Classic Antarctica On board USHUAIA Expedition Log December 18th to 28th, 2007 South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula

Day 1: Tuesday, December 18th

Location:
Ushuaia, Argentina

Weather:
PM Temp: 11ºC
Winds: 8 knots N


Fact:

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.


Our voyage to the frozen land of the Antarctic started at 6pm from the Ushuaia pier. Prior to our departure, most of us had spent some time getting to know the quaint little town. Once onboard, we settled into our cabins and right after setting sail, we gathered in the pub for a Welcome Cocktail and met our fellow passengers and the staff of the USHUAIA. During our first briefing, the Expedition Leader, Monika Schillat presented the staff who would accompany us during the landings and help us to understand how sensitive the ecosystem in Antarctica is. Agustin Ullmann, Dany Martinioni, Berenice Charpin and Christian Savigny 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. All of them have long been bitten by the polar bug and could not help but love the White Continent. We felt that we were in good hands with this enthusiastic team. Our Hotel Manager, Valerie Beraud, would take care of all our needs and Doctor Konstantin Petrosyan would care for our health as the case may be. Our captain, Jorge Aldegheri was on the bridge at that time, as the USHUAIA sailed through the Beagle Channel on our way to the Drake Passage. Later on we had our mandatory lifeboat drill. Donning our lifejackets, we made our way to the lifeboats on the outer deck and hoped that we would never all meet there again for this purpose. We ate dinner, our first meal onboard, as we navigated the Beagle Channel towards open water. Afterwards we watched the documentary Antarctica, an adventure of a different nature. It was a perfect way to start our adventure.

Day 2: Wednesday, December 19th

Location:
Drake Passage

Weather:
AM Temp: 12ºC
Winds: 5 knots N
PM Temp: 3ºC
Winds: 13 knots N


Fact:

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 s opposing
West and East Wind
Drift systems to bring
nutrients to the surface,
which feed the vast sea
of plankton in the area.


We woke up to incredibly calm sea conditions. Neptune was being so nice to us that we could hardly believe we were navigation across the famous Drake Passage. We enjoyed our first breakfast on board, and then joined Christian for a lecture on Seabirds. Besides his explanations about these amazing birds he also gave us useful tips on their identification. Afterwards Berenice gave a lecture on Antarctic Wildlife. This was an introduction to the animals that form the Antarctic ecosystem, many of which we hope to encounter on our voyage. After lunch we watched Antarctic Symphony a very interesting film made up of pictures and specially composed music, others watched Scoop, and some just took a nap! We also wandered around the inside and outer decks to familiarise ourselves with the ship and our surroundings. Before dinner, Monika talked about Early Antarctic Exploration, telling us how much explorers and sailors had searched this mysterious continent until it was finally discovered in 1819. This day’s educational program would be sure to prepare us for our adventure to come. In the evening, we gathered in the conference room to watch the film Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure. By dinner time, the Engine Officers contacted the Deck Officers to inform that the water temperature had dropped. This meant that we had crossed the Antarctic Convergence.

Day 3: Thursday, December 20th

Location:
Drake Passage Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands

Weather:
AM Temp: 5ºC
Winds: 5 knots W
PM Temp: 0ºC
Winds: 19 knots W


Fact:

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.


Weather conditions were as good as yesterday. In the morning, we attended our IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) briefing, learning about the sensitivity of the Antarctic ecosystem and how we are to conduct landings to ensure a minimum impact. We also reviewed the Zodiac operations; how to safely enter and leave our ´taxis of the Antarctic´. During the morning many of us ventured out on the decks to watch birds and our approach to the frozen continent. We saw Giant Petrels, Cape Petrels, Wandering Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Prions, and Wilson’s Storm Petrels. One of our fellow travellers spotted the first iceberg and she got a bottle of Argentinean red wine as a prize, but as Paula was only 13 years old, she traded the bottle for Coke cans. Since we had made excellent progress over unusually calm seas, it was possible to make our first landing at Half Moon Island, in the South Shetland Islands. This is a 1.25-mile-long, crescent-shaped island lying east side of Livingston Island. As we walked up and left the beach behind, we encountered Chinstrap Penguin colonies. Once we took pictures of them we realized the landscape was stunning: the sun was shining and the views of the hilly, glacier-covered Livingston Island were simply breath-taking. We walked on the snow to many different directions enjoying the sunshine. Many of us made it to the Argentine Camara Station, a summer facility that hasn’t opened yet. On one of the beaches we saw a couple of Weddell seals resting peacefully. Many skuas were flying around looking for penguin eggs and Antarctic Terns were spotted as well. We returned back to the ship feeling truly happy. We had a recap about our landing and we were briefed about tomorrow’s activities. After dinner we joined Dany Martinioni who gave us an illustration about the Geological evolution of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Day 4: Friday, December 21st

