Terra Incognito – Letters from the South

Antarctica Fine Art Images (~100)

OR

Antarctica Fine Art Images with Travel Photos (~400)

The following are letters I wrote to friends from my journey south from February 2nd to March 2nd 2007. I have done some limited editing of these letters to delete the non-relevant parts now that the adventure is over (instructions on communications etc.).  You can post your own comments about the photos and letters at the bottom of this page (see: comments)

Lemaire

January 26, 2007 9pm (central time)

Hi friends,

This is new news to most of you… but LONG story how it happened… I am going to Antarctica with some of the world’s best photographers next week. Following that to a friend’s estancia near Bariloche, Argentina for several days to photograph it. I will return to Texas March 1.

This is the generic version of the voyage I am going on… my group has chartered the entire vessel and it will cater to imagery, light and the photographer’s passions.

Itinerary – Detailed

Day 1: Ushuaia, Argentina
Arrive in the southernmost city in the world and transfer independently to the Hotel Los Nires or similar hotel. The remainder of the day is free to explore this ‘frontier town’ at leisure.

Day 2: Ushuaia / Tierra del Fuego National Park
Spend the morning with a local guide on a group excursion to Tierra del Fuego National Park, and then enjoy a traditional Argentine BBQ asado lunch. Embark in the afternoon, settle into your cabin, and meet your Expedition Team before the ship sets sail along the scenic Beagle Channel.

Day 3: At Sea
As you cruise these wildlife-rich waters, your expedition staff introduces the various species of birds and marine life that you will encounter on your voyage. Wandering, Black-browed and Sooty Albatrosses, shearwaters, Giant and Cape Petrels and numerous other seabirds accompany you. A program of lectures will help prepare you for the many adventures that lie ahead. You will also attend safety briefings and familiarize yourself with the guidelines for visitors to Antarctica.

Days 4-5: Falkland Islands (Malvinas)
You will spend these days in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), renowned for their amazing wildlife. On Carcass Island, highlights include Flightless Steamer Ducks, Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins and a colony of the rare Black-crowned Night Herons. Peale’s and Commerson’s dolphins are often seen along the coast. Nearby New Island boasts fantastic Rockhopper Penguin rookeries, along with Black-browed Albatrosses and Blue-eyed Shags. You will also explore Stanley, the charming capital of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas). Don’t miss the chance to visit the small, but interesting museum.

Days 6-7: Southern Ocean
Continuing east, marine mammals and seabirds lure you to the decks as you cross the Antarctic Convergence, a biological barrier where cold polar waters sink beneath the warmer waters of the more temperate zones.

Days 8-11: South Georgia
Sharing many of the biological characteristics of Antarctica, South Georgia has awe-inspiring scenery with towering, 7,000-foot mountains and mighty glaciers, but also low-lying, grassy areas, deep fjords and beaches. First sighted by Captain James Cook in 1775, the island attracts an astounding concentration of wildlife and is viewed by many as one of the most inspiring places on earth. Thousands of King Penguins greet you at Salisbury Plain. Wandering Albatrosses nest at Prion Island, where luxurious tussock grass provides a habitat for a variety of seabirds – and camouflage for thousands of breeding fur seals. Huge elephant seals, King and Gentoo Penguins crowd the beaches along the coast at places such as Gold Harbor, while Light-mantled and Sooty Albatrosses nest in the cliffs behind. The island also played a significant role in the story of Shackleton’s epic journey after the sinking of his ship, the ‘Endurance.’ It was here, at the whaling station of Stromness, that he finally arrived after a harrowing voyage in a small boat from Elephant Island across the Scotia Sea and over the never-before-climbed mountain range of South Georgia. You visit his grave at Grytviken, a once-active whaling station.

Days 12-13: Scotia Sea
Two days at sea to relax as well as to review your adventures in South Georiga. The first icebergs appear on the horizon as you head south to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Days 14-17: South Shetland Islands & Antarctic Peninsula
Approaching the rugged South Shetland Islands, your first landfall could be Elephant Island where Shackleton’s men found refuge during the epic ‘Endurance’ expedition. Places such as King George Island and Livingston Island support huge numbers of nesting penguins while seabirds nest in the cliffs and elephant seals wallow along the shores.

Deception Island is still considered an active volcano and sailing through the narrow passage into its huge, flooded caldera is a thrilling experience.

Sailing around the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, we hope to navigate the Antarctic Sound, often referred to as ‘iceberg alley.’ Huge tabular icebergs drift north from the Antarctic continent. Pending weather and ice conditions, you may land on Paulet Island. This crater island is carpeted with nesting Adelie Penguins that surround the remains of a primitive hut where Captain Larsen and his men of the ‘Nordenskjold’ expedition sought refuge in 1903. Cruising Palmer Archipelago, several thousand Gentoo Penguins wait for you under the dramatic cliffs of Cuverville and Ronge Islands. Sheathbills, Antarctic Terns, skuas and Blue-eyed Shags nest in this area. Navigating the Neumayer Channel, you enjoy extraordinary vistas of Anvers Island. Your plans also include a landing at Port Lockroy where bleached whale bones commemorate its time as a favorite anchorage of the whalers.

You sail into Paradise Harbor on the Danco Coast where a series of huge glaciers flow into quiet waters. Your Zodiacs take you along rugged cliffs with nesting Cape Petrels, Blue-eyed Shags and Kelp Gulls. You keep watch for humpback whales and groups of crabeater seals on the ice and land at Almirante Brown, an Argentine research station located on the continent. Lemaire Channel is another narrow passage between towering rock faces and stunning glaciers. This channel is one of the highlights of a visit to the Antarctic Peninsula but it can be choked with icebergs and pack ice.

