My Travels: The Fjords and Harbours of South Georgia

Whale blubber tanks are only slightly smaller than oil refinery tanks.

Katie Murray (Ship Historian) at Sir Ernest Shackleton's Grave

Katie Murray (Ship Historian) at Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Grave

The tanks and town buildings of Stromness Bay were uniformly red from the rust and looked peaceful set at the base of glaciers and in the green grass at the water’s edge.

This Mad Max like setting belied the peacefulness of the bay and mountains: the buildings were built with asbestos insulation and it was dangerous to land and disturb the carcinogenic fibres.

The size of the tanks disturbed me. We were still hunting whales, our 7 billion inhabitants of this fragile earth. We were still building tanks, but now there were many more, mainly in the hot arid desert regions of our earth, filled with fossil oil. We are still so inefficient and have so much to learn.

After lunch we moored in the bay of Grytviken and were introduced to the Director of the South Georgia Heritage Trust, Sarah Lurcock who presented on the history of the trust and the Rat Eradication Project.  Rats are exotic to the islands and arrived with the numerous shipwrecks. They breed like rats (or rabbits) and eats small bird eggs to the point that they almost eradicated the South Georgia Pipit, and endemic species and the most southerly passerine in the world.

The program started with a pilot study, which used helicopters to drop poison pellets with minimal secondary fallout. They are currently completing the second phase and have the third and last phase to complete to have eradicated the rodent from the island. Interestingly, the effect of global warming is felt here. Before the glaciers would reach the sea and form district geographic barriers to the rat movement, but now with them receding there is a beach between the wall of ice and the sea, which the rats use to traverse to previously, unexplored (or now eradicated) areas. So there is some urgency to use the remaining barriers to optmise the rat eradication program.

Grytviken

Grytviken is the capital of South Georgia. The buildings have been cleared of asbestos and there is a museum, post office and a research station. About twenty people live on the island in summer. Our ship’s historian, Kate Murray, did and internship there last year and indeed she was the kingpin in getting us to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s grave in the cemetery of Grytviken.

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The Vavilov at anchor in Grytviken

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Grytviken is littered with shipwrecks

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The Whaler’s Church in Grytviken

For those not familiar with the one greatest explorers of our world it is best to read his book “South” it is well worth it. He stands out as a great leader of men in desperate times.

The landing at Grytviken was somber with our toast at his grave. A wee dram of whiskey burnt our throats and the brought life to his grave.

There is a Mexican belief related to All Saints’ Day:

“We all die three times. The first is when the body ceases its function. The second is when the soil covers our grave. The last is when our name is no longer spoken.”

Ernest Schackleton will live forever.

PS: if you have enjoyed reading this post and you can think of friends and family who would like to read it, please share.

The back of Sir Ernest Shackleton's Grave

The back of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Grave

Ocean Notes Day 8

Ocean Notes Day 8

My Travels: Amazing Wildlife Spectacles with South Georgia on My Mind

Overnight we crossed the Antarctic Convergence, where the icy waters of the Antarctic mix with the warmer waters of the Atlantic.

Map of South Georgia

Map of South Georgia

The ship maintained a blackout with no outside lights except essential navigation lights and all cabins had to have the blackout curtains drawn. We were doing this to avoid petrel mortality as they flew into the light like moths.

I awoke a new man. No sickness. I was so happy to be alive!

I was up before breakfast and went upstairs to the lounge and to the deck to suck in the sweet cold dry air and be faced with glaciers a few hundred meters away on either side of the ship. After being laid low I had forgotten all this port and starboard stuff.

I was looking at South Georgia, a long island running north south with a western seaboard that was hammered by Antarctic weather systems, and the eastern seaboard that had numerous bays that had been carved out by glaciers that still reached the sea, although in some places they were receding. The sea was ice blue, the sky clear with some wind. It was 1 Degree Celsius. Penguins were porpoising along side the ship and seals played like puppies around us in the water.

The Bay of Isles, South Georgia

I sat at the bar and had one of Amanda Jurinen’s famous Smoothies. It paid to get there early. Amanda always had a smile on and with her soft voice a Amanda at her smoothie barwarm greeting and a story to tell. She was a wonderful hostess.

Sailing Along Salisbury Plain

After a light breakfast we readied ourselves for an excursion to Salisbury Plain, which is found with the Bay of Isles.  The expedition team tried to land but decided it was too rough with big surf breaking on the black gravel beaches. We ended up riding the Zodiacs behind the backline, which was only 20 meters or so from the beach, so we would get good close ups of the view.

