— Dane Creek

Day 12: Useful Island and Neko Harbour

(This is part of a series of re-posts from my trip to Antarctica in 2009)

(Just one leftover note from last night. As we were getting ready to enter the Gerlache Straight we came across 2-3 pods of Orca whales, about 50 whales total. Wow! I don’t do photos of whales. It’s too hard J So I took some sweet video.)

Antarctic water is fucking cold. More on that later.

This morning we started at a normal breakfast time of 8am, with landings on Useful Island starting at 9am. The seas were rough today so the ride to the island was a bit choppy. A sign of the awesomeness to come. The island had penguins and a hike to the top, both of which interested me about as much as a root canal. I sat on shore for about 10 minutes and shot some video of penguins surfing in the water and had my fill. Luckily there were iceberg cruises available.

I found Seth and asked him if he was going cruising. Of course he was. We hung together and hung back to make sure we got Alex as our zodiac driver. Then we jumped in and off we went. Did I mention JP was on the boat too? The seas were incredibly choppy and the spray was everywhere. Good thing for waterproof bags. Seth and JP were great on the boat together, talking back and forth for the benefit of the rest of us about what settings they were using and what they were trying to capture. JP and I are like-minded and kept pointing out interesting iceberg alignments to each other.

Back on the boat after we got out of our soaked rain clothes and dried off our cameras it was up to the lounge to look at photos. In another example of the surrealism of this trip, JP sat next to me for 20 minutes and looked through photos with me and made suggestions. It was great to have his suggestions for cropping and composition.

Neko Harbour (anchored at 64° 50.4092 S 62° 32.6241 W) was our destination for the afternoon and evening. It’s an incredible harbour with glaciers all around and icebergs scattered across the water. I shot a good 100 photos just pulling into it, with fog and low dark clouds all around. The landing was our first on the actual Antarctic rock (instead of Antarctic islands), and its main feature is a hike up to a ridge that looks down over everything. It was beautiful, and made even nicer by light snow. I took a lot of video and not a lot of pictures for once. We also had 10 (!) minutes of complete silence at the top of the ridge to just listen to all the noises Antarctica has to offer.

When we got back to the ship it was time for the polar plunge. First in was one of the expedition staff. He didn’t have a bathing suit so he used his birthday suit. Second up was me. It’s cold. Very cold. And the shot of vodka after is brutal. But the hot shower in the room after? The best shower I’ve ever had. I have a halfway decent video of me going in (lesson learned: pick someone who knows how to video to take your video for you). And I got a hug from Steve Johnson!

The highlight of the polar plunge was Seth Resnick’s turn. The staff actually used the zodiacs to maneuver a smallish piece of sea ice over to the ship, then took him out in a zodiac. He got off the zodiac and got on the piece of ice wearing a bathing suit and a black t-shirt with “RAW” on it. Then he posed for a bit, and jumped in. I have it all on video.

Tonight is a BBQ and then zodiac tour of Neko Harbour. Awesome awesome awesome.