Days 18-19: Drake Passage
You leave Antarctica and head north across the Drake Passage. Your expedition staff will review the adventures of your journey as you return to Ushuaia.

Day 20: Ushuaia
After breakfast, you disembark and transfer by bus to the exit of the port which is centrally located in town. Continue independently to the airport for your flight back home.

###

I anticipate I will send updates at a minimum of every two or three days. Quick "rushes" of the photos will follow in early March, maybe even Feb. 28th from Buenos Aires. I’ll be taking video, audio (hydrophone) and still images (thousands), and have a full show & tell later in March or April.

So please join me, it will be an adventure to the edge of life on this planet.

Cheers, Rusty

###

February 1st 2007, 11:40am (central time)

Hello all,

Rrj_alcan1969
When I was 18 years old, a curious geology student (early geekhood at right), I walked across the Yukon River on six foot thick pack ice, 66 degrees North latitude, on an ice road to the North Slope and Prudoe Bay, Alaska. I drove further north that one could drive on the then inter-connected highway system in north America. Now I am venturing to almost 66 degrees South latitude, the Antarctic peninsula. I was have always been awed by the contrasts from the far north, and I think it is the wildness of this and other wild places that I love (including underwater!). They are humbling, awe inspiring, and recharging for the soul. A reminder that we are but a small part of a much larger picture. I hope I can capture this with a camera (taking 3).

I leave on this adventure at 5pm today… and when the plane takes off from Dallas it will be exactly one year to the hour since I was in the hospital in Dallas having a near-death experience. The contrast has not been lost on me. Live every day that is left in front of you, for all can be lost in one day, don’t waste any of them.

Most of this trip, I will be THREE HOURS AHEAD of Central Time (UTC/GMT -3)

On February 23rd I will transit from Ushuaia, Argentina to San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina to photograph my friend’s estancia.

http://www.estanciaalicura.com/

I am almost as excited about doing that as Antarctica. Maybe in March I can get some sleep. I will have Internet access (full) again from there beginning the evening of the 23rd of February.

More from Argentina as I go. Now go enjoy this day.

Cheers and a big loving hug to all of you, Rusty

###

February 5th, 2007 5:11am (central time), but 8:11am in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Hi all,

After an aborted departure from Austin on Feb 1 due to ice in Dallas… I finally got in the air the next afternoon. Luckily I got my upgrade and the 10 plus hour flight was much nicer from Dallas to Buenos Aires. After some quick touring and and an overnight in BA we were off to the airport again. This time a closer, domestic airport, near the city center. We had many delays…. finally left the ground at 7pm and arrived last night in Ushuaia. The airlines changed planes on us and I lost my seat reservation. Another sorted tale.

Anyway, we are all in Usuhaia, it is cool and lovely… the view from the bedroom window at 6:45am is here:
Ushuaia

We’ll go to the Parque Nacional of Tierra del Fuego in an hour… board the ship late this afternoon… and depart about 6-7pm in the Beagle Channel (named for the HMS BEAGLE).

Gotta go…. Rusty

###

Summer is optional 102
Feb 6, 2007

Hello all,

After arriving at the southern most airport in the world, and on a VERY late plane in Ushuaia (pop. ~60,000), we had dinner in the hotel about midnight. The next day was a short tour and some 25 min hikes through parts of the Tierra del Fuego National Park. Then we had a few hours in town, which enabled me to straighten out my airline ticket. If you ever wonder where IBM PC’s go to die it’s this office.

We left Ushuaia in Patagonia last evening about 6pm and entered the Beagle Channel, named for the HMS BEAGLE. The view has not changed since Charles Darwin saw it in 1832. Several hundred meters from us as we leftAntarctica0001_02

the harbor was the yacht OCTOPUS at anchor. Paul Allen’s amazing yacht.
The helicopter was sucked inside the ship just as we passed. So it appeared they were leaving too.

Almost all that signed up for this trip made it. One unfortunate fellow as mugged by six men in Buenos Aires, and fractured his hip. So sadly for him, he has a 10 day hospital stay in BA, then back to his home in Australia. As we were waiting in line to board the plane, I walked up to one man and told him he looked very familiar… then he said he was a from Austin, and I said that he had a shaggy dog. Then I informed him that it was me that plays with Frisbee with LOLALola_wilson
in the park. He had walked by so often these last 4 years (Lola is now 4). Alan McMahon lives on Wheeler Street. Two doors away from Jim Creswell. The world down here is very small. There is even a couple that lives on Sinclair Rd. in Snowmass Village, CO, just around the corner from where I used to live.

The food is very good. The two dining rooms are just down the companionway for me on my deck level. Quark Expeditions has a staff of about six on board, then there are a few dozen more in the crew, mostly Russian I believe. I was very lucky with my last minute booking and I have a double cabin all to myself. It only has a wash basin, and the other facilities are just across the hall. It has a small desk and couch, next to a port hole that will open (presently getting splash by waves however). The Scapolomine patch was applied yesterday about lunch time before we boarded the ship, and I have been weathering the 3 m. swells of the following sea just fine. Weather now is overcast, 30 kt. Wind, and a very rolling sea, all coming from behind us. It is in the 40’s F, outside. I have been taking numerous movies with my GL2 and a few with the u/w housing on the SD800 (outside in the wind/waves and spray). I have had many offers to give me some hands on pointers about my high end Canon cameras and will doing that soon.

We should arrive at the western edge of the Falkland Islands (las Malvinas) sometime this evening. From there it is over to South Georgia Island. Then we’ll be following Earnest Shackelton’s 1915 voyage more/less in reverse towards the Antarctic Peninsula… to be continued.