What a view it was: silver-white waves rolling onto the beach that was home to a breeding colony of King Penguins of more than 300 000 birds. Fur seals too numerous to mention. The colony stretched up from the beach, which was the widest point up into a low valley in the Alpine setting between the Grace and Lucas Glaciers. Yes, the mountains of South Georgia rise above the glaciers like the Alps rise above the plains of Italy and Germany. Except here he plains are the sea.

In the Zodiacs we could almost touch the penguins and seals. They launched themselves into the surf and played, some penguins swimming backstroke while others dived. They played in groups and broke away to hunt. On the beach the masses thronged and it was truly one of the amazing wildlife spectacles of this fragile earth of ours.

The breeding colony of 300 000 King Penguins on Salisbury Plain

The breeding colony of 300 000 King Penguins on Salisbury Plain

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King Penguin doing backstroke in the surf

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Seal swimming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Squadron of King Penguins readying to dive

Squadron of King Penguins readying to dive

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So Lucky in Fortuna Bay

We boarded the Vavilov and made our way further down the island to Fortuna Bay. This was much more protected than Salisbury Plains and we landed easily and in the midst of penguins and baby seals, or wieners. There was a King Penguin breeding colony at the base of a glacier about 1 kilometer inland, but I was so engrossed with the wieners and the young penguins in their brown down that I hardly moved from where we landed.

Fortuna Bay

Fortuna Bay

 

Seals sparring in Fortuna Bay

Seals sparring in Fortuna Bay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were clear streams of water flowing in the green grass, while the waterfalls not a few hundred meters away that fell into the wetland were frozen. The peaks were high and covered in snow, the valleys lined with glaciers.

As we stood to take pictures and compose penguins and wieners would come up behind you, and when you turn around the wieners would bark and feign attack, just like a playful puppy.

Seals in action

Seals in action

Both Salisbury plain and Fortuna bay were stellar introductions to the spectacular wildlife of South Georgia.

Ocean Notes Day 7

Ocean Notes Day 7

My Travels: Laid Low by Aggressive Soup

Sunset from my window

Sunset from my window

The next 48 hours were tough. When the aggressive soup was restrained at dinner on New Year’s Eve I received a visit from Liz Gifford shortly after

dinner started.

She was doing her cabin check and there I was groaning in my bunk with the window opened a slit for fresh cold air. I was on the 5th level and between the roll of the boat and the size of the waves they were breaking at my window level and would drench me if it was left open.

Liz is a wonderful person; very caring and sensitive. She is well read, an anthropologist who studied in Greece, a yoga instructor, a qualified wilderness guide and knows bears very well.  She is also an excellent host for Penguin Pictionary.

More than that, as I was to discover later when I had recovered, she takes the most amazing photographs. I have never seen such sensual and sensitive pictures of icebergs like the ones she has captured. I cannot find a link to any over her beautiful work, otherwise it would be here.

Liz Gifford Bio

Liz Gifford Bio

I sipped water through the night, double dosed on Stugeron and still struggled. I was bed bound. The next morning Liz found me in bed still after the breakfast call. I felt still the same at lunch. It was my first New Year’s Day that nobody wished me for St Basil’s Day. It really felt empty. At lunch she brought me my One Ocean motion sickness survival pack: a packet of cream cracker biscuits and a can of ginger ale. I was still in bed at dinner.

The ship’s doctor, Sarah Oxley, had been to see me and given me another tablet at first. The next day when I was still sick she gave me some Odansitron.

Fuji Moment: Portrait by Marius Coetzee -he does not know how to use a Fuji yet.

Fuji Moment: Portrait by Marius Coetzee -he does not know how to use a Fuji yet.

This is a super strong medication they use in post-anaesthesia nausea, but it made no difference. When she gave me the Odansitron she said something to the effect that “you really shouldn’t be on the ship if you get this sick, because it is going to get much rougher!” Liz visited me again that evening and during the day, Stephen, my roommate kept popping in and supplying ginger ales. Marius came by a few times and the next morning captured a Fuji moment with me weak in bed. Johan also came by on the 1st and then on the 2nd  he brought a small bread roll after lunch and left it on the counter next to my desk.

Liz visited again at dinner and for breakfast. On the morning of the second I was so weak and scared I was thinking of getting hold of the satellite phone and calling for a helicopter to get out. Sarah came by after the Odansitron had failed and gave me an injection of Phenergan later that morning and I slept till late afternoon. When I awoke 2nd Janaury I devoured the bread roll, cancelled the satellite phone call and wrote in my journal:

Hmm, only writing now after Stanley’s fish & chips.

