Expedition Log

 

Antarctic Peninsula

and South Shetland Islands

 

24th November  - 4th December 2008

 

On board the

 

M/V Professor Molchanov

НИС Профессор Молчанов

 

Prof Molchanov amongst ice at Neko Harbour: Photo by Anjali Pande
Professor Molchanov

НИС Профессор Молчанов

 

 

The “Professor Molchanov” is an ex-research vessel from the Hydrometeorology Institute in Murmansk, Russia. She was built in 1983, in Finland, and was designed as an ice strengthened ship. She measures 71.6 metres (236 ft) in length and 12.8 metres (42 ft) across the beam. She draws 4.5 metres (15 ft), which enables her to move into relatively shallow waters.

Professor Pavil Alexandric Molchanov, the man, was born in the Russia in 1893. He was a famous meteorologist and specialized in the Arctic. He developed radio signals for weather balloons and was the first Soviet person to captain a Zeppelin Airship. He drowned in 1930.


 


With

 

Captain – Michail Borissov

and his Russian Crew of 19

 

and

 

Expedition Leader – Delphine Aures (France)

Hotel Manager – Jan de Ceuster (Belgium)

Head Chef – Cesare Salini (Germany)

Sous Chef – Hilary Lee (Malaysia)

Guide/Lecturer –Anjali Pande (New Zealand)

Guide/Lecturer –Eleanora Ilieva (Bulgaria)

Kayak Guide – Frode Uhre(Denmark)

Ship’s Physician  –Dr Rolf Eitel (Germany)

 

 

And 52 of us from Australia, Austria, Korea, Singapore USA, Germany,

The Netherlands, Spain, Canada and UK, South Africa, Spain, Russia, Brazil, Italy, Hong Kong, Ireland


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24th November 2008- Ushuaia, Argentina

 

All passengers embarked at 4pm, greeted at the gangplank by a staff member (Anj) ticking off names and another (Ellie) marking bags with chalk to ensure they got to the right room, to the right owner…..yet in the way of things, we found that we were still waiting for one passenger before doing the introductory briefing, and also one bag had gone AWOL. As it turned out, the passenger we were waiting for was there all along, but had somehow slipped through the system, and the bag was hiding in a dark corner of someone’s room and was so well camouflaged that everyone neglected to find it!.

 

Once these things were sorted we crammed together in the bar at the stern of the ship and Delphine gave us the bad news. It seems the whole trip was in jeopardy because there was a hole in hull! Divers had been attempting to repair the hole, but so far it hadn’t been fixed satisfactorily to venture into the wild South Atlantic seas.

 

Jan (Hotel manager) managed to ease the pain by offering free drinks all round, which some were quick to take advantage of!

 

More news to come at breakfast time, but until then we enjoyed a good meal and a few glasses of wine!!

 

Ushuaia harbour: Photo by Alex Tehrani


25th November 2008 – Ushuaia, Argentina

 

Still no real news at breakfast time. A briefing sightly later on in the morning revealed that things weren’t going quite to plan – and that it all hinged on time dependencies. Time being critical now that were 12 hours behind schedule anyway, and thoughts turned towards alternative plans – changing flights, getting on other ships, etc. Another briefing at 6pm to find out for certain left a whole day free for everyone…which was spent in a variety of ways. Unsurprisingly the running group went out for a run, and they returned in various states of sweatiness and muddiness just in time to wolf down a three course lunch. Others hired a van and went out to view the wonders of the glaciers near Ushuaia and yet others spent the day writing emails or working or generally eating and drinking coffee!!

 

By 6pm there was a lot of despondency, feeling like it was pretty certain that the trip would not go ahead – but in actual fact the news was good. The pilot for the beagle channel was already on board and the final round of inspections was being done! Yay!!! So introductions of all the staff ensued as well as some general housekeeping rules about the ship, and of course the modelling of the sexy orange lifejackets.

 

By 7.30 pm we were underway. People looking out the porthole at dinner time could see us moving at a fair clip of about 15 knots. It was a beautiful evening, and when the lifeboat drill happened at 9 pm…it wasn’t too arduous for people to go out on deck and actually climb into the two covered over lifeboats. In fact it was a bit of a relief to get out of the hot crowded bar after role call. Getting into the lifeboats certainly gave us some idea of what to expect and to appreciate why we really do not want to end up in them!!! We fervently hoped that hole was fixed properly!