Rusty

###

Summer is optional 103
Feb 7, 2007

Hello again,

Penguin
Today was for the lack of better words, our first penguin day. All sorts of them. We landed at Carcass Island, where two couples have been living for 33 years. They operate a small (very small) B&B there. We traversed the island in a 2.5 mile walk over five hours, taking photos (and getting rained on a bit) along the way. Our “hosts” at the B&B had prepared an amazing spread of homemade baked goods, and some hot tea. It was most welcome after the walk. Nearly everyone had a somewhat heavy pack, some folks on this trip use the highest end of digital photo equipment currently made in the world. My combination of the dry bag, and waterproof back pack is perfect. The landings are very wind blown in these climes with flying sand and salt spray.

After lunch aboard the Professor Multanovskiy, we motored to Saunders Island, just to the NE of Carcass Island. Here we made our 2nd landing, although I was so tried with only 5 hrs of sleep that I pondered not going for a moment (only a moment). I ended up taking most of my photos of tide pools and videos on the island. I spoke to the owner of the 31,000 ac. Island to thank him, and inquired how long he had lived here… he said “all my life”. I think he was about my age. There are less than 3000 souls living in the Falkland Islands. Two thousand of them are in PORT STANLEY, the only major town. We will leave for there tonight after dinner. We’ll have half a day in Port Stanley, then depart for South Georgia Island, a long and potentially very rough trip. It is more than 1200 miles from Ushuaia. Everyone is excited to get to South Georgia. The geologist aboard says I will be amazed as it is such a “young” island.

One of the Quark people today asked me if I would like to be a videographer for some of their journeys, no pay, but a free trip with airfare. I said sure… we’ll see if this really develops.

Tonight is the “Captain’s Party” for all of us to become acquainted. He is Russian and I am told a very nice fellow.

I feel great, took the “patch” off today, but may reapply one for the crossing to S. Georgia. More from the Southern Ocean as it happens.

Cheers, Rusty

###

Summer is optional 104
Feb 8, 2007, 9pm
Southern Ocean

Greetings warm friends,

A busy day here… after an overnight cruise from Saunders Island we arrived in Port Stanley just at dawn in the Falkland Islands. It was a little rainy and our fearless leaders (or so I thought) opted to hang around town, and have the ship depart 3 hrs early, at 11:30am for South Georgia Island. I was the lone soul who commandeered a taxi to take me to the end of the island, near Mt. Kent and Mt. Pleasant where the “stone runs” are to be found. Fascinating river-like features entirely of quartzite metamorphic rock, that appear to “flow” down the hill sides. These are suitcase size rocks, some larger, some a bit smaller, but nonetheless deposits that appear to have been laid in the ground somehow by some un-natural act. They are indeed from frozen earth pushing them out from the hillside.

Dennis, my driver, gave me a lengthy spin on his love of this island to which he immigrated to 32 years ago. There is actually a 747 that flies here from the UK, twice a week, via a refueling stop at Ascension Island, an 18 hr. trek altogether. There are no flights to near by Argentina since the war in 1982. We also drove by numerous fields of land mines, well posted, but of the 36,000 the Argentines laid, 30,000 are still in viable. We also saw two RAF fighter jets fly overhead, otherwise we are largely ALONE on this end of the island.

I arrived back in Port Stanley at 11:15am, just in time to catch the 11:30am Zodiac ride back to the ship. (yes, Stan, I did think of our adventure in Durban, almost missing the ship!). So I never saw anything of Port Stanley, but my 50 mile foray into the wild part of the island was really nice. I’ll have a lot of movies and stills of this.

So after lunch aboard, we headed to the east, and then turned south forAntarctica0001_36
the 700 miles journey to South Georgia Island, deep in the southern ocean. The sea is rolling, but only causing us a 15 deg. roll aboard ship. Less than the 20 deg. Tilt we were experiencing on the way from Ushuaia. The Captain last night explained that the ship COULD roll a maximum of 73 degrees… then the same in the opposite direction. We’ll hope that does not happen. He has been on the ship for 13 years and said that the worse waves he has seen were about 60 ft. (four times the largest I have seen in my life!).

We will cruise non-stop for the next 2.5 days and hope for good conditions so we can see the rugged west side of South Georgia where the glaciers meet the sea.

I am doing very well, I applied a second patch today for sea-sickness avoidance (have not felt bad in the least). I think this may be the last time I feel the need to do this. I definitely walk funny on land now.

Cheers, Rusty

###

Summer is optional 105
Feb 9, 2007, 6:15pm
Southern Ocean
S52 43.955 W48 38.015

Greetings,

All is well at 52deg South. We are about half way to South Georgia Island, still 450 miles distant… cruising about 14-15 mph (not knots). Today was spent doing hardware and software seminars on various things to do with photography. We will continue to cruise through the night, all day tomorrow, and part of the next day. We are more/less traveling east south east, and after landfall, we’ll turn further south to Antarctica. Then the waves could get interesting. Right now it’s not so bad, but showers are a bit challenging. They will be impossible if conditions worsen during the next long passage south.

Happy birthday to Alden Feist (a day late, but nice to recognize FOUR years old!). I’ll bring you something from the land of Happy Feet.

Cheers, Rusty

###

Summer is optional 106
Feb 10, 2007, 6:00pm
Southern Ocean
100 miles from South Georgia Island

Hi all,

We are starting to spot whales and seals now running near the ship. But with 160 glaciers on South Georgia Island we’ll see a lot more penguins that ever before too. We should arrive there about 3am (midnight in Texas).

