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Expedition to Antarctica part 3: South Orkney
blue ice This article is part three of a four part series of articles describing my expedition to Antarctica. Part three describes the adventures near the South Orkney Islands. This article focuses on photography and provides tips for shooting in antarctic conditions.

On expedition to Antarctica (18 December 2009 – January 9, 2010)

Wednesday, December 30

The day started with a lecture about the adventures of The Endurance in Antarctica. After that I wanted to go outside. That means: dressing up for cold. The temperature is around freezing, so that is not too bad. But if you are on the top deck, you are almost unprotected against the wind and the chill factor caused by the speed of the ship: 10 knots (18 mph).

On deck, the lower part of your body is protected by the construction of the ship. However the wind has unprotected grip on your head and torso. Earlier I got a headache after being outside too long, caused by very cold forehead and ears.

I now wear thin fleece pants and over that good ski pants. For my body, I wear a t-shirt, sweater, a thin fleece jacket and a parka. Then a scarf around my neck, two (!) ice caps on my head, and finally the cap of the parka to make it windproof. My parka has thin fingerless gloves. Over this I wear windproof gloves with which I can control my camera quite well.

To keep warm I wear two pairs of socks, first a pair of cotton socks and woolen socks over them. Cotton is not recommended but I have no problems with cold this way. I wear conventional sneakers to be able to walk comfortably on deck. I save the clumsy boots for going ashore.

Dresses like this, I can stay on deck for a few hours. I was rewarded with a group of whales.

After lunch, the second half of the documentary Life in the Freezer was shown. Afterwards: back to the deck, so again a change of clothes. This effort was soon rewarded when we spotted some whales. Most of them were far away, some others were close.

Late afternoon we attended another recap and briefing. We planned to arrive at South Orkney in the late afternoon to have a landing there. We were also told about tomorrow’s party (New Year’s Eve), and that we must prepare for an improvised costume ball. Shane and Wolfgang took their time for the recap. Wolfgang explained why ice is blue. We learned it’s not caused by the blue-eyed worms. Because of the pressure of tons of ice, all air is squeezed out of the ice. And the less air in the ice, the bluer the ice.

Thursday, December 31

Icebergs! More and more icebergs were to be seen and the number of icebergs was still increasing.

The ship sailed with short distance between two huge icebergs, a very spectacular sight.

The number of animals we saw in the sea was also increasing. Lots of penguins in the water and many prions, petrels and giant petrels in the air.

The first penguins were spotted on icebergs.

Because temperature was dropping and hard winds, it was too cold to remain on the upper deck for a longer period of time. Even four layers of clothing was not enough, so we stayed one deck lower. The leeward side of the ship provides enough shelter from the cold wind.

After lunch we arrived at the South Orkney Islands. We saw the snow-covered islands and even more icebergs in the water.

We intended to pass the eastern tip of the South Orkneys and land on the south side of the largest island, Coronation Island. Unfortunately there is too much ice. The captain tried to avoid the ice and find an alternative route to our destination, but we had to give up. Unfortunately that means no visit to the South Orkney Islands.

As an alternative, the captain sailed at short distance around the numerous icebergs. Some icebergs are inhabited by a large number of Adelie and Chinstrap Penguins.

Some penguins climbed to seemingly impossible places.

We sailed back eastward around the South Orkney Islands. The captain decided to sail to Antarctica from the north side of South Orkney. This to prevent getting stuck in the same ice flow that we encountered earlier that day, when we approached South Orkneys.

It is one and a half day of sailing to reach Antarctica. In the meantime, we were entertained by other activities: New Year’s Eve party. At the end of the afternoon we were in the bar, talking. We could hear that members of the Russian ship crew organized their own party on the deck. Somewhat later, at 18.00 hours, the ship’s horn blew, indicating midnight in Moscow.

In the bar, the Dutch tourists counted the seconds to 20.00 local South American time. New Year in the Netherlands! The dinner started immediately afterwards: traditional Russian food was served.

Just before midnight we were all invited to the upper deck. We got champagne and we toasted at midnight. It was a magical moment. Because it is not completely dark outside we could see the icebergs all around us. Afterwards the party continued in the forward lounge.

Friday, January 1

The next morning we woke up to find that we very slowly sailed over a very calm sea, that was completely filled with small and large icebergs. We were awakened by pieces of ice hitting the hull of the ship. Even from the cabin this was a magnificent sight. We immediately went to the upper deck to watch. Because of our low speed, there was hardly any wind and it was a wonderful sight to see the ship sail very slowly through the ice landscape.

After New Year’s brunch we quickly went back to the deck. Lots of ice floes in varying sizes and shapes could be seen. Some of them carried penguins or leopard seals. Or both…

Next picture is one of my favorites. I printed this one at 180*60cm (roughly 71*24 inch) on alu-dibond. Every morning I see that picture, and have one of these WOW moments!

Probably I have been on deck too long, as I started to see imaginary things, such as large, frozen dog.

And a big outdoor Jacuzzi

A few hours later we went to the forward lounge to view the documentary “March of the Penguins”. We had seen the documentary before, but seeing the documentary while being there seemed like something special, even though we might miss something on the deck. The documentary is really impressive.

Shortly after the documentary finished, the crew announced that whales were spotted. There were two humpback whales, which showed their beautiful curve of their backs (hence humpback) just before getting submerged.

We skipped the next lecture, the sights outside were too beautiful. And rightly so, because we sighted whales …

… and orcas!

At the end of the day the traditional end-of-day operations: transferring photos from the camera to a hard disk. That is to say: two hard disks, I make a duplicate copy of every picture. One of the hard disks is a 320GB Freecom ToughDrive Sport, which can be dropped 2 meters without breaking it. Never needed it yet, but still a good and recommended investment.

Earlier episode in the series:
South Georgia

To be continued
• Antarctica

Or visit the Gallery for an overview of the best images of the trip.

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