Location:
Hydrurga Rocks Foyn Harbour, Wilhelmina Bay

Weather:
AM Temp: 5ºC
27 knots SW
PM Temp: 2ºC
Winds: 8 knots W


Fact:

Britain has played a major
role in the exploration and
study of Antarctica. Captain
James Cook was the first
person to circle the
continent in the 1770s. Later
expeditions were searching
for commercial reasons,
usually hunting for seals or
whales. At the start of this
century, Scott and
Shackleton made purely
scientific expeditions, a
tradition which continues to
the present.


Foyn Harbour After a filling breakfast we were ready to go and very anxious about our second landing of the voyage. This time we went ashore on the Hydrurga Rocks, a group of rocks lying east of Two Hummock Island at the northern entrance of the Gerlache Strait. These rocks are named after the leopard seal, its scientific name being Hydrurga leptonyx. However, we saw – and took pictures of - Weddell seals and crabeater seals that were taking a nap on the snow. Although completely covered in snow, we walked all along this island. Besides, these low, rocky islands are home to colonies of Chinstrap Penguins and Blue-eyed Cormorants. Once back on the USHUAIA we had lunch while the Captain took our ship to the south in order to reach our next destination. A three-hour navigation took us to the Gerlache Strait, were 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. There was quite a bit of wind, but we were granted sunshine! The scenery was astonishingly amazing. We could see the hilly Antarctic Peninsula covered by many glaciers. We sailed amongst colourful icebergs. 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 silent memento of the whaling era. Back on the USHUAIA Monika announced that the Captain was willing to take us to the scenic Plata channel. This passage of water was named after the Rio de la Plata (Buenos Aires) by explorer Gerlache in honour to the support provided by the Argentinean government to his expedition. It lies between the Antarctic Peninsula and Brooklyn Island. How could one describe what we saw and felt during that navigation? Your own memories will be much more accurate than anything we could write on this logbook. Not only did we navigate through this channel but we also broke ice! The last mile of the channel was closed by pack ice. Those moments were pretty exciting. Having penetrated 1000 meters we found out that the sea ice it was getting thicker so we navigated backwards and were soon back on the Plata Channel.

Day 5: Saturday, December 22nd

Location:
Danco Island Anvord Bay

Weather:
AM Temp: 11ºC
Winds: 2 knots W
PM Temp: 2ºC
Winds: 0 knots


Fact:

Did you know that
there are four South
Poles?

Geographic South Pole

• Intersection point with
the axis of the Earth’s
rotation
• Nearest to Amundsen-
Scott Station
• 2900 km from
magnetic pole
Magnetic South Pole

• Location where the
magnetic field is
vertical
• Moves about 5 km per
year
• Approx. at 65ºS, 138ºE
• Currently moving
northwest
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
Pole of Inaccessibility

• Point furthest from all
coasts
• Located at 84ºS, 65ºE


Very early in the morning the Ushuaia moved on to our next destination: Danco island in the Errera channel which lies between Danco land (Antarctic Peninsula) and Ronge island. After taking pictures of the Gentoo penguins that were lingering on the beach we started our way to the top. It tooke us some time for the slopes were covered in snow. Still, once on the very top of the island we knew it was worth the effort. We could see the glacier covered land of the peninsula as well as Ronge island. Later on, our zodiac drivers and expedition staff took us for a cruise. The extensive bay is surrounded by massive glaciers that reach the sea. We got a close view of icebergs of many different shapes and colours. Some of us were lucky enough to see a Leopard seal, a crabeater seal and a Weddell seal! One of the boats brought a piece of “black” ice to the bar and many of us ordered whisky! This is the oldest and hardest type of ice you can find. It is extremely compacted with very little air in it. This is the reason why it is very heavy and it floats at the same level of the water. Later that evening we heard an announcement: a Minke whale had been spotted from the bridge. We saw it swimming close to the ship for a while till it finally disappeared

Day 6: Sunday, December 23rd

Location:
Cuverville Island, Errera Channel Neko Harbour, Anvord Bay Brown Station, Paradise Bay

Weather:
AM Temp: 8ºC
Winds: 0 knots
PM Temp: -1ºC
Winds: 5 knots W


Fact:

The South Pole is 1235
km from the closest
coastline, and is situated
high on the polar
plateau (height 2800 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.