Cheers, Rusty

###

Summer is optional 107
Feb 11, 2007, 11.14pm
Southern Ocean
Stromness Bay, South Georgia Island
S54 09.398 W36 42.688

Hi landlubbers,

It was another lumpy night at sea last night, arriving at dawn inAntarctica0001_43

Elsehul Bay at the far NW tip of South Georgia Island. We made a Zodiac boat (rubber boat) tour of the bay at first light in a light rain that later turned to snow. It looked very much like Monterey, CA to me, and the 44 deg water I learned to SCUBA dive in long ago. Lots of seals, kelp, birds, but more of EVERYTHING. We are surrounded by jagged peaks that reach over 9000 ft. in places. A few hours later we landed in Right Whale Bay just to the east. I cannot describe the sensation that this is nature without man. Landing on the beach we had to be careful not to hit the incredible number of seal pups… all born mid to late November I am told, and smaller than my 32 lb Border Collie. There were thousands. Penguins there were 10’s of thousands. The snow continued. High end digital cameras both weathered the storm and bit the dust (temporarily, but not mine)… I shot mostly videos after a few stills,Antarctica0001_63
the rain slicker I got for the video camera was perfect.

Before lunch we cruised through the Bay of Isles (and past our first iceberg), where we had planned to land, but the winds off the glacier were in excess of 30 knots so that was canceled. We could however, even from the sea, observe the 250,000 plus penguin colony that dwarfed one’s imagination.

Next we landed at Stromness Harbor, where Earnest Shackelton madeAntarctica0001_90

contact with the whaling station in 1916 after crossing the interior of South Georgia. This place is such a remote and isolated corner of the globe it is difficult to comprehend the difficulties of life here almost a century ago. It has now been taken over by Elephant and Fur seals, to say nothing of the vast number of penguins.

Tomorrow we’ll head to Grytviken. A huge complex of bays just SW of Stromness Harbor. But tonight a night in bed without a rolling sea. We have changed our clocks again, and are now five hours (GMT -1) ahead of Central Time.

Thanks for the replies…

Cheers, Rusty

###

Summer is optional 108
Feb 12, 2007, 7pm (GMT -1), Southern Ocean
Ocean Harbor, South GeorgiaIsland
S54 20.098 W36 14.854

Dear fellow penguins,

Surely this is our fate, to turn into penguins as they will rule the world after the warm up and cool down. We are just lifting anchor at Ocean Harbor and heading to St. Andrews Bay where there are close to 200,000 happy birds waiting for our arrival in an hour or so. But I am jumping ahead. This morning, after a wonderful nights sleep, albeit short, as we had changed our clocks two hours ahead for South Georgia and bedtime came about 11:30pm, but we did not rock until we upped anchor in the early twilight at 4:45am. Breakfast at 6am, the usual scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, bacon, hot oat meal, coffee, tea, juice, yogurt, six different cereals, and today PANCAKES. God these were good.

Before we made our first landing we were in for a great view of theAntarctica0001_94

Nordenskjold Glacier. This is a HUGE bit of ice that flows into the sea. Everything that you have ever thought of in a glacier and more. The captain brought the ship in close enough to the face of it that when a grocery store sized piece of it calved off we were rocked by the mini-tsunami. I would bet that 20 G. of images were captured in a few seconds by all the hardware on deck. It was spectacular.

By 8:30am we were fighting our way against 40 kt winds into Grytviken,
an old whaling station, and now the home of a superb little museum run by a couple of people on 7 month contracts. This island is virtually devoid of human habitation. Ernest Shackelton is buried hereAntarctica0001_98_2

overlooking the harbor, a fitting place. (QTVR is here)
We landed on the rocky shore just below the cemetery and next to waterfall that cascades into the sea. We have to dodge some heavy tonnage of fur seals to get to the grave site. After walking the old settlement with all my gear, first time I took the video camera, pano head, tripod and large camera all at once… the weather was clearing with beautiful blue skies. I finished my 2nd hour of video tape here. I was ashamed to say I was HUNGRY before lunch time. Surely I have been eating twice what I normally would do. I fell fast asleep before our next landing an hour later.

Next was Ocean Harbor, a short motor around the corner into the next bay and past our first nice pointy ice berg. More spunky seals, and one little one had bitten Jeff Schewe (some of you saw his web site photos from last year) in the leg, so we were all a bit more wary. This time I went “light” with just my point-shoot camera in it’s u/w housing. There is an old steel wreck of a three masted ship in the harbor, now covered with nesting birds… the rest is seals and penguins… the little pups trying to be territorial like the adults. They think its working until you bend down to look at them and then they turn and wiggle away just as fast.

A bit further down the NE coast was St. Andrews Bay with an enormous population of penguins… but the winds coming off the Heaney and Cook Glaciers that feed into the bay forced us to abandon our landing. So we are now headed for Royal Bay and the Ross Glacier, where we will spend the night in a protected anchorage. Short of a hurricane these are the wildest winds I have experienced. Time to find the bar!

Cheers, Rusty

###

Feb 13, 2007, 6:30pm (GMT -1)
Southern Ocean
10 miles south of Cape Disappointment
South Georgia Island

Hello Sea Faring Types,

We started the day with a hot croissant and out the hatch to watch the Ross Glacier in the first light of dawn at 6:15am. The mountains on this end of the island are as majestic as I have ever seen. The island has been craved with the sharp edges of ice, and its evident everywhere from the black sand beaches to the razor tipped peaks. We spent three hours in Gold Harbor near the southern end of the island hiking among 30,000 penguins and seals that seem to grow from the tussock grass. This clumpy grass dots much of the low lying areas of the island, three foot piles of long blades with just enough room to walk between the clumps. However it seems that behind every second one there is a seal, and they are very territorial. Bluffing the fur seals seems fine mostAntarctica0001_133

of the time, although one bit a sun shade on someone’s camera as he was defending himself today. The one ton plus juvenile elephant seals require physical detours, as they don’t move for anyone. I did take a very funny movie of one snoring today, and another that was blowing bubbles and he lazed nearly upside down in a stream with one nostril underwater. They are molting their skin and do not want to be bothered for a few weeks. Meanwhile on the fringes of the penguin colony where the “unattached” are still squawking and roaming about we are all eyes with great curiosity. A few folks today even were batted by their wings, which is what the males do to each other while vying for a particular female. This was our last landing on South Georgia.

