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|Monday, April 9th, 2012|
|Windows 7 printing; acrobat reader; ReadyNAS
Over the weekend my computer spontaneously ceased to print PDFs. My configuration is: Lenovo X201 running Windows 7; Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra 4+, connected to; HP Desktop 5550; Acrobat reader X. I can print from, say Word just fine, but when printing from Acroread the program hangs for 30 seconds at each of these steps: select the deskjet; change any advanced settings; click print. The document I'm printing is very simple and very small -- it's not the doc's fault. I had connected the printer using Windows's wizard: it's a network printer on a print server (the ReadyNAS) and it all seemed to just work. But not.
According to many pages on the Web it seems that Windows Printing doesn't work well with older printer drivers and NAS devices. Or, something like that. The workaround is to use Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) rather than Windows Printing. These instructions
are a good guide but not perfect. I first enabled IPP on my machine: Control Panel > Programs > Turn Windows features on or off > Print and Document Services > Internet Printing Client. Turns out it was already checked. Then, I added a new printer. Add a printer > Add a network, wireless or Bluetooth printer (I see my Mom wasn't there to add the missing series comma) > The printer I want isn't listed > Select a shared printer by name > paste in the name using the form http://[nas]:631/printers/[shared_printer_name]
. You can visit such a URL in your browser to be sure it works; for me, I see a print queue page, served by the NAS. Click OK a few times, select the driver for the printer, and it's done. Back to Acroread and ... yes, it's much faster. I don't know the root cause of this issue, and I don't know why my computer chose this weekend to give up being awesome here, but I'm content that I can print PDFs again in well under 3 minutes. Maybe these instructions will help someone else, too.
|Sunday, April 8th, 2012|
The house site is now a den of activity. Monday morning Thor began trenching for the replacement drainage and removing the existing pipe. Tuesday the electrician showed up and began work in the garage for the subpanel. Work continued through end of Friday (and possibly Saturday, I'm not sure as I wasn't there) leaving us at this point:
The electrical work is complete and passed inspection from the city. The work included a new run of feeder from the weather head to a new panel (in order to support a 200A service); new panel; run 220V three-phase to the garage; subpanel installed in the garage; two new circuits in the garage for a kiln (one that could also serve as a car charger - 6kW circuit - and one that's just 110V); new buried cable (in conduit) for the new sump pump. The work was adequate but not awesome. Awesome would have been noting that there's a vertical channel inside the house exactly for running services from an aerial entrance down to the crawl space. Instead, the electrician run 2" conduit on the outside of the house. It won't be so ugly after it's painted but for now it's kind of garish.
The drainage work is going well. The downspouts on the left side of the house ran to a buried flexible pipe that simply ended in the front yard. This configuration explains why the front yard was swampy and dumping water onto the driveway. All that was pulled up and replaced with 4" schedule 40 smooth-wall pipe running to the back of the house. Behind the house the drain pipes join up and dump into a newly dug sump on the right rear of the house. This basin replaces the existing basin
and will collect both gutter run-off and water pumped from beneath the house. The under-house pump is corroded beyond belief
but even in that condition it could handle the water volume fine; we're replacing it with an identical pump. The under house line will be extended into the new basin and a 1/2 hp Zoeller will discharge everything to the street. Thor convinced me that we needed a basin bigger than the 12" x 12" x 12" that I'd initially suggested; 18" x 30" x 30" deep was the new plan. The larger cross-section means that, when the pump runs, it has more work to do -- it'll be on 15 seconds every 15 minutes rather than 5 seconds every 5 minutes, for example. Great. But then, a Thor worker showed up Friday with a 14" diameter tube that's 30" tall. I tried explaining geometry for a little bit but gave up; the foreman also insisted it wasn't the right component. So we're now going for the 24" sump box from NDS
The other drainage issue is that we're going to lay in a french drain along the back and side of the house and toward the back fence. The french drain that was in place originally was improperly installed -- no gravel and no drain fabric around the pipe so it clogged with dirt. The french drain should help with the surface water in the back yard and on the side yard. Let's hope. It'll also all lead in to the new basin.
The downspout-only trenches have been now filled; the ones needing french drains are yet to be filled. I expect that work will be done by the end of this upcoming week.
The interior work has yet to begin. We're waiting for the architect to send us drawings and, eventually, for him to get the permit for the work.
|Wednesday, March 28th, 2012|
I visited the house today to prepare it for fumigation and to drag the trash out to the curb. Turns out my lens arrived today, too, so I managed to take interior photos for an hour this evening. Let's see when I manage to post them.
While at the house I checked in on the sumps. No apparent activity, so I wiggled the outlet pipe from beneath the house -- the under-house pump then ran for 40 minutes without stopping. That's a lot of water.
Tent goes up tomorrow, fumigation begins tomorrow evening(?), runs through Friday, and the tent comes down Saturday. I'll check in on the house on my way to work tomorrow.
|Tuesday, March 27th, 2012|
|Contractor second visit
This morning I met our architect
for the second time, for the architect to get measurements of the house and for the builder to show his project manager and electrician around. I also managed to meet the postal carrier and FedEx delivery guy while I was at the house.
Good things I learned: the neighbor signed the waiver to permit the fumigators to manipulate the fence when tenting the garage. The plants around the yard look healthy. My ladder arrived. I managed to take many photos of the house before my camera battery entirely died. There's at least two places where one could install a trap door into the crawl space. The attic can provide a good deal of storage. The roof trusses are spaced at 12" intervals.
Bad things I learned: the sump pump beneath the house works but the float does not. While both pumps can run for 45 minutes continuously, the second stage pump is unable to keep up with the first stage. Water that accumulates at the second stage pump eventually spills back into the crawl space. Either because it's from the french drain, or because the drain line is cracked, the side yard floods when the pump runs heavily. The whole-house fan does not feed into duct work, instead only venting generally into the attic.
The amount of water beneath the house was pretty remarkable. I suspect it's because the pump hasn't run in several days and during that time we've gone many inches of rain. We pumped probably 200 gallons of water out into the street; it ran half-way down the block and was kind of conspicuous. But this all happened while the contractor was there so he knows the importance of fixing the drainage. He'd like to begin the exterior work (drainage and power panel installed in the garage) next Monday. I'm eager to have this work begin, too.
|Saturday, March 17th, 2012|
Melinda and I are buying a house. Just after we returned from Antarctica we looked at a few houses on Open House weekends and found this one
at the end of February. We weren't looking for anything especially hard to find in a house and this one suited that bill fine. It has four bedrooms and three bathrooms, including 1/1 downstairs. The detached garage is big enough for a combination of cars, storage, and hobbies, and the lot is big enough for small gatherings or BBQs outside but small enough that we don't feel the need to do something with it. The house is in an entirely residential area - the street has no markings down the center, the house is 200 yards from a middle school, and trees and sidewalks line all the streets. I'll post photos when the house closes.
I've not said much about the house since we saw it the first time because, until it closes, it's not technically ours and something could
come along to derail things (eg, the Big One could strike before we close). I figure I'll post photos, inside and out, in another week and change after we have the keys and it's our house.
We'll eventually move out of both Lamplighter and Mouse House but probably not until May. We need to fumigate the house for termites (there's light evidence of their activity and I don't mind paying to be abundantly certain) and we plan for some renovations. The biggest renovation is that we want to remove two walls that enclose the formal dining room; we want to open that space up to the living room in the front of the house. It's "simple and straightforward" work, according to the contractor, but non-trivial because one of the walls holds up the second floor of the right side of the house. The other change is to replace all the underground rain gutter drains on all sides of the house and on the garage. Some of the existing piping is visible above ground (and it goes up and down), and some of the downspouts aren't even connected to egress drainage. So there's a fair bit of trenching needed, and a basin and pump to install in the corner of the property to make this all work. We've selected a contractor to do this work and we're optimistic that everything'll be done by the end of April.
So, that's the scoop. We'll share photos when we have the keys, which should be in just over a week.
|Wednesday, January 25th, 2012|
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Another day at sea, so another day of waking up at 7:30 (“late”). The Drake Passage was good to us overnight and for most of today. We got up to a slow start but made it to Nick’s 10a lecture about Tasmanian Devils.
The day overall was loosely filled as many people were packing, exchanging photos by USB drive, and beginning to say their good-byes. Melinda and I’d brought 10 glass penguins for gifts; two we’ve donated to the South Georgia benefit auction, one for the room attendant, and the other seven gifts for staff and guests whom we’ve met on the trip. Folks were pretty happy to receive them, and many wanted to know how we could make something so small. At auction tonight they’re fetching $45 so far (in the silent auction), raised mostly by two people bidding against each other. So I’m pretty happy with that return.
The Drake Passage was pretty mild for us this trip, in large part because the ship itself is pretty stable. We had sea swell of up to 7 meters, and until about 10a things were pretty mild. About 10a the wind picked up to 50 knots, and we had some mean rolling (up to 18 degrees to the right) and big waves crashing over the bow. Everyone in the bridge cheered each time the spray crossed the bow; it was pretty fun. Mid-day we also sighted some dolphins off the port bow. I ducked outside to take some photos, but the gale-force wind was quite the surprise when I tried looking around the corner. I didn’t get any good photos but it was fun to be out in the super strong winds.
The ride through the Drake closed out as we reached Cape Horn and took a right turn to head toward the Beagle Channel. We continued to bob for a bit, but the winds then were to our stern, no longer rolling us. Ted gave a talk on climate change in the afternoon, and we had more unstructured time for packing and such. I have all our things in the two checked and two carry-on luggages; I’m now just worried a tiny bit about weight restrictions on the flights. Worst case, I pay a little for a heavier bag.
Before dinner we posed for a group photo on the helideck; then after dinner we had closing festivities. Thanks were given to staff, crew, and the travelers, and toasts all around. The charity auction for the South Georgia Heritage Trust ran long and poorly; the auctioneer didn’t seem to have ever been to an auction before. All the items were good items and included a lot of handicrafts. Melinda won three items, all identical stuffed mice. The auction had some items in a silent auction and some in a live auction; the glass penguins were in the silent auction. I didn’t bid on anything in the live auction; I figure I’ll make a donation to the Friends of South Georgia when I’m back home. After the auction we watched the photo review of Antarctica, then the group photos. I’m sort of checked out of these things already, though, because it’s going to be an early morning tomorrow (6a) and it’s late already (10:45p). But I’m blogging from the back of the room showing the slides. Oh, and, the contest for guessing frames taken – I won! True number (well, Nick’s estimate based on all data he could get) was 681,000 and my guess was 700,000. Second place guessed 700,500, heh. So I got a nice book on South Georgia as a prize.
Tomorrow, we fly from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires in a group of 69 passengers and staff; we just follow the group. Breakfast at 6:30a, off the boat around 8a, and the flight leaves at 10:30a. We have 7 hours to drive from AEP to EZE in Buenos Aires and check in for the flight to San Francisco (by way of Lima). I expect it’ll be a long day, but traveling in a big group is nice.
I’m looking forward to being back home – I have lots of things I want to do at home. We’ve been gone only for about four weeks but it feels like much much longer. It feels like the Falklands was an entirely separate trip some time ago – it’s kind of odd that way. But I’ve been ready to be home for a few days now – I know that things are progressing at work, and I have tasks at home that I want to get going on. And, in the last couple of days on the Peninsula, the new experiences per day were kind of low – for maybe two days we did about the same things as we’d done before – land somewhere, see Gentoo penguins, see ice, and come back to the ship. It’s still a blast, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve also seen penguins for the past four weeks and yet another Gentoo was just a little old hat. Baily Head and Hannah Point landings were strong locations to end with.
Many people have asked Melinda and me if we’d come back to Antarctica. Yes, we would, but not soon. We want to see more of the world first, and we haven’t been bitten by the Ice Bug to want to come back just here all the time. Also, there’s a consensus that we won the weather lottery on this trip – a return trip almost couldn’t be as good as this first one. So we’ll savor these memories, and 8,700 photos that we jointly took, and think about some new location to go to next. Maybe it’ll be the Galapagos, so we can add more penguins to our collection of species-seen. Maybe it’ll be Yellowstone, an easier destination to reach and a new place for Melinda. Maybe it’ll be Norway to see polar bears and approach the other pole. Hard to know just yet. But first, we’ll enjoy some time back at home.
|Monday, January 23rd, 2012|
Monday, January 23, 2012
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.
|Sunday, January 22nd, 2012|
|Baily Head and Hannah Point
Sunday, January 22, 2012
We started this morning at Baily Head on the mouth of Port Foster at Deception Island. Expedition staff has been telling us about Baily Head since the first day – how it’s an amazing landing site (they say that about many of the sites, though) but also the most difficult – winds and swell can swamp a zodiac, and their attempted landing two years sent Ted under the water three times. So today we can finally see this location ourselves.
