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Monthly Archives: March 2020 − News & Stories

The jour­ney back home: Mon­te­vi­deo, Sao Pao­lo, Frank­furt … Dres­den!

A bit of a mira­cle has hap­pen­ed: I am on the train from Frank­furt to Dres­den.

Yes­ter­day it all see­med far away and somehow unrea­listic, after all the back and forth of the days befo­re. But sud­den­ly things hap­pen­ed. Ever­y­bo­dy boo­ked flights as much as they could. Not exact­ly strai­ght­for­ward for many on board, and not exact­ly made easier by the means of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on we had avail­ab­le. Con­si­de­ring the who­le situa­ti­on, it is per­fect­ly under­stand­a­ble if blood pres­su­re and emo­ti­ons are occa­sio­na­ly stea­ming a bit when a boo­king web­site kicks you out during the pay­ment pro­cess for the 100th time or of misun­derstan­dings lead to expen­si­ve dou­ble boo­kings. But final­ly most seem to have got flights and it loo­ks as if most if not all can tra­vel home over the next 2-3 days.


I hap­pen­ed to be in the first group that went, being a bit of a gui­nea pig for the „sani­taire cor­ri­dor“. Which is actual­ly a bus with the dri­ver behind glass, an ambu­lan­ce car and a num­ber of poli­ce­men on motor­bikes, and we went through Mon­te­vi­deo just as the pre­si­dent of a lar­ge coun­try would have done. If you ask me then I would say that this might be a litt­le bit exa­g­ge­ra­ted. Just lea­ving half an hour ear­lier would have done. But any­way, we got to the air­port!

From the­re on it was just like any flight pas­sa­ge, just with face masks which were – at least during the „sani­taire cor­ri­dor“ – com­pul­so­ry for us. Less traf­fic in the air­ports than during nor­mal times, but actual­ly more than I would have thought. I am very curious what the new rea­li­ty will look like for us who just retur­ned from a long trip in the Ant­arc­tic. I guess more or less not­hing will be as it used to be when we went on board, which was a cou­p­le of weeks ago and not a cou­p­le of years.

So, this voya­ge back home sud­den­ly seems to come to a quick and hap­py ending. I keep fin­gers cros­sed that this goes for ever­y­bo­dy who left yes­ter­day or today or is still on board Orte­li­us or Plan­ci­us in Mon­te­vi­deo – we left actual­ly tog­e­ther with the first disem­bar­king pas­sen­gers and staff from Plan­ci­us. Fin­gers cros­sed for ever­y­bo­dy! I wish you all a good, safe and quick trip home!

To make one thing clear: this was obvious­ly not a mira­cle (alt­hough it feels like one right now) but the result of end­less nego­tia­ti­ons on many chan­nels and levels. A big thank you from me to Ocean­wi­de Expe­di­ti­ons!

The jour­ney back home: Mon­te­vi­deo – 25th March 2020

So far, so good: we are along­side in Mon­te­vi­deo. If ever­ything works accord­ing to plan from here on, then this should have been the last beau­ti­ful sun­set at sea for most of us, with the sky­line of Mon­te­vi­deo in the fore­ground.

Gre­at atmo­s­phe­re last night. The Orte­li­us choir per­for­med and many songs fol­lo­wed. Time to say good­bye.


Fin­gers cros­sed that this was inde­ed the last evening with ever­y­bo­dy on board. We are cur­r­ent­ly all on board, the day has just star­ted here at the time of wri­ting. Most of us are sche­du­led to fly out today, tomor­row or on Fri­day. Not all of us. Some pre­fer to remain on board, others are not able to reach their home coun­tries due to tra­vel restric­tions. But let’s see what the next days bring. The­re will still be nego­tia­ti­ons and decisi­ons. We are not home yet.

The jour­ney back home: South Atlan­tic – 20th-24th March 2020

The pas­sa­ge north from the Bea­gle Chan­nel to the River Pla­te, with Bue­nos Aires (who knows, who knows) and Mon­te­vi­deo (our cur­rent hope) are situa­ted, turns out to be most­ly rather plea­sant. We could now most­ly relax a bit – appre­cia­ted that ever­y­bo­dy has his or her own view on the who­le situa­ti­on – and enjoy the open sea, the blue sky, some beau­ti­ful sun­sets, birds, dol­phins and wha­les and a lec­tu­re here or a film the­re.

