday, January 31st – Danco Island, Errera Channel (Lat. 64º 44’ S, Long. 62º 37’ W) / Brown Station, Paradise Bay (continent) (Lat. 64º 53’ S, Long. 62º 52’ W)
Morning Temp.: 3ºC, Winds: 1 knots SE
Evening Temp.: 4ºC, Winds: 1 knots N
Did you know that there are four South Poles?
1 – Geographic South Pole
- Intersection point with the axis of the Earth’s rotation
- Nearest to Amundsen-Scott Station
- 2,900 km from magnetic pole
2 – Magnetic South Pole
Location where the magnetic field is vertical
- Moves about 5 km per year
- Approx. at 65ºS, 38ºE
- Currently moving northwest
3 – Geomagnetic South Pole
- Intersection of the surface of the Earth with the extended axis of a magnetic dipole which is assumed to be located at the centre of the Earth
- Approximates the source of the Earth’s magnetic field
4 – Pole of Inaccessibility
- Point furthest from all coasts
- Located at 84ºS, 65ºE
After a filling breakfast we were ready to go and very anxious about our second landing of our voyage on Danco Island. The island is name after Lieutenant Emile Danco, an officer on the 1897-99 “Belgica” expedition, who died of a heart attack on the 5th of June, 1898 during the wintering-over. Many of us made our way through the fresh snow up to the Gentoo penguin colonies scattered on the slopes of the island. The penguins have a long climb up their highways to reach the colonies up on the summit and at this time the highways are deep channels in the snow. From there the only way was up and many of us gathered on the summit of the island for magnificent views all around. All great shots for the record and the 360º surround views of the area were breathtaking.
Back at sea level many of us took a walk along the beach and enjoyed watching the penguins coming ashore and found a Weddell seal. Another bonus was the beautiful pink slopes of the island created by the presence of snow algae.
In the afternoon we had the Continental landing at Almirante Brown Argentine Station in Paradise bay! We were setting foot in the White Continent!
Paradise bay was known to whalers who would come here very often taking advantage of its sheltered waters.
Although cloudy, it was an extremely quiet afternoon, no wind was blowing. Most of us climbed to a cliff and enjoyed marvellous views of the surroundings. We could see the entire bay as well as Bryde island in the centre of the bay and Lemaire Island to the north.
Also all of us made a zodiac cruise in Skontorp Cove. To begin with, we reached a Blue-eyed Cormorant colony with birds nesting on a cliff, also we spot Antarctic terns, Skuas and Kelp gulls. Later on, this cruise offered a good opportunity to see some icebergs and the dramatic fronts/walls of Skontorp glaciers. Some of us were lucky enough to see Crabeaters seals hauling out in the ice.
Before dinner Dany gave a re-cap and brief which gave us an idea of what to expect for next day landings.
It was a beautiful but tired day so some of us went to have some rest while others enjoyed movie time first.
Tuesday, February 1st -Vernadsky Station, Argentine Islands (Lat. 65°15’ S, Long. 64°16’ W) / Port Charcot “Iceberg Alley” (Lat. 65º 5’ S, Long. 64º 2’ W) / Petermann Island (65°10′ S, Long. 64°10′ W)
Morning Temp.: -1ºC, Winds: 1 knots SW
Evening Temp.: 9ºC, Winds: 2 knots SE
Early in the morning Agustin woke up us as usual with nice music and told us that we were about to cross the scenic and famous “Lemaire Channel”. We had a nice and peaceful cross and the perfect way to start the day.
The Lemaire Channel (65°04’S, 63°57’W) separates Booth Island from the Antarctic Peninsula. The seven-mile-long channel averages a mile in width, extending NE-SW from Spilwind Island and False Cape Renard to Roullin Point and Cape Cloos. Glandaz Point (65°05’S, 63°59’W) forms the S entrance, and Loubat Point (65°04’S, 63°56’W) the N entrance, to Deloncle Bay, which indents Graham Land on the E side of Lemaire Channel.
Once on the other side of the channel our capain headed toward Vernadsky station, site of the Ukrainian Research Station (formerly, the UK Faraday Station) and the southernmost pub in the world! We all have the chance to know more about the research and life in this station and enjoyed the hospitality of the Ukranian scientists and base personnel. We also visited the “Wordie House” in the Argentine´s Islands, a historical place that transported us many years in time. Most of us also climbed the hill to have a fantastic view of the area.
Back on board the ‘asado’ BBQ that we had all smelt cooking while we were approaching the ship was well underway and we all enjoyed a traditional Argentine feast of meat, sausages and salads.
