After a quick lunch on my own, I joined the photographers on a trip to Grytviken led by Adam, the Voyage Photographer. We made a toast to Shackleton at his graveside and threw the dregs of our Jameson's whiskey over it, after Peter had given a kind of toast. He also told the story of a rather flamboyant Spanish woman who had read the inscription out loud to the group but had mistaken ‘explorer’ for 'exploded’: "So that's how he died, then..."
I then set out to take pictures. Unfortunately, Adam's pace was rather slow, so I broke off to look at an old boat, which turned out to be guarded by some very territorial fur seals! There were a couple of old whalers at the whaling station, plus all the old equipment, so I broke out my 18-35mm lens and went to town. It was a gorgeous day, clear and calm, and the late afternoon sunlight was fantastic.
I took the last Zodiac back to the boat and then had a barbecue with the usual crew on Deck 5. Our ship entertainer Randy started to play some toe-curlingly bad covers, so I made my excuses and escaped to work on my photos.
After a quick breakfast with the gang, I returned to finish rating my photos. I did it just in time for the first outing to Gold Harbour. There were lots of penguins and elephant and fur seals - so many, in fact, that we couldn't really move around much. The penguins were particularly curious, as usual, and they would walk up to within a couple of feet of me as I was taking pictures.
After a quick lunch on my own, our Cooper Bay landing was cancelled due to high winds (37-40kts), but we went to the beautiful Drygalski Fjord instead and some people had a Zodiac cruise. I bowed out, as there wasn't much chance of wildlife, but Tracy and Phil showed me their pictures of a leopard seal! Not good...
After I'd been through a few of Tracy's photos, we all had dinner together and then a few glasses of wine in Phil and Judy's cabin.
I woke early to work on my photos, had a quick breakfast and then carried on. I took a break to hear Jim talk about ice as if it were a rock - bizarrely! - and then went back to my laptop, skipping the chance of a tour of the bridge. I then went to Snowy's talk on penguins before having lunch. I calledPhil, but he had food poisoning or something.
The ship doctor’s daughter Livia played some songs on the guitar at around 1430, and I lent my laptop to Phil and Tracy.
It was an unusually amusing recap and briefing. Rickard told us about the lives of the whalers, who spent most of their lives at sea away from their wives and families. One captain of a whaler worked for 37 years and only spent 4 years 8 months under his own roof. The only means of communication was letters, but the post system was very unreliable. He told the story of a couple from Nantucket called Anna and Lucas through their letters to each other:
Anna: Dear Lucas, where did you put the axe?
Lucas (14 months later): Dear Anna, why do you need the axe?
Anna (6 months later): Dear Lucas, I've found the axe. Where's the hammer?
I had dinner with the usual crew and then put the clocks back an hour.
I woke up at 0130 with the ship pitching violently. Some of the waves were apparently 10 metres! It's all very well to smile as you look out and see the bow wave, but this was very disturbing!
I was coming down with a cold, and I'd used up all my Sudafed, so I asked Dr Tom for some drugs.
Phil and Judy finally brought down my laptop, and we had lunch together. Afterwards, I went up to their room. We had a pub quiz using an iPhone app, and then Tracy came in, and we chose Phil's photo competition entries. We then went down to see Jim's talk on Antarctic geoscience - until I fell asleep and had to go to my cabin!
Daniel then went through the difference between swell (waves caused by distant winds), seas (waves caused by local wind) and fetch (the uninterrupted length of sea where the waves develop), Peter talked about Elephant Island and Elke about phytoplankton. Hmm…
I had a decent night's sleep for a change, due to the calmer conditions. I added vignettes to most of my wildlife shots and then had breakfast. I took a risk then by cleaning my D810 sensor with a wipe I'd already used, but it seemed to work. On the one hand, don't want to scratch it; on the other, I don't want to have to clone out a sensor spot on every single shot I take!
We had another biosecurity check and then had a very successful Zodiac cruise. We went to Point Wild on Elephant Island, where the Shackleton party had camped for four months, and saw a leopard seal catch and eat a penguin! It also spent a few minutes coming very close to our boat, and it was amazing to see it at such close quarters. On our way back, we saw a glacier calve with one of our Zodiacs in the foreground. Too bad I was on the wrong side of the boat to get the shot…!
After a quick lunch with Tracy, I managed to screw up by leaving marks on the mirror while ‘cleaning’ the inside my camera with a brush not designed for the job. That'll teach me for leaving my dust blower behind!