 

Life boat drill: Photo by Alex Tehrani

 

There was some mingling and drinking happening in the bar afterwards, the start of people getting to know each other and then most people turned in for a good night’s sleep.

 


26th November – Drake Passage

Position at 1200 56°56'S / 065°02'W

Air Temperature: 10°C

 

On the drake passage, unbelievably calm. We’d been promised rough seas, but were pleasantly surprised by how calm it actually was. People on the bridge and milling around on deck were in a good position to admire all the seabirds soarng around the ship, although mostly Giant Petrels, Black-browed Albatrosses and my favourite Cape Petrel – there were also a few of the more difficult to identify Antarctic Prions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cape Petrel : Photo by Unknown

 

Mid –morning, Ellie gave us her presentation of a general overview of Antarctica to get everyone in the right frame of mind, and after a delicious lunch Anj took our minds in a completely different direction with her lecture about fisheries management in the South Atlantic.

 

A briefing in the bar and discussions about what defines Antarctica was a precursor to a pleasant wine with dinner (for the non racers!).


 

27th November 2008 – Drake Passage

Position at 1200: 61o24'S / 063°54'6W

Air Temperature: 4°C

 

Unbelievable!! Another perfect day in the drake passage! Ellie kick started the day with her lecture about penguins and then as per discussion with Paul the Whales that Anjali had ordered for 11 am showed up right on schedule! And what a show! There were at least 10 whales at different distances from the ship. We realised pretty quickly that they were humpbacks and they obligingly showed their tail flukes on several occasions. While most of the whales kept their distance from the ship, there were a couple that came right up close to the ship, thrilling us all with the sound of their exhaled air and swooshing movement through the water. Whale footprints were also to be seen….and since the water was so calm, these footprints took a while to dissipate. It seemed that they had finally disappeared and so after half of us took to our rooms to download our photos, they actually returned and were spyhopping around the bow for some time. Wow – Delphine, who has been visiting this part of the world for 10 years said it was one of the best whale encounters she has ever had!

 

The running team spent some time today prepping for the start of the big race tomorrow and Delphine also gave us a briefing about IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) regulations and zodiac operations and we all squashed into the dining room to listen, even those people who were still feeling slightly green. A beautiful evening and we were treated to spectacular views of the mountainous cliffs of Smith Island in the distance – our first look at Antarctica.

 

Re-cap in the bar took the form of an information giving about events of the following day, and a few brief tidbits by Anj about the whales we had spent so long observing (which incidentally kept making brief appearances throughout the day – but eventually we had to make the decision to just keep moving).

 

 

Humpback whale: Photos by Alex Tehrani

 

 


28th November 2008 – Cuverville Island and Neko Harbour in the Errera Channel

Position at Cuverville Island: 64°41'S / 062°38'W

Position at Neko Harbour: 64°50'S / 062°33'W

Air Temperature: 18°C

 

View of icebergs outside Cuverville landing site: Photo by Alex Tehrani

 

Well, by the time we woke up we were already in the incredibly scenic Errera channel. A scout boat went out early and determined that the landing site was okay despite all the icebergs packed into the little bay in front of the landing beach. Made for a short but scenic Zodiac ride. Anj trooped off up the hill to find a place where the runners could set up their course while Delphine took the others for a lovely zodiac cruise around all the bergy bits, after they had had their fill of the Gentoo penguins. Meanwhile the runners were battling through the snow, and after hitting the ice cap, decided to set the course on the lower plateau. It turned out quite well with a little bit of uphill, some stunning views, gorgeous sunshine and the near-ish by penguin colonies. 

 

 

 

Kayakers and runners at Cuverville Island with Professor Molchanov in background: Photos by Alex Tehrani

 

The runners would everything up around 1.30pm and then we all moved on to one of the nicest sites on Mainland Antarctica – Neko Harbour.Cruising towards Neko harbour on this beautiful sunny day we were rewarded with yet more whale sightings…this time there were a few Antarctic Minke whales cruising around the icebergs. Much smaller and less playful than the humpbacks, but still wonderful to watch.

 

Landing at Neko Harbour – a previous group had already trodden a path up the hill from which one had wonderful views into the bay on the other side which was choka full of brash ice, and the runners took advantage of this pre-trodden path and made it part of their course. Ironically, the course was exactly the same length as the one in the morning at Cuverville Island.

