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Ultimate Antarctica 2013 Trip Report



This trip marked the fifth time Mary and I joined Joe Van Os as one of the leaders on his Ultimate Antarctica photo tour, where we visited and photographed in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the Antarctic Peninsula. It was an exciting trip, characterized by more 'rough' weather than we've had in the past, but we were able to make all of the important landings at all of our destinations.

As I post this, we have only 2 days at home before Mary and I leave for a personal expedition down south once again to southern Chile where we hope to photograph Pumas, aka mountain lions, to complete our quest of photographing all seven of the big cats in one year. Consequently, images for the report may be posted later, or in a separate link. Here, at least, is the full text of my report.

Day 1. Ushuaia

We arrived yesterday without hassle or event in late afternoon. Mary and I flew Delta, and our flight status carried over to BA airlines so that we did not incur an extra baggage charge. Ushuaia taxis are small and we needed two to fit ourselves and our luggage.

A good portion of the group traveled out to Tierra del Fuego National Park where some did surprisingly well with birds, considering the number of photographers and the short time there. We stayed behind, watching luggage and answering questions before boarding the ship at 4.

We sailed by 6 in slightly choppy seas with a bit of a wind, sailing towards the Falklands.

Day 2. At Sea

The day was spent either photographing Pintados, or Cape Petrels, and the occasional Black-browed Albatross or Giant Petrel that flew by, or attending the two lectures given aboard. The seas had sufficient swells to down some folks with seasickness and although I felt queasy for a short time, a session on the deck in fresh air, chasing birds with my lens, cured the nausea.

Day 3. New Island

We landed by 8 for a morning session at New Island. Nearly everyone hiked the mile or so uphill to a spectacular Black-browed Albatross colony, interspersed with some Blue-eyed Shags and Rockhopper Penguins. I did very little with nests, spending most of my time challenging myself with slow and fast shutter speed shots of birds flying by. Striated Caracaras, Turkey Vultures, and Falkland Skuas cruised overhead as well, on a beautiful clear day with just enough wind for the birds to fly.


At 4 we landed on Carcass where, after some debate, I decided on only using my 400mm, leaving the rest behind. Although this is a non-IS lens, and thus presents some challenges for stability, I felt as if I shot this island better than I ever had before. With light-weight chest waders, tripod, and light telephoto, I could move quickly and easily without any sense of encumbrance. In the three hours there I photographed, well, both Black and Pied Oystercatchers, Black-crowned Night Heron, Flightless Steamer Duck, Striated Caracara, Patagonian Crested Duck, and Upland and Kelp Goose.

Since I would soon be giving a lecture on manual exposure and spot-metering, much to the chagrin of my fellow leaders who all shoot aperture priority, I did an interesting test with a pure white Kelp Goose where I shot the bird in both modes, using matrix metering for the AV shot. The bird, framed against a black background, was badly overexposed on AV, clipping the whites. On manual, of course, the exposure was fine, after I metered the whitest area and overexposed by 1.7 stops.
Day 4. Saunders

Despite yesterday’s beautiful weather today started cloudy, and Monica, our expedition leader, said she couldn’t read the Falklands weather, not like she can in South Georgia or the Antarctic Peninsula. A few sprinkles of rain dampened our zodiac ride to the beach where, within minutes, the looming black cloud to the north passed overhead, dumping rain that did not abate for the five hours we remained on the island.

Mary and I kept our camera bags in our dry bags the entire time, and we were not even tempted to photograph. Of course, in less than two months we would be back on the islands for a two week stay and we’ve photographed Saunders in great light on many occasions. David Pole-Evans, the owner of the island, met us at the beach, a highlight for Mary and I since we’ve known David for years. Now much thinner because of diabetes, David looked much younger, but retained his wry commentary.

The rest of the crew scattered around the island, shooting as best they could this island's diversity, including Macaroni, Rockhopper, Magellanic, Gentoo, and King Penguins; Crested and Flightless Steamer Ducks; Kelp, Dolphin, and Brown-hooded Gulls; and Blue-eyed Shags. Mary and I were soaked to the skin along our necks and arms by the end of the morning and, cold, were happy to return to the boat.