 Sick forever.

 1 Jan: was very sick. Lay in bed.

 2 Jan: Got Odansitron from Sarah then injection of Phenergan and woke up OK.

 Am so weak & tired. Managed soup for dinner.

                         Good night

Lights out to save petrels en route to South Georgia

That evening I hobbled into the dining room and raised my hands:

“I am no longer Basil. Lazarus has arrived on board!”

Everyone laughed and from then when anyone was sick on the ship they used a new euphemism. No longer did they say the person is sick. They just said they “had been Basiled!”

This is a long post to explain what happened when the forces of nature relegated me to my bunk and had me wish for a puff of grass as instructed by my anesthetist, Pawel Wisniewski. It was just not available in the dispensary. Maybe if I sailed through Colorado where it is now legal I could get some for the nausea.

But the setback cleared two things in my mind:

  1. I really wanted to be going to South Georgia and the Antarctic, and I would survive anything to get there.
  2.  During the two days in my bunk I came to the realisation that I had not been touched nor had touched anyone for days and felt strangely isolated. My everyday life is filled with touching people, at home and at work, and I really missed that.
Ocean Notes Day 5

Ocean Notes Day 5

Ocean Notes Day 6

Ocean Notes Day 6

My Travels: Poems and Delirium

Feather in a snow bed

Feather in a snow bed

I had not penned a poem for years but as I lay curled up in my bunk rocking from side to side, my mind light from the two-day fast and the drugs to try control the nausea, my thoughts floated away.

I grasped these words out of nowhere when I realized how important it was for me to touch people, physically and with an aura of thought expressed in writing and pictures.

Liz and I had some deep conversations when she visited me but I cannot remember any details. We spoke of travel, of exploring, of growth, of wilderness and of the collective subconscious.

Then out of nowhere came this poem:

Far away, where even eagles do not soar,

Where sunset never happens but can hold the evening.

A land so harsh, yet a land so beautiful.

 

A land where our dreams are lost, where the spirit is gone.

Emptiness fills the silence and the white.

 

A land where the sea closes you off with waves,

Or great ice blocks your passage.

An empty land, cold and fearless,

Where our collective unconscious fails.

 

God fails almost?

Something I saw a lot of was bird feathers; when the penguins moult the feathers collect in patches at the water’s edge and then get blown into the snow to form pockets or ice to form frozen fossils. Finding feathers all over the place was reassuring, and slowly I began to record the dreams I had and look for the feathers. My spirit was connecting but I was struggling to define to what. There seemed a paucity of spirits in this place, like no other wilderness I had been to.  Yet there were just so many messages that I saw but I was just not ready.

Quiet in heaven’s soft light

Glaciers glowing blue at the water’s edge

Cold feet and fingers frozen

Eyes watery to frame a feeling

 

Close enough to touch

And to dive into the water

Black blue land on the horizon

Swallows a single stony peak

 

White fades into blue into grey

Absolutely nothing in the way

The sea waves stop moving

The world is growing  closer

 

Still colder camera battery fails

Slow picture making

Thinking, meditating

No wind or sun just being

 

Slowly a picture appeared at my  side  and then in the camera:

Black blue land on the horizon Swallows a single stony peak

Black blue land on the horizon
Swallows a single stony peak

Three weeks later as I walked down the steps into my home a single feather floated down in front of me and whispered: “ Everything is going to be just fine. You’ll see.”

I felt an immense peace descend on me in the midst of the bedlam of city and surgical life.

Where sunset never happens but can hold an evening

Where sunset never happens but can hold an evening

My Travels: Safe in Stanley

Entering the bay of Port Stanley

Entering the bay of Port Stanley

“Good morning” came the wake up call at 7 a.m. , later than usual. Boris (the expedition leader) has a mid-Atlantic singsong accent. “We are about to enter Port Stanley and should ready for the gangway at 9 a.m.  The weather is overcast, temperature 5 degrees Celsius and winds will pick up later. Gangway time is 9 a.m.”.

After a short overnight cruise we arrived at Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands whose total population is a bit over 2600.  Our two lifeboats of passengers and crew would not add significantly to the tourism income on the 31st December 2013, but we are on land again. I imagine when a big cruise ship arrives the population of the island must double sometimes and all the bars and coffee shops must be open.

