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Thread: Antarctic Adventure

  1. #1
    Markvetnz's Avatar
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    Antarctic Adventure

    I'm back after my recent adventure. I spent a few days in Buenos Aires and Ushuaia before sailing across the Drake Passage to the 7th Continent.

    I'm busy writing a retrospective blog. I'll post it as I get it done. I'll try and keep a photographic slant to it. Apologies in advance if I get off track a bit at times. These are my own personal views and recollections.

    Antarctic Adventure

    This shot was taken at about 9.30 at night. There was a freezing, howling westerly blowing and I had to walk about 3 miles to find an interesting foreground subject. There was a clapped out old Argentinian gunboat alongside this wreck. I assumed it was a relic from the 1982 war which is still very high in the public consciousness in these parts.

    Days 1 and 2

    We arrived in Ushuaia on Saturday 24 November at about lunchtime. We flew in from the west over the Beagle Channel passing the Ushuaia light house and landed quite gently after an interesting approach in considerable crosswinds. My first impression while flying over Tierra Del Fuego was that it looked a pretty harsh landscape. There was plenty of snow about despite it being late November. The Beagle Canal had a pretty decent swell going with plenty of white horses capping the waves. I also felt strange to see a place I had read and dreamed about in my childhood, following in the footsteps of Drake and Magellan. A freezing, biting wind greeted us as we left the airport. A bit of a reality check after the balmy early summer weather in Buenos Aires. We were, after all, going to the Antarctic!

    Our hotel was a quaint establishment at the top end of town. Imitation flowers filled boxes below windows shuttered against the constant westerly wind. Ushuaia at 54 degrees south is the world’s most southerly city. I was surprised to learn that the population is about 70000 and that despite its isolation, there is a strong manufacturing element to the local economy. The Argentinian Government has initiated some tax incentives for companies operating in the area. The other big dollar earner is tourism and Ushuaia does its best to make the most of it. People heading to the Antarctic Peninsula all pass through and there are plenty of souvenir shops and eating establishments ready to take your money. “Del Fin Del Mondo” is the local term used by locals to romanticise the place for tourists.

    On the way into town I noticed a football and rugby field alongside each other. Rugby is bigger in Argentina than I imagined. Of course coming from New Zealand, rugby was often mentioned by the locals. There is an ever present reminder that Ushuaia is the capital of Las Malvinas. The 1982 war is still a festering sore down here. A large memorial and an eternal flame commemorate the 30th anniversary of the conflict and there is a wall of remembrance honouring the Argentinian dead. There is also a disgusting, tacky Casino on the waterfront. This monstrosity simply ruins the historical and nautical ambience of the town. What goes through the minds of local planners is beyond me. I suspect that Argentina is pretty corrupt and I wonder how many back handers it took to get the place approved. Apparently there is a wonderful maritime museum which I never made it to. Everything was closed on Sunday and Monday was a public holiday.

    Unfortunately, like Buenos Aires, Ushuaia is a grubby and dirty city. Litter and uncollected refuse fill the sidewalks. My own personal pet hate, bloody empty cigarette boxes and cigarette butts are everywhere. I saw people simply throwing butts away in a national park. I’d like to pick them up and shove them back into the gobs of these ignorant inconsiderate idiots. Sorry if I sound a bit pissed off, but I’m watching my mother die slowly after 40 years of smoking. Rant over.

    We spent a few days here before heading off to the port on Monday afternoon to board our ship “Polar Pioneer”. I still only know a few words in Spanish.

    Just a short note about my limited "3-day" impression of Buenos Aires. I'm not a "big city - old building - art gallery " person so I was happy to see the back of it. It has a very sophisticated element and some beautiful architecture but there is also a massive underclass and we saw the "Favelas" where real poverty exists. There are some beautiful cathedrals with ornate internal decor. Evita Peron still pervades the national psyche - but I can't help wondering if more is made of this than really exists. I was surprised to learn that Juan Peron kept her embalmed body in the dining room for years after it was returned from Milan. We saw a slick tango show with wonderful music and dancing and of course there was the famed Argentinian Beef. We found El Establo by accident and had the best steaks on the planet. The smallest started at 350 grams (for ladies only) and a 1000gram T bone or Baby Beef Steak could be ordered. Our waiter was a real "Manuell" from fawlty towers which only enhanced our experience. If you ever go there, it's at the bottom end of Paraguay Ave.

    Antarctic Adventure

    San Christopher - Ushuaia Foreshore
    Last edited by Markvetnz; 14th December 2012 at 12:43 AM.

  2. #2

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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    Thank you for sharing this. I like the pictures also.

  3. #3
    dje's Avatar
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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    Mark this is going to be an interesting series and you are off to a good start with a couple of lovely images.