At Sea

Although we had planned on a full day at Saunders, with the weather we decided to head toward South Georgia. As luck would have it the weather cleared just before we set sail, and many people were a bit unhappy that they were leaving this wonderful island. Had we stayed, however, the weather may have changed yet again and been a bust, but now we had at least a head-start on the journey, with the chance of visiting more sites on South Georgia.

Day 5

We sailed east/northeast towards South Georgia, passing through seas where the swells were over 5 meters high in places, while at others the seas were nearly calm. Wandering Albatrosses joined the other birds circling our boat but few came close, and not enough to justify long vigils on deck for the rare chance. Weather alternated between sun, clouds, and snow squalls as the temperature continued to drop as we headed towards the Antarctic Convergence, the official zone of Antarctica.

Day 6. At Sea

We continued towards South Georgia in seas that were for the most part relatively calm. As we came closer to the island Gray-headed Albatrosses joined the Wandering and Black-browed Albatrosses soaring around the boat. Unfortunately the wind wasn’t favorable for close approaches and the birds made their graceful circles and loops too far for decent photos. Pintados maintained their abundance but after a few thousand shots the allure was gone and most people elected not to shoot.

Day 7. At Sea

Significant snow squalls made the weather interesting and our first glimpses of the mountains of South Georgia were tantalizing jagged gray shapes far in the distance. Snow continued, off and on, throughout the morning and almost to the time when we finally made our first landing, at Right Whale Bay.

Right Whale Bay

The seas were relatively calm for our afternoon landing on a sheltered, half-moon bay surrounded by steep hillsides now freshly blanketed in a light snow. Elephant Seals and Southern Fur Seals lay scattered upon the tide line, but apparently the breeding season has barely started for the seals as there were still relatively few, and they were not particularly aggressive. I was following Anna, who was carrying a long wooden oak as a deterrent, when one seal did charge across the beach at me, which I stopped by sticking my tripod legs into its face as I quickly back-peddled. Later, one of our passengers went sprinting, rather dangerously, across tidal rocks when he thought a seal was in pursuit, although the seal galloped only a short distance and not enough to justify his risk.

Along the shoreline, just past the breakers, hundreds of Pintado Petrels bobbed about, feeding upon Arrow Worms and Copepods, thin, gelatinous invertebrates that, when held in the hand, resembled snot more than anything else. The pintado flock was truly impressive, often rising in large waves of flashing black and white wings before settling again, making short hop-scotch jumps in the process. Some of these flights were generated by sea lions swimming close, and perhaps hoping to snag a bird. Later, just before we left the beach, a rare Leopard Seal appeared, its reptilian shape curving occasionally above the waves.

King Penguins waddled ashore in small numbers, with some so full of fish that their bellies bulged and their gait was labored. One was so fat that it tried simply belly-surfing across the sand and pebble beach, laboriously pushing with its front flippers and shoving with its feet, a movement so inefficient I first thought that the penguin was simply sick. Fat, brown-feathered juveniles clustered together at the far end of the beach and on the distant hills I could see small colonies.

Although the height of the Elephant Seal breeding season has passed the aftermath is still visible, with a few bulls lying about clearly showing the wounds from earlier fights. One male snored and snorted through a trunk now ripped clearly in two, with most of the right half missing. Another dripped a drool of blood and oozed pink phlegm in several grotesque long streams which attracted a Skua that would cautiously move in to snatch a goblet. Although the bird may only have been taking blood or goo dripping onto the sand or hanging from the seal’s chin, the Elephant Seal was clearly annoyed and would periodically rise, bellowing its gurgling roar in annoyance.

By 6PM the light had dropped and hard ice balls periodically lashed our cheeks as wind swept rain or hail nearly horizontally across the beaches. The last hour was cold, although another elephant seal, with a tiny, quite young Fur Seal pup nearby, finally awoke and periodically rose, yawned and roared.