The weather is pretty calm, and it proves to be a pretty benign landing. The beach doesn’t extend far into the sea, so even mild swell turns into steep waves that break on the beach. The staff marshals us concisely, and we unload the zodiac quickly and without incident. We’ve been asked to pack lightly for the day so there’s less gear to move around, and I bring only my camera – no spare lens and no backpack. We’d initially planned for a hike at this site, but they scrubbed the hike before breakfast in order to make time in the schedule for a landing this afternoon. I gather that Ted had expected to land at Hannah Point after dinner but the Captain said that we must leave the South Shetlands and head for the Drake by then. So, no hike. Instead, we enjoyed seeing a sprawling suburb of Chinstrap penguins, perhaps 100,000 breeding pairs. The chicks are pretty large, nearly as large as the adults, but still wearing only their initial down and still dependent on their parents for food. The colony covers a valley and a bit of ridge line and is made up of many islands of penguins along this surface. Deception Island is a caldera, and there’s little flora growing here but some lichen and moss, so the islands of penguins are pretty clear. Through the middle of the valley runs a penguin superhighway – perhaps a hundred penguins wide, the highway conducts penguins from all parts of this metropolis to the sea, with penguins following the British system and walking on the left. As soon as we land on the beach we see the terminus of this system, at the ocean, and watch as penguins dive into the water in groups or shoot back out of the surf in an attempt to beat the waves onto shore and head to a nest.
We follow the cliff face to our left and into the valley. We avoid disrupting the penguin highway, both because it would disrupt the penguins and because there’re enough of them that they’d just run us over. The human walkway we pick out runs about 30 feet up the valley wall on the left and provides a good vantage point over islands in this colony. We see lots of interesting behavior here; I spend perhaps 30 minutes here and Melinda more than an hour. We see a chick running through the colony being picked on by passing adults and one or two chasing adults. Any penguin on a nest will nip at passersby, but chicks don’t yet know how to avoid these repercussions. The picking on looks sort of brutal – the chick loses some feathers in the process. Guess that’s how it learns. We see a lone Macaroni penguin in this island, in stark contrast to the usual sight of one Chinstrap penguin in a Gentoo or Adelie or Macaroni colony. Melinda reports that the Macaroni penguin displays at some passing Chinstraps and even occasionally gets some interest in return, but nothing ever sticks. We see two penguins copulating near the human path, and many humans watch with interest. Chinstraps here nest in pits scratched out into the earth and lined with stones. Several penguins, adults and chicks alike, spend our entire visit just sitting in their nests.
I let Melinda continue to watch the Macaroni penguin as I head to a distant ridge; I see other people there, and I’ve heard there’s a good view from up there. The walk is maybe 10 minutes and requires crossing the penguin highway but at its headwaters where fewer penguins are bustling. Crossing it isn’t too hard. The Chinstraps stop for humans in their path and wait for the people to move. The polite thing for a visitor to do is to wait for a break in the penguins then sally forth to get out of the way (but, not going too fast). At the end of the valley the caldera wall rises up about 30 degrees to the ridge, and I march my way up. The top rewards us who are up there with a view of the ocean over the other side and with a view down a pretty steep wall on that side, too. And, more penguins. The penguins up here aren’t moving quite as much as those lower in the valley, but they are moving – penguins fresh from the sea are arriving and penguins off their nest shift departing. I get a GPS fix (62 deg. 58.139’ S by 60 deg. 30.168’ W) and take some photos. The penguins extend way up on this ridge, too, and some are trudging up a slope one wouldn’t have guessed penguins could scale. Melinda joins me after a bit, and we head out as the staff sweeps up all the leftover people on the way back to the landing site.
On and off today, and for the past few days, the weather’s been mostly good but with occasional light snow. The weather _looks_ much like it might in San Francisco or Seattle – overcast skies and a bit chilly – so it’s been a surprise to me each time that the “light rain” that occasionally develops falls as snow. It hasn’t accumulated yet on our landings, but it’s been enough to send my camera under a hat or into my jacket for protection.
Before leaving Deception Island the boat sails in to the caldera, through Neptune’s Bellows, for an important ritual: swimming in the Antarctic waters where the geothermal upwelling heats the waters. Melinda and I didn’t pack for this excursion, but Melinda makes do with some fast-drying light hiking wear we did bring; I stay dry and take pictures. About 20 people from the ship take part, heading to the shore, splashing around in the water along the beach, then hurriedly toweling off in the 33F air. The water is very warm – parts of the beach under the water are uncomfortable for bare feet, apparently. The only issue is that the beach is a fine black sand, and the sand sticks to everything. Even now Melinda’s improvised swimwear, left hanging to dry in our room, is lightly coated with the tiny sand. It should be easy to shake it all out when it’s fully dry.
Food aboard the ship has been occasionally good but disappointing on average. Lunch today hit a rock bottom because the kitchen ran out of food before Melinda and I got there. My lunch ended up being a piece of bread with a pat of butter, a square of hazelnut cake, and a PowerBar that I brought with me from San Francisco. The breakfast spreads are often tasty but never timed well for me. It’s too bad I can’t just have leftovers from breakfast as lunch.
|Saturday, January 21st, 2012|
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Overnight we returned to Cierva Cove, a site that we scratched earlier on our Peninsula visit on account of the weather. This morning the seas were flat calm, and the sky held a low overcast cover. Our schedule from dinner last night only took us through mid-day today, but the plan is to cruise by zodiac for the morning. And that we did.
Ted suggested that anyone who wanted to cruise with their friends, or with other affinities, should group themselves before boarding a zodiac. Melinda and I decided we didn’t much care who we’d cruise with (not entirely true, but close enough), but we did want to cruise with a naturalist, not a photographer, so we’d hear interesting commentary on the wildlife. We spotted Jim Dantzenbaker as one of the drivers, so we chose to wait for his boat for our cruise. As it turned out so did Ann Nightingale, his partner, so we had company.
Jim ably piloted the zodiac on our cruise, running a bit more than three hours. We saw some penguins in the water and on ice flows, and we saw many ice bergs, ice flows, bergy bits, brash ice, and frozen water in other forms and with other names. The ice, and a couple of seals on ice, were the photographic highlights of the morning, and the excursion highlight was pushing the zodiac through brash ice in the cove. The cove was a thin soup of water and ice, some ice as small as ice cubes, some as large as the zodiac, and some the size of airplanes. The combination of tough Zodiac rubber and beefy engine let us push through the ice, albeit at a conservative pace rather than the open-water pace. Some of the better bergs, and at least one of the seals, was pretty far into the ice.
The skies cleared and became almost sunny, then clouded back up and dropped a few flakes of snow during our excursion. We returned to the ship about when the grey was moving back in – just in time, we thought. We knew that the afternoon was still an open question, and we were eager to hear Ted’s plan. Turns out, that plan was to continue cruising by zodiac in Cierva Cove for the rest of the day – back in the water at 2p and staying out until 7p. To be truthful, Melinda and I felt pretty saturated on zodiac cruising, and we thought for several minutes whether to go out again. We let the past of least regret guide us – we’d regret not going out should something amazing happen, and the cost of going out was pretty low. Plus, I got the notion that I’d find a boat that wanted to focus on looking at penguins, not more ice and more boring leopard seals.
After lunch we queued back up for the afternoon cruise. Lots of people were forming groups per preferences, to be with, or not with, certain people. (For example, two people on our morning cruise were terrible cruisers because they stood up in front of others and because they insisted on spending an inordinate amount of time at certain locations.) I wanted to be on a boat going to the Chinstrap colony island, but it turned out that most boats were doing that. Melinda and I ended up on the last boat from the ship, which proved good, because the other boat I wanted to be on had twice the people. Our boat, driven by Rod, first went to open water near the entrance to the cove in pursuit of whales. We found a couple of humpbacks and watched them surface and dive for a bit. At one point a whale swam beneath our flotilla of five zodiacs watching them; we could see the whale just a few feet below the surface of the water. We followed them for maybe 20 minutes and then visited the penguins on the island. The island is mostly Chinstraps and is our first mostly-Chinstrap island of the trip. We couldn’t land, but we saw plenty of penguins in the water and along shore. Chinstraps make a sort of honking or barking noise on occasion when in the water – I’m not sure if it’s an aggressive noise, or a friendly one, or what, but I hadn’t heard anything like that noise from the other species of penguins. One of the people on our zodiac wanted to see leopard seals (boring…) so we headed into the ice to find them. The ice is thicker in the cove than it was before lunch, mostly due to the wind and greater swell; it’s not frozen since then. We find a couple of seals far in to the cove and spend much too long watching them do approximately nothing while Nico took lots of photos. It began to snow around 5p, and by 6p the flakes were thick and heavy; I put my camera away because the precipitation was too great. We were back on board the ship by 6:45, but I was ready to go about 30 minutes earlier. I like watching the penguins; ice and seals aren’t very exciting for me. Seeing the humpbacks up close was neat.
After dinner Joan gave a quick talk on the history of Deception Island, which is our next destination. It appeared on maps beginning in 1822 and is notable because it’s a caldera of an active volcano. Being a caldera, the island is circular from the outside but because the caldera has a bit missing one can sail into the center and enjoy a very protected harbor. The volcano is active, though, with the last recorded eruption in 1969, when the eruption and subsequent mudslides destroyed a few of the research bases there. I don’t remember much else from Joan’s talk because it was late and I’m feeling a bit drowsy (plus, the heavy swell we’re in now causes one to feel tired).
So the plan tomorrow is to attempt a landing at Baily Head. It’s a favorite place for the Cheesemans and is home to about 100,000 breeding pairs of Chinstraps. But Baily Head is a challenging landing because the ocean swell breaks heavily on the beaches – even in light swell and calm seas the surf can be 10’. We’ll anchor off Baily Head tonight and decide in the morning if we’ll land there in the morning. If not in the morning we’ll land inside the caldera in the morning instead and attempt a Baily Head landing in the afternoon. Either way, we will get to visit inside the caldera, which, among other things, has an opportunity to splash around in geothermally heated waters. Melinda may try this treat, but I plan to only take pictures. The ship is rolling about three degrees in either direction (three degrees roll feels like much more than it sounds) so I need to stow a few bits of gear tonight, and, with a 6a wakeup call, I need to head to bed.
|Friday, January 20th, 2012|
|Port Lockroy & Useful Island
Friday, January 20, 2012
We awoke at our anchorage in Port Lockroy to find calm seas in the protected harbor. Two small yachts were also at anchor, either private yachts or small charters. After breakfast two staffers from Port Lockroy museum came on board for a quick briefing about their site. Port Lockroy was established as Base A by the British in 1944 to keep an eye on German naval activity around Cape Horn. After the war it ran a research program in meteorology and atmospheric sciences, including some studies of the ionosphere. The base was abandoned in the 60s but restored in the 90s and opened as a museum. The building now houses 1950s period equipment, rations, and living quarters. The accommodations were compact but not uncomfortable, so near as I could tell. Even today in the 32F weather, the indoors were obviously more pleasant than the outdoors. Melinda and I toured the museum, wrote some postcards, bought a few souvenirs, and were on our way.
When the British established Base A, it was on just a rock of an island along the waterway. Since then, Gentoo penguins have moved in, and the rock is now home to a colony of several hundred birds. They don’t seem to mind humans much; some of their nests are directly beneath the walkway into the museum. We split time at this landing between Lockroy and Jougla Island, because the museum allows only 60 people on their island at a time; it’s not big enough for more. Jougla has a bunch of Gentoos, as do most islands down here it seems, and a mostly complete whale skeleton, assembled by Jacques Cousteau. The skeleton is mostly complete but not correct in any sense, because although the important bones are in place they’re from several different types of whales, using just what bones were found nearby. Kate, a naturalist on staff, explained lots of key parts of the skeleton, and Melinda listened with great interest. I shot a bit of video and took some photos.