Our last visit was to cruise the Drygalski Fjord. It was SPECTACULAR.Antarctica0001_180

I think yesterday I said it was windy. It was nothing of the sort compared to today in the fjord. The wind must have topped 60 knots. I (and others) had their first experience of “if you don’t grab the rail, you are going over the side”. It was that windy in the gusts. The streams of water coming down from the glaciers all around us, at times went vertical into a mist. The air on the water was in the 60’s… lenticular clouds formed at the mountain tops above us. The streams rained on us, and the ocean wave tops were blown off by katabatic circular winds (like a dust devil in the desert but this was on the water). Everyone was so thrilled to be here, then we turned around at the end of the fjord and did it again.

We are now south of Cape Disappointment, named by Capt. Cook when heAntarctica0001_196

realized that it was an island and not a continent. We are in the furious fifties with a steady 50 knot wind and all the hatches are dogged down tight. We are heading to the South Ornkey Islands, a day and a half away, and the leading edge of the Antarctic Peninsula. I am “patch” free, can’t walk straight, and having a great time. More soon, hang on.

Cheers, Rusty

###

Feb 14, 2007, 7pm (GMT -3)
Southern Ocean, heading to Coronation Island
South Orkney Islands
Below 60 deg South.

Hello again,

Valentine wishes to my friends who are so very far away. I write this first paragraph the evening of the 14th, after a long night and day at sea. We are making a good 9.5 knots with a pounding sea and 40-45 knot winds in our face. I feel neither badly, nor particularly good, but sleep is difficult with all the motion. 250 ft of vessel bounces quite easily in large enough waves. The German chef continues to churn out a diverse menu for our multinational guests, aided by the Russian & Argentine service staff, directed by the Quark staff (4). Last night was poached salmon or lamb curry “Madras style”. I opted for the latter but it was very mild to my curry palate. We filled the rest of the day with lectures on “digital work flow” and Adobe Lightroom. I was in bed by 8pm.

Feb 15th.
Nothing beats a good night of sleep. Apparently I slept thought someAntarctica0001_209

rough waves from what I hear. We changed our clocks back to GMT -3 (Central time is GMT -5). We’ll stop at Coronation Island within the hour, less populated than the 22 souls that occupy all of South Georgia Island. Apparently it snows here 280 days a year on average, and has only 520 hrs of cloudless sun. We are stopping here only briefly as we have another 850 miles to go to the Weddell Sea on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Home of the largest icebergs in the world. It is a little foggy as we approach with sea ice becoming more frequent, lots of radar and eyes are pealed forward. Cape petrels glide effortlessly around the ship and the occasional seal porpoises in the waves as we pass. Everyone is still speaking of the Drygalski Fjord on South Georgia. It was an “E” ticket at Disneyland, the best ride.

Cheers, Rusty

###

Feb 16, 2007, 3:30pm (GMT -3)
Southern Ocean, heading to the Weddell Sea.
S62 48.739 W52 12.529

Hi Non-frozen ones,

We had our brief visit at the South Orkney Islands yesterday afternoon, most of us setting foot on land only for a few brief moments and then opting to cruise by the glaciers adjacent to Shingle Cove where we landed. The light was spectacular with a dark ominous sky in the distance, and more direct sunshine than the Quark crew could remember falling on or near us. The contrast was breathtaking. We cruised out through this surreal landscape watching the play of light, direct sunshine, breaking through on the fantastically rugged spires that make up these glacier carved islands.

Morning came early with first light at 2am something I noticed as I rolled over, so only six hours of darkness… but it was a peaceful night with lake like conditions and near glassy dawn on the water surface as we relentlessly headed south. The ship froze last night with ice on the decks. Today was all cruising, but not without a bit of fun. 3-4 times circling icebergs, one about a kilometer long and about 50 m high, another with an arch built into it this ship could have almost driven through. Then we circled a few more times for some beluga whales we spotted. We should be in the Weddell Sea by dawn, and we’ll spend the day there. This is on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula, then we’ll cruise over to the eastern side the next day.

So… have a glass of red wine, get a map, and look at the bottom of it. I am somewhere near there.

Here is a 360 degree image from the top of the ship in the Weddell Sea.

Thanks for listening… you’ll like it better when I add photos!
cheers, Iceman.

###

Feb 17, 2007, 5:00am (GMT -3)
Antarctica, Tabarin Peninsula, Brown Bluff
S63 31.081 W56 52.883

We have landed. Awake at 4am for a 5am landing in the first light. WeAntarctica0001_237

were greeted by about a dozen penguins and a beautiful sunny, largely windless morning. They are so curious, coming within inches of us when we slowly approach. I finished the 4th hour of video tape with a high speed run in the Zodiac through the icebergs (not my idea, but really fun). I came close to freezing my fingers sticking my little digital camera in its u/w housing under the surface… then tested out the hydrophone with the digital audio tape recorder. A full press techno filled morning before breakfast. The hydrophone works great for the cacophony of dripping iceberg sounds, now we just need some whales. After breakfast we cruised the Prince Gustav Channel toward Devil Island and then were met by some two foot thick pack ice. The ship busted into this for a few horizontal meters, more for drama than forward navigation, and then we turned around. We’re now head back north a bit to round the Antarctic Peninsula to the western side. This is about 250 miles altogether, a day’s journey to where we are going. The wind has returned and most of the mountains (smallish ones) have created their own clouds over their tops. The wind chill must be close to zero F. Mid afternoon we ship cruised by Hope Bay, where the Argentine’s have a permanent base of about 80 people, including families and children. It was a bitter cold and barren place with their little orange huts. Not far away we moved past the wind swept glacier and saw a lone fur seal high atop the bluff of the soon-to-be-calving edge of the seaward side. We could not figure out HOW the seal got itself into such a position, but certainly knew it’s departure would be much more dramatic than its arrival.