Day 8. Prion Island

We were scheduled for 5 hours on Prion, the only tourist-accessible landing where Wandering Albatrosses nest. At 6:30, as we had breakfast, it was raining and dreary and the tops of the waves broke into spray from the strong wind. By 7:15 it was obvious that we couldn’t disembark from this position and the ship sailed to a new location in what we hoped would be calmer waters.

Everyone suited up and the gangway was lowered, while our zodiacs hovered nearby as the leaders prepared to disembark. I looked at Wayne when I saw our landing platform rise an easy six feet above the sea, then drop another six below the waves an instant later. This didn’t look good! A few minutes later Monica, our expedition leader, and Joe Van Os did a final consult and we aborted the landing, as it simply was unsafe. With that wise decision made we lost our only chance at Prion, and with the same seas facing us for Salisbury Plains we headed instead to Stromness, the site of an old whaling station made famous as the place where Ernest Shackleton appeared after passing over these Southern Alps after his epic voyage from Elephant Island to the south or western side of South Georgia.


Before lunch we did an hour zodiac cruise around the old whaling station at Stromness, photographing what are now relic buildings closed to the public because of fear of flying tin or asbestos. From the boat we had fairly good views, as well as shots of Elephant Seals and Fur Seals lying on the beach.

After lunch we returned to the beach where we spent the afternoon. Fur Seals were scattered about, and although a few chased people, most simply reared and growled, and with the wonderful clear blue skies they made for great foregrounds for spectacular landscapes.

South Georgia Pintail Ducks flew about, and I had two opportunities for shooting, with the second offering full frame shots before the bird unexpectedly flew off. Mary and I had returned to the beach to help with the zodiac boarding, while a group of photographers clustered around a distant Elephant Seal that was in the process of giving birth. Although it was first feared that the baby was still-born, a belief strengthened when more than a dozen skuas and giant petrels descended at the birth site, the baby was alive and well. Later, the bull elephant seal on that beach humped its way across the sand to mate with a tiny female in the stream before all of the photographers, in clear view, good light, and making ‘the behavior shot’ of the trip. Mary and I, and most of the guides, had our equipment packed and secured, and missed it all!

Day 9. Ocean Harbor

We spent a miserable, wet morning at one of the prettier locations, a beautiful sheltered bay with the wreck of an old ship lying just off-shore. It rained nearly continuously, and Mary and I, and most of the leaders, kept our gear stowed within our dry bags. Elephant Seals, Antarctic Fur Seals, Arctic Terns, and large herds of introduced Reindeer were present, but with the rains and poor light and the sand that adhered to every bag we just didn’t bother. Ironically, as we boarded the last zodiac to return to the ship blue sky appeared, and within an hour the skies cleared.

We sailed out of the harbor after lunch, with Light-Mantled Sooty Albatrosses flying quite close to our boat … until I got my cold weather gear on, when they seemed to disappear. We soon left the sun-lit harbor and were back in stormy seas, with white caps streaming spray, and a gloomy, dark sky.

Jason Harbor

We disembarked at 4 and the skies were dreary, promising more poor weather. Reluctantly, I unpacked my Bataflae bag and placed a rain cover over it but the light rain soon stopped and the skies began to clear. Within an hour the skies cleared, and our 6:30 departure time now seemed too early.

It was a great afternoon shoot, and both Mary and I concentrated on seals. Although I missed the mating sequence yesterday I did have a very good, open view today of the entire sequence, with the female sometimes gaping open-mouthed, seemingly to encourage the male on, and the male, at one point, biting and grabbing the female’s neck but soon releasing it, seemingly just mouthing her neck. Several black babies cooperated, nursing with their faces completely visible, sometimes scrunched almost flat as they suckled nipples that barely projected from the female’s fur. Although fur seals were about, and sometimes voiced their displeasure with head-lunges and open-mouthed gapes, none charged, and by the end of the day most seemed oblivious to passers-by, simply sleeping as photographers walked by.

