1st April: Drake Passage

Another day, much like the others.

We’ve left the Drake Passage behind us and are now at Stanley in the Falklands.  Stanley is gleaming in the early morning sun with a distant kaleidoscope of brightly coloured buildings and an occasional stack of landrovers beside the shoreline.

Good turnout at breakfast and some people started twirling on their chairs and got so fast you could hardly see them.

We all pile into the zodiac to head off the short distance to Stanley apart from those who are still twirling in their chairs.  In fact we are all in the one zodiac, some have to stand up in the middle and it does seem rather crowded.  Suddenly a huge white sperm whale surfaces beside us and blows spray all over us.  It opens its mouth wide, right beside the zodiac, pauses for a moment and then disappears beneath the waves.

The harbourmaster greets us as we arrive in Stanley.  He has a moustache to rival the wing span of an albatross and bears a remarkable resemblance to Umberto II of Italy.

The streets are very quiet.  Very clean and quiet.  A group of us wanders into a souvenir shop.  The kindly shop attendants direct us to a large ceramic penguin.  One of our party picks it up and looks at it but manages to drop it on the floor.  It shatters and a tiny British soldier pops out in full battle gear.  This enrages the shop attendants.  They make loud screeching noises and turn into giant penguins.  They have huge beaks and look very menacing and they are coming towards us.  Fortunately we are able to move faster than the giant penguins.  Out in the street, everyone is running and giant penguins are pouring out of the houses and chasing us, screaming insults in Italian.

Finally we are back to the safety of the Customs House.  Umberto is there to greet us.  “I actually am Umberto of Italy” he explains.  “This is my retirement job.”  He is looking very old.  “This is not surprising since I am nearly 200 years old.”

So we settle down to the computers and the internet and read the news.  Japan has decided to move to a safer location somewhere near Mauritius.  This will take some time.   Already, though, the removal of the Japanese land mass has caused some distortions and California has moved down beside Mexico.  Pauline Hanson is moving to Argentina so she can open a fish and chips shop beside the runway in the suburbs of El Calafate.  Tony Abbot has become Pope, taking the name of Papadopolous III.


Crackle, crackle …


“Good morning, good people.  It is a warm 4 degrees with a windspeed of only 6 knots and in a few hours we will be approaching the Island of Lost Souls.  Breakfast is at 8:30am.”

Amanda is waking us up with the morning announcements.  Groggily I get up, shower and head for breakfast.

Yesterday, we thought we were stopping in at Beauchene Island, home to 200,000 black-browed albatrosses, then on to Stanley in the late afternoon.  Due to the high seas, this was not to be.  Today is the day of the sea.

The wild sea

Not long after breakfast, David and Martin conducted another Lightroom session, continuing the critiques of yesterday and generating a couple of postcards for everyone from the images we have taken in the last fortnight.

Later on, in the mid-afternoon we were treated to a delightful presentation from Gary on what it was like to over-winter at Mawson where he studied Emperor Penguin colonies.  The base is cut off for many months of the year and it took 11 months before he returned home.

Early on in the day, there was some blue sky, a phenomenon we had seen little of in the last week.  Up in the Bridge in the early afternoon, a brilliant glare of sunlight came bouncing in off the water.  But that didn’t mean it was calm.  We continued riding the huge swells coming up from behind us and the ship at times swung somewhat alarmingly from side to side.

Huge waves

Then sometime between four and five, we swung around into the sea to make our approach for the final few hours to Stanley.  At nine pm we heard the sound of the anchor dropping and the ship is now quiet.  This will be particularly welcome to some.

Tomorrow morning will see the distribution of the penguin suits so we can inconspicuously slip into Stanley.

31st March: Drake Passage

A little bit quieter today.  There were always albatrosses and other birds following the ship, waiting for fish that may get thrown up in the wake.  I spent some time photographing them, an interesting exercise in itself, out on the rolling deck with a very heavy long telephoto mounted on a monopod from the belt.

Southern fulmars

Wandering albatrosses

Wandering albatrosses

30th March: Drake Passage

Force 10 gale today and the seas are awesome but it’s behind us and so not nearly as radical an experience as it might have been.

Wild weather in cold seas - looking out through the window of the Bridge.

In the image above, I was looking out through the window of the Bridge, in a position of comfort.

The wild sea at the stern of the ship

I took the image above from the safety of a protected open doorway opening onto the deck.  No way it was safe to actually go out on deck.

I heard of a German tourist who had gone missing earlier that season from a cruise ship in the Drake Passage.  They worked out that he must have gone to a favourite place at the stern to take photographs and been swept away by a huge wave.

22nd March: Drake Passage

The Drake Passage got somewhat rougher as we got to the middle with water periodically breaking over the bow of the ship. Almost all the photographers became seasick, though I was fortunately amongst the few not afflicted. In mid afternoon it started to snow and there were also several whales in front of the ship in the early evening. However, low light and the distance did not make photographing them easy.

A rocking and a rolling

Google maps location.

Splash into the waves

We all piled into one of these for lifeboat drill. All very safe no doubt but not much fun in a real situation, wedged in like sardines, tossed around in a stormy sea and probably most people seasick.

… Then later there was some snow.

Google maps location.

Two fin whales in Antarctic waters and less than 50km from King George Island. This is over an hour after sunset which is a problem for a photograph with a long telephoto. So not surprising it could be sharper but not bad for 600mm, 1/60th sec @ f5.6, deck of a moving ship.

Google maps location.

20th March: Patagonia (Ushuaia and Beagle Passage)

This is near dawn, at the Ushuaia waterfront, looking over the harbour, beyond the road to the airport, across the Beagle Channel to the mountains on the other side.

Another shot from the roof of out hotel.

A panorama of Ushuaia harbour in the early morning.

I had expected that in our time in Ushuaia we would get to the National Park and perhaps a trip to the Harberton Homestead. Neither happened. We had too many last-minute tasks to make sure we were prepared for the voyage.

We did get to see a couple of interesting museums. One was the Maritime Museum, a former prison, which graphically shows the savage conditions prisoners endured here in the nineteenth century, including tiny cells, shackles and leg irons.

Another was the Museo de Maquetas Mundo Yámana, with informative displays on the indian history of the region. Essentially the indians were all wiped out by settlers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Most tribes are extinct and little of their culture remains.

I had been intrigued by a theory that there were early Australoid inhabitants of the Americas thousands of years before the Amerindians turned up (related to Australian Aborigines), and that their last refuge was in Tierra del Fuego up to the early years of the twentieth century. I didn’t find any evidence of that in Ushuaia and all the photographs of nineteenth century natives looked to be Amerindians of Mongoloid ancestry. If there were Australoids there, most likely they were a minority group in one or more tribes.

Clouds over the end of the Beagle Channel.

The big day. Off to Antarctica in a Russian icebreaker.

We left Ushuaia about 4pm and proceeded up the Beagle Channel until about midnight when we entered the Drake Passage. A school of whales passed us at one point but they weren’t there for long and I didn’t see them. I did spend some time photographing albatrosses and petrels with a long telephoto from the moving ship.

A small lighthouse in the Beagle Channel.

Another small lighthouse. The building behind is not an estancia and I think it must be a Customs Port or Monitoring Post.

Moonrise at the end of the Beagle Passage.

Google Maps link.