— Dane Creek

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

I didn’t sleep particularly well last night. Mostly because Paul was snoring. I finally got up after a couple of hours and grabbed my emergency earplugs from my backpack. It was good to wake up and have breakfast though.

Last night when the Drake was rockin’. I went out on deck with Seth. He took photos, I took video of him taking photos. Standing on the bow of the ship in a tshirt and jeans while the wind is whipping and the waves are crashing is not a particularly smart thing to do. Lesson learned. I got a little wet, the camera was fine, and Seth got his shot .The video was kindof boring though.

Today is a light day. Just lectures and stuff. Damien talked about the history of land claims in Antarctica. JP and Steve did a summary of their photographic work (Seth and Jeff did theirs last night and they were incredible). I’ve started to pack my room and am mostly done. To pass the time I’m watching Lightroom re-read metadata after geocoding. Yawn.

Minky continues to make the rounds of the ship. This morning he visited the ship’s laundry and helped iron some clothes. He stopped by the crew’s game room for a little PlayStation action then swung by the crew mess to watch part of a safety video.

The Drake kicked us hard during the day. We all seem to have decent sea legs, and the rocking is now entertaining rather than nauseating. At lunch a huge roll of the ship sent all sorts of stuff crashing. Jeff (not Schewe, a different one) got a lap full of Coke and Sprite. Up on the 5th deck in the Panorama Lounge the rocking is incredible. We’re sortof corkscrewing our way across the Drake. Looking out the window you’ll see the ocean go from above all the windows to below the lowest deck then spin around and crash over the bow completely engulfing the Panorama windows. It’s very cool. Many of us have tried to take video but it just doesn’t seem to do it justice.

Tomorrow morning we get off the boat. It’s a 6am wakeup call and our checked luggage has to be in the hall by 6:15am. Then we get breakfast and get off the ship to hang out in Ushuaia until our flight to BA at 3:00pm.

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

The Drake started fine. I slept through the night no problems, and the day started beautifully sunny outside with wind under 20 knots. The sea was relatively calm as well. I lasted drug-free until around noon. Then I sat too long upstairs listening to presentations and things went south fast. I went back to my room and grudgingly put on a patch then had a four hour nap. That helped a great deal. Things are still sunny out but the seas are much choppier. We keep getting spray up over the windows on the 5th floor Panorama Lounge. I will get some video at some point.

I was up until midnight last night sitting with JP. He went through my roomie Steve’s photos which was fun to watch then went through a second set of selects from my collection. Good feedback all around.

Today we had a lecture from Seth on importing images into Lightroom. During the lecture I worked on geocoding the 5000ish photos that were still missing coordinate information. It’s slow going and there are a few landings where I don’t have GPS data. We’ll get a full tracklog from Joey though which I can probably use to fill in the holes.

Speaking of Joey, I’ve mentioned a few crew people here and there but never in much detail. Since we’re in the Drake and nothing much is happening this seems like a good time to do so.

The crew on the boat is fantastic. They’re all super friendly and funny and are doing an amazing job making our trip a success. The captain of the ship is Alexi, from Russia. He’s hella experienced sailing in icy conditions and was amazing to watch through some of the gnarly ice we went through. He’s also a smoking machine. It’s amusing to be on the bridge watching him drive the boat with a cigarette in one hand and his fancy sunglasses on.

George is the First Mate. He’s from Romania and is responsible for all the safety equipment on the ship and for doing daily safety drills with the crew. He’s absolutely hilarious. Today he’s dressed in a slick lime green shirt and tight black pants. He looks like he’s going to a club tonight! He’s also going to lend me his survival suit after his watch is over so I can get a photo of Minky in it.

Joey is the Navigator. He’s from the Philippines and charts our course on huge printed paper maps that he keeps organized in drawers on the bridge. This morning he was working on plotting a course to Denmark for the ship after the Antarctic sailing season is over. He also punches all the data into the ship’s GPS. Navigation is pretty much exactly like for planes. We plot a radial on the compass, follow that until we get to a waypoint, then change to a different compass heading. Right now our heading is 344°.

Alexi, George, and Joey take turns doing watches on the bridge. They each do 4 hours on and 8 hours off.

Kareen is our cabin steward and one of the lunch/dinner serving staff. She’s almost as funny as George. She had a bit of seasickness at the start of the trip but still did all of her work with a smile. Every morning we see her on the way to breakfast and she wishes us a good morning and asks how we slept.

