Today is our first of two days at sea heading back to Ushuaia. Our Drake Passage conditions so far have been very good – the boat has bounced and rolled, up to five degrees, but as Drake conditions go, this weather’s great. We’re not through it yet, of course, but we should be by sometime tomorrow. The crossing from South Georgia to the Peninsula was worse than this. (I learned today that the crossing is typically when the staff arranges for an engine room tour, but the conditions were so bad that it wasn’t practical.)
The day’s schedule was filled with four lectures, three that were as much advertisements for other trips as anything. Doug showed photos of east Africa: lots of birds, some cats, and some other animals. Looks neat but didn’t captivate me as penguins do. Doug’s been there some 60 trips since 1980 (since before coming to Antarctica, it sounds like). Rod showed some of his favorite nature photos and pointed out some of the aspects of photography that are important: subject, mood, color, etc. I’m afraid to say I didn’t find it very practical, but I learned a few things. A flash for close work is useful to soften harsh shadows during mid-day. The built-in flash on a camera isn’t what one wants but one can get adapters that rig an external flash on an arm from the camera. Rod and Marlene live on 200 acres in Michigan and shoot a lot of photos in their (extended) backyard. Hugh showed photos from Prince William Sound – lots of shorebirds and a few seals and otters. I’m not really drawn to birds, I guess, other than penguins, so I wasn’t super captivated by these photos, either. Gayle and Skip took a trip to this area with Hugh three years ago and they appeared in a few of the photos he showed. Ted talked a bit about the Antarctic Treaty and IAATO. Tourism to Antarctica was on an upward trend through the 2007/2008 season, with more than 40,000 people taking cruises that included landings (such as what I’m on now), but since then the rate’s fallen, blamed mostly on global economic conditions. This year about 18,000 people are on cruises + landings and another 14,000 on cruise-only trips. Starting next year, the IMO is prohibiting vessels using heavy fuel oil (HFO) from operating in the Antarctic (to avoid the damage a spill of HFO would cause), and the cruise-only trips are expected to drop to one-third their level. I wonder if this change will lead to an uptick in the cruise+landings options, or in the air+cruise options: flying in to King Edward island in the South Shetlands and taking a small-boat cruise from there.
Otherwise the day has been idle time. I’m beginning to gather things to close accounts (eg, to leave a tip for the ship staff, in cash), and Melinda and I are giving away some glass penguins to some people whom we met on the trip (on staff and among the passengers). There’s an auction tomorrow evening to raise funds for the South Georgia Heritage Trust’s effort to eradicate rats, and I’m contributing a pair of glass penguins to the auction. After dinner tonight we have a movie, “Christmas in Yellowstone,” which features Tom Murphy, one of the expedition staff and an accomplished nature photographer working in Yellowstone.
There’s a chance that the ship-based internet will cease working tonight, in which case I’ll post the final entries when I’m in Buenos Aires (we have a seven hour layover there) or back in San Francisco.