    Dave

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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    Gorgeous images! I look forward to reviewing your text when I have more time.

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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    Welcome back.

    Do tell us everything with pics of course. Must have been some adventure.

  6. #6
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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    I am quite intrigued to see how this goes. Your commentary is really evocative and I quite like the personal interpretation and impressions. The images are great.

  7. #7
    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    Mark - Great to have you back online and I look forward enormously to reading the unfolding story of the trip (and seeing the images). This first episode has certainly whetted the appetite.

  8. #8
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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    Can't wait!

  9. #9
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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    Day 3

    Antarctic Adventure
    Don't let the blue sky fool you. The wind was blowing and it was cold. A few hours before we set sail.

    Well its finally here. Monday looks like any other day in Ushuaia. Cold, windy, wet, dry, sunny, light for almost 24 hours and did I say windy,cold, wet....? Man, 4 seasons in a day is the reality here. I tried to import some images into Bridge this morning and bugger, CS6 has a version of Camera Raw that doesn't support the 1DX. Ushuaia isn't famous for ultrafast broadband and no wireless. I managed to download the latest version (50Mb at dial up speed at 5am) on the hotel's computer avoiding the local "internet police". The owner would have had a fit if he saw me dismantling the old computer to find a USB port. Anyway, got it sorted. An early look at the port out the dining room window confirmed that our ship had berthed overnight. Crikey, there are 4 ships and ours looks the smallest. Is that a guy thing to say? What I'm more worried about is the prospect of our little ship being hammered in the Drake Passage.

    We wandered around town, lugging 20Kg of gear. The wind has picked up all day and by the time a bus picks us up at 3pm, its blowing a gale. White water and spray is everywhere on the Beagle. Expedition staff welcomed us at the quay and let me say now that right from the beginning Aurora Expeditions staff were amazing. Our cabin is a homely 2 bunk affair with plenty of storage space. Its 5pm, we're due to sail in an hour and the wind is still picking up. At the back of my mind I wonder what the Drake will be like. I've been seasick before and its not something I'd wish on my worst enemy. We've got a stack of Paihia Bombs (a sea sickness concoction produced by a pharmacy in northern NZ). Every fisherman in NZ has told us to get the bombs. I'm hoping like hell they work. However, I've got an ace up my sleeve. I've stashed a few scopolamine patches into the luggage. Extra insurance you know! There's a general buzz about the ship and were' told that things aren't looking too good out in the Drake. I see a wind and weather chart and there are just gazillions of red arrows squeezed tightly together. Bugger!!

    Antarctic Adventure
    A fish eye view of the lifeboat. Please don't let 40 of us end up in here.

    Antarctic Adventure
    Our home for 2 weeks.

    Part of me wants it to be as calm as a millpond while another part of me wants it to be as rough as hell. If I'm rounding Cape Horn I want it to be the real deal! An announcement is made that the port is closed due to the conditions. What an anticlimax. This gives us time to perform a lifeboat drill. Almost 40 people crammed together in a hot stuffy enclosed space. I hope it never comes to this. I'm imagining what it would be like in a rolling sea with people in a panic and vomiting all over the place. Half an hour later the port is opened and we cast off into the Beagle Channel. The Polar Pioneer with its Russian staff, seasoned expedition leaders and 51 Antarctic virgins is on its way.

    Antarctic Adventure
    Expedition leader, fellow New Zealander Don McFadzean.

    Antarctic Adventure
    We set off down the Beagle Channel in deteriorating weather.

    For the rest of the evening we steamed westward in relatively calm waters. Little did we know what was coming. Friendships were started and after an introductory briefing we settled in to our quarters. Out on deck the skies darkened and up on the flying bridge the cold wind from behind really got my attention. I saw 2 isolated colonies of Magellanic Penguins on the way out.

    Antarctic Adventure
    A much larger ship than ours heads out. Conditions worsening.

    Antarctic Adventure
    An hour later a trawler battles its way in the other direction.

    About 11pm I turned in. Within an hour or two we were really starting to rock and roll. By 4am the curtains in our cabin were coming out well beyond 45 degrees as I got slung from one end of my bunk to the other. No nausea - sweeeet! 6am - I'll get up and check put the bridge. I'm sure most people will be up by now. Who would want to miss this? Hanging on to anything I manage to get my gear on and I make my way up to the bridge on level 6. There is not a single soul about and I'm having to hang on as the the ship gets rolled from side to side. I haven't got a camera with me - I'll later regret it. If I thought he ship was rolling and pitching on level 4 then level 6 was in another league. I open the door to the bridge and I can't see a soul at the wheel. Heck, I'm the only passenger up here. I meet Sergei, the first mate. Forward I see the ship rising and crashing into massive swells. We're heading 178 degrees and the prevailing swells which are 30 feet plus are coming in from the south west at 45 degrees off the starboard bow. They are pitch black and breaking. Man this is like a scene from Deadliest Catch. Each swell rolls the ship to port probably 25 degrees and then lifts us up so we just see dark brooding sky, and as soon as it moves from beneath us the bow drops, often crashing into the next oncoming swell while rolling back to starboard. The bow wave rears up and a significant amount of spray hits the wheelhouse windows while passing over the top of us. That's over the flying bridge on level 7. Level 2 is at water level.

