Ship Diaries: Antarctica In-Depth

Our marketing manager was lucky enough to travel to Antarctica this season and kept a daily log of her voyage: Antarctica In-Depth on Akademik Sergey Vavilov.

Day 1

Embarkation – today we met our group of guests for the voyage – a great group of people all passionate about WWF, the environment and climate change. Following the welcome briefing with Danny, Jeni, Cody and Dr Theresa, we had a delicious first dinner onboard followed by an early night ready for our first sea day… The swell picked up a bit overnight, but only in small sections…relatively calm for the Drake!

Day 2

Surprisingly good turn out at breakfast, only a very small number feeling the motion negatively. Winds at 17 knots made for a relatively calm morning – we are very lucky… on a scale of 1-10 on the drake scale, we were at a very calm 1.5!!!

The morning saw two presentations from our Naturalists onboard – Seabirds with Derek and Whales with Matt. In the afternoon the presentations continued – The Shackleton story with Tim Jarvis and Penguins with Rachael and Matt from Oceanites.

Happy hour was a great chance to mingle and chat one-on-one with guests onboard. Personally, I chatted to well-known adventurer and environmentalists, Tim Jarvis. We talked about how leadership during the Shackleton story could be replicated within big corporations and government with the objective of climate change. All while about 30 albatross, including a light-mottled sooty albatross and giant petrels circled the rear of the ship. After dinner, Dermot O’Gorman gave a welcome talk and opened up the floor for discussion – very passionate people with talks about climate change, renewable energy, population growth, food sourcing and more.

Day 3

This morning a Fin whale was spotted from the bridge as we continued our miraculously calm drake passage. In the morning we had our vacuum party to ensure bio-security as we enter the peninsula, followed by our IAATO briefing and Zodiac safety. In the afternoon we heard talks from Chris Johnson, Antarctic lead for WWF on whale research, and Tim Flannery on changing from being carbon consuming to carbon-absorbing and what needs to be done by 2050 to make a difference to the climate. Doug Gimsey gave the budding photographers a talk on maximizing photography during their trip. In the afternoon we were joined by humpback whales and Antarctic Petrels with the passage continuing to be unusually calm.

Day 4

Today we woke early to a snowy morning with a couple of inches of fresh snow falling overnight. We saw Orcas before breakfast as they swam in front of the ship. In the morning we passed through the Lemaire channel, narrow and filled with ice, icebergs and more whales, all while it still snowed – stunning. In the afternoon we went out on the Zodiac boats to explore some small islands. A huge stunningly beautiful iceberg, all three types of brushtail penguins (Adelie, chinstrap, gentoo) and seals, all only a few metres away. Super cool to cruise through the sea ice in the Zodiacs.

Lemaire Channel
Lemaire Channel. Photo by Jeff Topham

Back on the ship I enjoyed a G&T at happy hour while watching a group of penguins swim by us and more whales! The clouds also lifted to show mountains and glaciers surrounding us. I’m now listening to the President of WWF Australia talk about investing in climate change, removing the politics. Through the day we saw snow petrels, giant petrels and Antarctic terns.

Day 5

This morning we woke to surreal shades of blues and whites as we entered Paradise Harbour for our first excursion and continental landing at Almirante Brown Station, greeted by penguins of course. With two stunning hikes to choose from, we saw stunning vistas of the harbour and a humpback whale playing in the bay. The option of a Zodiac cruise also gave the chance to see seals napping on ice and penguins swimming around the boats.

This afternoon we went to Port Lockroy, an old British base that has been restored into a museum with a gift shop and working ‘penguin post office’. With four inhabitants during the summer season, it was an interesting look into life in Antarctica in the past and now. The base itself is situated on a small island the size of a football pitch and home to three gentoo penguin colonies. Heading back to the Zodiac we were held up in a penguin traffic jam for a good 10 mins while they came up their ‘penguin highway’ from the ocean. A rare sight to see at Port Lockroy was 225 seals floating on ice (counted by Guillaume, a naturalist part of the Port Lockroy team)!

Port Lockroy
Gentoo penguins around Port Lockroy. Photo: Jeff Topham

Back onboard some chose to warm up in the sauna or hot tub while others enjoyed Rami’s happy hour cocktail as we cruised next to more seals floating on sea ice next to the ship. After dinner, Tim Jarvis told us about the 25 zero project sharing incredible footage of South Georgia – the inspiration for the project.

Day 6

This morning we woke up to gorgeous sunshine, spirits were high as we were all wowed by the colourful display and reflections that greeted us. The water was like glass with gorgeous blues, turquoise and white colours with sea ice, icebergs and glaciers all around. Guests enjoyed a Zodiac cruise around the bay – a great success with different groups seeing different things – from elephant seals to whales from the kayaks, and a rare emperor penguin. Small groups came to stand on the ice landing the team had safely prepared – a surreal experience on a beautiful day. The sun didn’t last long and in the afternoon the clouds returned but the water was still ice still and beautiful. We landed at Neko harbour – a stunning spot with gentoo penguin colonies and the odd seal. A short hike up the hill gave panoramic views over the bay with snow and glaciers crashing down into the ocean.