The weather in the morning was fine where we were, but it’s not looking so good elsewhere. In truth we’ve done most things we’d want to do on the peninsula – we’ve seen Adelies, Gentoos, seals, etc. We haven’t seen a Chinstrap colony yet, and Ted’s looking for ways to get that checked off. Our landings tomorrow and Sunday would show us Chinstraps, but seeing some down here would be neat, too. We sail through Peltier Channel then Neumayer Channel, bringing us around in a circle. I think this path was as much about buying time for Ted as it was for anything. We eventually decide to head to a tiny island, Useful Island, for a landing. Rumor has that there’s a small Chinstrap colony on this island.
While channel surfing we spot a few other ships; we’re not alone on the Peninsula. Bigger ships than the Ortelius sail these waters on cruises from Ushuaia in order to take passengers “to the Antarctic.” It’s not unlike sailing Alaska’s Inside Passage, except that one gets to “go to Antarctica.” One ship we see is the Azamara Journey, which holds 500-600 passengers. We can see it from a distance, and our bridge soon fills with comments like “what a terrible way to cruise”, “why would anyone ever take that ship?”, and even a hurrah that those ships may be banned next year as a result of a change in the IAATO agreement (the change bans vessels from using certain heavy fuels, which these larger ships generally do). The sentiments expressed make me think less of those sharing them, because they’re from a close-minded perspective, that traveling in that manner is only stupid and ill-conceived, and that our trip and vessel is the only smart way to go. I’m disappointed that so many people whom I’ve thought of as smart and interesting share such a narrow view, but I guess I’m generalizing too much from only a few people who do say things. I’m sure not everyone feels this way, and I do press a bit to defend big-ship cruising, noting that, for some people, it’s the _only_ way they may be able to visit Antarctica. Should they not be accommodated in visiting the seventh continent unless they want to do so from a zodiac each day? Anyway. Later in the evening there’s a discussion around who’ll be bathing in the geothermally warmed shoals at a landing site on Sunday. I think briefly about the inconsistent views here – the core of ecology safaris is the wildlife, yet digging a hole in the sand to sit in warmed sea water is solely a novelty.
Melinda and I take a nap in the afternoon as we head to Useful Island. About 20 minutes into the nap Ted announces that they’re seeing orcas around the ship; Melinda and I think briefly about heading out but pass. We have orcas on the Pacific coast, and for just a few killer whales in the water I don’t think it’s worth getting up. We wake up around 4p and find that we’re not to the destination yet. Apparently for the past 45 minutes we’ve been meandering as about 50 orcas swarmed the ship, rolling over, swimming near the ship, going beneath it, etc. Melinda and I head to the bridge just as it’s all over. Oops. Seemingly everyone else on the ship thinks this was just the best orca experience ever, better than the humpbacks we saw a few days ago. I’d have liked to have seen this scene, but I don’t regret missing it; it’s a bit too late to do anything about it. I _was_ pretty tired, and we _do_ have orcas relatively close to San Francisco (unlike the penguins and icebergs which are much further away). I learn later in the evening that a few other people also slept through the killer whale party; I’m glad it wasn’t just me.
We arrive at Useful Island around 4:30 (no, I don’t know why it’s called Useful Island; seems no one knows), and the staff heads out to scout the site. Only one person has landed here before, and only once, so there’s some uncertainty. Melinda and I quickly suit up and find ourselves about 20 people back in line. That’s fine. We pack light because we know it’s going to be a brief landing when we do get out – dinner’s on at 7:30. We chat with Roy, Jacquie, Vicky, and Tom Meyers while we’re in queue, and it seems like it’s a long time we’re in the queue. We hear a few announcements. First, that the staff is still scouting and it’ll be 10 minutes yet. Later, that the chinstrap colony isn’t accessible but that we’ll land anyway. (Over dinner I learn that the path to the chinstraps would go through 3’ snow that readily collapses under one’s weight – carving a path would have been too difficult.) Also, that the landing is for only 45 minutes, on account of the delayed schedule. Several people leave the line at this point, as now the landing is effectively to see only more Gentoos and for less than an hour. But Melinda and I stay, and we’re on the second zodiac that heads out.
When we queued up, the seas were flat calm but I could see a closing storm; by the time we board the zodiac that storm arrives. The winds pick up a bit and a bit of snow falls. We rush to the landing site, and riding the zodiac is just like riding a galloping horse. It helps that I’m in the bow, too. The wind is a chill against my face, but I like it. Victor and Vicky are opposite me on the boat, and Vic is having a great time as well. We reach the landing site, but the swell has picked up making the landing somewhat tricky. The landing is on large boulders, not a beach, so leaving the zodiac would mean stepping on rocks that have 1m swell. We dally for one or two minutes while the staff discusses and then concludes: we’re not going to land after all. So close to the island but no. Instead, we’ll zodiac cruise for a bit – we’re out here anyway, might as well take some photos. In the end four zodiacs came out (with about 8 passengers each), but leaving perhaps 30 people on the ship without the outing.
And a pity for those on the ship, because the zodiac cruise turned out to be a lot of fun. The winds did calm a bit while we were out, but then the snow picked up to balance it off. We saw Gentoos and a few Chinstraps on Useful from the water, we saw penguins jumping in and out of the water, we saw them on ice flows, and we saw them on a nearby rock. The water was reasonably calm, with swell at less than one foot, and my camera system today worked pretty well: only the long lens, and with the strap shortened to half its usual length so the camera sits beneath my jacket – no need for a dry bag or backpack. We’re out for 45-60 minutes, and I shoot a few hundred photos, a lot on the high-speed drive while penguins are porpoising through the water. Rod, our driver, suggests that we tell everyone that the cruise was really terrible and unfun – or, more seriously, that we shouldn’t say how wonderful it was, because many people on the ship didn’t get the chance to go.
After dinner I checked out the bridge – nothing going on much up there, except that we’re sailing until the wee hours of the morning. The target is Cierva Cove, where we’ll attempt zodiac cruising in the morning before an expeditionary afternoon. The bow and higher decks have a thin veneer of snow over them as it’s actively snowing as we sail through; we’re going at 13.6 knots over ground (but, I suspect that’s with help from a current). The barometer has been falling for much of afternoon; I don’t have high hopes for good weather later. At the end-of-dinner briefing Ted mentioned there’s a weak system moving toward us; we’ll just see what we can do over the next few days.
More and more people are mentioning that we have only two more days of landings and that the trip is near the end. I promised myself I wouldn’t be one of those people to point out the nearing of the end – no need to remind others of it. And I’ve been avoiding thinking much about what I need to do when I get home, other than generally my tasks for the first days back. I don’t want any stress from work or home to distract me from the rest of this trip, and I think I can manage that.
After my trip to the bridge I visited the lounge and found Vic, Vicky, Roy, Jackie, Marissa, and Therese sharing a bottle of wine. I joined them at their invitation, and we amused ourselves with jokes and such. Nothing memorable, really just situational humor, but fun to visit with people. Other people came through the lounge, and we waved them in to join. I left the group a bit after 10p after it was at a dozen or so people.
|Neko Harbour, Lemaire Channel, and Booth Island
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Before breakfast is early. Melinda and I had a brief conversation at 5:15 this morning about whether we would actually get up in time for the 6a landing or sleep in until breakfast at 9a. Waking early eventually won out, in large part out of concern we’d miss something really awesome at Neko Harbour if we slept in. Some people surely did sleep in, but most came out.
We chose landing over cruising again and spent some time on the beach at Neko. We walked in the other direction today, away rather than toward the glacier, and saw a seal and some more Gentoos. We had a bit of snow again this morning, and it was colder – the flakes were smaller. I tried to photograph some Gentoos in the shallow water near the shore, to show them flying in the water; we’ll see back home how well that turned out. We didn’t stay long on shore, though; not much new to see and we were a bit cold and tired. So we were on one of the first zodiacs back to the ship.
Breakfast was well attended, unsurprising given the hour, although Melinda chose to nap through breakfast to make up for the short sleep overnight. From breakfast on, we were ship cruising, first through Paradise Harbor and later through the Lemaire Channel. These waterways are interesting mostly because of the mountains around them: they’re tall, very tall, and the waterways narrow. We had fantastic weather for the day’s cruise – it was sunny and blue skies with scattered white clouds. The snow on the mountains would glisten in the sun next to the cloud shadows. I imagine this is what cruising through the Alps would feel like. Paradise Harbor also is the home of a Chilean research base and an Argentine research base. Chile had a vessel at its base, coming out to greet a passing yacht, and Argentina had staff at their base doing maintenance. Not urgent maintenance, apparently – the staff came out and photographed our passing boat.
Throughout the day we saw signs of humanity, a stark contrast to much of the past three weeks. We saw the two research bases, two yachts, a Chilean research boat, a British ice breaker, the HMS Protector, and a handful of navigational aids. The marine radio squawked periodically with messages between other ships or other people calling to us, including two people who called specifically looking for Ted. The community of Antarctic expedition leaders probably isn’t too large, so it’s not a surprise that they might know each other. From the radio conversations, there’s a vessel a day behind us on about the same itinerary and another vessel a day of ahead of us. We may think we’re all alone in these vast and frigid waters, but that’s not entirely true (and, probably for the better).
The plan for the afternoon is to ship cruise as described then land at Petermann Island, a tiny piece of land covered in penguins. The Lemaire Channel cruise is exciting because it’s mottled with pack ice, and as we reach Peterman Island the pack ice is thick in the surrounding water. The Ortelius has little trouble pushing its way through this ice, but the ship does have its limits. The ice around the island is more than the Ortelius can safely anchor in, it’s too thick to launch and drive zodiacs, but it’s too thin to simply walk over. So Petermann Island will remain a ship cruise, photo from afar target for us. We turn around in its waters and backtrack through the Lemaire. At this point we do reach our southernmost point in the trip: 65 deg 10’ 7” S. This point is about 105 miles north of the Antarctic circle.
I gather that we have many alternative plans for the afternoon, as I overhear Ted and Hugh and Ted and the Captain talking about them. We consider landing nearby at Booth, or at the Ukraine research base, but in the end we land at east side of Booth Island. It’s a bit of a cruise to backtrack to this point, but we’re there around 5:30, comfortably before supper. Cheesemans hasn’t landed here before so the staff heads out before dinner to scout the location. During part of the ship cruise earlier in the day I’ve taken a nap, and during pre-dinner scouting I rest more. We’ve been told we have a long day ahead of us.
Dinner takes forever, in part because we’re ready to land and in part because the kitchen really is slow tonight. Also, Melinda and I sit with a rather non-conversational bunch. We have two dining rooms, one with 10-seat tables and one with 4- and 6-seat tables; Melinda and I eat at the 10-seat table room. Everyone at our table is low-energy, and I’m sitting across from some people who don’t seem comfortable with conversational English. So I stare blanking at the opposite wall for a while; it’s been a long day of watching really tall mountains drift by.
Finally we get the evening plan. At 9p we’ll begin landing and zodiac cruising at Booth Island; pick one and you can’t swap during the evening. Sunset is around 11p and the skies are set for a great show (it’s around 32F, about no wind, and skies are scattered thin clouds). The island has chinstrap, Adelie, and Gentoo penguin colonies and is the only island where all three species nest together. Melinda and I choose to land, and we head up the snowy hillside to find the Chinstraps. We find many many Gentoos and about two dozen Chinstraps on nests. We even see some Chinstrap chicks in the nests, which is a treat. The island has a lot of snow, but it doesn’t stop the penguins from walking about. Consequently, the snow fields are criss-crossed by penguin tracks, either foot tracks and maybe dots where the flippers occasionally touch the snow, or belly toboggan paths with flipper marks where a penguin has pushed itself along. With the light low from the setting sun, many of these tracks photograph well- at least I think they ought to. Again, I’ll check this out when I’m back home.
The sun sets very slowly, and the light warms to a gold and orange color. I take a few photos, but I don’t find great compositions and color on the island, just those of the clouds in the sky. I chat with Zoe for a bit about photography; she bought her camera, lens, and computer just a week before the trip, so she’s learning a lot as the trip goes by. She’s shooting with a Canon 550D and the same 70-300mm zoom that I have.
