After traveling almost 20,000 miles, on 8 different planes, 5 buses, 1 train and 1 amazing ship,  we have all safely returned to the US after our incredible expedition to Antarctica. While we are still editing thousands of images and hours of video (and one person is actually waiting for film to be developed!), we have a few images to share and an amazing story to tell. I will try to do it justice!


As many of you know, we have been planning this trip for over two years. After all the planning, it was amazing that it was finally upon us. We packed for 3 solid days before we were able to get all 7 of mine and Jeff’s bags down to 50 lbs each. Of course, we also had 4 carry-ons that totaled 128 lbs but who’s counting. Oh yeah the airlines! Well, after paying $516 in excess baggage charges, we finally made it to Buenos Aires. About 5 hours late due to flight delays caused by the earthquake in Santiago, but we made it.


After two days of visiting with our Argentine dealers, touring the city, eating great food, drinking fabulous wine, and enjoying a fantastic tango and folkloric music/dance show, it was time to get ready for our final flight to Ushuaia where we would meet our ship. Unfortunately, as you may have already seen posted elsewhere, fate had a bizarre twist for us. I received a call from Amos Nachoum, my fellow expedition leader and photo pro who was already in Ushuaia awaiting our arrival. He was calling to tell me our ship, Professor Multanovsky, had blown an engine on the return trip to Ushuaia and was not going to be repaired in time for our trip. That was the bad news! The good news was Oceanwide Expeditions had another ship in Ushuaia that was planning to leave on Friday evening (one day earlier), and they could fit us on this new larger vessel- Plancius. They also offered a refund but who would want that after all this time and effort! So we began to make plans to get everyone to the boat on time (including one person who was originally planning on arriving in Ushuaia on Saturday), and Amos began working with Oceanwide on what would need to be done to get the new vessel ready for diving.


By the time we arrived in Ushuaia, the ship’s crew had constructed a drysuit hanging room, arranged for storage boxes for cameras and other gear and had reworked all of the rooms so everyone on our trip got at least the same quality of cabin as originally planned. Some even got an upgrade! To do that, they had to send home 21 people, mainly travel agents. They really went the extra mile for us.


Meanwhile, Amos had arranged for the changes in the transfers within Ushuaia and also for two nights accommodations in Ushuaia as we would be getting back two days earlier than originally planned. While the trip would be one day shorter in Antarctica, Oceanwide would pick up the tab for the hotel and food in Ushuaia and was going to prorate the trip for us to make up for the lost day. Not a bad deal!


However, it did appear we were a cursed with bad engine karma when we learned our 3 Swedish dive guides were delayed due to one of the engines of their plane catching fire on takeoff. Fortunately all were safe but they would not be able to get there until Saturday morning. The ship graciously decided to wait for them. That also meant we would be able to transfer the necessary dive gear from the Professor Multanovsky at the dock in Ushuaia rather than doing it at sea as originally planned.


After the gear transfer and dive guide arrival, we set off with beautiful weather in Beagle Channel. While the scenery, large flocks of sea birds, dolphins and sea lions were awesome to see, most of us thought the real highlight was the “Lifeboat Drill”. As you can see, we looked good in orange. Imagine 60 folks in those life jackets with most of them sea sick inside one of those lifeboats! Some of us were seriously considering the possibility of using our drysuits and taking our chances in the ocean if need be…


After that excitement, we entered the dreaded Drake Passage. This was the one part of the voyage I was worried about. I had seen pictures of and heard stories about horrible seas- most recently from Amos who had 45 ft seas and 65 knot winds on the way home from his trip a week ago. Fortunately for me and other seasickness prone folks, and unfortunately for those who wanted more excitement, the passage was calm. So for 1 ½ days, we prepared our equipment, I fixed Amos’s drysuit (which had been damaged in that hellacious crossing), watched sea birds and whales and enjoyed good food as we approached our first dive spot.




