The cruise to nowhere

October 20, 2019

The first day of our cruise: we got up at 6:30 am and went upstairs to see what was happening. Out on the observation deck at the back of Deck 6 several people were already looking for birds. At first we didn’t see many but soon there were some very distant albatrosses. We had no experience with pelagic birding but with the help of people who were better birders we saw White-chinned Petrel and Black-browed Albatross.

White-chinned Petrel

White-chinned Petrel

Black-browed Albatross

Black-browed Albatross

For breakfast we could go to either the Bistro or the main dining room. We chose the Bistro, which was not as formal. The food was served buffet style, so we could have a small breakfast rather than a heavy meal. Once we were finished we headed back to the observation deck, where we saw our first Magellanic Penguins bobbing along in the water.

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

At 10 am we all had to attend the safety drill to learn about evacuating the ship into lifeboats, should the need arise. We learned how to put on the life-jackets as well as where to go to find our lifeboat. In the afternoon we had to try on rubber boots, which we would wear on all our landings.

Our pilot is leaving the ship

Our pilot is leaving the ship

Dinner was at 7 pm in the dining room, but for some reason the service was very slow and we didn’t finish eating until nearly 9 pm. The soup wasn’t very hot but otherwise the food was very good.

The ship’s upper deck, by the pool

The ship’s upper deck, by the pool

Once we were finished we went up to Deck 7 for the daily checklist review. There weren’t many species observed, and many of them were “write-ins”, in other words species we weren’t expected to see. But that was because we were in the far north near Buenos Aires, of course.

October 21, 2019

This morning we woke up at 7:30 am; breakfast started at 7 am but there was still plenty of food when we got up to the Bistro.

After we were finished we headed out to the back observation deck. The first bird we heard about was a Pale-bellied Spinetail which had landed on the ship. Usually spinetails hide in thickets, but here it was far offshore. A lot of us went up to the deck above, where the Zodiacs were stored, to see the bird. The poor little thing looked bedraggled as it sat on a wire in the shelter of the lifeboats. Later on a Guira Cuckoo landed on the ship, and there was also a Southern Lapwing and a Creamy-bellied Thrush. It was very strange to see those land birds so far out to sea.

Pale-bellied Spinetail

Pale-bellied Spinetail

Guira Cuckoo

Guira Cuckoo

At 9:30 am Rosemary went to a talk about photographing birds in flight, which was quite interesting. After that she had a one-on-one chat with Daisy Gilardini, the ship’s resident photographer, who helped to get the camera to produce better photos. And later she talked with fellow passenger Andrew (from Norfolk), who had more pointers about using the back focus button.

Paul went to the ship’s gym, which is a tiny room with a rowing machine, two elliptical trainers, and a treadmill, along with some free weights. Fortunately out of all of the 100-plus passengers there was only him and one other person, so he ran on the treadmill for 15 minutes.

Today we decided to eat lunch in the dining room so we shared a table with Karen and Anne (from Newfoundland, who was the one who initially persuaded us to book this cruise). Again the service was very slow, so it’s likely that we will eat lunch in the Bistro in future. And it’s also likely that we will be less likely to eat a large meal in the Bistro.

Southern Giant Petrel

Southern Giant Petrel

After lunch we went outside to watch more unexpected land birds arrive at the ship, and we also checked out a lot of Black-browed Albatrosses to see if they were Yellow-nosed, but no luck.

About mid-afternoon the wind rose and the seas became quite rough, and the captain announced that we shouldn’t go outside due to the swells. So after tea-time we took Stugeron tablets and retired to our room.

Paul went up to Deck 7 for the daily recap at 5:30 pm, and the ship was really pitching and rolling up there, but by dinner time the swells had lightened up a bit. We went for dinner at 7 pm and the waiters were having difficulty serving the food, and every so often a larger wave would hit the ship with a bang and a thud. We sat with Frank, Jim, Karen, and Dorothy; Frank had an endless supply of birding-trip war stories.

October 22, 2019

Sleeping on the ship last night was an interesting experience. The seas were very rough, so the ship was pitching quite violently, and partway through the night it started rolling from side to side. But despite all the movement we both managed to sleep quite well.