I need better gloves if I want to do cold-weather photography. The Dakine gloves Melinda and I bought for the trip have liners and outer waterproof layers, and they’re good for the zodiac trips but the outer layers are too bulky for taking photos. I’ve taken to wearing the waterproof layer on the zodiacs and only the liners on land; I can operate my camera just fine wearing the liners only. But with a bit of wind the liners end up not quite as insulating as I need; my fingertips frequently were very cold. I headed back to the ship not a moment too soon – my fingers were pretty cold and stiff. They’re fine now, though.
Part of the scouting the staff did on the island was to lay out a path for walking through the snow. We were asked to not bushwhack because the snow is soft and deep, and a foot hole made up to our knees is big enough to capture a penguin and deep enough that it would be stuck there. So we stuck to walking in one human highway stamped out from among the dozens of penguin highways in the snow.
The sun eventually set, a bit past 11p, and we headed back to the ship. We’re moving now to Port Lockroy where we’ll drop anchor for the night. We’ll land at Port Lockroy in the morning and stay there until noon and spend the afternoon again in expedition mode (meaning, “we’ll see what we can do”). Port Lockroy is a British-controlled site and formerly a military outmost from the second world war. Now, it’s a museum, gift shop, and post office and is surrounded by Gentoo penguins. We’ll alternate between Port Lockroy and a landing at a nearby island, because Port Lockroy can accommodate only 50 people at a time, not our entire manifest. Melinda and I are aiming to be part of the first group in so we can be sure to send our postcards and visit the museum.
|Wednesday, January 18th, 2012|
|Cuverville Island and Neko Harbour
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
The ship pulled in to Cierva Cove around 5a this morning, and Ted made the wake-up call at 6a. Unfortunately, even at 6a the winds were still blowing at 25 knots – more than what a landing or zodiac cruising could tolerate. Ted delays the 7:30 landing by 30 minutes, but by 6:20a he’s scratched the morning landing entirely. (We’ll be back by this way on Friday; our course is to travel south along the west side of the peninsula then return north and begin our at-sea days Sunday night.) Instead, we haul anchor and head to our afternoon spot early: Cuverville Island. Cuverville is a dinky island, much smaller than its name on any map, and in a protected bay; we’re hopeful we won’t be blown out of this landing. The relocation takes us until 11:30a.
Along the way we pick back up on the lecture track from the other day, with a photo critique at 9a. Tom Murphy and Rod Planck look through about 45 photos, submitted from passengers, and critique each. I’d submitted one photo, of St. Andrew’s Bay, and the comments are useful: the hills in the distance are too crowded on the left – give more open ocean horizon for them. The lower third of the frame is dirt and grass from my feet, which isn’t interesting. Walk forward 20 feet and aim the camera lower to remove it. The mountains and the sky aren’t interesting, either, and aiming lower will help that, too. There stream going through the photo is doing something interesting on the left – pan left to show more of what it’s doing. Advice from other photos: don’t crowd key elements near the edge. Don’t have bright blobs, or black blobs, in the background as these are distracting to the viewer. Don’t just barely cut a penguin flipper or other key item in a photo – either entirely crop it out of frame, or include it and with some margin. I was happy with the commentary; I’d submitted a photo I liked but knew needed something more, so the comments were useful. This wasn’t a photo contest, so no need to find my very best photo. One other point made was that, although one can edit photos with Photoshop, to clone out bad bits or to crop more elegantly, one is better served by creating better photos in the camera than subsequently. One can start with only so many pixels in the camera; if one crops in Photoshop one loses total pixels. Tom and Rod don’t have a no-Photoshop dogma, but “get the best image to begin with” is a good bit of advice. It makes me wish I did have a tripod on this trip, if only to be more deliberate with composing photos.
The winds did die down to about zero when we reached Cuverville Island, and we made a successful anchorage. The bridge was filled with passengers as we arrived – we’re all awake and ready for a landing (only our second landing in, like, five days). Lunch is at noon, and Ted announces that zodiacs will begin running at 1:30. I’m glad to hear this information, as I was beginning to wonder if people would suit up and be standing on deck waiting for zodiac launch before eating. So we do eat a well-paced meal.
The weather and scenery finally are what Antarctica ought to have: the island and the neighboring island that makes this protected cove are rocks a few hundred feet tall and covered with snow, ice, and glaciers. It’s snowing lightly outside; the air temperature is just about 32F. The water has very small swell, and ice bergs are scattered about. Some bits are tiny, and others have weathered months or years in the water, wearing down into interesting grooves, scallops, and arches. Much of the ice is bluish white, but some parts show a deep, vibrant cobalt blue. The parts of the ice just below the water are bluish green – a color Melinda and I would very much like to have as a transparent color in borosilicate glass. The cloud level is at about the top of Cuverville Island, and there’s no direct sun to be seen. It certainly feels like we’re in Antarctica.
Melinda and I dress appropriately. We’re wearing the base layers, top and bottom, mid-layers (eg, thermal pants, turtleneck shirt, and fleece top), and outer wind- and water-proof layers. Melinda’s wearing two pairs of wool socks (and will don a third if there’s another outing tonight), I’m wearing one, and we both have hats and gloves. We plan to zodiac cruise at this site, rather than land, because the site has only a Gentoo colony easily accessible, and we’ve seen Gentoos before. But the protocol for the zodiacs is that first, everyone lands, then, the cruisers get back on boats and go out. So we do step on the island for a few moments. There’s a big group of us who want to cruise – the cruising at Paulet was in 2m swell, and many people haven’t gone at all. But Melinda and I do manage to be on an early zodiac for cruising.
At this site the main goals for cruising are to see icebergs in the water and maybe see a seal on a floating bit of ice. We head to one nearby berg and shoot a bunch of nice deep blue color on the ice. I discover that my gear is not well suited for cruising in light snow, as we have presently. The strap on my camera doesn’t reach around my life vest easily, and moving the camera between the dry bag and it being in use is fussy. With the light snow on the camera, the lens smeared when I try to dry it, and it just being a bit wet overall I soon do give up taking photos. The scenery is nice, though. The second berg we see is pretty big – about the size of a diesel locomotive – and while we’re about 20 feet from it, it rolls 90 degrees to the side, exposing what was previously on the bottom. Being that close to a locomotive as it rolls over is every bit as impressive as you ought to think it is. No one shot video, but we were close enough that it wouldn’t have shown much. It didn’t produce much wake is it rolled, either, which is good considering our distance. We motored on to other bergs, took some photos, and then heard over the radio about a leopard seal on a berg. We quickly headed there and found what was promised: a leopard seal resting on a bit of floating ice. We photograph it, including when it yawns to show its menacing teeth, and I’m content with my handful of photos. There’s another zodiac here, and we float with the ice for about 20 minutes watching the leopard seal do approximately nothing. I’m not sure why we spent that long, but a few people took photos the entire time. I guess, if it were an Emperor penguin, I’d have shot more exposures, but I’ll admit I was a bit bored near the end. The seal wasn’t doing anything, just lying there and occasionally yawning. Dunno. I guess I wouldn’t have been so bored had my camera not been wet with a smeared lens filter at this point, either. Oh, well. We finished our route by rounding the island, past a shag colony, and back to the landing site. The zodiac was refilled with new cruisers, and Melinda and I hopped out to check out the scene.
I’m ready to head back to the ship, but the next zodiac isn’t ready to leave yet, so Melinda and I walk around a bit. We visit a group of Gentoos nearby, and we watch one penguin of a pair steal rocks from a nearby nest, despite the protestation from that nest’s penguin, and deliver them to his partner in his nest. We watch this cycle three or four times before we have to leave; I do shoot a brief video of one cycle. (The video also shows how the penguins eliminate waste – with a substantial amount of pressure. Watch for it on YouTube in the coming weeks…) A zodiac shows up pretty quickly and we head back to the ship.
Back aboard ship we refresh our gear, and I walk about a bit to check out the scenery. I find cookies in the lounge, and I buy a neck cozy for Melinda. I think about my gear a bit and how to keep it dry in the snow. We’re going back out after dinner, so I’d like to find a way to carry less.
At 6:30p dinner starts, and we depart Cuverville, heading for our after-dinner landing at Neko Harbor. Neko Harbor, we find out when we arrive around 7:30, is completely protected; the water surface is glassy and mirror-like, and the water is littered with tiny bits of ice. It’s like we’ve sailed onto a lake. The place is surrounded by tall rock hills and glaciers, including a tidewater glacier adjacent to our landing site. I shoot some photos of the icebergs as we cruise by because it’s easy to see their extent beneath the water’s surface. I suit up and try an idea for the camera: a shorter strap so the camera stays within my jacket while it’s around my head and shoulder. I take only the wide lens, not the zoom, and with this configuration I can ditch the dry bag entirely. This setup ends up working very well on this landing; I think I’ll stick with this plan (but, maybe taking the long lens rather than the zoom).
Neko Harbor is significant because it’s our only continental landing on the peninsula. (Brown Bluff was the other intended landing but we scratched it a few days ago on account of the wind.) Naturally, then, Melinda and I elect to land rather than zodiac cruise this evening. We’re among the first two zodiacs to make the landing, and we get our picture taken at several locations, with glaciers, penguins, and ice in the background. It’s also snowing lightly around us. Finally, a place that looks and feels like Antarctica. 8) The landing site is rather small, with Gentoo colonies around us and a glacier that we’re warned may calve and produce a tsunami. We all have a good laugh at the thought and carefully pick our away along the beach and up the rocky slope, toward the good views and the glacier.
Not more than 10 minutes after we’ve landed and started to walk, we hear thunder in the distance. We look up and see mist moving up and many cubic yards of glacier ice moving down into the water. Cheesemans have landed here 20 times, and this calving event is the first they’ve actually seen. Jim, on staff, yells out to everyone to move up on the beach – this is exactly the thing we’d just been warned about. And sure enough there is a small tsunami from the calving. We watch as the wavefront moves toward us; the water at the shore recedes by a few meters then rushes back in as a wall of water, about 14 inches tall. At the sound of the thunder the Gentoos along the shore scramble; they’re clearly running, not just ambling away from a noise. And with good reason, too; the water extends up the beach by a yard or two, covering where many of them were lounging. Of course, they can swim, so it’s not a big deal, but maybe just scary. Pretty awesome, though.
Melinda and I head up from the beach and on to a snowy hill, at the top of which we’re promised good vistas of our surrounds. Our boots work just as well in the snow as they have in the water, mud, guano, shale, and sand. At the top of the hill we find a handful of other passengers, and we’re all just a little giddy to be on Antarctica. We exchange taking each other’s pictures, and I check the GPS: we’re at 64 deg 50.723’ S by 62 deg. 31.633’ W, and it’s 9:20p local time. It’s still snowing lightly; Antarctic snowflakes (and snow) tastes just like northern hemisphere snowflakes and snow. We admire the view a bit more and head back to the landing site. It’s a short excursion tonight; land zodiac back is at 10p.
I end up taking a zodiac ahead of Melinda back to the ship; it had room for just one person and I have more things to untangle when back on ship than Melinda. When Melinda’s zodiac arrives, though, ice has moved in around the ship. It seems that the water moves very slowly in the harbor but brings with it all the big ice. The staff moves the ice using the zodiacs: they just idle up to the ice then push it with throttle. Seems pretty effective. Hugh, Edward, and others herd several big bergs around, including one with what could be a swimming pool, and the gangway can be lowered safely again.
We’re here at Neko tonight and for a _before_ breakfast landing tomorrow. We plan to make the landing tomorrow as well, but we may end up sleeping it, just because of the hour. It’s 11:30p and still light out; I expect it won’t get fully dark, well, at all tonight. But we’ll get some sleep in nonetheless. It’s pleasant to be on the ship and have it not rocking back and forth.
|Tuesday, January 17th, 2012|
|Paulet Island (again)
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Expedition days are days that don’t have a schedule set ahead of time. I mean, there’s an intended plan, but the chances are low that the day will follow that plan through ‘til the end. Today was an expedition day, and it fell off the plan by around 10a.
Breakfast is moving 30 minutes earlier day by day, matching approximately the sunlight (sunset last night was 10:45p and sunrise this morning was about 3:30a, with lots of dawn and dusk). We landed and cruised at Paulet Island yesterday, and we did the same again today, along with a third option, hiking to the top of the island. Melinda and I chose hiking, as we got an hour or so of colony photography and observation yesterday, and the hikes generally are fun. The hike today was described as “shorter and steeper than the previous hike,” which is funny because that’s how the previous hike was described as well. Fine.
