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Home → March, 2020

Monthly Archives: March 2020 − Travelblog


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.

Montevideo

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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