The crew on the bridge, approaching Puerto Madryn

The crew on the bridge, approaching Puerto Madryn

We had been told that the ship would put in to Puerto Madryn at about 4 am so that it could be refuelled after its emergency diversion. Why this hadn’t been done in Buenos Aires, we weren’t told. So when we went up to breakfast we were surprised to find out that we hadn’t arrived there yet.

Common Dolphins following the ship

Common Dolphins following the ship

The ship finally docked around 9 am, and so since refuelling was going to take several hours most of us got off the ship to go birding with our guides Keith and Glen. We had been in Puerto Madryn just last year, and we were seeing a lot of birds that we had seen then, so after a while the two of us and Anne split off from the group. We went back to Puerto Madryn to visit the bookstore, where Anne bought a copy of the Aves de Argentina book and Rosemary bought an Argentine cookbook, which had a lot of information about making empanadas.

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

Magellanic Oystercatcher

Magellanic Oystercatcher

At lunch back on the ship we found that nothing had happened, no fuel had been delivered yet. We were told that the broker hadn’t paid the fuel company so the fuel company wouldn’t deliver the fuel. So after lunch we went a on another excursion, in buses organized by One Ocean. They took us to Punta Loma to see the fur seal colony. There were a few big bull fur seals which were hanging out keeping an eye on the rest of the herd, and there were a lot of cormorants nesting on the cliffs above the colony.

Magellanic Penguin

Magellanic Penguin

We also looked for other birds, but there were really not many there. Probably just as well, it would be hard to point out a Canastero in a bush to a group of over fifty people! But on the way back we saw Elegant Crested-Tinamous on the road and just outside the town we stopped to find the Burrowing Parrots. We were lucky to find one sitting on a fence.

Our ship, docked in Puerto Madryn

Our ship, docked in Puerto Madryn

Dinner was good tonight, except for sticky risotto, and we got served in a reasonable time. And it was quite nice to eat dinner on a stationary ship. Shortly after that was the daily recap up on Deck 7, where we stayed to hear from the ship’s resident glaciologist about his trips to Antarctica and his descent into the active Erebus volcano. He had some great photos of the volcano and of him inside the crater.

October 23, 2019

At 6:30 am there was an announcement, and we immediately noticed that the ship was still docked at the pier. That meant it wasn’t fueled up and ready to go. But after breakfast we heard that there would be an excursion to a lagoon in Trelew this morning.

Coscoroba Swan

Coscoroba Swan

We had assumed that we were headed to the same place that we had visited with our guide Agustín last year, but instead we went to a lagoon in the city. Laguna Cacique Chiquichano was right in the city and had a paved path around it, so it was a good choice for a large group. There were lots of ducks and coots on the lake and at the other end there were a fair number of flamingos.

Chilean Flamingo

Chilean Flamingo

Lake Duck

Lake Duck

Right away somebody spotted a Black-headed Duck, which is apparently not common. And in the rushes around the lagoon were numerous Many-coloured Rush-Tyrants, which were very photogenic. In Spanish they are called “Siete Colores” (Seven Colours). There were also two Wilson’s Phalaropes, which we hadn’t seen before in Argentina. We stayed at the lagoon for about an hour.

Black-headed Duck

Black-headed Duck

But then the staff were hustling us back to the buses and we sensed that something was up. When we got back to the ship we heard that two fuel trucks had arrived and delivered their loads. Things were looking up! But then we heard that this wasn’t enough because we needed extra fuel as a backup emergency plan. And this extra fuel was in limbo because of a problem with the fuel broker. And if this wasn’t resolved by 8 pm then the cruise would be cancelled.

Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant

Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant

After lunch the two of us headed into town to go to the cemetery, where we heard there might be good birds. And anyway South American cemeteries are interesting. But Paul misread the map and we walked the wrong way for a long distance. So we gave up on that idea and returned to the ship for some tea.

At 5:30 pm we went up to Deck 7 for the daily recap; most of the birds were write-ins. Yes, it’s unusual to find flamingos in Antarctica! Dinner tonight wasn’t the best; Rosemary’s veal was too rare and the mashed potatoes were very salty. The best part was the deep-fried ice cream for dessert!