Day 10. Gryviken

We cleared customs and visited what is now the capital and administrative center of South Georgia where photographers toured the museum and the remains of the old whaling station. I headed immediately to Shackleton’s grave and the cemetery where, still devoid of people, I could shoot the station and the cemetery as a pleasant scenic. Chris gave his usual excellent toast to ‘the Boss,’ finished with a rum toast, before we all headed back to the ship for a deck barbeque and, later, a talk on the rat eradication project on the island. This is done via helicopters and a poisoned cereal that will degrade by winter, and that the rats love, and store in their dens. When the project is completed, perhaps as many as 1 million more birds will nest on the island.


At 5PM we landed at a small bay where a Gentoo Penguin colony overlooked the bay from a high vantage point and Fur Seals and Elephant Seals littered the beach. Many participants made the climb to the colony but Mary and I stayed near the beach. Mary was quite successful to near frame-filling shots of Pintail Ducks, and I did some fill-flash of Fur Seals and Elephant Seals. One young male, running the gauntlet and avoiding the attacks of larger males, finally passed close to me and took out his frustration by charging me. My tripod legs were collapsed to their shortest length and at that distance I had to poke the seal in the nose to stop its charge. After a poke it waddled to the sea.

Although the weather and skies were beautiful when we landed a black cloud steadily advanced and by 7, as we headed back to the ship, the skies were dark and cold.

Day 11. St Andrew’s Bay

Anticipating a sunrise we arose at 3:15 for a 4AM departure to the beach, the site of perhaps the most spectacular King Penguin colony on South Georgia. The seas were remarkably calm when we landed, and we commented that this was one of the easiest landings we ever had on this beach. To the east, a band of low clouds masked the horizon, making a real sunrise impossible. Above that band there was a fairly clear sky, then more light clouds, and as we dispersed to shoot the color was marginal at best.

While the landing was easy the weather soon turned, and within a half hour a powerful wind arose, so much so that by 6:30AM several of us looked at our watches, thinking that we’d been on the beach for hours. By 7:30, under normal conditions, we’d have pulled the plug and evacuated, as the winds were now a steady 30mph, with gusts of 40 and 50mph. Shortly after the captain radioed that he’d have to pull anchor and, for the moment, no zodiacs would launch unless there was a real emergency.

The main colony of penguins is separated from our landing beach by a shallow stream which many photographers crossed, gingerly, as the rocks were slick and the current quite strong. By this time the winds were atrocious, and knowing that a slip, and a dunk in that cold water, could be life-threatening if the winds continued and no zodiacs could land, Mary and I, and many others, wimped out and stayed on the landing side. With the wind, and the constant fight against camera shake, blasting, stinging sand, and watering eyes, the decision wasn’t a hard one.

At 9AM the next group of photographers were scheduled to land and when our Expedition Leader radioed that news she was told no, that instead our priority now was simply getting people off the island. At 9:15 the first zodiac arrived, with two sailors adding ballast to keep the zodiac from flipping in the wind and the boatman soaked with spray. It took nearly two hours for the beach to be emptied, as the lone zodiac, with six passengers and the two sailors and pilot, to do the commute, and the ride was brutal. Motoring into the wind and hitting waves everyone was soaked, either from salt spray or from the frequent waves that hit and broke over the bow.

By 11:30 everyone was on board and we hoped to make another landing in the afternoon, when the wind was forecasted to abate. It didn’t happen, and by 5 we began motoring northwest once again, to try once more for Salisbury Plains and Prion Island tomorrow
Day 12. Salisbury Plains

We motored through the night and arrived at Salisbury Plains by dawn. We disembarked at 7AM under a veil of cloud and light rain, but not the discouraging downpours we’ve often had. The landing was surprisingly easy, with King Penguins zipping in almost between our legs as we caught the zodiacs.