I worked on my photos then read my book for a while before the usual recap and briefing, then dinner with the gang. Disturbingly, my cabin door was open when I came back. I must've tried to slam it, I suppose. I was a bit worried, but my cameras and all my equipment were still there, so that was a relief.
Seven out of seven! After breakfast, I set foot onAntarctica for the very first time, completing my set of continents. Hurrah! All the staff were having a go at me for getting too close to the adélie penguins, and one of the guests was even a bit snotty with me when I accidentally walked in front of her while she was taking a picture. I had a chat with Phil and Judy, and that made me feel better again...!
I somehow lost my lens hood on my wide-angle lens, but it turned up at reception under Lost Property. Phew...!
I worked on today's photos until lunchtime, when I ate with Tracy and a nice American couple called David and Mardi.
Our afternoon excursion was cancelled at the last minute due to all the brash ice surrounding the ship, so Tracy forced me to look at a ‘cute’ penguin book called Antarctic Antics, by Judy Sierra:
"To keep myself up off the ice,
I find my father's feet are nice.
I snuggle in his belly fluff,
And that's how I stay warm enough."
I had dinner with the usual crew, and then we had a staff quiz. We were given a list of crazy facts about all 14 of them, and we had to guess who had done what. I retired early…
Phil and Judy filled me in over breakfast, which was chiefly remarkable for the customer service. I ordered French toast and fruit sauce, but my waiter knows I always make myself a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel. As there was no smoked salmon on the table, he brought me a plate with a bagel, smoked salmon, cream cheese and even half a lemon - as they usually only have thin slices at the buffet. Very impressive! I spoke to Adam in the corridor about doing a talk together on photography. He liked the idea of choosing five of each other's pictures and taking about them, so we'll get half an hour to do that on the voyage home to Ushuaia.
We had a wet landing in Neko Harbour this morning. I walked straight past all the penguins and up to a rocky bluff with a view of a glacier. It looked like it would calve at any moment, but it never did. However, I got a few shots of Phil and other hikers on the ridge line.
I was on the first Zodiac back, so I had a hot chocolate and imported my photos.
We had a barbecue again on Deck 5 for lunch, and I sat with Phil and Judy again. Afterwards, I worked in my photos and read my Spenser novel until we hit an iceberg. Fortunately, it was only a small one...!
We were having the world's most boring Zodiac ride in the afternoon when an enormous chunk of ice calves from one of the glaciers. Too bad it looked nowhere near as spectacular as a photograph.
I had dinner with my friends and then spent an hour whale watching with Phil. We did actually see a few flukes, but they were a long way away.
I ended up in the bar, where I talked to Tracy about her career crisis until she changed the subject and tried to set me up with one of the Dutch girls!
Hayley woke us up at 0609 today for an early Zodiac ride to Cierva Cove. I had the choice of 90 minutes, 45 minutes or a cup of coffee in the Club. Phil was keen to see whales, but I didn't think that was likely. However, it was our last cruise, so I decided to do the long one with him and Judy. We didn't see any whales, funnily enough, but I did get a good shot of a penguin jumping into the water. I know I'm lazy about getting out there sometimes, so I think I made the right decision in the end.
After lunch with the gang, we were supposed to have a wet landing, but it was cancelled due to the swell, so we all had a team photo on Deck 5 instead. When all the Dutch group knelt down in the front row, someone said: "Finally, we've got them on their knees!"
As we started our crossing of the Drake Passage (or Cape Horn to you and me), the four of us went up to Phil and Judy's room to pick my competition entries. I only got one of my original choices! Phil and I went down to upload them and look at the other entries, but there was nothing there, so we went to the Club and had a gin and tonic with some of the black ice Heather had found this afternoon. It’s spent 30,000 years at the bottom of a glacier, so it’s had all the air squeezed out of it, which makes it incredibly clear. It also lasts a long time, so I time it with astopwatch: after 36 minutes, it was still going strong!
After dinner with the usual crew, Adam gave a funny bar talk about his career highlights and sang a humorous song about how to 'woo a lady'. I gave him my pictures for our talk, but he didn't have anything for me, and our talk wasn't on the schedule for tomorrow, so I went to bed...