    I ask Sergei if he speaks English. "Little bit" he says in the most wonderful Russian accent, shrugging his shoulders. He is immaculately dressed. Black ironed trousers, a black polo neck sweater with gold naval braid and polished black shoes. I never saw him looking anything other than like this throughout the voyage. I mistakenly assumed he was the skipper.

    "Good night?", I asked him. Deep Russian accent again, "Very bad -we not make time. Black Browed Albatross", he pointed to a bird swooping effortlessly across the bow. "Cape Petrel", he added. He told me he came from Arkhangelsk near the White Sea. This guy's a long way from home, but I'm reassured to think that for him these were probably ho-hum conditions. I stayed up there for another 45 minutes or so just soaking it all in. I went below to check on the missus and get a camera. That's when I found out the "Bombs" had failed to explode. Man, all of a sudden I felt clammy and queasy. Onto the bunk I went after putting one of my secret patches on. That's where I stayed till lunchtime, after which I never felt sick or missed another meal.

    I later found out that we would normally steam along at 11 knots. That night we barely made 3 knots into a massive swell and headwind. Our expedition leader confirmed that out of 12 expeditions this one took the longest time to cross the Drake Passage. In his words, "a real Honker". Almost every other passenger was bedridden for 24 to 36 hours. The doc on board was handing out pills left, right and center and even resorted to injections in a few cases. My wish had come true. I'd seen the Drake at pretty much its worst and I'm proud to say that I was the first passenger to make it onto the bridge early that morning.
    Last edited by Markvetnz; 14th December 2012 at 02:34 AM.

  10. #10
    jeeperman's Avatar
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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    Fantastic story and great images.....waiting eagerly......

    Your description of the time on the boat has brought back many memories of my time at sea while in the Navy.

  11. #11
    dje's Avatar
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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    Well I would love to go to Antartica but I sure won't be going that way !

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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    Enjoying this alot , mark. Looking forward to the next set.

  13. #13

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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    You forgot your camera? Those crashing waves and the ship riding them would have been awesome. That is why a p&s is always handy. hehe

    Love the stories - keep them and the pics coming.

  14. #14
    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    Rivetting stuff. We need to set up some notice system for when the next episode is posted.

    EDIT - What am I talking about? Of course all you have to do is subscribe to the thread from the 'Thread Tools' options up at the top. Moderators. Huh. What do they know!
    Last edited by Donald; 14th December 2012 at 11:01 AM.

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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    Your writing style is very appealing and adds tremendously to your very nice images. Perhaps you'll write my posts for me? Would it be too much to ask you also to capture and post-process my photos?

  16. #16
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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    Great story and photos. Mark. Please keep them coming. What can I say, from an armchair traveler but - extremely jealous. I guess you know you are following in the footsteps of the great mariners of the past who managed to "double the Horn". Magellan. Francis Drake, James Cook and Robert Fitzroy (who mapped most of southern Patagonia) to name just a few. Not to mention that master mariner and unfairly maligned, Captain Bligh who failed in an epic attempt to round the Horn and gain the Pacific and also Joshua Slocum the first man to sail alone around the world.

    Your stories of the sea conditions remind me of a crusty old British captain who was tacking into a fearsome Horn gale when his first officer became a bit panicked what with shattering spars and torn sails crashing onto the deck and started to chatter on uncontrollably. Unperturbed by the frightening conditions the Captain quickly pulled him into order with this pithy response - "What I want to hear from you, Mr Mate, is silence, and not too much of it" .

    Looking forward to your next installment

    Grant

  17. #17
    Markvetnz's Avatar
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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    Quote Originally Posted by mastamak View Post
    Great story and photos. Mark. Please keep them coming. What can I say, from an armchair traveler but - extremely jealous. I guess you know you are following in the footsteps of the great mariners of the past who managed to "double the Horn". Magellan. Francis Drake, James Cook and Robert Fitzroy (who mapped most of southern Patagonia) to name just a few. Not to mention that master mariner and unfairly maligned, Captain Bligh who failed in an epic attempt to round the Horn and gain the Pacific and also Joshua Slocum the first man to sail alone around the world.