Both Mary and I made our way to the colony, and the small hill that provides a nice overview of the colony, now a mix of brown juveniles and resplendently plumaged adults. The ground around the colony was a morass of muck and mud, making for treacherous walking and certainly dissuading most, including us, from lying down for a ground-level view. One of our passengers slipped off a tussock grass clump and fell into one of the deep seal wallows, coating himself with stinking, clinging mud. Luckily he held his camera high and saved his gear.

I headed to the beach where I spent the majority of the morning photographing King Penguins as they surfed in on the waves, and tried, the few times I had, to catch a penguin as it porpoised across the water. Although the beach was covered with more Antarctic Fur Seals than I’d ever seen here, most were not aggressive and our passage through the seals went without incident.

Prion Island

At 4PM half the boat boarded zodiacs for Prion Island, where numbers are restricted to 50 tourists at a time, while the second half came an hour or so later. Wandering Albatrosses nest here, and usually there are a few large, adult-sized chicks sitting on a nest. Most nests were rather far away and I passed, spending much of the afternoon stalking South Georgia’s only songbird, the South Georgia Pipit. These small brown and yellow songbirds were common today, with many doing their courtship/territorial flight, singing melodically as they hovered. Several drank or foraged along a stream, providing nice closeups.

Towards the end of the afternoon Mary, myself, and several others challenged ourselves attempting to capture the courtship flight of the Pipet, and later the Wandering and Light-Mantled Sooty Albatrosses that circled the hilltop. Giant Petrels, perhaps in display, flew in a slow soar, heads upturned and back arched as they often called, passing close overhead. The flight action was constant, and the afternoon session went extremely quickly, with plenty of frames fired.

Day 13. Cooper Bay

For our last excursion in South Georgia we zodiac motored around the rocky coast of Cooper Bay, the site of a large Macaroni Penguin colony. Birds nest amongst the tussock grasses, others cluster on the hillsides leading to the nests, and, usually, scores or hundreds line the rocks jutting from the sea close to shore. This year, although the birds were on nests, very few were amongst the rocks and when we first drifted in the area looked empty. A few penguins huddled in the shade of an overhanging cliff, and a lone bird here or there perched on a kelp-covered outcrop, but the area seemed barren. As the morning progressed a few more birds appeared and my zodiac at least got positioned for a relatively stable shooting platform of a few penguins close by.

One of our zodiacs went too close to the shoreline and a rogue, unexpected wave swept in and swamped the zodiac, nearly spilling everyone as it did so. No one was hurt although two cameras may have been ruined from the salt water. Elsewhere, around the rocks and narrow channels it was a bit spooky as surges would push zodiacs towards rocks or a cave-like channel that would trap any zodiac that got stuck inside. A few times our propeller blades smacked against rocks as the tide surge rushed out, suddenly lowering the sea level, and we nearly stalled, but our zodiac driver was competent and we escaped without incident.

We did two runs, with half the boat making the first trip and the other half following. On our second leg we went immediately to the close Macaronis who were even better the second time around. Mary radioed that on an off-shore outcrop Antarctic and Arctic Terns were congregating fishing, and the shots there, with waves blasting over the kelp with mountains looming behind, were wonderful. Several times Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses flew by in their dual courtship flight, close enough for near frame filling images.

In the early afternoon we motored to Drygowski Fjords, a steeply walled canyon that terminates at a large glacier face. Winds were blasting and a mix of sleet and rain and low fog dampened the shooting for some, while others – like me – passed on the shoot completely. Afterwards, Joe threw a open-bar party to celebrate the honeymoon trip of a nice couple from Germany, before we headed back into the open sea for our journey to the southeast and Antarctica.

Day 14. At Sea

Seas were somewhat challenging with the swells but for the most part rather smooth sailing as we continued sailing. Pintado Petrels, Prions, and a white morph of a Giant Petrel kept pace with the boat but with continual spray and high winds, and a recently acquired eye infection triggered by the blasting sands on our morning at St Andrew’s. I wasn’t tempted to shoot. Instead, much of the day was spent recuperating the eyes or editing.

Day 15. At Sea

More rather easy seas, seabirds that most people ignored, and lectures.