The zodiac ride to the island was a little exciting as we had 2m swells, moderate winds, and scattered bergy bits of ice between the ship and land. Jim, our driver, caught air beneath the boat on one swell to the surprise of all us passengers, and Jim. He slowed a bit thereafter but it was a bouncing plow through the water. Nonetheless, we were on land by 8:45a and joined the dozen people for the hike.
The hike starts by passing a stone hut used by an expedition around the turn of the century when the group lost their ship. The hut now is on the edge of the Adelie colony, and the penguins don’t seem to give any thought to the historical significance of these stones. We see two skuas feasting on a stolen penguin chick near the corner as we pass the hut on our hike. The hike path takes us inland, around a lake and up a steep hill. The route around the lake is tough-going for a few reasons. One is that the ground is all angular stones that don’t afford great footholds, so one must pick one’s footfalls carefully. Another is that the easiest path is in use by the Adelies as a highway between an inland colony and the sea, and we cannot block that route. The lake is in the caldera of an old volcano and the water is a surprising green color. I guess nothing drains the lake, and the only water that feeds it is a trickle of snow melt. Melinda and I saw a Gentoo penguin at Stromness bathe in a freshwater pond; these Adelies would rather walk along a difficult stone path for 100m than swim through this green lake.
As we round the lake the wind picks up a bit and makes walking the awkward path more difficult for balance. On the opposite side of the lake, we begin our ascent to the top. It’s probably 300m to the top in elevation, but the hill is just volcanic rock of varying (and mostly small) size. Nothing is growing here, and we’re just about above the penguin line, so the hill is essentially a pile and our angle of attack the critical slope of this material. The rock is red, or black, or grey, and varies in size between golf balls and breakfast cereal. We don’t walk straight up but hit the slope at 60, rather than 90, degrees. The slope itself is a 28 degree incline, so we’re heading pretty steeply up. The rocks slide easily beneath our feet, and the wind is blowing more now. We stop a few times on the way up for Marlene to listen to the radio discussions down at the landing site. About the third time we stop, the radio discussion gives us a directive: the landing site’s been relocated on account of the wind, and the new location is tenuous. We’re to return to the ship at once. We’ve climbed maybe 100m vertically, not quite to the ridge above the lake, but that’s all the farther we’ll go. I’m just as content turning around, though – on the way up the top of the hike is described as “steeper at the top” and “tricky in one place” where we would need “someone to help you through.” Looking up I see no tight squeezes, so I can only imagine it’s a very narrow path and a steep drop-off. I’m not really ready for that today, but the winds provide me a graceful means to avoid the issue altogether.
Because the landing site’s changed we retrace our steps to the first site then follow the beach to the new site (about a quarter mile away). Along the way we’re walking much more closely to the penguins than protocol would suggest (advice is 5m distance but we’ve been asked to not tarry and so are only a few feet away from the penguins most of the time). The Adelies scatter pretty quickly when a human approaches, much more quickly than the Kings or Gentoos did, but the Adelies are quicker to replan and walk around, or through, a group of people to get to their destination. So, they’re both skittish and fearless, if one can be so disposed. I put my camera away as we’re clearing the beach, but as we’re walking it’s clear that the situation isn’t _that_ urgent that I couldn’t stop five seconds for a photograph once or twice. I pull out my camera and snap a few more along the way.
The zodiac ride back to the ship is pretty mellow all things told, and we’re on the ship safely. On ship we hear the story that will be retold throughout the morning. The zodiacs are returned to the ship by a hoist and the driver rides the boat up. When Tom’s boat was being hoisted, rather than the boat remaining approximately balanced, the wind upturned it and dumped the contents: dry bag, motor battery, gas tanks, and Tom. Tom managed to hang on to the boat with one hand, fortunately, so he never fell in the water. And another driver was very nearby and managed to pick up the dry bag and gas tank. But the battery was gone, of course, as were a few other loose items, and Tom’s shoulder and hand will be sore for a few days.
We’re back on the ship by 11a, about 90 minutes before we’d have expected, but that’s what an expedition day is about. All the boats are on the ship around 11:45 and I spot Ted on the bridge speaking to the captain about plans. Before Ted had come aboard I was looking at the barometer and the captain remarked to me, “Today, bad weather. Tomorrow, much calmer. Day after, calm. Day after that calm.” I say, we can hope so; “Not hope, I have information.” Nice. But he adds, “But, is Antarctic.” About 20 minutes later Ted announces the new plan: head to the Firth of Tay and try for an afternoon landing; maybe it’ll be sheltered there. At least it’s in the lee of the wind.
We lunch and the ship moves on. We reach the Firth of Tay around 2:30, but the winds haven’t let up; they’re still blowing at 40 knots. We had plans to land at Brown Bluff in the afternoon, too, but the winds won’t allow that. So the plan changes again: we won’t land again today, we’re going to the west side of the peninsula today, and we’ll try zodiac cruising and landing at Cierva Cove and Cuverville. The rest of today is set up as lectures (Ted and Kate), dinner, and a movie. The seas are pretty rough and people start to disappear on account of seasickness. Myself, I’m starting to feel a little queasy, but I’m going to tough it out rather than take a patch and get the side-effects again. The seas should calm as we go into the night, and we’ll be at our next location around 6a according to the autopilot. So for now, I’m planning to post this entry and head to bed. It’s still plenty light outside (sunset won’t be for another two hours) but tomorrow’s plan begins at 6a.
|Weddell Sea and Paulet Island
Monday, January 16, 2012.
Last night was very restful; I awoke once in the middle of it and again only just before the 7:30a wake-up call. I’m more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed than Melinda is this morning, so I head out for breakfast and to check out the bridge a bit before she does.
This morning we’re ship-cruising into the Weddell Sea with the aim to reach the pack ice by mid-afternoon. We have a set of lectures lined up for the day because we’re expecting the transit to be long at times. This schedule proves unnecessary even before the first lecture at 9a. Around 8:40a someone spots humpback whales just ahead of us, and everyone rushes out (to the bridge, the bow, and the upper decks) to see them. I’m out with my camera, and Melinda soon joins with the binoculars. We’ve come across a group of … I think, 5? … humpbacks that are frolicking in the water. We slow down but maintain the heading, and the whales stick around with us. The water is so clear that it’s easy to see several feet down. The whales are near the surface, and at some point one is just alongside the bow about two feet below the surface. We can easily see the entire whale, reaching from the tip of the bow to the bridge – they’re big whales! When they blow you can hear the sound of air exhaled and sometimes the whale’s voice. Pretty amazing. Doug was scheduled for the 9a lecture, but we stick with these whales until about 10a instead, and out goes the lecture schedule. And it gets better. By around 11a we pick up another group of whales that are also just cavorting near the surface. By mid-afternoon we’ve seen about 30 orcas and about 40 humpback whales.
We’re not traveling to their breeding grounds, but we’re close enough that we ought to see some loner Emperor penguins. While admiring whales we’ve started an Emperor penguin watch, and there’s a prize (yet to be determined) to whoever sees one first. Around 11:45 Jim, one of the staff ornithologists, thinks he’s spotted one, so we turn the ship to circle around the berg it’s on and check it out. With great fortune the penguin stays on the berg during our maneuvering, we get close enough for a good look, and sure enough it is an Emperor penguin. It may be the only one we see on the trip, but at least it didn’t take long looking for it. We all make a joke that it’s great to see it now because it’s lunch time – we wouldn’t have wanted to skip lunch looking for the penguin. While circling for the penguin sighting and for a few other sightings today, the ship proved itself very maneuverable. It can turn quickly and with a small radius, although the captain did say to someone wanting a better view, “I cannot stop ship; is not Zodiac.”
We saw a few crabeater seals and other sea birds on the wildlife safari today, too. On one flow, two southern giant petrels and two skuas were lounging until we came along, our presence motivating them to fly off. Three of the four had no trouble; the last giant petrel did the expected running + flapping to gain lift but must have tripped because it rolled at the end, not quite off the flow, and sat down again. One could tell how many people on the bridge were watching this bird because we all laughed together looking through our binoculars. Adelie penguins, it also seems, are very skittish of the Ortelius. We’ve found Adelies on several floating bits of ice, but when we approach, they scatter, running around the ice for a bit before jumping into the seas.
With the success of the wildlife viewing, Ted changed our plans for the afternoon: we won’t head to pack ice, and instead we’ll head to Paulet Island this evening for a landing and zodiac cruising. Landing and cruising (pick one) at 4p, back for dinner at 7p, and cruising (only) again after dinner. Melinda and I pick landing, and we’re geared up and ready to go at 3:30. It’s colder outside here than it’s been at any other landing so I add more layers, but enough so that I don’t want to stay in the room waiting (because it’s heated), so Melinda and I join several other people in the landing party line. There’s a small bit of confusion about where to line up for landing vs. cruising, and Hugh comes by to tell us it’ll be 30 minutes before we can land, but the 20 of us now lined up are happy enough to stay where we are – we’re eager to get off the ship.
We launch 7 or 8 zodiacs to haul people to the shore and to begin cruising. Melinda and I are dropped at the shore of Paulet Island and are amazed by what we see. The island is small and conical, perhaps a few hundred feet tall. It’s all rocks and a bit of snow that’s melting, and it’s nearly entirely covered with Adelie penguins. At just the side of the island we visit there’s probably 200,000 breeding pairs of birds. There’s so many that the staff had to herd some of them off the shore to make room for the landing (just loose penguins, not any breeding pairs in a colony). While in the zodiac Hugh takes us around an extra minute or two and we can see up the hillside – it’s an undulating carpet of black and white, thousands of penguins making their way between sea and nest, with dots of black blinking to white and vice versa as penguins turn and make their way through the rocks. We’re altogether happy that we chose landing, not cruising.
Adelies are all black with a white front and a tiny bit of white around the eyes. The beak is dark, dull orange and the feet are pinkish, but from any distance these penguins are the canonical penguin-colored penguins. They’re closely related to Chinstraps and Gentoos, all being members of the “stiff-tailed” collection of penguin species. On Paulet they have nests, little rings made of small stones, and the nests are pretty closely together. Many breeding pairs have chicks, and many have two chicks. The chicks are grey and fluffy and 75% the height of their parents. They’re still being fed by the parents, and even still brooded (kept warm by the parents), but brooding is a ridiculous sight because of the relative sizes, and especially if the breeding pair has two chicks not just one.
With so many Adelies near this landing site we don’t stray far or wide, but we have plenty of opportunities to photograph and appreciate this collection of penguins. At some point I’ve crouched down to photograph a penguin maybe 15’ away and I hear a movement behind me. I’ve crouched along a penguin highway and a few Adelies are walking past behind me by about one foot. They don’t mind me too much, it seems, and I don’t move until they’re well past.
The notable feature of Adelie penguin colonies is the odor. The odor of other penguins is sort of musky, and it’s masked by the odor of seals, which can be musky or similar to horse manure. Adelie penguin guano smells like bird guano; it smells like a bird cage on the island. The scent isn’t terribly objectionable, but I’d be happier with it gone. The other issue is that anything that touches the guano, or even is in the air near it for a period of time, absorbs the odor and releases it for some time. Back on the Ortelius Melinda and I find that much of our outerwear smells like Adelie colony.
I’m beginning to run low on digital storage so I took more care in composing photos on this landing. Well, for that reason, and because I’d like to have better photos and not just a ton of penguin snapshots. I concentrate on a few subjects and resist my earlier urge to fire a ton of frames waiting for the composition to be right. I think it helps; at least, I feel I’m being more careful. One event I’d like to photograph is the penguins eliminating their waste. They do so famously with some high pressure. It’s pretty hard to get the timing right because there’s not a lot of lead-up activity to signal it’s coming. But it’s a thing to work on.