    Your stories of the sea conditions remind me of a crusty old British captain who was tacking into a fearsome Horn gale when his first officer became a bit panicked what with shattering spars and torn sails crashing onto the deck and started to chatter on uncontrollably. Unperturbed by the frightening conditions the Captain quickly pulled him into order with this pithy response - "What I want to hear from you, Mr Mate, is silence, and not too much of it" .

    Looking forward to your next installment

    Grant
    Love that story!! Next installment below

  18. #18
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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    Tuesday 27 November 2012

    Antarctic Adventure
    A wandering albatross - wingspan 3m

    A day at sea. After my early morning sojourn to the bridge and the subsequent reality check I spent a few hours horizontally. By midmorning the porthole curtain was only getting to about 30 degrees so I knew the weather and sea were settling. I made it up by late morning and got outside for some fresh air. A fresh southerly breeze blew fresh life into me and I planned to take some shots of the many seabirds following the boat.

    Antarctic Adventure
    A Wandering Albatross follows a Black Browed Albatross - aptly named; one bird has been tracked for 25000km in 9 weeks!!

    Antarctic Adventure
    A Light Mantled Sooty Albatross glides close to the surface

    I cannot put into words the effortless flight of the large seabirds circling around us. Giant Petrels and Albatrosses were always with us. The grace, speed and control of these birds are something to behold. Hardly ever having to beat their wings, they rise and swoop down and across the swells making minute adjustments for the ever changing undulations of the Southern Ocean. Once in a while a wing tip skims the surface. It’s amazing to think that these birds live out here hundreds of miles from land. They might only land to breed after 5 to 7 years at sea. They have specialised glands to get rid of excess salt. We were fortunate to have a natural historian on board. There were regular lectures on seabirds, whales, penguins, seals and other topics.

    Antarctic Adventure
    Occasionally a bird will skim the surface with a wing tip.

    Being part of a photography group, I attended lectures presented by our resident professional Martin Bailley. There were 9 of us in the group. All were keen amateurs. Martin gave a basic presentation to all on board explaining the need to shoot to the right in order to compensate for metering issues when photographing snow. I think most of it went right over the heads of everybody and I wondered whether he might just have said overexpose a little. Most people didn’t have a clue what a stop was.

    The next photography session was essentially about colour management, also way too advanced for the group. He spoke about custom camera profiles using the X Rite colour checker passport. Again I thought it might have been better to focus on basics. Most of the group weren’t even using manual exposure regularly. We also did a session on Adobe Lightroom basics as well as Color Efex 4 and Silver Efex Pro. Most of the guys (and 1 girl) told me they would have been happier just getting help to take a few good shots. I ended up pretty much just looking after myself from a photographic viewpoint and occasionally helped a few other photographers. I hope they all came away with a few classics. The $250 I spent on the photography option might have been better spent. I couldn’t help feeling that the pro was more interested in getting his own shots rather than helping his paying customers. I’d often see him off on his own taking gazillions of shots while the photography group were separated in different directions all battling away on their own. This was my only real gripe and to be honest it didn’t affect me personally but I know there were some unhappy campers in the group.

    Antarctic Adventure
    Southern Giant Petrel - notice the tubenose

    Antarctic Adventure
    Giant Petrel nesting - notice the salt residue on the bill - special glands in the head region rid the bird of excess salt.

    The sea continued to settle throughout the day and by late afternoon there was a “gentle” 12 foot swell. Lunch was great – about half the contingent is up. My better half is still not looking too good though. Captains’ welcoming drinks in the bar before dinner were enjoyed by all. I’m starting to see some happier fresh new faces. More people to get to know.
    At about 8pm I’m up on the bridge. We’re about 24 hours out and I figure we should be about half way across the Drake. I check the charts and the GPS and I’m surprised to see we’ve barely made it to quarter way. Ushuaia is 54 deg South and we’re only ay 56.30. Barely 150 nautical miles covered. That’s what 3 knots does for you. There’s a competition to predict when we’ll see out first iceberg. I predict somewhere just shy of 62 degrees south. Tomorrow we should see one!

    Antarctic Adventure
    Cape Petrels - also tubenoses

    Antarctic Adventure
    Southern Fulmar - another smaller tubenose

    Antarctic Adventure
    Black Browed Albatross

    “I now belong to the higher cult of mortal, for I have seen the Albatross” – Robert Cushman Murphy
    Last edited by Markvetnz; 15th December 2012 at 12:40 AM.

  19. #19
    jeeperman's Avatar
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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    Nice bird images, Mark. The Giant paestrel nesting is fantastic. Too bad about the Pro and unfortunately not the first time I have heard such things. I am sure the few you helped out are thankful for it.

  20. #20
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    Re: Antarctic Adventure

    This is brilliant stuff Mark,
    What a great adventure. I feel like I should be paying you for the privilege of being able to read this.
    Look forward to the next exiting episode.
    Cheers, Greg

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