In the morning we visited Cuverville Island, in the north entrance of the Errera Channel. It was discovered and surveyed by Gerlache’s expedition who also mentioned it as an ideal landing site! It was a very quiet morning. We walked slowly along the beach watching the Gentoo penguin colony. This island is home to one of the largest Gentoo penguin colonies on the Antarctic Peninsula. The breeding population was estimated to be approximately 4.800 pairs in 1994. They were very busy coming to the sea and going back to their nests. As most of the island was covered by snow, they walked along their “penguin highways”! These paths allow them to save energy and time and give us the opportunity to take very interesting pictures of penguins marching one after the other. On the gravel shore of the island we could see pebbles of different compositions. Those had been transported by the glaciers from different sites of the peninsula. Thus, their origin explains their diversity. Visibility had improved since this morning so we could now see the mountains from the peninsula around us. On the way back to the ship we saw icebergs of irregular shapes and various colours. A delicious surprise was waiting for us on board the USHUAIA: the cooks had prepared an original Argentine barbecue! While we ate this tasteful lunch the captain sailed towards Andvord bay. In the afternoon we finally set foot on the Antarctic Continent at Neko harbour. This tiny bay was named for the floating factory ship, Neko, which operated in the South Shetlands and Antarctic Peninsula in 1911-2 and 1923-4, and often used this bay. As the sun was shining the view of the surroundings became more spectacular. Some of our fellow travellers even took a bath on the sandy beach! During dinner the USHUAIA moved on to Paradise bay and once we had finished our meal we went to the continent once more at Almirante Brown Argentine Station. Paradise bay was known to whalers who would come here very often taking advantage of its sheltered waters. Although cloudy, it was extremely quiet, no wind was blowing and visibility improved every minute. Most of us climbed to a pretty high cliff. Once there we enjoyed a panoramic view of Paradise Bay. We could see the entire bay as well as Bryde island in the centre of the bay and Lemaire Island to the north.

Day 7: Monday, December 24th

Location:
Lemaire channel Port Lockroy, Goudier Island Long. 63º 29’ W Errera channel

Weather:
AM Temp: 3ºC
Winds: 8 knots W
PM Temp: 1ºC
Winds: 8 knots W


Fact:

In Whalers Bay lay the
remains of the
Norwegian “Hektor”
Whaling Station (1911-
1931). The remains of
the abandoned Biscoe
House (Base “B” of the
Operation Tabarin) and
the BAS (British
Antarctic Survey) base
can also be seen.
The old barrels,
equipment, whalebones,
and other debris are
partially buried by black
and reddish volcanic
pyroclastic sediments of
various sizes related to
the eruption of 1969
which forced the BAS to
abandon this scientific
station.
In 1995 the whaling
station was designated
as Historic Site under
the Antarctic Treaty.


Early in the morning we navigated the Lemaire channel, one of the most spectacular landmarks in the Antarctic Peninsula, and reached our furthest south at 65º 13’ S. The Lemaire Channel separates Booth Island from the Antarctic Peninsula. The seven-mile-long channel averages a mile in width, Steep, ice-capped slopes form the narrow channel which is also known as “Kodak Gap”. After breakfast we headed north. During the navigation we had a briefing about the activities to come. Being Christmas Eve we watched Snowman. Before lunch we visited the historical base Port Lockroy. This small facility is a living museum that gives a very good idea of how life was on stations around the 50s. We also bought some souvenirs from their gift shop and sent many postcards. We also got our passports stamped here! There are Gentoo penguins nesting around the house. They are so used to humans that keeping distance from them was very difficult! Back on the USHUAIA lunch was followed by the navigation of the Neumayer channel northwards. The sun was shining again and thus the views were stunning. Later on, Berenice gave a lecture about the Belgian Antarctic expedition led by Adrien de Gerlache who discovered and charted the Gerlache Strait. When it was about to finish we were interrupted by an announcement from the bridge: -Whales to portside!- We all rushed to the outer decks and spotted humpback whales. They seemed to be feeding and were not bothered by our presence. It was such a beautiful afternoon that Monika, our Expedition Leader, decided to take advantage of those conditions and we were invited for a zodiac cruise in the vicinity of Cuverville Island. We approached the glacial wall at Ronge Island and many icebergs. This off-the-program excursion was followed by dinner. Afterwards, we gathered at the bar and sang Christmas songs in Spanish, English, German and Chinese! for a while until we had a Christmas cocktail.