March 8, morning - Aitcho Island in the South Shetlands

Thanks to the easy crossing and the captain going full speed on all engines, we made it to Antarctica in record time. This meant that the original Plancius passengers didn’t miss any of their landings, and we could get diving sooner rather than later.  Before describing the dive, let me explain how the diving is done. The ship had 4 zodiacs equipped for divers. The gear was loaded into the zodiacs and lowered into the water. The driver then brings the zodiac to the gangplank where we would board the zodiac. Due to potentially rough conditions in boarding the zodiac, you could not board the zodiac with the gear already on, but had to get it on while balancing it on the side of the zodiac. For some, that was probably the hardest part of the diving. Eight divers per boat with lots of gear and a bouncing zodiac could make getting in the water challenging. We had to work together to help each other out and make it happen…and we did!


This morning was in some ways more challenging as they normally do a shore dive for the first dive to make it easier to make sure the weighting is okay. Unfortunately, rough seas and slippery conditions made it one of the toughest shore dives ever. But we persevered and most divers got their weighting figured out.  Due to the difficult conditions, most divers didn’t do that long of a dive but a few who did were rewarded with penguin and leopard seal encounters. Not a bad omen for future marine life encounters.


March 8, afternoon - Half Moon Island

Despite fog, a cold rain and increasing winds, we braved the weather and were rewarded with some excellent fur seal and penguin encounters. After talking to the folks who had gone to land, we were definitely warmer and drier than they were. However, they also seemed to have a great time as they saw the penguins and seals above water. As we left the area heading to the Continent, the ship began to list from the force of a katabatic wind off the island. It was nice to be heading away from the storm and closer to the continent.


March 9, morning - Cuverville Island

Our first dive of the day was done in snow and gale force winds, but few of us wanted to miss the first iceberg dive. We were not disappointed with clear blue tinted water and amazing texture to the icebergs. Some divers concentrated on circumnavigating their icebergs while others focused on going to the bottom to find macro life and also see the spot where the iceberg was scrapping along the bottom. One group had a leopard seal encounter but no close photos.


March 9, afternoon – Snorkel/dive/landing at Neko Harbour on the continent

For the afternoon dive, Amos convinced many of us to try snorkeling as he feels this is an easier way to get good leopard seal shots. A few went diving and then almost all of us made our first landing on the Antarctic Continent. Despite very challenging weather, everyone had a great time. The leopard seals did not cooperate so we had to console ourselves with playing with penguins in shallow water. Not a bad consolation prize. I even had one come right up to me and start pecking me! Awesome time.


A side note? What do you call someone who has a comfortable and heated stateroom on a new state of the art vessel who decides they would rather sleep in tents on ice? And they think divers are crazy. We couldn’t believe there was a waiting list to go camping, yes camping, in Antarctica. However, clearer heads prevailed and it was postponed to later in the week due to weather.


March 10, morning - Wreck dive “Bahia Paraiso” and Palmer Station

Palmer Station is one of three US stations in Antarctica. As we had given one of their scientists a ride to the facility, she graciously arranged a tour for everyone on the boat which is not commonly available. We also were given the opportunity to dive on a wreck near the station that is also not commonly dove by nonscientific divers. In order to make it possible for the divers to dive and see the Station, we had a tight schedule, but it all worked out. We had a great dive on the wreck with fantastic macro life including sponges, anemones, etc. The weather was also clearing so by the time we arrived at Palmer Station, the wind had died and the sky was lightening up.


Palmer Station was a blast!  In addition to a tour and discussion about their research, we got our passports stamped with Antarctica (the only way to have that happen), got to have their famous brownies AND shopped in their gift shop. What a great morning.


To top the morning off, we cruised through the famous Lemaire Channel with the most impressive scenery to date. While the remaining clouds covered the tops of the mountains and glaciers, it did nothing to detract from the beauty of the Channel. Words and pictures can not do it justice. This alone was worth the trip.


March 10, afternoon - Pleneau Bay- Iceberg Dive

Well, finally, the weather gods were smiling upon us and we had fabulous conditions with lots of sun, flat seas and fantastic weather for diving, snorkeling or zodiac cruising. Everyone had a great afternoon whether you went diving, snorkeling or cruising with lots to see, some amazing iceberg formations, and great seal encounters. This is definitely one of those times that are hard to describe if you weren’t there. I will let the pictures try.


After the dive, we were treated to a great outdoor barbeque with free wine and yet another birthday celebration for someone in our group. Five DOGs celebrated their birthdays on the trip!