The Vavilov entered through a narrow isthmus into a large bay, oblong with the long end opposite the entrance. The town lay on this facing bank, having been severely damaged by landslides due to aggressive peat harvesting and then the war of 1982.

Let me say that I spent from 1978 avoiding conscription in South Africa until it was abolished in 1992. Most wars today and in the past are not about what is right or wrong, but rather a power game. That’s makes war a non-started in my books.

Stanley from the Zodiac

Stanley from the Zodiac

Stanley looks like an English town with quaint buildings and bright colours, but no hedges or village greens or avenues of oaks. The tundra is brown and desolate.  The sky and sea were grey. I was tired of the big cameras so I slung the Fuji X100 around my neck and hit the town.

Passport control consisted of the Vavilov authorities giving the Falkland Immigration Officials a pile of documents to be stamped. Then we jumped off the Zodiacs onto the pier and walked through customs control shedding life jackets and outer gear on the benches lining a glass structure next to the pier.

 

 

On land Again

Woollen gear at the Falkland Island's shop.

Woollen gear at the Falkland Island’s shop.

First stop was the local tourist information and curio shop cleverly marked with penguin prints in the tar leading from the customs. With the impending

Penguin prints lead tourists to retail therapy

Penguin prints lead tourists to retail therapy

isolation from mobile and internet coverage I felt myself withdraw more from the quaint commercial attempts in Stanley.  I bought nothing.

The first stop our photographic group made was at the Christ Church Cathedral. Outside in the adjacent park is a monument made by sparring four whale ribs and joining them at the top. The stone church is beautiful and simple, and has touched the lives of many. Memorial plaques that line the inner walls attest this for the saving or loss of whalers, frontiersman, explorers and soldiers.

After the church we walked along the waterfront, slightly raised from a narrow pebble strewn beach littered with parts of or total shipwrecks.  We stopped to watch Landrovers go by and take some panning shots. The inhabitants are weathered like their cars, with an air of irritation that tourists have invaded their peaceful town. At least most of us were English or of `Commonwealth origin. Argentines were definitely not welcome! For the South Africans that read this I got the feeling this was the “Oranje” of the South Atlantic, except they spoke English and not Afrikaans.

We walked past the post office and city hall, the flower lined lane to Government House (the Falkland Islands is independent but under British Protection), then the Liberation Monument and War Memorial. We ended at the Jhetum Shipwreck, and turned around, with the bay on our left and the large hospital on our right.  The hospital was incongruously large for a population that small, but I suppose it serves the Antarctic bases and shipping community as well.

Whalebone rib monument

Whalebone rib monument

Landrovers racing through town

Landrovers racing through town

 

The church garden

The church garden

 

The flower lined lane to Government House

The flower lined lane to Government House

 

War memorial

War memorial

Pink Landrovers

Pink Landrovers

Bright fire hydrants

Bright fire hydrants

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malvina House Hotel

We stopped for a cup of tea at the Malvina House Hotel.  Considering the antagonism to the Argentinians I was surprised to find a newish hotel with a Spanish name. I suppose if it was Hotel Porto Argentino it would have been bombed or burnt down. Shelley, mother of Garrad and Alex, two children on the ship, was sitting there writing in her journal. Joe was out exploring with the children. He had just returned from a trip climbing Mount Vincent, the tallest peak on the continent, but more about that later. Also, tucked away in the corner were a few of the expedition crew huddled over Macbooks catching up on emails and social media. The ship does have limited email access but only a few people connected on board and I cannot imagine spoiling all that peace with the main distraction of our current generation. Never before has a generation been so distracted from living as now by the power of the internet and all the mindless entertainment it has spawned.

Fish and Chips at “The Victory”

Toasting the trip with Carl Taljaard (left) and Johan Slazus (right)

Toasting the trip with Carl Taljaard (left) and Johan Slazus (right)

After tea we walked to find a fish and chips bar. Many bars and restaurants were closed at lunch on the last day of the year, but we found “The Victory” and huddled inside. We toasted our voyage and Lawrence’s Hasselblad with Foster’s Beer (there was no local beer), ate the fish and chips, while I looked at the picture of the great Polaris Icebreaker on the wall. Our Vavilov looked way too small and I was about to find out that reality.

After lunch we meandered back to the pier, kitted up for the Zodiac trip and asked Quinn to do a short trip of the bay so we could take pictures.