In the evening there was another meeting, and we were told that a supplier had been found who was able to sell us the 230 tons of fuel the ship needed. Of course there was paperwork to be done and money to be transferred but at least we left the meeting cautiously optimistic that some of the trip could be salvaged.

October 24, 2019

This morning the ship was a hive of activity as shore excursions were being organized for whale-watching in the Gulf and a bus trip down the coast to the penguin rookery. We’d done both of those things last year so we weren’t interested. Instead we both went to the talk on “Shackleton and the Three Franks”, which was really good and we found out some things we didn’t know about before.

Soon after that there was another meeting. Yes, the ship could get the fuel it needed. But… it wouldn’t arrive for two days. So the trip was cancelled. Ouch. Very, very sad!

So the plan was to return to Buenos Aires immediately. Shore excursions? Nope. We were amazed at how quickly a 100-meter-long vessel could leave a pier.

We were so depressed. But it was hard to dwell on that because we were thinking “Now what are we going to do instead?” Rockjumper was scrambling to organize some tours to fill in the ten-day gap that everybody had. We had to consider rescheduling our post-cruise to northwest Argentina, but we didn’t have to act on that right away.

Putting together birding tours for 100 people with only three days’ notice is not an easy task, even for highly professional companies who put together birding tours for a living. So Rockjumper was floating all kinds of proposals and soliciting expressions of interest. However we held off deciding anything until they came up with specifics.

The mood on the ship was very subdued, to say the least. After dinner we had a meeting in which the Rockjumper team presented some possible options, and we ended up going to bed early.

October 25, 2019

We were awakened at 6:30 am by an announcement that a Cape Petrel was flying behind the ship, but of course by the time we got upstairs it was long gone. Not surprising.

We had our usual breakfast in the Bistro and sat with others to see what they were thinking about doing. The morning dragged on, and then Rockjumper had a meeting in which they told us about options for tours. We had originally considered their proposed tour to El Calafate and the Andes, but in the end it was taken off the list because there weren’t enough available seats on the plane.

So we opted for the northeast Argentina option instead. It was very similar to the tour we did with Tom last year, but we’d have more time in the Iguazu Falls area and it was likely that we’d get different species than we got last year.

Paul looked at the lunch menu and noticed that the dining room’s menu featured fish and chips, so we went there for lunch. Both the fish and the chips were very good.

It looked like our post-cruise trip to northwest Argentina would now be going as scheduled, so that gave us a problem. We had booked a flight from Ushuaia via Buenos Aires to Salta, and now we wouldn’t be using the first leg. So we had to contact Aerolineas Argentinas to change that ticket. We enlisted the help of crew member Andy, and even he couldn’t contact them on the ship’s phone. So then he phoned his sister in Buenos Aires and asked her to call them! Eventually the changes got made, and we gave Andy $125 US to cover the credit-card charges his sister had made.

Now we just had to hope that Rockjumper’s northeast Argentina tour went ahead, which it looked like it would. This has definitely been the most stressful vacation we have ever had!

October 26, 2019

Today the good weather continued, and before long there was basically nobody watching out for birds. We just sat around chatting to various people and waiting for the next meal to be served. Others sat in the bar to do that. This is what regular cruising must be like.

Now it was a waiting game to see what Rockjumper tours were going ahead. There was a lot of talk about the One Ocean Expeditions situation but of course it was all speculation. As the day went on more stories started to surface, and everything seemed to point to One Ocean being in financial difficulty. They called a meeting in which they handed out a letter which offered us a credit for a free cruise in the future, but we thought it would be unlikely that they would ever honour that.

We sent off an e-mail to Tugo, our travel insurance company, to notify them that we would be filing a claim, but we won’t do anything until we get home.

Before dinner there were a couple of meetings. The first was to deal with the procedures for getting off the ship in Buenos Aires, and the second was to confirm the details of the various replacement tours. As we had hoped, the northeast Argentina tour was going ahead.

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1 Response to The cruise to nowhere

  1. Melissa says:

    Very sorry this happened to you I know how much you wanted to go see emperor penguins :(. I’m glad you still saw so many magnificent birds on the trip before the big disappointment. I’m sure you will get your emperors one day. Good things happen to good people. In every disappointment there is compensation.

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