 

The non runners enjoyed watching the gentoo penguins on all the rocky outcrops and around the small hut, as well as two weddell seals that had hauled out on the beach. The kayakers went for a bit of a cruise pretending their kayaks were icebreakers as well! Some of the zodiacs on the way back to the ship took a bit of a detour to see yet more Antarctic Minke whales that were still in the area.

 

The runners picked a great day to stay late ashore as it was a rare totally windstill day and the evening sun threw soft light on all the surrounding glaciers and mountains and illuminated the ice, that everyone could enjoy the vista around.

 

We had a surprise visit from two staff from a neighbouring ship too – and they just happened to make an appearance just in time to start ferrying the runners from shore to ship at the end of their day, which was quite convenient.


29th November 2008 – Vernadsky Station and Petermann Island

Position at Vernadsky Station: 64°41'S / 062°38'W

Position at Petermann Island: 65°10'S / 064°10'W

Air Temperature: 3°C

 

Of course it  was too much to expect to have two wonderfully sunny days in a row, so today was cloudy and overcast, but nothing bad enough to make us unable to enjoy the stunning views we had as we made our way through the famous Lemaire Channel.

This took most of the morning, and I think the runners were pretty pleased to have a bit of a rest, which then got extended into a shopping trip and a bar visit when we visited the Ukrainian station Vernadsky. We were one of the first ships they had seen this summer season, so the poor guys who had just wintered over had us all invading their home….but they were truly hospitable and offered us shots of Vodka (a true tradition of Vernadsky) and opened up their little souvenir/stamp shop to us, as well as a detailed tour of the station.

   

Photos of Vernadsky Station: By Alex Tehrani

 

On the return back to the ship, we took the zodiacs into a little channel behind the base that was very narrow due to the pack ice that was still frozen over the end of the bay. We managed to get far enough along to get a glimpse of Worthy hut – one of the remaining old British Base huts, and for most people it was their first glimpse of proper pack ice too. Nice icebergs were admired on the way back too, but the highlight was definitely the leopard seal with its pup that was conveniently lying at the edge of the pack ice there for us to admire and take photos of!!!

 

Leopard seal and pup : Photo by Alex Tehrani

 

Our second stop for the day was Petermann Island. Despite the sleet that was prevalent by this time, the runners persevered with their race on a very picturesque course that allowed them beautiful views of icebergs from the ridge they ran along and occasionally an enforced break was had by the gentoo penguins that decided the running track looked like a penguin highway. The non runners were able to go and visit the nesting colonies of Adelie penguins – this is the furthest north this little Antarctic penguin gets. Although some colonies were just of Adelies, often they were all mixed up with and sharing habitat with Gentoo’s and being of such similar size and body shape one had to look closely to tell them apart. A very short walk away it was also possible to see nesting blue eyed or Antarctic shags.

 

The non runners headed back to the warmth of the ship when the constant sleet got too much for them, but the runners toughed it out for another few hours returning at about 9.30pm being very wet, cold and hungry.

 

Adelie Penguin tobogganing: Photo by Anjali Pande


 

30th November 2008 – Damoy Point (Dorian Bay), Port Lockroy and Almirante Brown (Paradise Bay)

Position at Damoy Point, Goudier Island: 64°48'S / 63°30'W

Position at Port Lockroy, Goudier Island: 64°49’S/ 63°29’W

Position at Almirante Brown, Paradise Bay: 64°54'S / 63°32'W

Air Temperature: 3°C

 

It was a very early start this morning- guides and  runners woke up at 4 am, had breakfast and  took the first zodiac ashore.It was a beautiful, quiet morning as we made our landing at Dorian Bay. The runners set up their 900 m course near the hut and at a safe distance from the Gentoo rookeries. The surrounding mountains were stunning and a few of us got our cameras ready. There were two Snowy Sheathbills just 10 m from us and futher along the beaten track we spotted an Adelie Penguin  tobogganing.

Whilst the runners were making their way through the deep snow, the rest of the party disembarked at Port Lockroy to pay a visit. The non runners had a memorable experience at the living museum at the old British Base, built in 1944. The BAS staff members living there told them about the history of the site, they had our passports stamped and sent postcards from one of the southernmost post offices in the world!

As the kayak group had taken kayaks with them in the zodiac, they had the chance to paddle back to the ship along the beautiful coast of the island and had a wonderful experience with the curious gentoo penguins in the water.