Carlos is an able-bodied seaman. He’s basically an on-call guy to do just about anything. Often he’ll be on the bridge as a second set of eyes watching for wildlife, other ships, rocks, icebergs, etc out the window. He also goes and gets the on-duty guy coffee whenever they want it. He also helps us load/unload from the zodiac.

This is my last update from the ship as e-mail gets shut down at 9pm tonight for billing and whatnot. I hope you’ve enjoyed the notes from the ship. See everyone in a few days!

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

Last night Steve Johnson gave a talk on dealing with the blue in our Antarctic images. He got pretty testy with, uh, just about everyone in the audience. Any time anyone asked a question or tried to engage in discussion with him he just got downright snippy. That was everyone from paying customers on the trip to other instructors. Anyone who questioned him was wrong. It was odd. I left halfway through and went to bed.

I haven’t written much about B&W shooting lately, and I have to admit in the last 3 days I haven’t touched the film body. We talked a little bit about it around the table at breakfast this morning, with a few photographers that used to shoot slide film for a living. Bottom line is it’s so hard to frame an accurate good shot first try down here. Things move so fast when you’re on a zodiac there’s no way you can meter, write down the exposure info, frame the shot, and take it.

Today we’re at Deception Island which is supposed to be really cool. Unfortunately the weather outside is frightful. Winds are regularly at 45-50 knots, and I saw gusts to 70 when on the bridge. Visibility is, to put it mildly, poor. On our first landing only 9 people went on shore, a new record low for the expedition staff. We’re moving to our second landing position (Whaler’s Bay) to drop anchor and wait for conditions to improve. The limit for taking zodiacs out is 35 knots.

This also does not bode well for the return trip across the Drake Passage tomorrow. I asked George about it this morning and he said: “You are real seamen now!” I put a scopolamine patch on at noon and ripped it off at 3pm. Dry mouth plus sore stomach plus headache. Blah. So I’m doing the Drake naked. We’ll see how it goes.

None of our remaining landings of the trip actually happened so we had a series of lectures. I skipped Steve’s talk on colour management and played cribbage with Bronwyn instead. I won both games. Woot! The added cool touch? The board was a really beat up old Air Canada cribbage board courtesy of Alex.

I sat with Jeff Schewe this afternoon to have him flip through some of my top photos and he worked a bunch of Lightroom magic with me to help make them that much better. Very cool. Now I have to select six images to show to the group on Thursday after dinner. I think I’ll go with 2-3 serious high-quality shots and 2-3 hilarious and fun shots. Perhaps one of them will be of Jeff. I have over 100 photos of him tagged in Lightroom at the moment!

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

Brandon, our expedition leader, starts every morning wakeup announcement the same way: “Good morning. (pause) Good morning!” It’s become part of our routine.

This morning, deep in a very happy sleep, I hear “Good morning”. But no pause. And no follow-up “Good morning!”. It was not a good sign.

It was 4:15am. And it was Michael on the PA. The gist of the message? The morning light was awesome, get the hell out of bed. So I did.

At 5:20am I had 172 photos copying off my CF card.

I skipped the 5:30 landing today. I was just too tired, the scenery didn’t look that impressive, and we had some amazing narrow passageways to sail through later in the day. I wanted to have more than 3 hours sleep.

The second landing was at Danco Island (anchored at 64° 43.0822 S 62° 35.7870 W). It’s a small island where you hike to the top for 360° views and penguins walking on their superhighways in the snow. We were given the choice of walking or taking a 45 minute zodiac cruise around the bay. I started to hike, then saw two fantastic icebergs and turned around to take the zodiac cruise.

Best. Decision. Ever. And it gave rise to Neil’s law of Antarctic cruising: given the choice between a shore landing and a cruise ALWAYS TAKE THE CRUISE.

We headed out to a cool looking iceberg and to our surprise a leopard seal was lounging on a little berg in front of a massive berg. And there were beautiful clouds in the sky. And reflections in the water. Oh, and penguins splashing around. Sheesh!

Much shooting and videoing transpired then it was back to the boat to dump cards. I hung out on the bridge for a bit with First Officer George. He’s from Romania, smokes up a storm, and is absolutely hilarious. Somewhere in there I had lunch and watched an iceberg go by that filed the view from all the windows in the dining room. And there were penguins jumping around on it. Sheesh!

The light for the two narrow channels we went through wasn’t particularly fantastic. I took a few shots but nowhere near as many as I expected. Good thing: so far Lightroom has 6238 images (that’s 145GB of images for those keeping track) and 61GB of video.