After lunch we found ourselves in the calm waters of Port Charcot with some beautiful icebergs scattered through an area which is fondly known as ‘Iceberg Alley’. We split into two groups with one group going ashore on Booth Island and the other zodiac cruising around the spectacular icebergs of the bay. Ashore, we took an easy walk across the snowfield to reach the Gentoo penguins that are found breeding in small groups across this low lying island. Amongst the Gentoos there were also Chinstrap penguins and Adelie penguins all with chicks at various stages of the breeding cycle. The views across the surrounding area were beautiful. The place was discovered by Dallman’s German Expedition of 1873-74, and named for Oskar Booth or Stanley Booth, or both, who were members of the Hamburg Geographical Society. Jean-Baptiste Charcot and the French Antarctic Expedition, aboard the schooner Français, spent the winter of 1904 in an inlet of Booth Island. A well constructed stone magnetic hut and other artifacts (wrecked tender, stove) may be observed. Port Charcot is the bay indenting the N shore of the island.
Out in the bay the zodiac cruising was to prove to be just as spectacular with fabulous towering icebergs interspersed with smaller ice floes, many of which had Crabeater seals hauled out on them. Some of us were also lucky enough to find some Leopard seals lazing on the ice with an almost arrogant demeanour. They know they are among the top predators in Antarctica. It was windy but the sun appeared for all of us through the clouds.
After the landing we made a re-cap and brief for the next day activities and our staff offered us a third landing to end this amazing day.
Immediately after an early dinner most of us landed on Petermann Island. Once on the island we could see many Ádelie penguins with chicks as well as Gentoo penguins and Blue eyed cormorants. By this time of the season we had the opportunity to see lots of chicks chasing their parents around, begging for food, something that biologists call the “feeding chase”. The wind had stopped and the day was about to finish. Most of us wait for the sunset on the peaceful of the island and the sunshine provided us with some gorgeous photographic light, it was a lovely way to finish the day.
Wednesday, February 2 – Neko Harbour (Lat. 64º 50’ S, Long. 62º 31’ W) / Foyn Harbour Lat. (64° 33′ S, Long. 62° 01′ W)
Morning Temp.: -2ºC, Winds: 3 knots
Evening Temp.: 13ºC, Winds: 2 knots NE
Sealers were among the first explorers in the Antarctic and, indeed often preceded the explorers of the time. The South Shetland Islands were discovered in 1819 and in 1820 over 50 sealing vessels were in the area taking 42,000 skins from the fur seals found in the area. Elephant seals were taken for their blubber. This level of destruction could only be sustained for a few years and now seals are protected by The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCAS).
In the morning we made our second Continental landing at Neko Harbour. The area next to the landing beach has a number of small colonies of Gentoo penguins and many of us sat and enjoyed watching the penguins and their chicks once again. Mariano led a guided walk of the way up the snowfield to a lookout point overlooking the bay and glacier nearby. It was a perfect location for everyone to stop and take in the beautiful view all across the bay. Near the beach we spent some time with a Weddell seal and a Crabeater seal that were enjoying a snow bath and rubbing itself in the fresh snow. Once on the beach the bravest expeditioners took a real Antarctic bath in the cold waters of the bay (the sea water was 1.7 °C!!).
Back on the ship when we were sailing in Andvord Bay the shout of whales! took everyone out to the outer decks to spot at least four Minke whales and one of them breaching which is not a very common behaviour of this species, but something that we were very lucky to experience.
But that was not the end… after lunch, some of us were napping, when Humpback whales appeared to amuse us with their tails up, the splash in the water and even one approached us very, very close while navigating through the Gerlache Strait. We were spotting these at least ten whales for an hour.
After this fantastic spectacle we went zodiac cruising at Foyn Harbour. This is an anchorage site located between Nansen and Enterprise Islands in Wilhelmina Bay off the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. The harbour was named by whalers after the whaling factory ship Svend Foyn, which was moored here during 1921-22. Svend Foyn was a Norwegian whaler who invented the explosive harpoon late in the 19th century.
We sailed amongst the islets feeling the sensation of this quiet bay, observing kelp gulls, Blue-eyed shags, Antarctic fur seals and Antarctic and Arctic terns.
Then we approached the Governoren, a wrecked factory ship. This was a state-of-the-art Norwegian vessel that unfortunately caught fire during its second whaling season. It was wrecked the 27th of January 1915. It is now-a-days a silent memento of the whaling era.
After dinner our Expedition Leader asked us to attend a meeting at the bar, there we were informed that we were in a rescue mission. Another Antarctic ship the “Polar Star” needs us to take some people back to Ushuaia as they had a problem navigating south. We were doing that during next morning.
Thursday, February 3rd – Telefon Bay, Deception I. (Lat. 62° 56’ S, Long. 60° 40’ W) / Hannah Point, Livingston I. (Lat. 62° 39’ S, Long. 60° 37’ W)
Morning Temp.: 2ºC, Winds: 4 knots N
Evening Temp.: 3ºC, Winds: 6 knots N
The South Pole is 1,235 km from the closest coastline, and is situated high on the polar plateau (height 2,800 m).
Here it may be as cold as – 75°C, but the world record lowest temperature is from an even more remote site: Russian Vostok station, which logged -89°C.
During the night we had sailed back across the Bransfield Strait towards the South Shetland Islands, in the middle of the night we were told that the ship we had to help was on Deception Island, so the captain headed that way.