 

 

Aggressive Soup Curtails Dinner

Back on the ship we left our boots in the mudroom, took our wet skins to our cabins and hang them in the corridor to dry. I was excited, but Boris made an announcement that would change my life:

“Welcome back on board, ladies and gentleman. I am sure you had a fantastic time in Stanley. We set sail shortly and will be entering the open sea in about two hours. The weather forecast is for strong wind so please pack away all loose items in your cabin and check there is nothing to fall off shelves or roll onto your head while sleeping. A big camera can do a lot of damage. Once you have storm proofed your cabin please come down at 5:30 p.m. to the presentation room for Ira Meyer’s talk on “Photography in the Antarctic”. After packing away my gear, I went down to the 2nd level Presentation Room. I was excited and I was getting to know Ira and loved his work. He published a book last year called “ICE at the Ends of the Earth”, which is filled with beautiful and moving story-telling pictures of the polar ice, north and south.

I might have gone in to the Presentation Room but I left the “Vomitorium” as Ira ended and questions started. The boat was really rolling.

Huddled in bed for New Year’s Eve I heard that dreaded announcement:

“Ladies and gentleman. It is 7:30 and dinner is served. Please note because of the rough seas the soup will not be served.”

As I lay sick in my bunk I could only laugh at the thought that the soup was too aggressive to take out on rough sea days.

Ocean Notes Day 4

Ocean Notes Day 4

Boris Wise: Expedition Leader

Boris Wise: Expedition Leader

 

Ira Meyer: a wise and interesting photographer

Ira Meyer: a wise and interesting photographer

 

My Travels: The Fabulous Falklands (or the Marvelous Malvinas)

Westpoint Island

Westpoint Island,The falklands

Westpoint Island,The falklands

After an eternity at sea (less than two days for me) we sighted land in the early morning: The West Falklands. Excited

Map of the Malvinas

Map of the Malvinas

as little boys going camping we packed and check our gear and boarded the Zodiacs in a little bay of Westpoint Island. Between us and land, in the 500 meters or so, was a small yacht that turned out to belong to a couple that had sailed around the world and were now helping the elderly couple who had the cattle and sheep farm on Westpoint. Small yachts make me very nervous, even though one of my boyhood heroes was “The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone”.

Brightly coloured exposed outbuildings and a wind turbine contrasted the white stone cottage tucked away behind the bent trees standing guard and protecting it from the harsh elements.

Westpoint was dry and stark. Away from the farm there were no trees, just grass. We walked about 1.5 km up and down over the spine of the island to a communal roost of Black-Browed Albatross and Rock-Jumper Penguins. There were two colonies. We arrived at the larger one and then I split away to the smaller one, where I was alone with Johan Slazus.

Jumping Rock-Jumper Penguin

Jumping Rock-Jumper Penguin

It was mesmerizing watching them. They were intermingled, the albatross and rock-jumpers both with young. Great

Rock-Jumper Penguins

Rock-Jumper Penguins

wings were flying in to regurgitate feed and landing clumsily. While the penguins did the same, only not by flying but by jumping from boulder to boulder, but with a quick grace that was lost as soon as they started waddling again. Every so often a scuffle would break out between the two species.

Black-Browed Albatross

Black-Browed Albatross

I found the photography difficult. It was so difficult to isolate an animal and still tell a story. Then the group was so large and mixed I just could not find a pattern or texture. But what the pictures do not show is the hectic noise of squawking and babbling nor does it reveal the strong ammonia stench of the guano.

The IATO (International Antarctic Tour Operators) guidelines say to maintain a distance of 5 meters from the fauna, but as you place yourself 5 meters away from some birds in thick tussock grass and settle in to take pictures, you have penguins ambushing you from behind.

There was a Striated Caracara (a bird of prey) hovering and then landing around the smaller colony looking for unguarded chicks or eggs. I spent an hour waiting and watching as he jumped around and flew from one side of the colony to the next, landing in the thick tussock grass then emerging like a camouflaged marine from the shadows only to be rebuffed by the penguins, often in a small group standing like infantry and soaring with their beaks.

Striated Caracara

Striated Caracara

After a few hours we made our way back to the farmhouse where a large table lay inside groaning with biscuits, cakes and scones. I had a cup of tea as only the English can make, and snacked on a delicious shortbread biscuit. The hosts were so excited to have guests.