We ended this amazing day with an evening cruise back through Lemaire Channel as the captain dodged icebergs and gave us some of the most unforgettable scenery of the entire trip.




March 11, morning - Useful Islands

This was a new spot for everyone on the ship. It was recommended by a friend of the Expedition leader and we are very glad he decided to give it a try. It was a great dive and surface spot for all with lots of macro life as well as penguins and fur seals above and below the water. Some of the divers went on land but were chased off by a young fur seal who wanted to show who was boss.


March 11, afternoon - Almirante Brown in Paradise Bay

This dive is one of the more well know dives in Antarctica and is known for great macro life. It did not disappoint with amazing sea stars (over 30 arms), giant isopods, etc. We also had plenty of time for zodiac cruising in the hopes of seeing some calving. We didn’t see much of that but the scenery was still awesome! And the penguins and sea birds were plentiful.

We also had lots of time to play with the icebergs and pack ice throughout the day. Everyone got the chance to find their own personal iceberg to get that perfect picture.


March 12, morning - Danco Island.

Danco Island was another great dive for both macro and penguin shots. The abundant krill meant there were lots of penguins in the water. And the beautiful sunshine amongst the icebergs made the topside scenery spectacular! We had also some of the non divers trying swimming in Antarctica- no drysuits. That was pretty funny to watch!


March 12, afternoon - Melchior Islands

LAST DIVE! We found a great spot behind the islands which can be rough as it is close to the Drake Passage. One zodiac was treated to a great leopard seal encounter as it circled the boat while the divers were getting geared up and then the divers underwater afterward. It was a great dive to end with.


March 12, evening - depart the Antarctic Peninsula

We stowed all our gear in anticipation of rough seas but…

March 13 & 14 - Drake Passage

Once again, the weather gods were smiling upon those of us prone to seasickness and it was a remarkably calm crossing. We were treated to several great lectures and had plenty of time to repack.

March 15 – Arrival back in Ushuaia

Despite the down time with passage, most of the divers were a little tired so we spent the afternoon after departing the ship doing some sightseeing and souvenir shopping which is hard to do in Antarctica. A few went on one more dive day and had a blast.

Oceanwide put us up in a hotel and arranged for our meals at the hotel to be taken care of. A few of us did enjoy sampling all Ushuaia had to offer though so we ventured off and many visited the Prison (from when the town was a penal colony) and Art and Maritime Museum. We also treated our divemasters to a great dinner in town. They had done a fabulous job under difficult conditions.


March 16 - El Tren del Fin del Mundo to the Tierra Del Fuego National Park

This train once transported prisoners from the penal colony workforce in Ushuaia to Tierra del Fuego to cut down trees.  The train now transports tourists from just outside Ushuaia to just inside the Tierra del Fuego National Park.  We did some hiking around the lakes and bays and enjoyed beautiful views of both Argentina and Chile! We also saw the largest mammal in the area- a red fox the size of a German Sheppard! They walked right by us completely oblivious to people. It was a nice relaxing end to the trip.

March 17 – Leaving Ushuaia

It was tough to leave everyone. Some were spending time in Buenos Aires. Others were going straight home. One die hard diver was staying in Ushuaia for more diving. You animal Stosh! But no matter what it was hard to believe it was over. The trip home was about what you expect for that kind of thing. But no matter what, we will have our memories and our pictures.

While there will be a more complete photo/video essay on DUI’s website in the next couple of weeks, we hope this gives you an idea of what we experienced.


Here are a few additional fun facts:


Flag state -Netherlands
267ft long
43ft wide
15ft draft
110 passenger capacity
1D Ice Class (vessel is ice strengthened and specially built for oceanographic voyages)
Diesel electric propulsion driven by three 1,230 HP engines
Speed 10-12 knots
Nautical crew of 17
Hotel staff of 19
Expedition staff of 8
1 doctor

The passengers were from 19 countries and the international crew was from 14 countries.

We covered 1896 miles on the ship. Those of us from San Diego covered almost 20,000 miles total.


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Written by Faith Ortins, California. Photos by Rachel Kasper, Amos Nachoum

To see the original article with more photos, please click here to visit DUI