Back on ship Melinda and I don’t stow our gear entirely – we plan to cruise in zodiacs after dinner. During dinner, though, we learn that the post-dinner zodiac cruise is canceled on account of the weather – the winds have picked up and are predicted to reach 40 knots by sunset. With those winds and swell, zodiac cruising isn’t fun or easy. Instead, we take a ship cruise further south, in search of the pack ice and to see tabular icebergs at sunset (which happens around 10:30p). So our gear will get overnight to dry (though I expect it’ll smell like Adelie for much longer). The ship cruise proves nice – we see lots of big icebergs and I photograph several, trying to get nice evening light, although the sunset proved to be ordinary, not extraordinary, and the ship (sensibly) stays pretty far from most of the ice. We don’t reach pack ice and turn around about when we reach the northern edge of a bubble of clear ocean. We’ll anchor near Paulet and tomorrow at 3a Ted will decide whether we’ll try for another Paulet landing (on the other side of the island) or go to Devils Island instead. At dinner we didn’t get the usual information sheet – there’s so much uncertainty (and flexibility) in the schedule that there’s not much to say. We do know that breakfast is at 7a (back to landing-marathon schedule and no more sleeping in) and we’ll make about two landings tomorrow. Other than that, we’ll roll with the ocean.
I’m starting in on my third (of three) 32GB memory cards for my camera. I figured two would be enough and I brought a third in order to be excessive. Oops. I have a plan for getting more exposures: I’ll shoot this last card until it’s about one-third full, I’ll copy the images to my hard drive, then I’ll wipe the card and start over. I’d be pretty surprised if I shot more than 4,000 exposures here on the peninsula, but this plan should give me an extra 2,000 or more, just in case. In future I should bring a (physically) small external drive with me as photo storage. Even if I also leave the memory cards untouched, it’s nice to have a second copy should something happen to the cards. One of the professional photographers made a comment the other day that he shoots with smaller cards – 8GB – rather than the biggest he could find in order to reduce the pain should one card fail. Interesting point. Swapping cards isn’t a big deal and they’re all much less expensive than the camera or lenses that one would be using, anyway. He said he aims for a card that will hold about 100 exposures.
At dinner I asked Doug how we’re able to change our plans so easily. I knew that Cheesemans had to request, at the beginning of July, which landing dates they would have (these sites permit only one ship per landing site at a time). Doug said they can move around to unreserved dates and locations – there’re 20% fewer operators this season than previously, so they have this flexibility. Pretty convenient. They’ve also booked two landings at Bailey Head, which is apparently a very tricky landing but (presumably) very worthwhile, hence the double investment.
|Sunday, January 15th, 2012|
|At sea, between S. Orkneys and the Weddell sea
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Today was another day at sea. We passed the South Orkney Islands before breakfast at some distance; those few people who woke early and made it to the bridge could just see the islands. Our destination remains approximately Snowhill Island where we expect to meet the sea ice. ETA for that destination is between 5p and 6p tomorrow.
I’ve heard “stir-crazy” a few times from various people today. Myself, I’m perfectly happy to nap or sit quietly while time passes, but others are getting pretty antsy to be landing somewhere, or at least cruising. The schedule today included four lectures: Dag spoke about Scott’s race for the South Pole and how Scott lost both the race and his life; Marco explained the effects of climate change on birds; Doug gave a great overview of our plan for the peninsula and showed many inspiring photos; and Joan gave an excellent lecture on the history of discovering Antarctica. All lectures were in the lounge (3-forward) because the swells today weren’t as bad as those yesterday. It’s still cold in the lounge, but Melinda’s found a remedy: borrowing the blanket from the top bunk in our cabin.
Around lunch we learned some notable news: two earthquakes had struck very near the South Shetland Islands (at 60.793°S, 55.729°W and at 60.797°S, 55.999°W), a 6.6 and 6.2. We didn’t feel any tsunami from these quakes, but at our distance and direction we really wouldn’t have expected any effect. It’ll be interesting to see the landing sites later this week and into next, because if a tsunami did form, those sites would have been hit.
We have entertainment after dinner tonight: a South Georgia retrospective slide show. Each person on the trip (including the staff) submits up to five photos from South Georgia, and we spend an hour admiring each other’s work (compiled by Bruce). We did this after the Falklands, and we’ll do this again after the peninsula. Should be a great show.
The plan tomorrow is to meet the sea ice late afternoon or evening and begin the Emperor penguin watch. More talks are lined up during the day but the schedule may change if we start to see something interesting earlier.
|At sea between South Georgia and South Okrneys
Saturday, January 14, 2012
Today was a day at sea, making a transit from South Georgia Island to the South Orkneys. Seas continue to be strong with swells at times 2-3m and at times 4-5m. Melinda and I attended all the lectures scheduled: Joan spoke about one set of adventurers; Jim gave another installment to his seabirds talk; Nick said a bit about tagging and tracking seabirds; Rod gave some tips and showed photos for the Antarctic. Lectures were good, and it was a good way to pass time in the day. I’m feeling a bit at unease today, but I believe the scopolamine is helping. Melinda and I each looked through our photos for South Georgia and submitted them to the retrospective slide show for tomorrow night. I visited the bridge a few times, and with the late breakfast this morning, the day didn’t need much filling to come to an end.
The plan tomorrow is our first big departure from earlier plans. We’d been planning to land at the South Orkneys, but instead we’re going to pass it by. By skipping this landing we’ll give ourselves enough time to reach the pack ice in the Weddell Sea, and what trip to the Antarctic would be complete without seeing sea ice? Ted and other staff agree it’s a gamble – the pack ice could be fogged in, for example – but it’s worth taking rather than doing the safe option (South Orkneys) and seeing no ice. So, our new plan is to be at sea all day tomorrow and to reach the ice by Monday evening. This plan puts us on the peninsula about when we’d want to be, so we haven’t jeopardized the later parts of the plan. It only just means we have about three days at sea in a row and with some heavy swell for now.
We’re setting the clock back another hour tonight, so, 7:30p is a bit too early for me to go to bed. Here’s some more trip-related things, not necessarily from today.
The ship is generally well-heated, but there’s layering. Melinda and I are in cabin 430, which puts us on the fourth deck starboard a little aft of amidships. The 3rd deck is too warm, the 5th deck is too cold, and lately the 4th deck has been pretty cold, too. We have a ceiling vent we can adjust, but it’s pushing out only cold air – we can’t heat the room on demand. It’s generally okay, though. I typically wear jeans and a T-shirt around the ship but nearly everyone else (including Melinda) wears a sweater or fleece as well. We just completed dinner, which I didn’t eat much of on account of me feeling a little poorly, but it was decent. We get three meals each day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast is typically eggs, oatmeal, sometimes bacon, toast, and some cold items (fruit, yoghurt, cold cuts, cereal). Lunch is a soup, entrée, and dessert, and dinner is appetizer, entrée, and dessert. By lunch time the dinner menu is posted, and we’re asked to pick an entrée so the chef knows how many of each need to be cooked. The fish has been mediocre and overcooked, beef is overcooked and dry, but occasionally the meats are very good (eg, lamb yesterday or the chicken today).
The seasickness patch I’m wearing is helping by reducing the “butterflies in my stomach” feeling. It wasn’t nausea but, hm, let’s say pre-nausea. Sitting while the ship pitches is a good abdominal work-out, but for all I know that’s been contributing to a bit of this feeling. I’m feeling some of the symptoms again tonight (the patch lasts for 72 hours and I’m only 24 hours in to it) so I took an antihistamine as that will help the scopolamine do its work. I’ve gotten two of the side-effects from the patch, though: blurred vision (only when looking more closely than 24 inches) and dry mouth. I’ve never had such dry mouth. I woke up several times overnight and needed to drink something. I don’t have that feeling now so I’m hopeful that part has passed.
|Friday, January 13th, 2012|
Friday, January 13, 2012
Melinda and I woke at 5:25a, dressed and showered, and joined everyone on the bridge for a slow ship cruise through Drygalski fjord. I went up a little early, too, just enough to catch a rainbow that went above the horizon and below – in the sea mist. Double rainbow and more than 180 degrees. The fjord was neat but not incredible – Alaska has more impressive high cliffs and tidewater glaciers, and we’ll see a lot more ice in a few days. The weather was breezy and at times a little snowy but not enough to prevent me from standing on the bow for a bit.
We ate a (meager 8( ) breakfast while we floated back to Cooper Bay in search of a sound anchorage. Remarkably, we found one, and we managed a landing of about three hours. Cooper Bay hosts a Macaroni colony that’s accessible over land as well as a chinstrap colony that’s off limits because it’s been hit by avian cholera in recent years (the colony’s doing okay now but I imagine the government wants to reduce the risk the disease spreads). Reaching the Macs required a bit of scrambling through steep tussock grass but nothing worse than what we did on the hike yesterday. The reward was a vantage just above the colony, and at the 10m limit we’re asked to stay back. Melinda and I end up staying there about two hours, taking photos and watching. The penguins are brooding chicks, and we see several pairs of penguins with a chick under one of them. Occasionally a penguin would walk through the colony and get squawked at by all the nearby penguins on its route. The place is pretty noisy – all penguins make calls, but the Macaronis may be the most harsh to listen to. King penguins sound like kazoos, but Macs sound like plastic bugles. I’m hopeful one of my videos picked up the sound. Unlike all other colony visits, the wind at this site is pretty minimal. From near the colony and one place I shot video, I also could hear the eerie howls of the seals from along the beach and in the tussock.
Back aboard ship we had lunch as we weighed anchor and motored out of the Bay. The seas are very rough this afternoon and evening as we’re going through some very low pressure regions. Swells are 4-5m, and waves are routinely crashing sea mist 10-15’ above the bow. No blue water has crashed over us yet, just mist. I finally gave in to take a scopolamine patch because I was feeling a little unsettled in my stomach. I had no trouble with the crossing to South Georgia (I felt a little queasy but I managed) but want to try it out now as practice in case I need something stronger for the return across the Drake. I napped several hours this afternoon, and between those two things I’m doing all right.
While we headed out of the bay some people sat on the bow to watch the waves. We in the bridge watched them as the waves crashed about, and several people got good video as finally one big one soaked everyone on the bow, sending them back inside. We watched a few sea birds, too, and spotted some decently sized icebergs already.
We expect to arrive in the South Orkney Islands overnight at the end of Saturday or possibly Sunday morning, depending on how fast we can plow through the seas. We’ll make a brief stop there and continue another day to the Antarctic peninsula. After the “South Georgia Marathon” where we made all the landings, it’ll be nice to have a few days of being just on ship. The schedule we got at dinner tonight shows only the meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – and no scheduled events or talks. They’ll be announced as we go depending on the seas, how people are feeling, and whether the lunch room can be made into a lecture room. (The lounge, where we’ve had lectures so far, is apparently a crazy bad place for lectures during these seas. It’s on the deck below ours, just above the calm-water line, and has no windows).
I’m off to the bridge now to check the barometer (rumor is that it’s at 960mmHg), to see who’s in the library or lounge, then back for perhaps an early bed time.
|Thursday, January 12th, 2012|
Thursday, January 12, 2012
I woke up at midnight last night and again a few times later in the morning. At midnight I heard what I thought was the anchor being hauled in and the engines started. I thought it odd at the time because we weren’t due to leave that anchorage until 3a or so. At 2 or 4a, I forget exactly when, I woke up to the ship rolling significantly – more than it had on the crossing from the Falklands. I thought briefly about my camera and lens but was secure remembering that I had put them in their padded cases and stashed them beneath the desk – a roll-proof location. I dozed for a bit further until 6:25a, just a few minutes before my alarm rang. The ship was still rolling.
Melinda and I showered and dressed getting ready for our 8a landing. Just before we headed to breakfast Ted announced that all landings were postponed until noon. Apparently, the midnight noises _were_ the anchor being brought in; we were blown by strong gusts of wind out of St. Andrew’s Bay, and other winds were buffeting us here at Gold Harbor. The seas don’t look that bad until you see the tops of the white caps being skimmed off by the winds, and watch that cloud of mist roll through and past the ship. It’s like a movie effect from Pirates of the Caribbean. Ironically, the sun was shining pretty nicely from over our shoulders (we’re getting pretty far south on the island so all the bays basically look out toward the east), and later in the morning the skies were blue.
I like spending time on the bridge; I think I’ve mentioned that here before. It’s a good view point; I like looking at the technical bits of the ship and pondering what the Russian labels mean. A few controls have English labels added later, and one control box is originally labeled in English – with Russian labels. I happen to notice that depth sounding readout uses Nixie tubes – cool! I remark on this to Melinda and Joan (Boothe, author of The Storied Ice), and I explain how Nixie tubes work and why they’re interesting. On an ecology safari I don’t get many chances to share knowledge, so I try to sound smart when appropriate.