Outside on the hill stood a lone Landrover and a rock hanging from a tripod: the weather predictor:BASIL-0916

  • If the rock is wet, it’s raining.
  • If the rock is swinging, the wind is blowing.
  • If the rock casts a shadow, the sun is shining.
  • If the rock does not cast a shadow and is not wet, the sky is cloudy.
  • If the rock is not visible, it is foggy.
  • If the rock is white, it is snowing.
  • If the rock is coated with ice, there is a frost.
  • If the ice is thick, it’s a heavy frost.
  • If the rock is bouncing, there is an earthquake.
  • If the rock is under water, there is a flood.
  • If the rock is warm, it is sunny.
  • If the rock is missing, there was a tornado.
  • If the rock is wet and swinging violently, there is a hurricane.
  • If the rock has white splats on it, watch out for birds.

This simple and obvious weather predictor seemed appropriate for the Falklands.

Feather from an albatross colony

Feather from an albatross colony

Quintessentially English

Quintessentially English

Walking Westpoint

Walking Westpoint

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carcass Island

 

Just a few kilometers from Westpoint to the north lay a beautiful azure bay with white coral powder beaches. The name derives not from whale carcasses but from the survey undertaken of the island in 1766 by HMS Carcass.

The short intense history of the area from the Falklands to the Sub-Antarctic Islands to the Antarctic itself is one of the impressive aspects of travelling to such southerly latitudes.  As you get further south it is likely that the only exploration of these areas occurred in the last century or two. Unlike the rest of the ocean, that had been navigated by the Phoenicians and Greeks and Chinese thousands of years ago. It leaves the sights you see relatively fresh in the collective subconscious of our race.

Magellanic Pengiuns

Magellanic Pengiuns

We landed on a beautiful white powder beach lying in a long crescent with small waves lapping the beach from the sea. The beach was filled with Magellanic Penguins and a few other birds, including black oystercatchers.  The tragedy is that the island lies on a shipping lane and the high tide mark is littered with debris of our modern civilisation.

We had great fun taking pictures of penguins running along the water’s edge, diving into the small

Surfing Carcass island

Surfing Carcass island

waves and emerging from the water It was all low level shooting so we were lying in the sand and body and cameras were covered in the fine white salty powder.

After the shoot we boarded the Zodiacs and made our way to the end of the bay to a homestead which is owned by Mr. McGill who is a third generation islander. They have a bed and breakfast now to augment the farm, and business is booming. Funny, you take an Englishman anywhere and he opens a B&B. Take a Greek anywhere and you get a corner shop! We had another table laid high with all sorts of pastries and cakes made by the local Argentinian specialist pastry chef and chatted a while before fighting our way through the resident flock of caracaras who ambush guests still holding a piece of cake outside. They resemble crows in behavior but do have strong eagle like flight.

This was the second last day of 2013, and over night we were cruising in relatively still waters to the eastern shores of the Falklands, to spend the day at Stanley, the capital.

One Ocean Notes Day 3

One Ocean Notes Day 3

My Travels: Thinking or Sinking

Every time I think of a boat (and here I was on a small one) I think of a joke told to me by my German Scrub Sister, Hans Hoecker. A British ship was sunk by German U-boat in the Second World War, and the radio operator sent out a distress signal:

Self-portrait in the glass of the ship's compass. Just thinking.

Self-portrait in the glass of the ship’s compass. Just thinking.

“Mayday,Mayday! We are sinking!”

To which the inquisitive German U-boat radio operator responded: “Yes, but vot are you sinking about?”

So the first day at sea en route to the Falkland Islands was pleasant with a slight roll, slight wind and temperatures around 3 ° C and the photographers and birders spent hours at a time on the stern photographing Giant Petrels and Cape  Petrels following the boat. In the wind it was seriously cold and with the rocking of the boat and the wind it was cold and difficult to get good pictures as the birds zoomed past. Fortunately we were not shooting film and could use high ISO and delete hundreds of pictures after each shoot.

There was a Zodiac briefing with Nate Small, Assistant Expedition Leader and a passionate photographer. Then we had a wet-skin fitting session in the mudroom. The mudroom was on the 3rd level and in Soviet days was the place they launched scientific research devices through a hole in the centre of the ship into the ocean. We were told the ship was never used for spying, but now the hole is welded shut. The gangway on the side of the mudroom door had been destroyed in heavy seas on the last trip (what was I sinking about) so we had to use the gangway on the port side. We had to traverse the stern and official smoking area, which was frequented, by Russians and tourists in similar numbers.

Pintadas (Cape Terns) in flight

Pintadas (Cape Petrels) in flight

There were numerous lectures in the Presentation Room on the 2nd level. I went to one and left quickly. Soon after that the room was baptized “The Vomitorium” so my academic days were numbered.