Everyone was back on board shortly after 10 am. and the ship set her course for Paradise Bay.

 

After lunch we dropped anchor at Paradise Bay at the former Argentine station Almirante Brown. As „Racing the Plannet“ cancelled their afternoon race, most runners were very happy to go ashore just for a walk and look at wildlife, and some decided to join Frode and the kayak group. The kayakers had the opportunity to paddle between ice floes, brash ice and icebergs of all shapes and sizes, the only sound being the water dripping from the paddles and the sound of the ice creaking in the close by glacier.

After a while we went for a Zodiac cruise around the ice calved from the glacier.We passed beneath Antarctic shags nesting on cliffs and enjoyed looking at the Antarctic terns.

Half an hour later it started snowing and the wind picked up so we headed back to the ship.

 

 

Kayaking amongst bergy bits. Photo by Delphine Aures

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01st December 2008 –Gerlache Strait and Bransfield Strait

 Position at 12.00: 62°45’S / 60°02’W

Air Temperature: 3°C

 

Wake up call at 0700. Shortly after breakfast we sailed past Deception Island where we were planning on doing a landing. But the wind was picking up and we were unable to go in. We then proceeded towards Half Moon Island, but by the time we arrived there the wind was at more than 25 m/s (~50 knots) and we had no choice but too carry on. Shortly afterwards the wind was peaking at 30 m/s (~60 knots). That is “Storm” and the waves were up to 10 meters in height. All doors to the deck were closed and no one was allowed to go outside. The hardy runners that weren’t feeling seasick partied it up in the bar, till the wee hours of the morning.

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02nd December 2008 –Drake Passage

 

Position at 12.00: 61°04’S / 62°20’W

Air Temperature: 2°C

 

Delphine let us sleep in, after waking us up to let us know that there would be no wake up call!!!! After breakfast she gave as a lecture about seabirds and Anj gave her lecture on “Peninsula pups – seals of Antarctica”. After lunch we saw the documentary “ The End of the Earth” and “Under Antarctic Ice”. After dinner, once again people took up their positions holding the bar up, or alternatively watched the last episode of  Amundsen’s and Scott’s race to the pole.

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03rd December 2008 – Drake Passage

Position at 1100: 56°46 S / 064°36 W

Air Temperature: 3°C

 

Delphine gave us a wake up call at 0830. With about 9 hours to go in the Drake Passage the wind was now at 18 m/s. After breakfast Eleonora gave us a lecture about the History of Antarctic Exploration. Then just before lunch, it was Anjali’s turn to speak, and she gave us a greater understanding of Ice. A big celebratory dinner is planned for tonight and a medal presentation ceremony…probably followed by much merriment in the bar.


 

04th December 2007 – Beagle Channel

Position at 12.00: 55°39'7S / 066°13'7W

Air Temperature: 4°C

 

Homeward bound after sad farewells.


Total Distance travelled on this journey:____________________ Nautical Miles.

SPECIES LIST

 

Birds

Gentoo Penguin Pygoscelis papua

Chinstrap Penguin Pygoscelis antarctica

Adelie Penguin Pygoscelis adeliae

Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans

 Southern Royal Albatross Diomedea epomophora

Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophyrs

Grey-headed Albatross Thalassarche chrysostoma

Light-mantled Sooty Albatross Phoebetria palpebrata

Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus

Northern Giant Petrel Macronecets halli

Southern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialoides

Snow Petrel Pagodroma nivea

Cape Petrel (Pintado) Daption capense

Blue Petrel Halobaena caerulea

Antarctic Prion. Pachyptila desolata

Slender-billed Prion Pachyptila belcheri

Wilson's Storm-Petrel Oceanites oceanicus

Black-bellied Storm-Petrel Fregetta tropica

Antarctic Shag Phalacrocorax bransfieldensis

Rock Shag Phalacrocorax magellanicus

Snowy Sheathbill Chionis alba

Subantarctic Skua Catharacta antarctica longbergi

Chilean Skua Catharacta chilensis

South Polar Skua Catharacta antarctica maccormicki

Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus

South American Tern Sterna hirundinacea

Antarctic Tern Sterna vittata

Arctic Tern Sterna paradisae

 

Mammals

Weddell Seal  Leptonychotes weddelli

 

Leopard Seal Hydrurga leptonyx

Humpback Whale Megapetra novaangliae

Antarctic Minke Whale Balaenoptera bonaerensis