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Antarctica, Round 5

if at first you don’t succeed…

in Antarctica , Tuesday, February 04, 2020

On Saturday I finally got home after leaving King George island, Antarctica on Wednesday afternoon. A long trip even if for the first time it involved flying over the Drake Passage rather than being thrown all over a ship for 3 miserable days.

Hans Hansson in Antarctica

So, this was my fifth visit to Antarctica, and third as a tourist, and this time it was pretty intense. Sharing the small ship Hans Hansson with 9 other passengers, 2 guides and 6 crew is a lot more intimate than a cruise ship or research vessel. And the flexibility of a small ship meant reaching little visited locations, and also visiting more popular spots outside of regular hours. With up to three three to four hour landings per day, over 12 days, what little downtime we had was very welcome. The ship is owned and operated by Quixote Expeditions, and was chartered by Visionary Wild. Both companies showed the highest level of professionalism and dedication to excellence, both before and during the trip, with all staff and crew being very friendly and approachable.

Without really wanting to single anybody out, I have to mention Justin Black, founder of Visionary Wild. Justin is a model of what every phototour leader should aspire to. Apart from, incidentally, being an excellent photographer, he was a fantastic leader, always available to help with anything, keeping everybody safe but unconstrained, and proactively ensuring that everybody was happy. His co-leader, Daisy Gilardini, a photographer with well over 20 Antarctic tours to her name, was equally supportive, and in particular able to lend her expertise to the enthusiastic, if not obsessive wildlife photographers that made up 8/10ths of the clientele.

And those 8/10ths were the only slight problem from my point of view, as I am absolutely not an obsessive wildlife photographer. So I did sometimes get frustrated when the odd iceberg was pronounced totally uninteresting because it didn’t have a bloody penguin nailed to it. Being more a kind of ambient landscape person myself, and also fascinated by the human footprint on Antarctica, I have to say at times I just put the cameras down. This was compounded by the fact that I’m continuing to go through a very dark patch photographically speaking, and I only really got into some sort of groove in the last two days, where we were being forced by strong winds to find some very out of the way locations. Generally if I were to consider only photography as a measure, then for me personally this trip was an abject failure and a massive wasted opportunity (and particularly a very rare close up encounter with a playful leopard seal which I completely failed to capture). Fortunately, I don’t live for photography, and on the upside, it was wonderful to see my very photographically modest partner Luchiana suddenly blossom into a very fine photographer, putting assorted Leica, Nikon and Sony mega-camera owners to shame with her simple travel zoom Canon.  It’s always been latent, but now she has received plaudits she cannot dismiss.

As for the what worked, what didn’t work part… well, my Atlas Athlete backpack was fantastic, being flexible enough for full day mountain treks in Patagonia as well as onshore and Zodiac work in Antarctica. A fully dedicated camera bag might have been slightly better in Antarctica, but it is very marginal, and would have been a nightmare for trekking. I continue to be impressed by Sealskin gloves, even though I suffer from chronically cold hands (but never feet). On the camera side, the Olympus E-M1 Mkii pair gave the usual Jekyll & Hyde performance - working fine all day then suddenly absolutely refusing to focus the moment something ultra interesting came along. This might have been down to the new 2x Teleconverter on the 40-150 lens, but generally this worked very well. As usual the Olympus manages sometimes to get into completely mystifying modes now and then, but possibly this has to do with too many buttons and clumsy gloves. At times I was ready to throw the whole damn lot in the ocean, but mindful of IATO rules in pollution and the fact that I can’t think of any other system which I’d hate a bit less, I didn’t.  Certainly I didn’t envy the laughably huge 400 and 600mm full frame lenses my companions were touting, even if I have to admit they are less heavy than they look. As is the Fuji GFX100 which Justin was using, but that camera lives in a different universe to me.

So here I am with 5800 more photos from Antarctica, mostly crap, and nearly 1000 from Patagonia, and I still haven’t completed my edit of 3000 from Greenland or indeed 1600-odd from Madeira. I think I’ve got enough photos for now.

So, will there be a sixth Antarctic trip? At present I doubt it. The piggy bank is gutted, and anywhere there are other places to see. Even Antarctica is now beginning to suffer from mass tourism, with vast cruise ships lining up through the Neumayer Channel and around Paradise Bay.

But never say never…

 

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