So I am off to the bar for an evening recap (now 5:30pm) with the other 45 souls as we make our way south.

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ADDITION:  This QTVR of our group of shipmates was added on March 26, 2007.  Click on the image for medium size preview, and here for a 6x17x240dpi printable version.  Click here for the QTVR (approx. 2MB).  It was taken on Feb. 17th in the Weddell Sea.

20070217_group2_72x1000

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Feb 18, 2007, 6pm
En route Neko Harbor to Paradise Bay for BBQ on deck
S64 50.648 W62 32.071 (Neko Harbor)

To the well rested:

I should explain… I still have a stack of magazines I brought with me, and dozens of things to listen to, learn from on my iPod too that were fresh a few weeks ago. I have had time to do none of these things. My legs are tired from being on my feet all day, and today was 4:15am up with the video (now just past six hours)… 30 min nap before breakfast… then we spotted what ended up being seven humpback whales in total. One breached completely from the water… this lasted till noonish, all outside on the decks… my feet and hands only seemed to stop tingling after lunch. A dozen penguins floated by on an iceberg reAntarctica0001_364

pleat with an aquamarine blue swimming pool on top, they all jumped in for a plunge in the fresh water, and hopped out before it had all pasted. I was lucked out and was on the top deck, video rolling, on the correct side, and caught it all on tape. Truly unbelievable.

Then we had our second landing on the continent (rocks, not snow) at Neko Harbor. Amazing light, thunderous glaciers, calving while we watched from high on the shore with many very friendly penguin chicks. It sounded like a war zone at times with the cracks of “ordinance” and the waves across the bay from the ice dropping. I did get a very funny video of four penguin chicks trying to figure out the reason and action of the taught,vibrating mooring line attached to the Zodiac dinghy.

Steve Johnson pulled out his scanning digital large format camera (requires backpack, computer, hood, tripod and lots of patience). Each image is over 2 Gigabytes. This is HUGE folks. Most computers have less memory than this. I print 250-500MB images five feet long, these are 8X larger. Major geekdom here in the wilds of Antarctica.

Then one hardy soul made a polar plunge in the icy water without benefit of thermal springs here. I wisely chose to just record the event on video and offered heat packs for his semi-frozen feet afterward. Seth (the plunger) and I were on the first Zodiac returning to the ship through a frozen margarita mix of sea ice and penguins frolicking. He then headed for the sauna.

I managed to squeeze in a shave and shower quickly before most folksAntarctica0001_314

returned, download my images/change tapes in the video, and before we had barely left Neko Harbor the call rang out on the intercom that some “God like” light was playing across the mountains and sea before us. Get on deck. If hell is hot, heaven must be cold. Really cold. Somewhere in between all of this I downed a “hot toddy” an offering to all guests of Juan, the bartender, (great jovial would-be-lawyer from Buenos Aires). My back hurts a bit, not quite sure why, and we’re about to have a Zodiac cruise around Paradise Bay before we have our traditional cruise BBQ on deck. Hopefully the sun will set by 9pm and I can go to sleep.

Well I am just back from the Zodiac cruise… and it’s just after 8pm, dinner, is now a buffet setting up in the companionway outside my cabin on the way to the dining rooms further down the hall. It is snowing out and became quite heavy while we were CHASING MINKE WHALES, six of them, for the last hour, these were spotted while we were in awe of yet another glacier. I am closing in on 7 hrs of un-edited video now. These whales come very close. Maybe sleep can be had by 10 pm before it all starts over again.

We’ll go a little further south tomorrow, and then turn north again. We are S64 54.742 W62 51.572 tonight. – RRJ

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Feb 19, 2007, 7pm,
En route through Lemaire Channel towards the Drake Passage.
S65 11.445 W64 06.705 is as far as we got.

OK… I’ll keep this short as I want to go get a drink. It’s 7pm… day more/less started at 4am, short nap before breakfast… then it was non-stop. More of the same you-have-seen-em but WOW mountains and glaciers. Plus an iceberg that should make the cover of Iceberg Magazine. You won’t believe the photos. However, this afternoon was different. In the 10 years of experience that Delphine, one of the long time Quark employees aboard, has had in these waters, she said it all lead up to this afternoon.

Two humpback whales came and played with our Zodiac for 20 minutes. They bobbed from the depths like puppets on a string, looking at us, then pushed the Zodiac with their noses. We were all both numbed, humbled, stunned, screaming, and speechless. It was truly remarkable. I had my hydrophone going the whole time, and I think I got some sort of sounds… but I have not caught up with the day yet. We all agreed in the raft today, that ANY urban environment will seem confining after this trip. The world is so large here.

Perhaps another note later tonight…. we head north this evening.

Cheers, Riceman.

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Feb 20, 2007, 6pm
En route north toward the Beagle Channel across Drake Passage

Hi all,

Another short note, drugs are a wonderful thing. I learned, this year especially, the power of what doctors’ can prescribe and/or administer. Some make you feel really good, some make you sleep like the dead. Scapolamine is a good one for sure. Some weird side effects (dry throat), but it works. I applied a patch late this morning when I saw that the graph of the recording barometer on the bridge, seems to be running out of paper. The recording needle was stuck at the bottom of the graph. I think they will have to reset it somehow for it to go lower. Not many on the bridge are talking about it, but a rumor is floating about (bad pun) that we could experience some 20 meter waves. Hence, I opted for the drugs. Best to lay on the floor happy rather than sea sick.