Day 16. At Sea – Joe’s turn

Early morning greeted us with beautiful, almost impossibly thick snowflakes that fluttered in the wind and reduced visibility to near zero. By 9 or so we reached Point Wilde on Elephant Island where Ernest Shackelton’s crew overwintered, from April to November, while Shackleton and three others nearly dead-reckoned their small boat, the James Cairne, the 800 miles to South Georgia. In the mist, intermittent snows, and the heavy clouds masking the tops of mountain ridges rising nearly straight from the sea, the Point was a miserable, formidable place and everyone looking on, I believe, had a new appreciation if not awe of what that crew accomplished, surviving on this bleak strip of stony beach.

The bust of the Chilean captain that retrieved Shackleton’s men was barely visible, a lone dark structure against the snow, surrounded by thousands of Chin-strap Penguins standing on the beach and surrounding snow fields. One loose iceberg bobbed nearby, dotted with more penguins.

We spent the majority of the morning sailing along the coast of Elephant Island, with everyone surprised as its immensity, and rugged beauty. The skies cleared as we motored along, giving us great light for views of Cape Disappointment and Cape Lookout, with blue skies, cloud-topped mountains, and Southern Fulmars joining the Pintados swooping around the boat.

Three Sei Whales, the third largest of the great or baleen whales, were spotted while we were in comparatively calm seas, and the whales cooperated as much as these whales generally will. Fast swimming whales that rarely sound, thus not revealing a great view of tail flukes as they dive, our views were limited to blows, the rare snout unexpectedly poking above the surface, and excellent views of the distinctive large, hook-like dorsal fin visible seconds before the whale dipped beneath the sea.

The seas varied, sometimes being surprisingly calm, while at other stretches of the day west winds generated powerful swells. One tilted the ship far, tossing some passengers about their cabins and spilling others from their seats in the main lounge. After leaving Elephant Island we passed by the small island, Cornwallis, with multiple sheer peaks poking into the clouds. Set against an otherwise cloud-free horizon the snow-covered island was dramatic, and generated plenty of photos.

Anna gave a lecture on the Antarctic Seals, and Chris continued to astound us with his depth of knowledge, this time with an incredible lecture on plate tectonics and the shaping of the continents.

Day 17. Brown Bluff

We made a 9AM landing on the Antarctica Continent today, at Brown Bluff, a huge sandstone cliff and outcropping that is the nesting site for a huge colony of Adelie Penguins and a beginning colony of Gentoos. We were worried that we’d be unable to land as the coast is sometimes covered in floating bergie bits and ice chunks, but today the waters were clear. Small bergie bits littered the shoreline above the high tide mark and small junks of flat ice bobbed in the surf, while several smaller icebergs floated offshore, many with penguins perched atop.

It was surprisingly cold, and although both Mary and I felt overdressed while we waited to board zodiacs once ashore we needed all our layers. Adelies were incubating eggs, and Gentoos were in the process still of building their tall stone nests, gathering small rocks and pebbles to add to the stones encircling them. Our shooting area was fairly restricted, with the farthest point marked by a large snowfield where Adelies traversed, either to reach the shores or to climb to nests. The shooting from the shoreline here was wonderful, with birds at eye-level as they sauntered by, teetering left and right with each stride, as their left leg thrust forward the penguin would tilt to the right, and so on.

Some people did a zodiac cruise around the icebergs, and the shooting there was excellent, with some getting shots of penguins porpoising through the sea and other penguins leaping up, or jumping down, from the floating platforms of ice.
In the afternoon we headed toward the Weddell Sea and Devils Island, passing several tabular glaciers, many so close that they seemed to loom over the ship as we sailed by. Along the way a pod of at least eight Orcas, or Killer Whales, swam before us, and at one point surfaced just in front of the bow. Dinner was a bit disrupted as a rather uneventful sea suddenly seemed filled by bergs, causing diners to stand and gape, or rush out the door to grab their cameras. In the late evening the cloud cover parted, giving us wonderful low, angular golden light that struck the icebergs magically as we began our return journey out of the Weddell Sea and back to the west side of the Peninsula.