Neko harbour Landing
Neko harbour Landing. Photo by Jeff Topham

That evening we had a quick buffet dinner and prepared for camping! Our camp spot, Ronge island on Kerr Point, was beautiful with big mountains around and shallow clear water with penguins and seals swimming by as we dug our camp spots. Digging a foot or so deep, we set up our bivvys and soaked in the views of a stunning large iceberg and the ship in the distance. It never got fully dark and sprinkled with snow all night with us waking up to a good few inches of fresh snow. A calm and peaceful morning greeted us before heading back to the ship for breakfast.

Camping in Antarctica
Camping in Antarctica. Photo by Jeff Topham

Day 7

Today started beautifully with a layer of fresh snow as we headed towards Orne harbour. Greeted by chinstrap penguins doing their big climb to the top of the ridge to their nests. When it is time to go back down to the water they slide on their bellies getting fresh tracks and picking up some speed. The dramatic mountains with sharp rocky peaks made for stunning dramatic views from the top and strong winds with a few ambitious penguins hiding in holes to stay out of the wind before making a high traverse towards the steep slope back to the ocean. Back onboard after lunch, we all gathered on the outer decks as a pod of around 18 orcas swam alongside the vessel, a rare and magical sight as we saw their large fins, blow holes and even calfs. That afternoon, as the weather closed in we, went Zodiac cruising amongst the whales in Fournier bay, witnessing bubble net feeding, a rare opportunity and a highlight for many. Back onboard we were greeted by Jeni with rum and hot apple cider to warm up as more whales played by the ship. From the dinner table, the whale and iceberg show continued. To end the day of whales, Matt hosted ‘sounds of the deep’ in the bar – a fun quiz ending with a mini dance party.

Chinstrap penguins in Orne Harbour
Chinstrap penguins in Orne Harbour. Photo by Jeff Topham

Day 8

Today we visited Mikkelsen Harbour, and D’Hainaut island where we had time to hang out with chintraps, gentoos and Weddell seals with a short hike around the island. After lunch, the sun came out as we Zodiac cruised in Cierva Cove, around penguin island and then through the brash ice. Absolutely stunning to be up close to the ice with penguins hopping around us, cruising through sea ice with glaciers all around. We took quite a few moments to just sit back and enjoy. On the way back to the ship, two whales joined us ending a stunning afternoon on the water. Back on the ship, we had a BBQ outside in the sunshine with whales playing in the distance. The mood was high with everyone buzzing on another awesome day in Antarctica. After dinner, a baby whale hung around the side of the ship playing and flapping his tiny tail. We all gathered on the side of the ship to soak up the moment. Up in the bar, Chris gave a great talk in the bar about Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and what can be done to protect the peninsula.

BBQ onboard
BBQ onboard. Photo by Jeff Topham

Day 9

We woke early as we sailed through the opening to Deception Island, an active volcano, for an early morning excursion. We had a rare opportunity to sail into the flooded caldera, shaped like a horseshoe with black beaches. Onshore, the adventurous had the opportunity to hike up the ridge to the crater. The views were stunning and really different from the days before. Others ventured to ‘Neptune’s window’, a gap in the rock where we saw nesting petrels and an array of seabirds over the dramatic cliffs. Other groups had the option to tour the old whaling station with Jonathan, our onboard historian. The last activity on Deception Island was the polar plunge! Some brave souls ran into the ocean heated at -1 degrees. Back on board we had the morning to relax and enjoy the views with one of our fellow passengers, Morgan, sharing stories and images of his time in Antarctica doing research as a student 51 years ago.

Deception Island hike
Deception Island hike. Photo by Jeff Topham

After lunch, our excursion took us to Robert point. We landed on a pebble beach with elephant seals and penguins there to greet us. A short hike across the snow took us to nesting giant petrels including a white one – apparently, only 1 in 1000 are white like that – and hundreds of elephant seals. We spent time watching them lie in the sun, sparring and scratching. Fascinating to watch with the odd penguin passing by. Back onboard we were preparing for the auction as a whale decided to do five full body breaches. So amazing to see up close with the full deck of passengers cheering every time that they breached! When the whale finally decided to rest, we had a hugely entertaining and successful auction. After a late but fun dinner, we had a short bar chat of ‘Antarctica in verse’ with our Expedition Leader, Danny, sharing a range of poetry that describes Antarctica, all in the company of icebergs and a stunning sunset.

Day 10

This morning we awoke in Antarctic Sound heading towards Brown Bluff. Unfortunately, winds are high and so we relocated to Hope bay to do a Zodiac cruise. Passing huge glaciers and many shades of rock we rested for a while to watch over 100,000 Adelie penguins make their nests and jumping in and out of the water surrounded by ice. Back on board we had some time to pack our bags, download images and share stories of our incredible time on the white continent and hear the results of the guest photography competition. Just before dinner, we reached A57A, an iceberg 5 miles x 11 miles. Spectacular to see as we enjoyed our last happy hour together. At dinner, we had the pleasure of meeting and dining with our Captain. After dinner, we enjoyed our voyage re-cap and slide show. The night ended with big smiles and happy memories of a life-changing voyage.

Please note that due to the expeditionary nature of our trips, every voyage will differ depending on conditions.