Part of the Oryx Photography Group. Marius Coetzee at the helm.

Part of the Oryx Photography Group. Marius Coetzee at the helm.

So what was I thinking about? In fact, before the trip I had made a list of the pictures I wanted from the trip. This is something that is an obvious life skill but in photography Hannes Lochner, the great Kalahari photographer, showed me how to take business planning into photography. More about the list later, but in the end I got seven out of the nine pictures I wanted just by thinking. Here is my favourite:

No 7 of 9: Penguins on Ice

No 7 of 9: Penguins on Ice

Ocean Notes Day 2

Ocean Notes Day 2

My Travels: A Mountain Goat on a Boat

For those of you who do not know me in motion, I suffer severely from motion sickness. It is so serious that if I do not take medication I almost die. On my honeymoon in Kenya twenty one years ago I ran out of medication for the flight from Nairobi through the Rift valley at 2 p.m.. I was so sick I missed out on some serious game watching for a day or two!

So getting on the Vavilov was a big thing for me. Sure, I was filled with trepidation about going to the bottom of the world. But my biggest gut-wrenching fear was that I would be too sick to photograph. So I started Epanutin before the trip. This is an anti-epileptic agent that was used by the astronauts in the last great era of exploration. Then I had boxes of Stugeron, a standard over the counter motion sickness remedy. I started this while we were waiting at the Albatross Hotel. Little did I know this would all be futile in a few days time?

The ships backup magnetic compass; looking back at Ushuaia.

The ships backup magnetic compass; looking back at Ushuaia.

Welcomed by assistant expedition leader Nate Small at the gangway

Welcomed by assistant expedition leader Nate Small at the gangway

There was a short queue to board the gangplank from the single harbor pier. This was the same gangplank we would use to embark and disembark the Zodiacs at sea. It felt like we were all going on a school trip, even though 98% of us were long finished with school. I daresay, some of us felt like school children in the face of the experienced and weathered but super-friendly expedition team.

On board the ship Steven and I quickly unpacked in our cabin with two bunks. I chose the one that seemed to have my

Even a small plane looked inviting!

Even a small plane looked inviting!

feet pointing forward. Some days into the trip my feet would point every direction except that! My cabin was on the 5th floor. The lounge and bridge were on the 6th. There were more cabins on the 4th and 3rd, with the dining room, reception and mudroom on the 3rd. The Russian crew slept behind closed doors on the 2nd floor and on the 1st floor was the presentation room.  One or two floors below that in the bowels of the ship was a multi-media room. I only plucked up courage to visit this just before our return leg through the Drake Passage, in case we did not make it. There were four big screen computers including Macs for people to load and share pictures.

Soon Boris Wise, the expedition leader, at a cocktail in the lounge, welcomed us. With all the medication I had

Trying to get out of the lifeboat.

Trying to get out of the lifeboat.

stopped drinking alcohol. Life was about to change. Just as well, as the next event was lifeboat drill. I was stunned to find there were only two lifeboats for the ship that could each hold one hundred people. I crawled in and out, and then looked at the big cruise ship on the other side of the pier and wondered if I had made the correct decision. I had never been on a cruise ship and would not in future, even though my wife, Ines, wants to do just that.

The first dinner was abuzz with excited conversation, meeting new friends and hearing tales of adventure.  We spent the rest of the evening photographing birds off the stern and then retired to bed. I slept well in the Beagle Channel, which is super calm. Then the ship stopped to offload the pilot and we entered the open ocean with some rocking. We were heading to the Falklands.

Ocean Notes: Our daily newspaper

Ocean Notes: Our daily newspaper

My Travels: An African en Route to the Antarctic – Ushuaia

I am not sure why I decided to go there. Like many good things in my life it was idea that germinated a long time ago and when the opportunity arose it came to fruition.

One of my uncle’s was a radio operator on the South African Antarctic base when I was a child. Then Paul McGarr gave me Michael Poliza’s “AntArctic, a real tome filled with door stopping images, for one of my birthdays. Finally Miles Mander showed me his pictures of his stint on the Big White Continent a few years ago when he went as an environmentalist. About the time I met Marius Coetzee of Oryx Worldwide Photographic Expeditions, and it was inevitable that I would join him on this voyage.