Anyway, while on the bridge I overhear the staff’s concerns about the day. Apparently there’s a storm on the west side of South Georgia that’s blowing some wind over the mountains. Or, perhaps that’s just a conjecture? Someone brings out a satellite pressure map for the day for the southern ocean region; predicting weather is left to those down here, I guess. There’s a strong low pressure region to our south east, kind of in the direction we’re heading. The questions of the day are, will we make the landing at Gold Harbor (if the winds let up by lunch we can), and, should we attempt a landing at Cooper Bay. Cooper Bay would be neat – Macaroni penguins – but it’s a tricky landing and likely to fail. The risk of even trying Cooper Bay tomorrow is that whatever storm that’s brewing may build and block us from a landing further on (eg, it may delay our passage to the South Orkney Islands). Members of staff have opinions, mostly to skip Cooper Bay and head out tomorrow morning, but even now (nearly dinner) I haven’t heard the decision. Ted, who gets to make this decision, is back asleep. I can only presume that moving the ship and the attempted landing in the morning caused him, and most staff, to not get a lot of sleep last night. The staff is noticeably less energetic than usual this morning.
We have a lecture at 9:30 on whaling around the world, but it’s short on information. I learn (or rather, reminded – I’m sure I knew this already) that only the Inuit, the Norwegians, and the Japanese still catch whales. The numbers caught each year are well below the peak of whaling in the early 20th century but there’re still lots of question whether even these small numbers can be caught without impairing the whales’ recovery. At 11a Marco gives a talk on bird migration. Half the talk is on migration (summary: some birds migrate thousands of miles, including even some tiny birds), and half on the techniques for this research. Banding birds, done in the early and mid-20th century, had a poor recovery rate. Satellite tracking – gluing responders to birds’ feathers – is much more effective and much less costly per unit of data.
Just as Marco’s talk begins we get an update on today’s situation. The winds have calmed down very much from this morning so we’ll land in the afternoon. Lunch at 12:30 and landing immediately afterward. Hurray!
Lunch is sparsely attended, perhaps because folks are eager to hit the shore, but Melinda and I partake and sit at a fun table, with Victor, Vicky, Therese, and Marissa. And, I score an extra dessert (chocolate mousse) that Victor forewent. Even going to lunch I’ve already donned some of my landing clothes – I’m eager to go, too.
Gold Harbor offers much of what we’ve seen already at South Georgia. There’s a King penguin colony, some Gentoos, a few fur seals, and the largest concentration of elephant seals we’ve seen yet. On shore Melinda and I walk the shore for some photos and spot an Adelie penguin. This spotting is significant because it’s only the second time Doug has seen an Adelie appearing in South Georgia in the 20 years he’s been doing these visits. Adelies live on the Antarctic peninsula, but that’s still a thousand miles away. So Melinda gets to be a celebrity briefly because she’s taken pictures of the Adelie. It’s a cute penguin – a little smaller than the Gentoo penguins, and along the water line it was looking rather lost.
Because the weather at St. Andrew’s was so good (I learned later that it was the best weather in 17 years of landing there, according to Doug) Melinda and I’ve had enough penguin and we opt for a hike about an hour after landing. The hike takes us up to a ridge about 200m above sea level in about, let’s see, maybe a mile or a mile and a half? These hikes are kind of unreal (the one today and the one from Fortuna Bay to Stromness, along Shackleton’s route): we ascend and descend hillsides that are at the critical slope of the shale-like rocks they’re built from. It’s perhaps a 30 – 40 degree slope, and we go straight up. The rocks are interlocked well enough that one won’t slide down, nor is there any issue about erosion – there’s no dirt to erode. We might also ascend a hill covered in tussock grass in the same manner, but there at least the tussocks can act as steps in a way. The only issue with tussock grass is that it growls occasionally when there’s a fur seal dozing on the mount you’re about to step on.
The hike is sort of grueling, more so than the Shackleton hike because the ascent is steeper. I’m wearing cottonm so I get all sweaty, then chilled, but it’s not a big deal because the out and back ends up at just more than two hours. Half-way up, we are rewarded with chocolate – I rather like the Cadbury extreme dark chocolate, and it fills me with inspiration for the final crazy-ascent to the top of the ridge. The view is … well, it’s okay. The clouds are moving in, and we’re just at the cloud ceiling so everything is a little foggy. From the top, and along the way up, we see bits of a glacier near the penguin colony calve. The glacier was formerly a tide water glacier, but now the ice falls upon rocks below; it’s receded a lot in the past two decades, according to Gail and Doug. One calving event is pretty spectacular, and we can hear the thundering sound from the maybe two miles away we are. At the ridge Mandeep, one of the passengers, asks Hugh about why the glaciers are receding. Hugh gives some explanation around what causes a glacier to advance or recede, but Mandeep asks leading questions trying to get Hugh to say global warming is the cause of all the ails here. Hugh carefully answers questions to provide technically accurate replies and doesn’t fall for the politicized response. Melinda and I appreciated his handling of these questions – we’ve come to very much like Hugh as an expedition staffer.
Back at the landing site we convert to zodiac mode and head back to the ship. We’re kind of damp from sweat and exhausted so I’d like to clean up before dinner. No word yet on tomorrow’s plans, as I noted above, but I’m hearing now that maybe we’ll try Cooper Bay, and if it’s a bust we’ll depart immediately. Dunno. We’ll learn something at dinner, I’m certain.
Advice for taking this trip in the future (some of this is a repeat from earlier posts): Bring a backpack dry bag. Seal Line is a brand I’ve seen a lot. The dry bag material should be thick, like rubberized nylon, not thin like a kite (my bag is small and kite-like). Bring more long-sleeved shirts, and bring turtlenecks if you’re likely to be cold. I’ve been wearing cotton long-sleeved shirts in South Georgia, beneath my fleece, and it’s okay. I wore a long-sleeved cross-country shirt for a few days and it worked very well. In fact I’d probably get another one of those. The long-sleeved wool shirt isn’t outer wear, so it’s not easy to shed. I haven’t tried it yet, though. Melinda and I have taken 6,800 exposures so far and we’re 40% in to the trip. I would plan for 20,000 exposures and more if you already take a lot of high-quality photos. I’ve brought three 32GB SD cards, and I expect they’ll just barely fit all my DSLR photos. I would have been happier with four or five total cards. Because they’re each less than $100, it would have been a trivial investment. (FWIW I though bringing three cards was excessive. Fortunately, between my computer, Melinda’s computer, and my mobile phone(!) we can store another 60GB of images.) Knit hats should cover the ears, entirely. Melinda bought a better knit hat at Grytviken, and she’s very happy with the purchase (that it’s handmade in Nepal is a bonus). Bring one set of IS binoculars for each person traveling. When whales appear it’s better if both people can see than just one. Bring high-powered sunscreen and enough of it. We’re using a small tube of SPF 25 + daily moisturizer, and I have doubts that it’s a truly effective sunblock. The wind will take off protective hats, and the cold will want you to wear a knit cap so it’s important to have sun screen protection in some other manner.
Time passes and we eat dinner.
We have a plan for tomorrow now. We’ll ship cruise though Drygalski fjord between 6a and 7:30 then (attempt a) land(ing) at Cooper Bay at 8:30. Cooper Bay’s attraction is more Macaroni penguins, including land access to the colony (although it’s through some steep tussock – similar to what we hiked today). If the landing succeeds we’ll be out until noon, return for lunch, then depart for the South Orkneys in the afternoon. We’ll be at sea all day Saturday and have our first landing at the South Orkneys on Sunday.
Dessert at dinner tonight was great – strawberry and blueberry cobbler with very-vanilla ice cream.
I checked in with the bridge – nothing new upstairs. The barometer has been level for 6-8 hours and it’s a quiet evening. We’ll stay here until 3a tonight. Melinda and I caught a King swimming in the clear water near the ship. They really do use their wings underwater, and they look just like they’re flying.
|Wednesday, January 11th, 2012|
|St. Andrew's Bay
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
In the past two days, I’ve shot 2100 exposures, probably two-thirds of that today. We were at St. Andrews Bay today, and although the weather started poor, by mid-morning the skies were blue and the sun was out, and the King Penguins numbered into the hundreds of thousands.
I woke up around 4a as the ship hauled anchor and set sail; we spent the night at Grytviken because it’s a protected harbor for the ship. I rolled over for more sleep and awoke just as my alarm went off at 6:30, which was then followed by Ted’s wake-up call. We’re in St. Andrew’s Bay, but the skies are overcast, and it’s only 34F outside. Melinda and I do our morning thing and head out to the zodiacs. No one’s going to repeat the Salisbury Plains rain fiasco – lots of cameras are wearing rain sleeves, professionally made or fashioned from zip-loc bags. I have all my gear but plan to leave it in the dry bag should conditions be poor.
The zodiac trip is easy, but the landing is rough. Their usual landing site no longer provides access to the King penguin colony because the glacial melt-water river has shifted course and is impassable by foot (it’s 3’ deep and the current is strong). We make a different landing, but the waves crash hard along the sand-and-pebble beach. Melinda and I go in separate zodiacs (8 heads per craft and it happens to split us up). Hugh is my driver and explains the plan and reasoning and says that in the landing, the zodiac motors hard up onto the beach, but the waves will hit the transom and knock us about. That’s exactly what happens, along with the wave sending water crashing over the last two people in the boat (including myself). Good thing for all this wet-weather gear! No big issue, and we’re both at the landing site, and I unpack the gear.
My first impression upon landing is that there’re a lot of King Penguins here! The beach is speckled with them where we land – the staff had to herd them out of the way for the landing site. A few fur seals are scattered about, and elephant seals have a wallow or two off the beach into the grass, but the obviously dominant animals are the penguins. And there are a lot of them. The beach extends about a mile from where we are, and no 25’ circle could be drawn without including a penguin. And this is just the start.
The skies are overcast but dry so I unpack the camera but keep the dry bag with me just in case (ordinarily I’d leave the dry bag at the landing site and leave my camera padding and gloves). We head toward a ridge that overlooks the King colony, following a line of other passengers doing the same. Within 10 minutes of leaving the beach, though, it starts to sprinkle lightly. I cover my camera with my hands for a while but the sprinkles build up and I stash everything in the dry bag in the backpack. Soon the sprinkles turn to hail – I’m glad I’ve stashed everything. We continue on our walk, though – we’d previously agreed that we’d just enjoy it in person if we couldn’t photograph anything. And, I do take some photos with the snap camera, despite the rain.
The big surprise of the day is that the hail and rain lasted only a few minutes, and the skies gradually parted, first to expose some thinner clouds, and eventually to be clear and blue with some friendly cumulus clouds and sunny. The conditions turned out to be amazing – great bright light, occasional shadows, temperate, and dry. I reinstall all my camera gear and return to photographing everything I could see.
St. Andrews Bay is home to the largest colony of King Penguins in the world. I’ve heard various estimates of the number of breeding pairs here, between 250,000 and 500,000. I couldn’t judge for myself but the delta and plains where the penguins nest is expansive and completely covered with penguins. So many penguins! You couldn’t draw a 2’ circle without overlapping a penguin. The penguins are in a few stages of breeding. Some adults are sitting on eggs, exchanging incubation duties during an “egg exchange.” Penguin chicks born last year wear brown down coats while their King-colored plumage fills in. Some adult penguins are molting now and will breed in several weeks. The chicks congregate in crèches in the colony which make for patches and lines of brown among the black and white pips in the sea of penguins. A purpose-built viewing platform for the colony wouldn’t have been better than the ridge we walk to from which we can see the expanse of the penguins.
At the ridge Jim, one of the staff ornithologists, spots a few penguin couples who are likely to have an egg exchange very soon. He spots three couples while I’m there, and the first two exchange their eggs pretty readily, but the third takes more than an hour to work out a plan and the courage to do so. I watch the proceedings for about 30 minutes but do give up because I want to look at other things. Melinda stays on and monitors these penguins. She later reported to me that the couple did eventually complete the egg exchange and everyone on the ridge cheered.