This was supposed to be the morning when we all had a lie in, but I woke up at 0530 as usual. After tossing and turning in bed and then doing the crossword for a bit, I went to the 'early bird' breakfast in the Club, where I had a nice chat with Sally. We then had proper breakfast together in the dining room with her husband Giuseppe, who kindly allowed me to call him Pepe!
I didn't fancy listening to Peter or Pablo talk, so I sat amidships to avoid the swell and read my Spenser novel. Adam gave me 15 of his photos, but Tracy was still using my laptop, so I couldn’t choose the best ones yet.
After lunch with the gang, I spoke to Adam, and we arranged our talk for 1430. It went pretty well, and it was nice to be able to show off my work - even though everyone seems to have a different idea of what my best pictures are!
I showed Henry and his wife a slideshow after the talk and then had a chat with Phil before the usual recap. These things are getting pretty dull and incomprehensible, so I just read my book and listened with half an ear.
We had dinner with a British couple, and then I went to my cabin to copy Phil and Tracy's pictures on to a memory stick.
I thought it was going to be a long night going across a bumpy Drake Passage, but I finally managed to get to sleep and woke up at 0700. I had breakfast with the gang, and then Hayley announced we were passing Cape Horn, so we took a look. It wasn't particularly exciting, but it was nice to tick the box. Phil later told me I’d been looking at the ‘wrong’ Cape Horn, but it all looks the same…!
After lunch with the gang, where we were joined by Gayle and her husband, there was an announcement of whales and then even orcas on the starboard beam. (They were a long way away and probably sei whales.)
We went up to Phil and Judy's room to drink wine, and we even saw a few dolphins. The recap was led by Hayley, who revealed that we'd driven 3,536Nm on our trip, drunk 491 cans of beer, 739 bottles of wine, 10 bottles of gin and 9 of whisky.
In the photo competition, I won a Helly Hansen beanie for the best landscape shot of an iceberg at sunrise! I made the top five in every category apart from 'funny and creative', and Phil made three. We then went up to the bar for a gin and tonic, although there was no more black ice. Shame…
I met Irina on the way to dinner, so I bought a bottle of Dom Perignon for our table. There was a receiving line consisting of all the staff, so it took a while to sit down. Phil and Judy and Tracy were at our table, and we were fortunately joined by Giuseppe and Sally. After dinner, we all trooped into the lounge to watch Adam's video of the whole trip. It was pretty good and made me think I should learn how to do something similar for my friends back home. I asked him which software he'd used and then completely forgot what he'd told me! Something Pro...
We were all woken by Hayley on the PA at 0630 in time for breakfast at 0700. I ate with Phil, Judy and Tracy, and then we were called for our busto the airport. Tracy was on the next bus, so we said a quick goodbye. We might be having dinner tonight in Buenos Aires. Phil and Judy were on the early flight, so we said goodbye at the gate.
When I arrived at the Hotel Pulitzer - the same place as if stayed last month - I went through my email backlog and then went out to dinner at Don Julio's. I didn't hear from Tracy, so I had to eat alone, but I didn't mind that. I had a chorizo, melted provolone and sun-dried tomato starter followed by the fillet steak with grilled vegetables and something called a suspiro porteño, which was a mish-mash of dulce de leche cream, brownie and coconut and hazel meringue. The butter was a little hard, they didn't immediately give me a clean plate for my starter, there was no sauce with the steak and the double espresso was dreadful, but the main problem with eating outside on a balmy night was the cyclists cutting right through the restaurant! By the way, BA is a small town. I know this because one of the guys at the next door table was the same guy I'd sat next to on the plane!
I did some electronic chores, published a couple of blog posts on Iguazu and Buenos Aires, upload my favourite shots to my website. The weather had changed overnight from blue skies and boiling sunshine to thunder, lightning and rain! I took a taxi and met Tracy for lunch at a place called Halina Café in Palermo. I had to get some cash out on the way, having so sensibly got rid of my last pesos at the restaurant last night, and I left my card in the machine! And I was doing so well…Anyway, we had a nice lunch, swapping stories about the cruise and Tracy’s current digs, and then we shared a cab back to the hotel. Tracy went off to get her phone fixed, and I packed for the flight home. My car picked me up at 1430 and took me to the airport, where I caught my flight to London via São Paulo - or San Pablo if ever you find yourself in an Argentine airport searching desperately for your flight!