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Nego­tia­ti­ons are going on in the back­ground. Con­su­la­tes, embas­sies, governments, tra­vel agen­ci­es and of cour­se the head office of Ocean­wi­de Expe­di­ti­ons in Vlis­sin­gen (Nether­lands) are busy try­ing to find a solu­ti­on for us. Cur­r­ent­ly we put our hopes on Mon­te­vi­deo.

The jour­ney back home: Bue­nos Aires (or not …) – 20th March 2020

So the­re was not­hing else we could have achie­ved in Ushua­ia, they would just not allow us to lea­ve the ship. But we were rea­dy for all kinds of sce­n­a­ri­os, inclu­ding a full mon­th at sea – this voya­ge, or rather the ship-based part of it, may just as well end in The Nether­lands.

Most of us would cer­tain­ly wish to go back home as soon as pos­si­ble. Obli­ga­ti­ons of all sorts, or „just“ the desi­re to be clo­se to friends and fami­ly – pret­ty much ever­y­bo­dy has got good rea­sons of one or ano­t­her kind. But the Coro­na-virus is just clo­sing the pla­net down. Argen­ti­na threa­tens to decla­re a nati­on­wi­de sta­te of emer­gen­cy (wha­te­ver the exact wor­d­ing was), so we bet­ter take off and lea­ve befo­re the clo­se the port.

Our hope was to sail up to Bue­nos Aires and fly out from the­re. We would just not be allo­wed to fly the­re, the trip to Bue­nos Aires would have to be on the ship, and we would need a valid flight ticket and of cour­se no nor­mal tra­vels into the coun­try, just a direct and safe pas­sa­ge to the air­port. So ever­y­bo­dy went and star­ted loo­king into flight arran­ge­ments out of Bue­nos Aires.

But this hope was not to last long. Argen­ti­na announ­ced to clo­se the coun­try soon, and we would not be able to get to Bue­nos Aires so quick­ly. We will need a cou­p­le of days for this pas­sa­ge of a good 1500 nau­ti­cal miles.

Any­way, we got a lovely pas­sa­ge of the Bea­gle Chan­nel. Some of us have been through the­re dozens of times but you hard­ly ever real­ly see it becau­se it is eit­her the first day of the voya­ge when you are busy with brie­fings, life­boat drill and so on or the last day and then it is usual­ly at night.

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Near Puer­to Wil­liams we could at least say good­bye to our 6 heli­co­p­ter crew (3 pilots, 3 mecha­nics) who had final­ly got their per­mis­si­on to lea­ve the ship with their heli­co­p­ters and fly into Chi­le. Home, for them! They are Chi­le­ans! And even for them it was uncer­tain wether they were able to lea­ve the ship and go home. The world is a cra­zy place the­se days. We were relie­ved when they final­ly got green light, and it was a warm fare­well and good­bye and some very friend­ly fly­ing around the ship.

Ushua­ia and bey­ond: the jour­ney back home begins – 19th March 2020

Nor­mal­ly today would have been the day to say good­bye. Our pas­sen­gers would have left the ship, new ones would come in the after­noon and so on and so forth. But not today. Not in this world which now seems to be ful­ly con­trol­led by the Coro­na virus.

We main­tai­ned a slim hope that we might still be able to get off. Hon­di­us was along­side just oppo­si­te and we could watch their pas­sen­gers lea­ving the ship, get­ting on to buses and to the air­port, whe­re pla­nes were lan­ding and taking off. But not so here. Peop­le were sit­ting on their lug­ga­ge with valid tickets in their pockets. It did not help.

The dif­fe­rence bet­ween Orte­li­us and Hon­di­us? Hon­di­us just made a trip from Ushua­ia to Ant­arc­ti­ca and back to Ushua­ia. So, in an Argen­ti­ne (!) per­spec­ti­ve, they never left the coun­try, other than some open sea pas­sa­ge. And Orte­li­us? We left from New Zea­land, so it was an inter­na­tio­nal voya­ge. Of cour­se we have been on board for 32 days without any sym­ptoms of any kind of serious infec­tion and we have not seen a soul in all the­se days – but who cares?

Thank you, Argen­ti­na!

So the day went and so did the hope that we might be able to lea­ve. Final­ly the bags were unpa­cked again.


Ross Sea – Ushua­ia, 3rd-18th March 2020

This voya­ge had star­ted so well, but now our luck was run­ning out. After a stor­my day east of Ross Island, the sou­thern Ross Sea star­ted to free­ze over lar­ge are­as. Beau­ti­ful to see, but the end­less miles of den­se, tough pan­ca­ke ice were not hel­pful and cost us pre­cious time.


