You will be warmly greeted by the crew and expedition staff as you embark Ortelius in the afternoon. Sailing down the Beagle Channel, we will settle into shipboard life and enjoy our first meal on board.
During these two days, we will sail across the Drake Passage. When we cross the Antarctic Convergence, we will arrive in the circum-Antarctic up welling zone. In this area we may see Wandering Albatrosses, Grey Headed Albatrosses, Black-browed Albatrosses, Light- mantled Sooty Albatrosses, Cape Pigeons, Southern Fulmars, Wilson’s Storm Petrels, Blue Petrels and Antarctic Petrels. Near the South Shetland Islands, we will glimpse at the first icebergs. The Master of the vessel may decide to sail the narrow English Strait, between Robert Island and Greenwich Island, if the conditions are favourable. We will then be in sight of Aitcho Island at the South Shetlands in the late evening of the third day. If the conditions do not allow us to manuvre through the English Strait, then we will continue sailing south of Livingston. These volcanic islands or the South Shetlands, are windswept and often shrouded in mist and fog, but do offer subtle pleasures. There is a nice variety of flora (mosses, lichens and flowering grasses) and fauna; such as Gentoo Penguins, Chinstrap Penguins and southern Giant Petrels.
We will sail directly to “High Antarctica”, passing the Melchior islands and the Schollaert Channel between Brabant and Anvers Island. At Cuverville Island, a small precipitous island nestled between the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula and Rongé Island we will attempt our first landing. It contains a large colony of Gentoo Penguins and breeding pairs of Brown Skuas. In Neko Harbour and Paradise Bay with its myriad icebergs and deep cut fjords, we have the opportunity to set foot on the Antarctic Continent. We shall have the opportunity to zodiac cruise between the icebergs in the inner parts of the amazing water way of Paradise Bay before taking the ship through the spectacular Lemaire Channel.
After a long night of sailing around the myriad of islands south of Lemaire Channel we find ourselves near the Antarctic Circle. We pass through a narrow called 'The Gullet' between Adelaide Island and the Continent with spectacular scenery all around. We will attempt to gain permission to land at Rothera which is the primary British research station in Antarctica. Alternatively we'll explore the area and make a landing one of the many islands nearby. We will try to circumnavigate Pourqoui Pas Island named after the ship of the famous French explorer Charcot. The area is spectacular with narrow fjords and high mountains with cascading glaciers all around. On Horsesh Island we find the former British Base Y from the nineteen fifties which now stands unmanned but almost fully equipped from the time it was in service. Stonington Island is home to the former US East Base (1939-41) and later the British Base E. Base E was occupied until 1975. We will attempt a landing here which will also mark our southernmost landing site of the trip. As we head north again we may attempt a landing at the small Avian Island named due to the large number of bird species found here. Among them a large colony of Adélie penguins, Antarctic shag, South Polar Skua, and Wilson’s storm petrel.
In the morning of day 9 we will find ourselves near the Antarctic Circle once again as we head north into Crystal Sound. We have an excellent chance to see Humpback whales here as we approach Fish Islands for a Zodiac cruise and possible landing. As always the scenery is unparalleled in beauty and we may well see more Adélie penguins among the myriads of icebergs large and small. Petermann and Pléneau Islands offer a great variety of bird life and some excellent opportunities to Zodiac cruise amongst icebergs with good chances to see both Leopard seal and Crabeater seals. Minke whales and Humpback whales are also most often spotted in this area along with Gentoo penguins. We aim to enter Wilhelmina Bay with truly excellent whale watching opportunities. Numerous Humpback whales often feed here and if the weather conditions allow we may try and launch the Zodiacs to experience them at closer range. At Foyn Harbour we visit the wreck of Guvernøren, and old whaling factory vessel which caught fire and burned in 1915.
In the Drake Passage, we will have again a chance of seeing many seabirds, and to take advantage of the knowledge of our lecture team.
During the early morning we will cruise up the Beagle Channel, before quietly slipping into dock in Ushuaia. It is a busy time, with people saying farewell to our crew and others who have shared the intensity of being in a magnificent white wilderness. We will head off in our different directions, hopefully with a new found sense of the power of natural forces.