In the midst of the screaming sixties, far beyond Cape Horn and the tip of South America I found myself sliding aggressively up and down my bed, hitting first my head and then my feet against the wall to the rhythm of the sea as our ship rolls through the Southern Ocean swell. I am contemplating how I managed to unwittingly sign up to cross the Drake Passage not once, but six times in my role as polar guide and photographer with Antarctica 21, the first company in the world to pioneer fly-cruises to Antarctica. I guess the runway must be covered in snow for the first few weeks of the season… so here I am on the ship.
The difference between flying to Antarctica and sailing a vessel from South America, two days each way, is that in the latter endeavor one has time to contemplate their life choices. And for those on their way to Antarctica for the first time, time to get excited on the way there and time to reflect on the way back.
To shake off the ambiguity of time and the sleepiness of rolling a ship broadside through westerly swell in one of the world’s roughest oceans, one of the best things to do is go outside. Standing in the cutting wind cooled by the circumpolar current on a rough day will wake even the groggiest person up.
The Drake Passage is a nightmare for those prone to seasickness, but it’s a birders paradise, with much of the birdlife endemic only to this area. From the back deck, you can see sooty albatross — perhaps the sleekest looking bird around, royal albatross — holder of the world’s largest wingspan, averaging 3.4m, cape petrels and giant petrels, black browed albatross — looking like mascaraed divas with their black lined eyes, fulmars, prions, and even the tiny Wilson’s Storm petrel with a relatively small 40 cm wingspan all dance and wheel in the ships wake. They tack on the wind and search the water churned up by the ship’s propellers for a chance snack from the deep.
For me, it’s both a great time to see how long I can stand outside without losing my fingers, and a great moment to practice using Lumix’s autofocus tracking systems — most of which are new to me. I found that with animal mode and tracking mode, I was able to catch birds in flight and track them across a featureless wave scape with a consistency I hadn’t been able to manage before.
Since part of my role onboard is to give photographs to guests, some of whom never emerge from their cabins until the boat ceases to roll, it’s a great way to show them a close up of the specks they may have noticed streaking past their windows.
Upon arriving in Antarctica after the last ship cruise, the operation changes dramatically. Instead of nine days, four of which are down days crossing the Drake Passage, the trips switch to five-day cruises. The difference being the passengers fly in on a four engine BAE turbo prop airplane, land on a Chilean military managed gravel runway straight out of Star Wars on King George Island, in the South Shetland Islands, and are then escorted out to the ship from the beach in inflatable boats. This means the pace picks up dramatically and I transition from a photographer with downtime, to a photographer who’s also driving zodiacs, preparing lectures, and presenting photo slideshows.
My camera now has to survive the abuse of living in a well-padded waterproof bag (that’s sometimes floating) on the floor of the zodiac as I drive guests through the ice pack, the time spent around my neck as I drive the boat and shoot photos one handed simultaneously, and quick transitions onboard the ship as I dump images in between outings.
The robustness of the S1R and the new pro series lenses left no doubt that they were up to the task.
I hope you enjoy a few images from the expedition.
– Lumix S1R x 2
– Lumix f/1.4 50mm
– Lumix f/4 70-20mm
– Lumix f/2.8 24-70mm prototype
– Lumix 2X Teleconverter
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