Day 8: Tuesday, December 25th

Location:
Decepción station, Deception Island Frei station, King George Island Great Wall station, King George Island

Weather:
AM Temp: 3ºC
Winds: 5 knots NW
PM Temp: 2ºC
Winds: 30 knots WSW


Fact:

Only about 0.4% of the
surface of Antarctica is
free of snow and ice.
The tops of mountain
chains stick up through
the ice - the highest is
Mount Vinson, 4900 m
above sea level.
Poles apart - whereas
Antarctica is an icecovered
continent
surrounded by ocean,
the Arctic is an ocean
covered by thick sea ice
and surrounded by the
northern continents.


We entered Deception Island very early in the morning. Deception Island is horse-shoe shaped and 8 nautical miles in diameter, enclosing a large harbour called Port Foster. This bay inside Deception Volcano's caldera is a landlocked basin 5 nautical miles long and 3.5 nautical miles wide. Deception is the largest of three recent volcanic centers in the South Shetlands, Penguin and Bridgeman Islands being the other two. Our landing took place in the vicinity of the Argentine summer station Decepción. Once there we walked along the beach until we reached some fumaroles of this volcanic island. Meanwhile, our Spanish fellow travellers (a party of 27 people) were invited to visit Gabriel de Castilla station. This Spanish station is also opened during the summer and their scientific activities focus on volcanism and seismic activity. This was quite an exception on their agenda: Castilla is a small base and research keeps all the staff busy so they don’t receive visits. The navigation through Neptune’s Bellows, on our way out of the island was breathtaking: the Captain steered the USHUAIA close to the cliffs in order to avoid the shallow waters. In the afternoon we reached King George Island, were we were scheduled to visit Frei Station. This Chilean station is open year round and its personnel live here with their families. We walked around the facilities, entered the chapel and got our passports stamped again! We moved on to the Russian Bellingshausen station located next to the Chilean buildings. We approached their church, a tiny example of Russian architecture built up entirely in wood. Their priest kindly opened it for us. The Chinese passengers had been invited to Great Wall station so while most of us visited the formerly mentioned stations they made their way to the Chinese station, 1 km to the south. By the time we returned to the ship the wind was blowing strongly and we headed for the Drake Passage.

Day 9: Wednesday, December 26th

Location:
Drake Passage

Weather:
AM Temp: 9ºC
Winds: 24 knots W
PM Temp: 1ºC
Winds: 8 knots NE


Fact:

The Southern Ocean is
a 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.


Last night sleeping was almost impossible due to the rough waters we encountered. We were living a real Drake Passage experience! Very few of us showed up for breakfast. As the weather conditions wouldn’t improve our lecture program for the morning was cancelled. At lunch time the ship was moving a little bit less so many of us had lunch. During the afternoon we just relaxed. Most of us needed to take a nap and later on we watched Harry Potter! Besides, we took some time to read, organise our photographs or catch up with our travel diaries. By dinner time the USHUAIA was experienced almost no movement and afterwards we watched two Antarctic documentaries filmed by the British Antarctic Survey: Dog sledging in Antarctica and Port Lockroy.

Day 10: Thursday, December 27th

Location:
Drake Passage Mouth of the Beagle Channel


Gradually we started to leave the Drake Passage behind. In the morning we attended a lecture by Monika on Ice. She gave us an illustration of different types of ice, characteristics, formation and development. We learnt the differences between tabular icebergs and glaciar icebergs, between sea ice and continental ice, etc. 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 at the Captain’s Dinner to thank him for his skilful navigation that took us to all the wonderful places we visited in Antarctica. Afterwards, the Captain and Monika, our Expedition Leader handed out the certificates that state that we have crossed the Drake Passage and stepped on the Antarctic Continent. We celebrated the end of this wonderful trip with a toast at the bar.

Day 11: Friday, December 28th

Location:
Ushuaia, Argentina


The light in the morning marked the end of our trip. It was a memorable expedition with many highlights, including spotting humpback and Minke whales, good weather conditions, magnificent views of the Gerlache Strait and an active volcano.

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