Day 18. At Sea

We sailed all morning for a scheduled landing at Cooperville for more penguins, but as the morning progressed a snow storm descended, generating high winds and near zero visibility. By 3PM we had reached our destination and although the skies cleared the wind did not and our landing was cancelled. At 3:40 I gave a lecture on the RAW converter and some PS material, and afterwards we sailed on, continuing through the Gerlache Strait towards our hoped-for destination, the Lemaire Channel and a few bays where the shooting in past trips was among the most rewarding.

Day 19

Although we had planned a continental landing at the old Argentine station, Almirante Brown, the heavy snows reached to the top of the hand railings leading from shore to the outbuildings, making a visit impractical and possibly dangerous. Instead, in two groups, we did zodiac cruises through the morning, motoring along the station where Gentoo Penguins stood, comic inhabitants of this desolate station. Along the cliff faces Antarctic Shags aka Royal Cormorants nested, often flying low and close, their beaks filled with strands of algae for their nests. Near the higher nests a colorful patch of turquoise green, a vein of copper, extruded from the rocks so out of place it looked painted on the face.

We were hoping for seals or Minke Whales, which we saw but the one, two, or three whales that appeared moved fast and presented no opportunities for shooting. One of the boats discovered three Weddell Seals lying on the snow and most of the zodiacs made a short landing for photography. I stayed behind, remaining on the zodiac where for ten minutes or so we cruised about with my GoPro video held underwater, filming the ice from this new perspective. Much to our displeasure, one of the passengers tossed a snowball at the seal for it to awaken, which it did and raised its head. The guide on site rightly went ballistic on the passenger, while two other passengers complimented the transgressor for his action! Although the guide gave the passenger a proper dressing down, both Mary and I were glad we hadn’t seen it – we might have been less professional in our response.

We had planned on visiting a Gentoo colony at Neko Harbor in the afternoon but the snows extended right to the edge of the sea, and ice flows bobbed about off-shore and made a landing impossible. Instead we once again did zodiac cruises. On the first leg the skies were overcast and, for the first half of the ride, a stiff breeze churned the sea, making shots of the many icebergs with beautiful reflections impossible. The winds abated, and the seas remained calm for the second round of cruises, defined by great shots of blue icebergs against a dark, threatening sky. The sun appeared for a short time, illuminating surrounding mountains and backlighting the bergs, and the shooting was productive.

A few zodiacs on the second round found Weddell Seals hauled out on the ice but all of the zodiacs were dispersed across the bay and only those nearby, by luck, shot the seals. Unfortunately, and quite oddly, no one who had a seal used their radios to inform the others and zodiacs, like ours, missed the seals entirely.

Petermann Island

We anchored overnight along a mountain chain which would light up magically at 3:15AM if the skies cleared to the east. They did not, much to the disappointment of those who awoke to check. At 7AM we entered the Lemeire Channel, a narrow fjord that offers some of the most spectacular scenery on the continent. Our sailing began in snow and rain and limited visibility, but the precipitation stopped and the latter half of the journey offered good shooting, the first for any boat this season in the channel.

Afterwards we made a two hour landing at Petermann’s Island, the site of a Gentoo and an Adelie Penguin colony. The snow was deep but so well compacted that it was easy to walk across, and only rarely did anyone sink to their knees through snow. Some photographers had luck with Gentoos rocketing out of the sea onto snow banks three feet high. I attempted the shot, but got discouraged when photographers continually moved forward and shifted about, getting into the frame and just offering too much trouble for the time involved. I moved on.
High up on the slopes Gentoos nested, and further up the Adelies, and an easy climb provided nice shots of the iceberg dotted bay, surrounding mountains, and the nesting birds. The challenge here was finding a clean bird, as most were stained red from the excretions, mostly of krill. With effort I got some shots, and it was a beautiful scene from above.