Our third stop of the day was Port Lockroy (anchored at 64° 49.5851 S 63° 30.0723 W). It’s a combination museum/gift shop on Goudier Island run by a non-profit that helps keep the place running and in good shape. It’s also a very small island covered in penguins. For a non-wildlife guy like me it was easy shooting for goofy tourist videos/pics of Gentoos doing their thing. I was pretty bored though so I took a quick zodiac back to the ship to get Minky. Then the landing was fun! I got pictures of him watching Alex stamp illegal “Antarctica” stamps in our passports, as well as other shots from around the base. The ride back from the ship was funny too, since First Officer George came along to do some souvenir shopping.

Another surreal moment: I sat with Seth Resnick for at least 1/2 an hour going through 20 photos I’d tagged to show him. Many of them were ones that I’d already shown to JP, but I added a few “Seth shots” (more blue, more colour) to see what he would say. At the end we had 8 selects that we both agreed were great shots, 7 of which he would consider portfolio shots. He also showed me a few tips with Lightroom to really make a huge difference, and we spent a LOT of time talking cropping. In the end he, JP, and I all agree on a single shot from the 6000+ that is the shot of the trip. Rock on!

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(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.

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

After the Fish Islands zodiac ride and breakfast my plan was to go to sleep for a few hours. Ha. Fat chance. Next thing I know four hours went by and I was still on deck taking pictures of sea ice. We finally made it to open seas just before lunch. I packed my stuff up and went for what was planned to be a 1 hour nap.

It only lasted 45 minutes. Then over the PA we were alerted to two whales off the port side of the ship. Ugh. Grab the camera. Grab a card. Run for the deck. 10 minutes later I had a beautiful 2 minute HD video of a whale mom and kid sounding (bringing their tail out of the water) at the same time with two mountains in the background. Right ON!

After the whales I finally caved and went to bed for 4 hours. Brandon (the expedition leader) warned us in advance that we’d be landing at Peterman Island (anchored at 65° 10.6912 S 64° 07.8261 W) for penguins around 4pm and then having dinner and waiting patiently for good evening light before heading into the Lemaire Channel again. Since that makes for a very late night the extra sleep sounded like a good idea.

Peterman Island was a chance for all the wildlife photographers to take some pictures of penguins. Yawn. Penguins are boring. Sure they’re fun to watch for a bit but shooting them for three hours? Meh.

But all was not lost. In another sign of how surreal this trip is I was standing chatting with Steve Johnson and next thing I know we’re being invited to go on a zodiac cruise of some icebergs on the other side of the island. I ditched my 70-200 2.8 with 1.4 extender for the 17-40mm and started firing away. Icebergs. Puffy clouds and blue sky. Mountains. Water. OMG!!!!11111111one

Oh, and somehow today I managed to shoot another 4 rolls of B&W film. No idea if any of this stuff is going to turn out, but damnit, that yellow filter better make dark skies to go with dark water and light sea ice!

Good evening light turned out to be immediately after dinner at around 8pm. Tons of dark low clouds with the sun peaking in and out and lighting all the mountains and snow around us. So… back out. Shoot. Change lens. Shoot. Change lens. Shoot. And… 250+ more images to work through. Guh.

Dinner tonight, by the way, was a fabulous Malaysian buffet. The best meal of the trip by far.

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

We’re currently anchored at 66° 01.0382 S 65° 24.0711 W. I was very smart going to bed at 9pm last night. This morning’s wakeup announcement was at 5am, and we had zodiacs in the water by 5:30. I was in the first zodiac with my roomie Steve, Michael, Chris, and Seth. We started at a beautiful iceberg with a blue hole in it and light coming through. Then, since there was space in another zodiac, Michael and Chris switched to the other boat.

Our driver, Tyler, was fantastic. Seth started nagging him immediately to get close to icebergs that we had no business being near. Tyler obliged. The shots I took completely blow away everything from yesterday. 17mm lens leaning over the boat with the camera almost in the water looking *up* at an iceberg. Everything bathed in golden light. I also used Seth’s 14mm lens a few times for some truly spectacular wide shots of icebergs and their underwater pieces clearly visible. And then there’s the shots with the 70-200 + 1.4x getting all the little icicles hanging down inside the blue holes. In two hours I took over 600 photos. Tyler was the hero today: without his driving we never would have come close to getting such good photos.

