Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falkland Islands Trip Log (12 - 28 Dec 2017) – Saturday, Dec 16

Saturday, December 16: Sailing the Scotia Sea
January 2018

John Muir once wrote "The world is big and I want to get a good look at it before it gets dark". Fair comment, and it is very interesting listening to guest's reasons for taking this journey south. For some it is to get to the Seventh Continent, but for many of these well-travelled clients the reasons are far more cerebral. The levels of intellectual horsepower, life experience and past reading on board is beguiling, as it always is with A&K clients.

Marine biologist, Larry Hobbs, the Whale Whisperer, gave a wonderful presentation on the seals of the Antarctic. With 50 years of research and study under his belt, Larry has a plethora of stories to tell, and in his inimitable style he draws the audience into a world of marine mammals they have hitherto only dreamed of seeing. These creatures with relatively constant body temperatures, who give birth to live young and nurse those young, have hair on their bodies and need to breathe air require special adaptations for marine environments, since the water absorbs so much of their body heat quickly. Elephant Seals are capable of dives more than a mile deep (1600 meters), and can swim 18000 miles in a year (29000 km), the big breeding males weighing as much as 10000 lbs (4500 kg). The Weddell, Crabeater, Antarctic Fur and Leopard Seals were discussed in detail, backed up with beautiful images, and sounds. Larry also maintains that with increased enlightenment comes hair loss, which is why whales are hairless! Larry himself being bald..

Rob Caskie presented a story about Roald Amundsen, the great Norwegian explorer who took the prize of being first to reach the South Pole. Guests were intrigued at the notion of sharing a story without images, particularly about an explorer they generally know little about. Scott and Shackleton being far better known for various reasons. Rob spoke about Amundsen's impeccable background as an explorer, having overwintered in the Antarctic on board Belgica in 1898, and being first to sail the North-west Passage in 1903-1906. Having learnt to ski at a very young age, and gleaning much knowledge from the Inuit people whose mastery of Polar environments is unequalled, secured Amundsen considerable advantages over Scott when their race for the Pole began in 1910.

During the afternoon, photo coach Richard Harker gave a talk on mastering one's camera in Antarctica. With the predominance of white and grey environments, matters of exposure, white balance, contrast and composition become all the more important. For some the idea of using one's histogram to evaluate exposure and/or burnout came as a great surprise. Richard has a special way of sharing his immense knowledge, mindful that for some his pointers and suggestions may appear as clear as hieroglyphics. I notice guests on board carrying the latest Leica and Hasselblad DSLR cameras, but the majority use Canon, Nikon and Sony. The Expedition Team met with Safety Officer and Expedition Leader to confirm arrangements and safety for the Zodiac operation. Dense fog and limited visibility has characterized the early part of this season providing challenging conditions. Experienced Zodiac drivers are requested to pair up with less experienced drivers, and always to maintain clear line of sight between the Zodiacs, backed up by use of GPS. Matters of biosecurity for South Georgia were reiterated, along with the real issues of Antarctic Fur Seal interactions. As Larry reminded us earlier, they are aggressive, grumpy and very agile, particularly now in the breeding season.

Patri Silva gave a masterful presentation on her favourite birds-Penguins. As a family, these birds in tuxedo's are found all over the globe. Seven species occur in New Zealand, and five in the Falklands. Only the gorgeous Emperor and Adelie breed entirely south of the Antarctic Convergence zone. Their adaptations for life in the freezer, and flying in the medium of water beggar belief. Absolutely emblematic too of Antarctica. At various times during the day, Patri and the other naturalists spend time on deck, to assist guests with bird identification, and use of their cameras. I have no doubt that Patri will convert many onboard into devoted bird watchers. After sailing much of the day on a calm sea under grey skies, by 6:30 p.m. the sun appeared below the cloud, creating a wonderfully striated sky.

At Recaps the Young Explorers shared some of their experiences on the Falklands, the lighthouse tour clearly greatly enjoyed. Tonight we put our clocks forward by an hour which is bound to cause some confusion tomorrow-a very full day with lectures, Biosecurity briefing and cleaning, Zodiac briefing and passing by Shag Rocks where we hope to see some whales along with the innumerable birds.

Click here to read 'Sunday, December 17: Sailing past Shag Rocks to South Georgia'