28 Mar 2018

28 Mar 18 - The Atlantic Odyssey

For the next six & a half weeks, the MV Plancius will be my home for the Atlantic Odyssey to the Cape Verde Islands, followed by the West African Pelagic charter back to Holland. The Plancius is an ex Dutch Navy oceanographic research vessel which was build in 1976. During her time in the Dutch Navy she was named Hr. Ms. Tydeman. She was bought by Oceanwide Expeditions & converted into a cruise ship in 2009 capable of carrying 116 passengers in 53 cabins.
Hr. Ms. Tydeman: Photo taken during her former life. This was one of a number of photos in the ship of the Plancius, polar explorers or wildlife
We joined the ship in the late afternoon in Ushuaia & found she was tied up next to her sister ship, MV Ortelius which, like the Plancius, had just returned from the Antarctic.
Placius & Ortelius tied up together in Ushuaia: Their next meeting was as we tied up in Vlissingen
Having discussed the merits of the two ships with some of the expedition staff, I was really glad to be travelling on the Plancius (instead of the Ortelius) for the trip back to Holland. One of the special features of the Plancius is the engines are mounted on rubber blocks & she has a special turbine which is especially quiet compared to similar ships. As a result, she is very quiet at sea. Thus, with the patience & expertise of the skipper & his officers, they are able to slowly maneuver the Plancius close to Cetaceans without causing them distress. I do not believe we would have had the same fantastic experiences with Cetaceans on the way back to Europe on the Ortelius.
Stella Australis: This nightmare (for me) was tied up on the other side of the quay. Note, the focus on posh cabins & the lack of zodiacs. But good these ships exist to keep their type of punters (largely) off ships like the Plancius, Hope I never end up on something like this
In recent years the trip had been under-subscribed & people had reported only two sharing a four berth cabin. I took the chance of booking a four berth cabin in the hope of a half empty cabin. However, this sounds like it will be the last time the ship runs this route & therefore, there had been a lot more people booking onto the ship (which was virtually full for both voyages). It may also be the last West African Pelagic: I hadn't been able to book a four berth for this, so upgraded to a three berth. In the end, I was able to keep my cabin which turned into a three berth. Despite the cabin being full/nearly full, we had little problems with sharing or contention for the bathroom. Quite an achievement, given the number of complaints I heard from other (usually two berth) cabins. But we were generally up early & on deck most of the day & only using the cabin for sleeping (including the occasional essential afternoon kip).
I was down in steerage class for the trip: In the top right bunk of this four berth cabin. I managed to keep the cabin, but switched to the bottom right bunk for the follow on West African Pelagic
By chance, Geoff 'Yorkshire' Dodds was sharing my cabin: Geoff confirming we had a chair & desk, as well as, a toilet & shower behind the door
After quickly deciding on bunks, it was back on deck to continue meeting people & watch as we left Ushuaia. There were so many good things that made the voyage a superb trip, but one was the number of interesting people on the ship.
Don Barr looking for Short-finned Pilot Whale: A Canadian traveller & non Birder who stayed on in our cabin from the previous Antarctica cruise (At sea between Ascension & Cape Verde on 24 Apr 18)
Koen den Dekker: A Dutch Birder who quickly moved into our cabin when our fourth Belgium cabin mate asked to switch to the cabin opposite to move in with the three Belgium Birders (who found the White-bellied Seedsnipe) (At sea between Tristan Da Cunha & St Helena on 15 Apr 18)
Some of the expedition staff & ground crew waiting for the final stragglers before we could depart
Looking NE over Ushuaia
Good weather to be departing: Although we would see little of the Beagle Channel as mandatory introductions & safety briefings took up the last couple of hours of light
We are finally off
This was the start of a superb six and a half week trip which was to be my longest time at sea. After a few days, we reached South Georgia (where we spent three days), then a day at Gough Island, three days around the Tristan Da Cunha islands, three days at St Helena, a day & a half at Ascension Island, before finally arriving at Praia the capital off the Cape Verde Islands. This was to be the end of the Atlantic Odyssey for most & the Birders went on to have a day (or more in some cases) around Praia & Santiago Island. As the Plancius was departing that afternoon, those of us who were staying on had a whirlwind trip around part of Santiago Island for the endemics. This was then the start of the West African Pelagic which visited the seas around Razo Island, the Canaries, the Desertas & Madeira, before continuing onto the Plancius' home port of Vlissingen, Holland.
The route started in Ushuaia (Argentina), before visiting South Georgia, Gough Island, Tristan Da Cunha, St Helena, Ascension Island, the Cape Verde Islands & finally Vlissingen (Holland)
The Plancius had a number of interesting historical photos.
Moonlight in Antarctic - 3 June 1898: The Belgica taken by American polar explorer Frederick Cook using a 90 minute exposure in -30 Centigrade during the Belgium Antarctic expedition led by Adrien de Gerlache de Gomery (1897 - 1899)
Adrien de Gerleche & Roald Amundsen who also participated in the Belgium Antarctic expedition: This photo was taken before the ship departed as not all were part of the expedition. From left to right they are Adrian de Gerleche, Fridtjof Nansen (who had explored Greenland in 1882), Henri Somers (head mechanic), Emile Danco (doctor), Roald Amundsen (second lieutenant), Johan Bryde (co-financer), Max Van Rysselberghe (second mechanic) & Rolf Andvord (Belgium consol)