At one point Seth convinced Tyler to get close to a plate of sea ice. Seth jumped out of the boat, stood on it with his silver crotch gleaming in the sun, and we all got pictures. Hilarious!

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

We made it through the Gullet and while there’s still sea ice the huge close mountains are largely gone. We’ve essentially returned to the Drake Passage and are heading north to tomorrow’s landing spot.

After dinner I did a quick pass through the 518 photos I took during the 5 hours after lunch. OMG. I count 19 that are cool and half of those are absolutely incredible.

Oh, and there’s 402 photos from Horseshoe Island this morning that also need culling. I did a quick pass through and one of them is quite likely the best photograph I have ever taken.

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

At noon today I went into our cabin to wake Steve up. He was passed out (like I was about 5 minutes earlier) from a 3 hour nap after a very early wakeup call. I told him to look outside. He did and said “holy fucking shit”.

That pretty much sums up the next 4.5 hours.

While we were napping our captain got us to the channel that leads to the Gullet. For the last 5ish hours there’s been crystal clear blue skies, completely calm water (like glass), mountains on all sides and sea ice surrounding the boat. At about the 4 hour mark I tried to come inside to copy files off my card. As soon as my gear was packed I saw yet another thing to shoot and next thing I knew another 1/2 an hour had past.

We are currently at 67° 02.5771 S 67° 30.9442 W if you want to plot that on Bing Maps.

I’m sure I took some photos at Horseshoe Island and on the zodiac cruse (which started at 5am). But I can’t remember them. I’m so tired. And it’s not even close to sunset yet. And we’ll still be in the sea ice.

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We’ve crossed the Antarctic Circle. We’re the only ship down here. Our current location is 68 °11.5750 S 66° 59.1368 W if you want to punch it into Bing Maps to see where we are.

I used to think penguin poo was the worst smell in Antarctica. It’s not. That honour belongs to whatever Bronwyn smeared in my hair last night after I kissed Jeff Schewe’s surprisingly soft bare foot. Minky’s heart stopped when he saw that, and I had to start CPR and mouth to mouth. Jeff was kind enough to take photos of both events before spearing Minky on a trident and taking a bite out of his back. Poor Minky.

I have a patch back on. Yesterday while I was flipping through photos in Photosynth the boat was rocking more than usual and it just made me feel ill. So I stuck a new patch on, resigned to the fact that my mouth will feel like I’ve sucked on a sand dune for the next day or two.

At about 10am this morning we could see islands off the port side of the ship again. But cause for even more excitement is that we could actually see individual bands of clouds. By god there was actually texture in the sky that could be printed. And it got even better from there. By the time we anchored at Stonington Island in the afternoon there were clear blue skies with patches of beautiful clouds and ice everywhere. Kissing Jeff’s foot was worth it after all!

At lunch I had one of those "holy crap" moments. I was sitting around a table with four other folks and we were chatting photos and Lightroom and other geeky things. Then it hit me who else was at the table. Ian Lyons, Thomas Knoll, Seth Resnick, and Jeff Schewe. !!!

On the way to Stonington Island we pushed through a couple of big flows of sea ice. There were lots of seals lying on them and a few wayward penguins. The bergs were incredible. So blue!

Since about 4pm we’ve done not much other than shoot. Before dinner half of us went on to the island to explore the abandoned British and American outposts while the other half went cruising around icebergs. I spent my entire two hours inside the British outpost buildings in nearly total darkness doing 30+ second ISO3200 exposures. The colours and leftover junk inside were incredible. You just had to be patient and try many, many, times to get the focus right. In the last 8 hours or so I’ve shot for 6 hours and have more than 600 new photos to sift through. Oh, and I managed to slip in a roll of B&W as well!

We had a late dinner and then went out again. This time I got to go cruising around the icebergs in the bay. The light was perfect, the sun is “setting” and gave wonderful light to all the ice.

After returning to the ship I immediately blew another hour on deck taking pictures of the surroundings. By now the sky is in full sunset mode with pinks and blues and purples bouncing off the ice. Of course since we’re south of the circle it’s going to stay like this. All night. While we head north up to “the gullet”. There will be little, if any sleep, tonight.

Assuming we do get to bed our wakeup call for tomorrow is 5am. We’ll be parked at some island farther north and start doing zodiac landings and cruises at 5:30. They’ll have a hearty brunch for us when we are done. From now on we’re heading north through all the little channels that we avoided on the way down due to weather. Michael wasn’t kidding when he said yesterday that we may not sleep for the next 24-48 hours.

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