We saw some friendly whales from the bridge and upper deck (this is above the bridge, about 40′ or more off the water, and wide open) about mid-day. Early on there was a little snow on the deck so it was not too friendly for stomping about. We were in and out of fog/rain/snow much of the morning as we snaked our way out amongst the islands of the Antarctic Peninsula toward the inevitable open sea. Our plan is to be in the Beagle Channel for the last six hours of entry into Ushuaia by midnight on the 22nd, perhaps as early at 4pm if the weather is cooperative. Meanwhile, it’s the old rolly polly. So far it just seems “normal”. We have to be off the ship by 7:30am on the 23rd.

I tried to help a fellow aboard who works for NBC to get an satellite uplink going so he could send a bit into the TODAY SHOW, but alas whales were spotted. So the ship started circling, and the uplink went no where since it could not be aimed. My job holding the base of the uplink was short lived (this kept if from falling over). I took a video to show that we did make the effort. So much for news beyond email.  Kevin’s story is here.

So not much else to report from 64 deg south today, but I want some more of this country. This place is very special.

The iceman cometh.

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Feb 22, 2007, 2pm
En route north toward the Beagle Channel across Drake Passage
Less than 100 nautical miles to go.

Greetings again:

Not so many bumpy waves yesterday so not too bad. We had a few photography related seminars and that was pretty much the excitement for yesterday. Today the wind shifted as we are moving north and we are taking huge waves almost broadside. One hit just after I left the dining room at breakfast, and from what I gather, CLEARED all the tables as the “tilt meter” up on the bridge hit 30 degrees. The Captain said that his personal record was 50 deg. 30 was bad enough in a sudden roll. I had a large water bottle go airborne in the cabin and hit the far wall as I sat in the couch on the opposite wall hanging on. Then the rebound and it came back to me, fortunately just rolling. Within the hour we should be a little in the lee (wind protected a little) of Cape Horn and the wind/waves should lessen. I feel great, but everyone is walking like severely drunken sailors.

We depart the ship tomorrow at 7:30am in Ushuaia. I have 10:30am flight #1886 to Calafate, then a five hour layover before departing to Bariloche.

Meanwhile, I am off to the bridge to deliver this last message from the ship. My next will be from Bariloche unless there is Wi-fi in the Calafate airport (doubtful). From then on I’ll start adding some photos. Also check out MSNBC.COM and look for a post by Kevin. He did get off three images via his suitcase satellite box late on the 20th.

Cheers, Rusty

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February 23rd, 2007, 1pm20070223_argentina_003_26

El Calafate, Argentina at the airport.

Greetings one and all,

Thanks for the many nice notes awaiting me upon my return to a "normal" connection to the Internet. After I wrote the note yesterday we had some WILD waves and weather just before Cape Horn’s protection… Seth Resnick and Kevin Burke (he works for NBC) went out on the top deck (unknown to the ship’s crew) and climbed to the crow’s nest which is probably 60 ft. above the water surface. They came down after the waves that came over the bow sprayed them heavily. I thought Seth was going to overdose on adrenaline he was so excited (and wet). They got some amazing action shots. Shortly after that we entered the Beagle Channel and saw it in the evening light just as Charles Darwin did on the HMS Beagle. It was quite, calm, and lovely to cruise after our 3200 mile voyage. We anchored for dinner and awaited the pilot to help guide us to the dock in Ushuaia.

I cannot say enough nice things about the crew. They were all delightful, kind, considerate and willing to do almost anything to help a crazy set of people "get the shot". I started doing some short name/city of origin clips of passengers and crew to add to the end of whatever comes from editing almost 9 hrs of video. The second Quark crew member who did this, suddenly added at the end, "and I am the expedition leader" (he was not)… so then everyone else realized they could do the same so I shot them again, each saying something to this effect. I told the story to the Captain Sergey Nesterov (sp?) who speaks a little English, and he said he would be on the tape too. First think out of his mouth was "I AM THE EXPEDITION LEADER"… then we had to cut as he and I, along with most of the other people on the bridge started crying we were laughing so hard… a special moment. None of us expected this from his lips.

Last evening we had everyone contribute six images to a slide show… the breadth and depth of the work was truly inspiring. Attached are a few I submitted. The seal with my point/shoot camera (I was in the water with him)… a large tabular ice berg… a "flat" version of the 360 image I took from the top deck… a view of the ship in Stromness Bay, South Georgia Island, where Ernest Shackelton found help after crossing this incredibly rugged island in 36 hrs. There is a LONG panorama, 11 images I think went into it, from one of the channels we were in…. the light took my breath away. I’ll upload a slide show after I get more of these tweaked. Meanwhile, I’ll keep the attachment level low.

I left the ship about 8 hours ago in Ushuaia. Paul Allen’s yacht OCTOPUS was still anchored in the bay. The dock was lined with four QUARK ships. I am now in El Calafate awaiting my next flight to Bariloche to go to Ward Lay’s estancia. I talked my way into the Aerolineas Argentinas VIP lounge and found the only plug to power the notebook behind the bar. The view from the lounge is fantastic too.

I keep trying to speak French to the Argentines… they smile and laugh. I’ll have to learn some Spanish, it’s worth it just to come back here. I just used Google’s translate window to figure out that DEMORADO was not the end of the world (been there)… just DELAYED, my flight that is to say. But then, I already knew that it was an hour late… heck, it’s not "island time" but it’s close. More soon…

Rusty

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February 26th 2007, 6:40pm20070226_hq_light_copy_copy2_2

Estancia Alicura, near Bariloche, Argentina

Hi again, did you think I fell off the edge finally?

