We live in very interesting times, where the common man can venture to places that 100 years ago were the very cutting edge of exploration.  In 1820 Antarctica was seen by a human for the first time.  In December 14, 1911, the South Pole is attained by Roald Amundsen and four team members.  Meanwhile, Robert F. Scott, Edward Wilson, Edgar Evans and Lawrence Oats reach the pole a month later only to discover that they were beaten.  All perished on the return trip.  Today, many will cruise the shores of Antarctica and its islands.  Some of those ships will utilize zodiacs and set foot on land allowing many people to see this vast remote majestic desert and the incredible animals that live there.  One can also fly to Antarctica from Ushuaia for a day or fly to climb Vinson Massif, or fly further and ski the last degree to the pole.

After a couple of days at sea, on February 11th we arrive at Point Wild, Elephant Island, in the outer reaches of the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica.  After the Endurance was crushed by ice in the Weddell Sea, 28 men drifted on ice floes in their lifeboats and sought shelter on this spit of land.  Ernest Shackelton and five other men sailed 800miles in an open lifeboat across the southern ocean to South Georgia Island, 15 days later finally landing on the uninhabited northwest coast.  They traversed the mountainous island on foot and finally sought rescue in Stromness.  The men left behind at Elephant Island sheltered under the remaining lifeboats during the Antarctic fall and winter, eating penguins and seals and finally being rescued four and a half months later.  When we arrived the sea was rough, the clouds were low and there would be no landing.  So we took a few photos.  I’m sure many others besides me pondered how we could have handled such dire and inhospitable circumstances.  It is said that in those days ships were made of wood and men of steel…now boats are made of steel…and men?

On February 12th we arrive at the outside of Deception Island for a Zodiac ride.  Here the skua were attacking the chinstrap penguins, some already dead and some fatally wounded.  The Ocean Diamond then proceeds to sail through Neptunes Bellows into the caldera of this dormant volcano, which last erupted in 1969.  It is classified as a restless volcano with significant volcanic risk.  As a natural sheltered port this was the center of fur sealing in the 1820s.  Massive overhunting meant that the fur seals became almost extinct in the South Shetlands within a few years and abandoned.  In the early 20th century whaling industry began to take advantage of new technology towing whales to moored factory ships for processing.  Requiring sheltered port, Deception Island became a whaling hub.  Later in the 1920s, pelagic whaling was introduced, where factory ships fitted with a spillway could tow aboard entire whales for processing.  Sheltered anchorages were no longer required and being at sea their whale hunting was unregulated and led to the overhunting of whales and collapse of the whale oil market.

On February 13th we cruise the Neumeyer Channel and arrive at Port Lockroy (the Penguin Post office) of the British Antarctic Survey where Gentoo Penguins live amongst the huts.  We also land at nearby Jougla Point where Gentoo, Blue-eyed shags and skuas breed and whale bones abound.  In the afternoon we travel through the Lemaire Channel to Pleneau Bay which is a ice berg graveyard and home to Leopard Seals, Crab-eater Seals and Gentoo Penguin.  A beautiful sunny afternoon, we dine out on deck on BBQ and hot drinks from the bartender.  There is also a crazy hat competition.

On February 14th we went inside the Antarctic Circle and had a little celebration on deck.  After we went to Crystal sound where we saw a lot of interesting ice berg formations.  We did not zodiac as the seas were too rough to board them.  The polar plunge was also postponed for the same reason.

On Febuary 15th we started the morning in Yalour Islands, home to 8000 pairs of Adele penguins spread amongst 13 colonies.  Seas were rough but I was very glad we did get a zodiac ride to photograph them, though that was very hard to do as we were tossed about quite a bit.  The afternoon zodiac at Peterman Island was cancelled, but again this magical cruise had fortune shine down on us again in the form of a pod of Killer Whales (Orca).  We also had a fluking humpback whale and some interesting ice bergs.

February 16th is an amazing day that begins in Paradise Harbour, an Argentinian scientific station which proudly displays their Antarctica claim, though in 1959 they signed the Antarctic Treaty which suspends all claims, seems like they’ve had enough time to update their signs.   Anyway, we climb up a hill for some great views.  Around the base are Gentoo Penguins.  We went on a zodiac ride where we saw blue-eyed Shag, really cool blue ice and Leopard Seal.  As we cruised to our next destination we came across a different species of Killer Whale (Orca).  The day ended with a zodiac ride in Wilhelmina Bay in search of whales.  Our zodiac spent half the time following a mother and calf, which did not want any part of us.  Heading back we came across a couple humpbacks that were fluking.  Though I got some nice shots some of the other zodiacs had much better luck including breaches and double-flukes.

The trip has been amazing but I have one last day to shoot.  Can it possibly get any better?  The answer is quite definitely YES.  February 17th I took an astonishing 2033 photos.  In the morning we were at Cuverville Island and our group took a landing first, filled with Gentoo penguin including a cute baby that was quite active.  From here we could see in the bay the humpback whales fluking.  That was our next destination by zodiac and where I got my best whale pictures.  After a few shots our driver and whale expert Chris saw a couple Minke whales off in the distance and started heading that way, the other 5 zodiacs staying with the humpbacks.  I asked Chris to stay with the Humpbacks and after everyone agreed we went back.  Minke whales are known as stinky Minke’s because they run away and hide.  Everyone thanked me later and it turned out to be the right decision.  After lunch we were in Neko Harbour.  At the landing Gentoo Penguin were returning from many days at sea to feed their young the krill they have caught.  We climbed up to the ridge for some nice views of the harbor.  On the zodiac ride we saw Leopard Seals and Crabeater Seals.  Our zodiac driver catches a glimpse of Minke whales and started off.  I gave her a look and she said that if we didn’t see anything then we would return to the Leopards Seals.  We head through some brash ice and when we reach the Minke it is being playful.  It circles around and goes directly under our zodiac and you could see it right under us.  I’m watching the bubbles and see it turn and head back.  It hasn’t had air in a while and it’s getting very close.  I set my big lens camera down and grab the wide angle around my neck.  I know it’s set for landscape and I rush to push the ISO up for faster shutter speed but don’t have time because the Minke breaches directly in front of us.  I got 6-7 frames and though shot at 1/125sec they are quite good IMO especially when it reached the peak.  It was so close that everyone looked at me and asked, “Did you get it?”  I was the only one on the zodiac who had switched to wide angle and get the shot.  When back on the ship I know the Antarctic Plunge is coming soon, I’ve been waiting all cruise.  In fact I’ve had my suit on under my zippered fleece pants since the morning.  I’m #1 in line, strip down to my suit, GoPro in hand on a pole for some video.  Exhilarating experience and a smile on my face.  As we sail away Sperm Whales play around this ship to say farewell, they wish us safe voyage and invite us to return again someday.

February 18th and 19th we crossed the dreaded Drake, which for us was fairly smooth sailing.  We were making good time and sailed for the west of Cape Horn under sunny skies and calm seas.  We got permission to enter Chile international waters, but as we approached low clouds and mist came in.  We cruised around the horn from Pacific to Atlantic and overnight up the Beagle channel.  We disembarked on February 20th, did a little last minute shopping in Ushuaia.  I said farewell to the friends I made and boarded my plane home.  To me this was the best adventure I’ve ever had and I’ve been on a lot of them.  I hope you enjoy a little taste through my photos and trip log.

Video Link to Polar Plunge



February 11, 2015

The value of our life is not solely measured by its length, but also by the depth of our hearts.

And breadth of our experiences.  And indeed the heights that we achieve.

Adelie Penguin