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, as the crew set our course for Bismark Strait and the Lemaire Channel.
Some of us will approach this historic crossing with more than a little trepidation. But despite its reputation, there are many times when the Drake Passage resembles a lake, with lazy Southern Ocean swells rolling under the keel. On the other hand, we sometimes encounter rough crossings with large waves. The size of the waves and the force of the gale will take on gigantic proportions when related around the fire back home. The mood on board is definitely casual. A favourite pastime is to stand at the stern deck watching the many seabirds, including majestic albatrosses and giant petrels, following in our wake, skillfully using the air currents created by the ship to gain momentum. 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, excitement reaches fever pitch with everyone on the bridge watching for our first iceberg. The ocean takes on a whole new perspective once we are surrounded by the surreal presence of floating ice sculptures. The memory of your first big iceberg sighting is likely to remain with you forever.
A typical itinerary in the Weddell Sea could be as follows. This is a sample only, the final itinerary will be determined by the Expedition Leader on board.
We will sail into the Weddell Sea and if the Antarctic Sound is accessible and the ice ds not prevent us to sail further, we might see the huge tabular icebergs that announce our arrival to the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. We plan to visit Paulet Island with a million pairs of Adelie Penguins. In the afternoon we visit Snow Hill with the remains of the Nordenski ld expedition.
Between Snow Hill Island and James Ross Island we will make our first attempt to observe Emperor Penguins on the ice-edge making their way to open water. We might also visit Seymour Island, where many fossils can be found, and the Argentinean station Esperanza on the Antarctic Continent (if this is not possible due to weather conditions, we will try again on day 7), where we can observe Adelie Penguins, Cape Petrels, Pale-faced Sheathbills, Skuas, Kelp Gulls and Antarctic Terns. The use of helicopters has a great advantage and can support us in our goal to reach the Emperor penguin colony, but the itinerary is ruled by the forces of nature, ice and weather conditions. If the conditions are favourable, we intend to spend days 5 and 6 in the Emperor Penguin rookery. The helicopter operation will take a full day and the flight duration takes approximately 15 minutes in a helicopter accommodating six people. The landing point of the helicopters will be carefully chosen and we will make sure that the Emperors are not disturbed or stressed by helicopter noise. Therefore, after arrival, we will continue our expedition on foot. After a walk of around 45 minutes we will experience a magical moment - a rendezvous with the magnificent Emperor Penguins. Keep in mind that we are in the world's most remote area and there are no guarantees, including a specific amount of helicopter time. Conditions may change rapidly, having its impact on the helicopter operation so we need to understand and accept this. Safety is our greatest concern and no compromises can be made.
If the ice allows us to go further into the Weddell Sea area we will visit Devil Island and Vega Island with a large colony of Adelie Penguins and a magnificent view for those hikers who can make it to the top of the hill. Melting ice sometimes provides spectacular waterfall from the cliffs close to point 'Well-Met'. If we have not reached the Emperor penguin colony in the previous days we will try again, offering ship to shore helicopter flights to Snow hill island.
In the morning we have planned to visit Half Moon Island where we can see Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins, various other bird-species and Southern Elephant Seals and Weddell seals. Early in the afternoon we will sail to Deception where we have the last landing of our voyage at Pendulum cove.
While at sea there is ample opportunity to observe the sea birds that follow the ship, or just relax and read a favourite book. This is a time for reflection and discussion about our many experiences with shipboard friends.
We will arrive in the morning in Ushuaia where our trip concludes.