Perhaps the edge of the dining chair in my new fatted state. Surely it will be a happy stumble from plate to floor, sweetened by the crepes or the home grown raspberry tart… one of which followed the hearth roasted pig, organic corn on the cob from the garden, courses which came after the empanadas and chorizo that were washed down with copious quantities of Malbec or Cabernet that came after the smoked trout & cheese that had been melded into one incredible infusion of flavor to compliment the family grown Chardonnay. Let me tell you… I can’t take much more of this. Its all becoming confused in my head. I need a tugging dog to drag me around a park and retrain my Frisbee throwing brain. To think only last week I was eating oatmeal for breakfast made by a German, served by a Russian… and I liked it.

I turned in last night exhausted at 1am. The day had begun with a 5:30am wake up call so I could take a sunrise photo from "inspiration point". I was accompanied to the spot by Pedro, the handsome, exceptionally polite and gracious employee of Estancia Alicura. Another guest, Colin, from Sausalito, CA, came along as well. I promised Colin it would only be about 15 minutes once we got there. Well, 2 hours later Collin was glued to my Leica binoculars looking at a red stag 700 yards away prancing about in an early stage of "rut" the mating season "roaring" his heart out. Finally we left and returned to the estancia where Colin was whisked off to the river to catch (and release) some 22 inch rainbow trout with Fernando, the most elegant fly fisherman around. The rest of us, were off for a Sunday drive to the country side. In the span of about 7 hours we toured areas that looked like the high desert of Arizona, to the forests of Chama, New Mexico… to lunch in a village that looked like Kitzbuel, Austria… then back past lakes that appeared to be dug by glaciers last week. We were home by 8pm, time enough to clean up for dinner at 10:30pm… towards the end of which I saw about five minutes of the Oscars before I had to pass out.

Today I wisely decided after I began taking photos at 7am that I would only have ONE of the homemade scones…. well, it ended up being two after putting some homemade raspberry jam on the first one, it was irresistible. They reminded me of my grand mother’s biscuits more than scones, rich and flaky, better the next day toasted with some honey and butter…. maybe tomorrow, I’ll check to see if any are left. Sliced down the middle… when toasted then have this wonderful aroma…. oh, sorry, I am getting lost again. It’s intoxicating. I suspect the gauchos get some of these leftovers as we never see them again. The gauchos or the food. There are 27 people here working at the estancia. I have seen the house keeper, Nadia (funny, sounds Russian), once I think. My clothes disappear from the floor and reappear in the closet the next day, clean and folded. I didn’t even fill out the laundry ticket and leave the bag on the bunk in my cabin…. or was that last week?

One has to make a leap of faith sometimes to get to places of the heart, the physical places that prepare the body for opening the mind. Antarctica certainly was one, and this place in Argentina certainly is another. Ward, my hat is off to you even if my shirt can’t be buttoned… mentally I am just a receptacle for recipes now. I look for good light with the camera in the smoke pit now. Here is a night time shot of the southern sky just a few yards away from the Quincho ("BBQ place")…

Argentine Night

You will need Apple’s QuickTime installed to view it. They are each about 1.5 MB, so be patient. You can see the Milky Way. Look for the Southern Cross, Magellanic clouds, Alpha Centurai system…

And here is a "flat" version of the dawn image. I left it large so you can see the detail.

The mountains on the left are not on the estancia but are in Argentina, but the pointy one is in Chile. The rest of what you see is all Estancia Alicura. It is an amazing place and I am grateful for the invitation to photograph it.

So tomorrow we leave for Buenos Aires for two nights before returning to Texas on the evening of March 1st.

The FatIceMan is coming back. I’ll wear my yellow Quark parka… it’s roomy.

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March 3rd 2007, 12:33pm

Hello all,

March 3, 2007

This is the last of my month long series of notes on this journey.

Reflections: In the water and in the mirror

So, I am physically back. Mentally, perhaps a wavy reflection of what I imagined I saw in the past in the mirror. My life is definitely altered, richer in color, more tangible in texture, accompanied by dimensional aromas and tastes. With my eyes closed I can find a penguin a mile away if the air blows my way, I am still pondering if this IS a benefit or not… or I can get lost in the morning scents of the wind in Cypress trees… surely it all has something to do with sleep deprivation. I learned and observed literally mountains of things. This is why travel is so enthralling and enlightening for me, everyday it changes my perspective a little or a lot. Sometimes I am lucky enough to have such an experience where this leap is so great, the act so enveloping, that I must pause to breathe, look around, take full measure of the moment, go mentally into "full record"… and then I start pressing the shutter release yet again. I can relive these moments each time I revisit the photo, or even reinterpret what the camera captured into a "new" photo, one shaped my the nuances of all my other emotions that cannot be captured by electronics. Art becoming art. Moving from electronic capture to emotional embrace.

I learned that small waves do not matter much, and end the end, the large ones don’t either, just dodge the hard stuff in your way, and have a good look as you pass. Neither you nor what you observe will remain for long but somehow we have made our way into the proximity of one another. Everyone on this trip was transformed by the experience, South Georgia Island and Antarctica are places like no other. I will join the ranks of those that have gone before me in educating others and fighting for their preservation. Argentina a world unto itself. I will return to both with new eyes.

Thanks for "joining me" on the adventure. I very much appreciate all of your thoughts and comments on what I have sent/shown you thus far. I have been flattered and humbled by all of it. I’ll send out one more simple announcement when I have something more substantial on the web that you can see. Then I will start printing…. large prints to be sure… big enough to make people stop and think… and perhaps feel a little of what I did, and still do.

Cheers, Riceman

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This story ends here for the moment (March 19th) but soon I will have video online too, first a little rest.Lola sleeping

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One thought on “Terra Incognito – Letters from the South

  1. Bob Chilton sent me your spectacular photos! Can you give me any information about the trip as this is something I would love to do.
    Jed

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