Day 20. Fort Lockroy

A rainbow arching over the bay at Fort Lockroy greeted early risers, and after an 8:30AM talk by one of the five women manning the station and museum here, a five plus month assignment, we headed ashore. Winds and snow limited our landing to the area around the museum, but the shooting was nevertheless quite productive, with a snow-covered Gentoo nesting colony framed against the blue crevices of a distant iceberg.

Royal or Antarctic Cormorants flew by in large flocks, many carrying algae for nesting, and Gentoos teased us as they jumped at varying distances without warning onto shoreline rocks. A Leopard Seal, only our second for the entire trip, cruised by, and despite the vulnerability of the penguins in the shallow water, the seal ignored the birds and moved on.

Somewhere during the middle of this session, somehow, I hit a button on my camera to switch from RAW capture to JPG. When we left the Fort, we cruised along through what was truly the most magnificent and inspiring landscape of the entire trip, and I shot it all on JPG! Fortunately I downloaded my card before our afternoon landing, and did not repeat that error.

PM: We landed on one of the Orne Islands, a Chinstrap Penguin nesting site. While we were unloading passengers two confused Adelie Penguins arrived on our rocks, and began braying back to us when Monica, our expedition leader, started mimicking their calls. Beautifully carved icebergs floated in various sheltered bays and, at least as we unloaded folks, the sun shone brightly on the mountains, ice, and bergs. By the time Mary and I could start shooting the sun had disappeared, but the backdrops were still magnificent for the penguin colonies. Had the weather been predictable, this was a location one could easily spend an entire day, as the landscape, ice, and birds were among the best. Unfortunately it was a very short landing, less than an hour for the last passengers, but this evening was special, as it was the formal retirement party for one of the guides, who has been working with Joe for thirty years.

Day 21. Deception Island

We were scheduled to make a landing in the huge flooded caldera of a now dormant volcano at Whaler’s Bay on Deception Island, but floating icepack, rough seas, and increasing winds that reached 30 knots prevented a landing. We wouldn’t have missed much, as this old whaling station has little wildlife, with the attraction being the old, weathered boats and the various outbuildings. Some photographers had great luck with Chinstrap Penguins that porpoised along through the waves as we neared the island, but the huge colony there was unattainable in these seas.
We headed north, intending to visit Half Moon Bay and another Chinstrap colony if the weather permitted. Lighting conditions were perfect when we arrived, with the island bathed in brilliant sunshine. Winds were borderline, but as the time to make a decision about a landing neared the winds picked up to 35 knots, chopping the seas and making a landing impossible. We continued north, with the hopes of beating a hurricane forecasted for the Drake Passage in a few days.

Seas in the afternoon were rough, with large swells, a taste, perhaps, of what was to come. By bedtime the seas had calmed again, making for an easy sleep.

Day 22. At Sea

Seabirds, Pintados, Giant Petrels, and Black-browed Albatrosses clustered around the back of the ship under cloudless skies for the early morning, but by the time breakfast ended at 8:30 the looming storm front to the north had grayed the skies once more. Seas were still calm, with barely a swell, although this tranquility we suspected would not last.

We were lucky, however, and although we experienced some rough seas and dinner that evening was poorly attended we missed the brunt of the storm. We sailed on through the night, arriving at the Cape in the early morning.

Day 23. Cape Horn

High winds characterized most of the morning, whipping the seas to a froth but without huge swells. The sea were quite tolerable, and by late in the day when we had our final dinner, with our captain joining us, the seas were calm.

Day 24. Ushuaia

We arrived in Ushuaia in the early morning, disembarking from the boat around 8AM as passengers separated for their stays in Ushuaia or their flights home. The weather was miserable, with snow squalls throughout the day and a cold dampness that seemed more chilling than anything we had had on the trip. Flights were delayed and a few passengers missed their flights to Santiago, although, quite surprisingly, most of the passengers did make their connections, despite the chaos involved. Mary and I stayed overnight, relaxing a bit and packing for our flight home the following day, and this report ends accordingly.