So there I was, in a helicopter without doors flying out of a snowstorm over the Andes into Ushuaia, the southernmost port of Argentina some 5 hours flight from Sao Paolo in Brazil by a big jet. Size was beginning to matter to me because this is the picture of the harbor I saw from the air, and the small white boat in the middle foreground was the one I was boarding: The Akademik Sergey Vavilov. Not the small cruise ship to the left, and definitely not the giant cruise ship behind with all those lifeboats. I was to find out that evening that the Vavilov had all of two lifeboats for the 90 or so passengers and a crew that numbered only slightly fewer.

The Akademik Sergey Vavilov

The Akademik Sergey Vavilov: the small ship centre front below the helicopter!

Tierra del Fuego in Southern Patagonia from the air was spellbinding. Our first flight by helicopter had been curtailed by a snowstorm. Remember, we were at sea level at the height of the Southern hemisphere’s summer. The wall of white just pushed us back. Back at our hotel we sat watching the snowfall, then the sun came out and we went up again for an extended flight. Glaciers unfolded below us, ragged peaks with a fresh dusting of snow stood like giant walls on our side. Strings of lakes like a rosary cascaded into a massive glacial lake with white beaches and a snowstorm at either end, some 40 kilometers apart, as we flew through the central clearing.

Craggy snowdusted Andean Peaks

Craggy snowdusted Andean Peaks

Preflight briefing by very professional pilots

Preflight briefing by very professional pilots

Wide open to my left and clear view in front.

Wide open to my left and clear view in front.

We landed frozen to the bone even with thick jackets and windblown. The size of my ship for the next 18 days had been dwarfed by the grandeur of the Andes, but I remained on a high from the helicopter flight.

A clear lake with snowstorms on either end!

A clear lake with snowstorms on either end!

Ushuaia is a rugged town that caters for tourists, explorers and miners.  Marius and I hooked up for lunch with two other couples that would be joining us: Johann and Susan Slazus and Carl and Susan Taljaard. They were already at Freddy’s restaurant in the main street. It was busy, double glazed windows displaying giant sea crabs. We ate one of those between us; it was succulent and tasty. The meat was filled with flavor of a glacier fed ocean.

Giant crab at Freddy's Restaurant

Giant crab at Freddy’s Restaurant

Bar scene in Ushuaia

Bar scene in Ushuaia

After lunch we made our way to the Albatross Hotel in front of the harbor, where a prominent sign in red proclaimed “No Entry to the English Pirates”. We had some coffee and met Stephen Phillips  (my room mate from Texas) and Debbie Smale (an ex-South African living in London). The process was leisurely, but the bar we were waiting in was filled with tension and excitement as people met and measured each other. Passports were collected for the ship’s master and then we were transported by two buses the 400 meters to the quay and boarded our little ice-strengthened Russian Research ship, the Vavilov. It was about 5:30 p.m.. Our bags were delivered to our cabins, but even as the ship lay moored I could swear it was rocking!

The view from our Hotel Tolkeyen looking across the bay to the airport.

The view from our Hotel Tolkeyen looking across the bay to the airport.

Nominee in 8th Black and White Spider Awards

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BLACK AND WHITE SPIDER AWARDS HONORS PHOTOGRAPHER basilARTinc – BASIL STATHOULIS FROM SOUTH AFRICA

LONDON 21 October 2013 –  Amateur photographer Basil Stathoulis of South Africa was presented with the 8th Annual Black and White Spider Awards Nominee in the category of Wildlife at a prestigious Nomination & Winners PhotoShow. The live online ceremony webcast Saturday, October 19, 2013 was attended by photography fans in 75 countries who logged on to see the climax of the industry’s most important event for black and white photography.

The awards international Jury included captains of the industry from the Tate in London, Heffel Fine Art, FoMu Fotomuseum, FTM Advisory, Camera Work, Art Stage Singapore, Aeroplastics Contemporary, Galerie Baudoin Lebon in Paris, to Fratelli Alinari in Florence who honored Spider Fellows with 246 coveted title awards and 938 nominees in 14 categories.

“It is an incredible achievement to be selected among the best from the 9,456 entries we received this year,” said Basil O’Brien, the awards Creative Director. “Basil Stathoulis’s “Elephant crossing waterlilies,” an exceptional image entered in the Wildlife category, represents black and white photography at its finest, and we’re pleased to present him with the title of Nominee.”

BLACK AND WHITE SPIDER AWARDS is the leading international award honoring excellence in black and white photography. This celebrated event shines a spotlight on the best professional and amateur photographers worldwide and honors the finest images with the highest achievements in black and white photography.

Elephant in the Lilies

Elephant in the Lilies