My Antarctic expedition was over, and I enjoyed it. I was lucky with the weather, the people I met and the chance to get up close and personal with a leopard seal! The staff were knowledgeable, the food and accommodation were perfectly good, and, most importantly, I managed to take a few good pictures! It’s an expensive voyage, and the only reason I was able to afford it was that a property deal fell through and the money for the deposit was burning a hole in my pocket (!), but that’s the very definition of the trip of a lifetime, isn’t it? It’s a journey we take only once, and probably against our better judgment, but I’d much rather regret the things I’ve done than the things I haven’t...
Antarctic Fur Seal, Arctocephalus gazella
Antarctic Minke Whale, Balaenoptera bonaerensis
Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Commerson's Dolphin, Cephalorhynchus commersonii
Crabeater Seal, Lobodon carcinophaga
Fin Whale, Balaenoptera physalus
Hourglass Dolphin, Lagenorrhynchus cruciger
Humpback Whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Leopard Seal, Hydrurga leptonyx
Peale's Dolphin, Lagenorrhynchus australis
Sei Whale, Balaenoptera borealis
South American Fur Seal, Arctocephalus australis
South American Sea Lion, Otaria flavescens
Southern Elephant Seal, Mirounga leonina
Southern Right Whale, Eubalaena australis
Weddell Seal, Leptonychotes weddellii
Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Antarctic Petrel, Thalassoica antarctica
Antarctic Prion, Pachyptila desolata
Antarctic Shag, Phalacrocroax bransfieldensis
Antarctic Tern, Sterna vittata
Arctic Tern, Sterna paradisea
Atlantic Petrel, Pterodroma incerta
Black-bellied Storm-petrel, Fregetta tropica
Black-browed Albatross, Thalassarche melanophris
Black-chinned Siskin, Carduelis barbata
Black-throated Finch, Melanodera melanodera
Blackish Cinclodes, Cinclodes antarcticus
Blackish Oystercatcher, Haematopus ater
Blue Petrel, Halobaena caerulea
Brown Skua, Catharacta lonnbergi
Cape Petrel, Daption capense
Chilean Skua, Catharacta chilensis
Chinstrap Penguin, Pygoscelis antarctica
Common Diving-petrel, Pelecanoides urinatrix
Crested Duck, Lophonetta specularioides
Dark-faced Ground Tyrant, Muscisaxicola maclovianus
Dolphin Gull, Larus scoresbii
Falkland Pipit, Anthus correndera
Falkland Skua, Catharacta antarctica
Falkland Steamer Duck, Tachyeres brachypterus
Falkland Thrush, Turdus falcklandii
Gentoo Penguin, Pygoscelis papua
Grey-headed Albatross, Thalassarche chrysostoma
House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
Imperial Shag, Phalacrocorax atriceps
Kelp Goose, Chloephaga hybrida
Kelp Gull, Larus dominicanus
King Penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus
Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Phoebetria palpebrata
Long-tailed Meadowlark, Sturnella loyca
Macaroni Penguin, Eudyptes chrysolophus
Magellanic Oystercatcher, Haematopus leucopodus
Magellanic Penguin, Spheniscus magellanicus
Magellanic Snipe, Gallinago paraguaiae
Northern Giant Petrel, Macronectes halli
Rock Shag, Phalacrocorax magellanicus
Rockhopper Penguin, Eudyptes chrysochrome
Royal Albatross, Diomedea epomorphora
Ruddy-headed Goose, Chloephaga rubidiceps
Slender-billed Prion, Pachyptila belcheri
Snow Petrel, Pagodroma nivea
Snowy Sheathbill, Chionis alba
Soft-plumaged Petrel, Pterodroma mollis
Sooty Shearwater, Puffinis griseus
South American Tern, Sterna hirundinacea
South Georgia Pintail, Anas georgica
South Georgia Pipit, Anthus antarcticus
South Georgia Shag, Phalacrocorax georgianus
South Georgian Diving-petrel, Pelecanoides georgicus
South Polar Skua, Catharacta maccormicki
Southern Fulmar, Fulmarus glacialoides
Southern Giant Petrel, Macronectes giganteus
Striated Caracara, Phalcoboenus australis
Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
Upland Goose, Chloephaga picta
Wandering Albatross, Diomedea exulans
White-chinned Petrel, Procellaria aequinoctialis
White-rumped Sandpiper, Calidris fuscicollis
Wilson's Storm-petrel, Oceanites oceanicus
Yellow-billed Teal, Anas flavirostris