During the morning as we were navigating to the next destination Mariano gave us a lecture on “Whales from the Southern Ocean”.
Deception Island is a ring shaped island still classed as an active volcano which last erupted in 1970. Its distinctive shape was formed when one side of the volcano caldera collapsed allowing the sea to rush in and create the sheltered bay known as Port Foster. It was a bit windy and cold as we sailed into the caldera through Neptune’s Bellows, a narrow opening in the side of the immense caldera walls.
Inside the port we landed at Telefon Bay while our ship was going to bring the people from the Polar Star to the Ushuaia. It was cold and windy, but everyone enjoyed our walk around the crater up in the hills admiring the dramatic landscape of the volcano. On our way back to the boats a nice snow was falling to make this more Antarctic.
Once in the ship we greet our new fellow passengers, and shared lunch together at the restaurant.
After lunch we headed towards our new and next and last landing site Hannah Point.
The afternoon was windy and snowy but good enough to land at this beautiful place full of wildlife. Once on the island we made our way through the moulting Gentoo penguin chicks and we again had the chance to spot some “feeding chase”. We went on to the Chinstrap penguin´s colonies and we were so lucky to have the fourth penguin of our trip the “Macaroni penguin” nesting among the chinstraps. On our way we found Southern giant petrels nesting and elephant seals hauling out. Fantastic! While we were walking the wind speed up and the snow fell heavily and we started to go back to the landing site and back to the warm of the ship riding the waves of the bay.
After dinner we gathered in the conference room to watch “Happy Feet”, to see now in cartoon to our flightless birds friends.
Friday, February 4th – Drake Passage
Morning Temp.: 2ºC, Winds: 5 knots W
Humpback whales (Megaptera novaengliae) are baleen feeders and spend the summer months feeding on the vast swarms of krill that are found in Antarctic waters at this time. They can grow to 16m in length and weigh up to 48 tonnes. They are easily recognisable from their humpback, their long pectoral flippers and the fact that they always show their tail flukes when making a dive. They are very athletic and are powerful enough to reach speeds of 6 knots and are occasionally seen breaching. They are one of the most vocal of all the whales and will sing, whistle and rumble great whale songs that can be heard for several miles.
As we woke up this morning the ship was rolling a little but many of us had our sea legs well under control and were quite happy with life on board.
The morning was spent by many relaxing; reading, sleeping, catching up on diaries and trying to sort through the hundreds of photos taken during the course of the last few days. A lecture programme was also in place with Cecilia talking about the history of whaling in Antarctica. It was a brutal industry which almost wiped out many of the great cetaceans of the Southern Oceans.
Later in the morning Agustín presented a lecture about “Ozone: the hole in the sky”.
With reasonable weather across the Drake Passage we were joined, once again by some of the seabirds of the Southern Oceans; Cape petrels, Giant petrels and Black browed albatross and a few of us headed out on deck to enjoy some bird watching and fresh air.
Later in the afternoon Andrea gave a lecture about Seals from Antarctica and the southern ocean.
As the day drew to a close we could only hope that the sea conditions would remain as calm for the next 24 hours or so which would take us safely into the sheltered waters of the Beagle channel once again.
Saturday, February 5th – Drake Passage
The Southern Ocean is continuous belt of sea surrounding Antarctica. In winter, over half of the Southern Ocean freezes over. Although this seawater ice is only about 1 m thick, it has a significant effect on ocean and atmospheric circulation. Nearly all the sea ice melts in summer.
Today was our final day at sea covering the last few miles of the Drake Passage and heading towards Cape Horn and the Beagle Channel.
Once again the staff had organised a series of lectures and movies to help pass the hours during the last day of our expedition.
In the morning Dany gave a lecture about Antarctic Ice to tell us a bit more about the beautiful shapes and colours that we were admiring during our trip.
In the afternoon, we all gathered in the conference room to watch the presentation of our final log. Our Expedition Staff had prepared a DVD with a map showing our route, a wildlife checklist, summaries of all the lectures we attended, our Expedition Staff bios, this daily log and a presentation with pictures and music of the whole trip.
Later on we joined the Captain for a special farewell dinner and celebrated the end of this wonderful trip of a lifetime with a toast at the bar.
Sunday, February 6th – Ushuaia
The light in the morning marked the end of our trip. It was a memorable expedition with many highlights, including Humpback whales and Minke whales by the side of our ship, Leopard seals and Craeater seals lazing on ice floes and four species of penguins on their icy highways. We experienced weather from both ends of the scale, from ferocious winds and snow to perfect weather; the sun at Port Charcot, the beautiful sunset at Petermann Island, the snow and wind at Telefon bay. We zodiac cruised past glaciers and icebergs, walked up snowfields to view the surrounding mountains and bays and enjoyed the trip of a lifetime. A truly fantastic Antarctic Expedition!
The Captain, Crew and Expedition Staff of the Ushuaia are very happy to have had you on board. We hope to see you again soon and wish you all a safe trip home! Thank you!!