One neat place Melinda and I walked to was a lake at the foot of Buxton Glacier. A small sandbar extends into the lake (the lake is perhaps 150ft in diameter) and a few score penguins are standing on it. We walk to the edge, then walk through the water to the sandbar (I do like having waterproof footwear) to visit these penguins. Only a few other people are out here, mostly the fancy-pants photographers, and there’s lots of good behavior to watch and photo compositions possible. Melinda and I also end up just sitting and watching the birds for a bit. It’s past noon and we’re hungry, but the sun’s out, the weather’s warming up, and there’s a lot of scenery to take in. Some penguins visit Melinda and me while we sit, coming up pretty close. I get some very close-up shots of them and we enjoy an eye-to-eye look-see.
We head back to the landing site around noon-thirty and meet Hugh early along the way. Hugh will be an expedition leader next year on an Antarctica-only trip with Cheesemans, again on the Ortelius. Apparently they go further down the peninsula, on the west side, and into the Antarctic circle. Could be fun.
We find sandwiches at the landing site, but they’re running low – not everyone who took a lunch signed up for one. We get ours, though. The staff is lounging on zodiacs, pulled all the way out of the water. Bringing in any zodiac needs 4-6 people, so they need many hands on the beach, I guess. Just as Melinda and I begin to eat a wind picks up, and within 90 seconds it’s gusting very stiffly, maybe 30 knots. On the beach it kicks up sand and grit terribly; Melinda and I face away from the wind and put up our jacket hoods to protect ourselves (it works). This is the katabatic wind we were warned of. St. Andrews Bay is a bowl surrounded by three glaciers. As the air in the bowl heats up, the colder air on the glaciers is pulled down by gravity into the bowl at a surprisingly high rate. The winds gust for perhaps 30 minutes, long enough that many people return to the landing site (we were asked to do so should winds pick up, as the winds can reach 100mph during these storms. Such happened to Cheesemans in 1998, and 21 passengers and 7 staff had to take shelter in a BAS hut for several hours). Ted lounges in a chair near the zodiacs during this time, seemingly napping. There’s not a lot to do while they’re gusting, and the wind isn’t bad enough that we’re going to leave the site. The winds do calm down after a bit, and we disperse again. The gusts come and go for the rest of the afternoon, but the landing isn’t cut short.
After lunch and after the winds, Melinda returns to the ridge to watch penguins, and I head out on Tom Murphy’s photo composition walk. The group has a dozen people and after spending 30 minutes at the first stop, where Tom explains simple technical concepts to several people, I break off from the group. Tom did say several times this walk was about composition, not technical issues, but the questions about depth of field and aperture just kept coming. I’ll catch up with the lessons later; Tom said there’ll be another couple of these during the trip. The first one I missed entirely, but it was a mix of questions about tripods (really?!) and basic questions about how to operate one’s camera. So, yeah, there’s a long ways to progress here.
I meet up with Melinda again, finding her on the ridge talking with Doug about teaching biology. Doug previously had taught biology and related subjects at DeAnza College; he retired to running ecology safaris. They’re having a great conversation; I don’t dull it by talking about what I do. 8) I head to the river that separates us from the colony, take some photos, and Melinda and I lounge on the top of the hill near the ridge for about 20 minutes enjoying the scene. It’s still sunny and warm, and we could stay here for another 90 minutes before the last zodiac, but after a bit we decide to make our way back to the ship. We pick our way through the scattered penguins and occasional seals, pack up the gear, and take the next zodiac to the ship.
The day closes with dinner and the daily Christmas Present that is the next day’s schedule. The skies remain clear, but there’s a rumor of a storm tomorrow; we shall see. I’ll check the barometer on the bridge before I turn in, just to see for myself. Tomorrow we’ll be at Gold Harbor, and there’s a 5:30a landing. Melinda and I plan to sleep in and make the 8a landing instead; Gold Harbor has more of the same as we’ve been seeing so we don’t feel it so necessary to be there so early. We’ll be at Gold Harbor all day; last zodiac back is at 7p, so there’ll be plenty of time even starting from an 8a landing. This event would also be the first landing opportunity we “miss” in a way – we’ve been at the first landing at all the other times so far (as has 90% of the ship). A show of hands at dinner showed only 60% of the group will make the early landing tomorrow; the comment on the first day, that we didn’t need to make all the landings, is starting to set in.
P.S. I visited the bridge just now – the barometer fell 20mmHg in the afternoon during the windy period. It’s bounced back 10mmHg. I met Katie and Pablo in the library which is one of two social areas and often home to people sorting or viewing photos on their laptops. Pablo showed a video he shot with his “Hero” video camera, by GoPro(?). It’s a small, self-contained camera that he sets out on the beach at landings to shoot for a few minutes at a time. It’s inexpensive so he’s not worried he’ll lose something valuable if a fur seal eats it. The video he showed was of a fur seal pup looking closely at the camera – too cute. Both he and Katie review all their images each day and delete the ones that are out of focus or are duplicates. I plan to review and edit my photos after I return; I’m spending those two hours each night blogging and mentally reviewing the day, instead.
|Hercules Bay & Grytviken
(sorry for the delayed post, the internet server onboard was down last night)
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
We started today at Hercules Bay, a small inlet a little further clockwise around South Georgia from Stromness. The schedule is the norm now: wake at 6:30 with first landing at 8a. Hercules Bay affords only a few tiny beaches for landings so we learn a new method of touring: the zodiac cruise. In a zodiac cruise we tool along in a zodiac, perhaps only four or six of us, and go slowly enough to avoid getting any ocean splashes. So long as the wind is calm we can stay dry; a meter of rolling swell is easy to deal with. Zodiac cruising lets us get close to some of the rocky shores that we can’t land at or hike to, and it lets us see things in the water offshore.
The draw of Hercules Bay is Macaroni penguins. We have two tiny landing sites with Macaroni colonies at each, but the Macaroni penguins, similar in behavior and features to the Rockhoppers, live far up the rocky hills and out of our sight. Melinda and I make the first landing, amid many unhappy but generally lazy seals, and watch one or two Macaroni penguins waddle by. Macaronis are more nervous than Rockhoppers: if they come upon a seal or a human in their path they stop, look, and may just turn around and go back. The Rockhoppers would forge ahead.
I get some more photos of seals at this beach, but we don’t stay at the landing long because there’s really not much to see. We jump on the next zodiac, driven by Ted, and take a 40 minute cruise around the area. I have my DSLR in my dry bag, but it’s not all packed away, just loose inside, so it’s easy to retrieve. Our cruise takes us to the mouth of the Bay (Ted remarks that , beyond this mouth, the next land one would see would be Cape Town) and counter-clockwise up the coast a little ways. We see more Macaronis, these up-close, and we spy our first Chinstrap penguin. The sea has maybe 1m of swell and the waves rise and fall along the sloped rocky shores by several meters. We also see Antarctic Terns and some light-mantled sooty albatrosses. We wrap up the cruise at the second landing site, just a short distance from the first and from the ship.
The second landing site is a bit roomier than the first, and we find a group of maybe 30 Macaroni penguins on a rocky formation along the water. There’s a bunch of people here already, so we find a few seats among the upended sedimentary rock. (Now, at the end of the day, Melinda and I each discover small tears in our formerly-waterproof pants thanks to sitting on these rocks. Duct tape should be a sufficient fix – we need the legs to be waterproof more than the seat.) We watch behavior of penguins and see a lone King penguin here. The King has some scratches on its breast – perhaps seal teeth marks, or something else. They’re not bleeding but it has no feathers there, either, so it’s in an unhappy condition.
We plan to head back to the ship about now, but the next zodiac is heading for more cruising so we join it instead. We get about 20 feet from the second landing when we look into the water and see hundreds of tiny jelly fish, as well as a few 1-inch, 3-inch, or even 10-inch jellies. They’re mostly milky-transparent but for either four or 8 longitudinal lines, and these lines iridesce and change color as we watch them. I have no photos of them – it’d have been hopeless to try – but we enjoy the view. After some 10 minutes of looking at jellies we cross the Bay to visit another Macaroni colony that’s on a rocky shore that we couldn’t access by a landing. There’s a lone Chinstrap penguin here, and it appears it’s surrounded by a Macaroni exclusion zone – the Macs are closer together among themselves than any one is willing to approach the Chinstrap. We look high on the neighboring ridge and spot a pair of light-mantled sooty albatrosses, one flying large figure eights while the other looked on. It’s nearly noon so we head back to the ship and meet up with four other zodiacs coming home to roost. Aboard ship I look back at the Macaroni colony with binoculars and see that the Macs go up this steep slope at least 200’, though tussock grass and open hillside. They’re amazing climbers considering they have no hands to grip with.
While we lunch the ship repositions to Grytviken, the seat of the South Georgia population. All visitors to South Georgia are required to make a call here to process through customs. While customs is happening a staffer from the museum at Grytviken boards and tells us about the South Georgia Heritage Trust’s efforts to eradicate rats from the island. Rats eat bird eggs, and the population sizes of native birds on South Georgia have been slowly declining. The eradication plan is to set out rat poison basically over every square foot of the island. The glaciers presently isolate parts of the island’s rat populations but in a few years they will recede enough to let rats through, so SGHT is doing its work now. Melinda and I generally like rats, so it’s kind of sad to hear about a big rodent control effort, but these rats really don’t belong here and they’re causing grief for the native birds, which are more rare. So we don’t mind these efforts.
Grytviken has a Post Office, where we bought stamps and mailed postcards (which almost certainly will arrive after we’re back in San Francisco); a church, where we rang the bell; a museum, where we learned more about whaling and bought some souvenirs; many abandoned buildings and equipment; and a cemetery with the remains of Shackleton and Frank Wild. The Cheesemans have a tradition: drinking a toast to Shackleton and pouring a bit of the drink on his grave for him. So we do this tradition, and I look around the cemetery. It’s small, and a gate keeps the seals out. Nearly all the names are Norwegian except for Shackleton, Wild, and an Argentine from the Falklands War. Many of the people died aged between 18 and 30 years, sailors, sealers, and whalers trying to make money during the whaling heyday. Some stones have been replaced recently by better markers; apparently there’s a renewed interest in Norway for this part of their heritage, and children and grandchildren are tending to these things.
Melinda and I take one of the last zodiacs back to the ship; we’ve spent a lot of time in the museum, as is our wont. At 7:30p two of the researchers from the British Antarctic Survey come aboard and give a brief lecture on fisheries, predators, and life at King Edward Point BAS station. The talk is much like what Melinda and I are used to – a PowerPoint deck, slides with bullets, an outline slide, and pretty decent structure. I mentally note that this talk is in stark contrast to the lectures earlier on this trip, by the staff, that are nearly all given only over pictures, not text, and they’re given by flipping through pictures in a directory (eg, Hugh uses Picasa to give his presentation). I like the structure of this talk but I wonder if other passengers think it’s too academic or rigid. Dunno.
After the talk we head up to the helicopter deck for a barbeque dinner. It’s chilly outside, and unfortunately it’s misting just a little – enough to get all the tables and benches wet but not enough to reasonably want to eat inside. The pork ribs are tasty, as is the ceviche and tres leches dessert. I wear my rain pants (I haven’t learned about the rip yet) to deal with the wet bench and I bring up a towel to dry Melinda’s bench and anyone else’s that needs it (no one takes up my offer – they’re already sitting down). We talk a little bit with the BAS base commander, someone in his late 20s or early 30s. He’s two months in to a 12-month duty. I ask about how they keep up with current events from the rest of the world, and he admits they feel a bit insular there – they track major events but not a lot of little things. They get their internet by piggybacking on a satellite uplink UCSD needs for seismology station. It’s only 128kbps, but it’s free. They don’t use YouTube but there’s a fair bit of Facebook use, apparently.
We don’t dally at dinner (although I go back for seconds on the ceviche) because I’m surprisingly cold; we head in around 9p. We have the schedule for tomorrow but Ted doesn’t give his briefing because there’s no organized group at dinner. We’ll get a detailed briefing in the morning but the plan tomorrow is basically to spend the entire day at St. Andrews Bay; first zodiac in at 8a and last back to the ship at 6:30p. St. Andrew’s Bay is home to the biggest King Penguin colony in the world – 150,000 breeding pairs (and possibly more, apparently? I’ve heard lots of different numbers here) so the draw is to watch lots and lots of penguins. We’ll plan to eat lunch ashore, but we may return to the ship for a “picnic at home” should we want a break in the middle of the day. Lots of time in the field is fun, but I do like taking a break in the middle.