We reached the Ross Ice Shelf just on the edge of the Bay of Wha­les in the late evening of 04th March. Well, „reached“ is rela­ti­ve. We did not get any clo­ser than 12 nau­ti­cal miles (22 km) until it beca­me clear that it did not make much sen­se to pro­ceed that direc­tion. The ice shelf was just about visi­ble with bino­cu­lars. It was alrea­dy too dark for the heli­co­p­ters and the clouds were moving in, so wai­t­ing would most likely just have meant a loss of even more pre­cious time, espe­cial­ly as we could liter­al­ly watch the sea free­zing around us. So the choice was clear – actual­ly, it was the only thing to do rather than a choice: lea­ve. Clear­ly a disap­point­ment, this was some­thing we could all agree on.

More sur­pri­ses in terms of ice were to fol­low the next days. The Ross Sea was real­ly free­zing over in lar­ge are­as simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. Fasci­na­ting and beau­ti­ful, but unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly slowing us down again.


The two days that tur­ned out to be pivo­tal were the 06th and the 07th of March. We were to be stea­ming full ahead towards the Bel­lings­hau­sen Sea and Peter I. Island – or at least, this is what we wan­ted to do. Ins­tead, we spent most of the­se two days ploughing slow­ly through den­se ice mas­ses whe­re we had expec­ted ice-free water accord­ing to our ice charts. In the morning of the 7th of March we found our­sel­ves 20 miles fur­ther away from Peter I. Island than 2 days ago at the some time. Two full days lost! That was a bit of a bad sur­pri­se.


Then we went up to speed again, but not enough to catch up with what we had lost in terms of time. We reached Peter I. Island final­ly in the ear­ly morning hours of the 13th of March, but it was qui­te stor­my and the visi­bi­li­ty pret­ty poor.


By then it had alrea­dy beco­me clear that we would not have enough time any­mo­re to con­ti­nue to the Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la. Ins­tead, we were for­ced to set cour­se direct­ly for the Bea­gle Chan­nel and Ushua­ia. No sur­pri­se that this cau­sed gre­at disap­point­ment, and emo­ti­ons went high. I can not say that I enjoy­ed the rest of the voya­ge. I don’t think I have ever writ­ten some­thing like that in the blog befo­re, but this is just what it was.

The pas­sa­ge towards Tier­ra del Fue­go was most­ly pret­ty rough, and we got our share of storm and hea­vy seas near Cape Hoorn, which we did, howe­ver, not see becau­se the visi­bi­li­ty was pret­ty poor.


We reached Ushua­ia just about in time in the morning of the 18th of March. But big ques­ti­on­marks were now han­ging over ever­ything disem­bar­ka­ti­on, say­ing good­bye, tra­vel­ling home – the last voya­ge of Orte­li­us, to the Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la, had alrea­dy been can­cel­led days ago – was all uncer­tain by now, to say the least. The world out­side Ant­arc­ti­ca was now taken over by the Coro­na virus, and we would have to see what that meant for us.

Cape Evans – 2nd March 2020

The wea­ther fore­cast indi­ca­ted an oppor­tu­ni­ty, so we were rea­dy to go at Cape Evans in the ear­ly morning. It was still qui­te win­dy and that in com­bi­na­ti­on with an air tem­pe­ra­tu­re of about -12°C made it pret­ty chill­ly

But it worked. So we had all the oppor­tu­ni­ty to visit the famous Dis­co­very hut whe­re Scott left for his ill-fated jour­ney to the South Pole in 1911. What a man, what a sto­ry, what a place!

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Later that day we con­ti­nued towards the far end of Hut Point Pen­in­su­la as we still had an invi­ta­ti­on from Scott Base and some infor­ma­ti­on that the local con­di­ti­ons should be ok. But the wind just kept picking up as we got clo­ser and soon it was very clear that we would not achie­ve anything in that area. So we tur­ned north again, around Ross Island and towards the Ross Ice­shelf and the Bay of Wha­les.

McMur­do Sound – 01st March 2020

Also today the­re is qui­te a bit of wind blowing in the area, no chan­ce to make a lan­ding. Ant­arc­ti­ca is not always a pie­ce of cake, and cer­tain­ly not the Ross Sea.

But later, the sun comes out. It is icy cold and younc ice is forming on lar­ge are­as of water. Stun­ning light … and emperor pen­gu­ins just about ever­y­whe­re on the ice!

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.


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