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Bad guys

in Antarctica , Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Leopard Seal, better known as Hydrurga leptonyx, is infamous for its voracious appetite for those-poor-penguins. With a satisfyingly evil-looking appearance, it’s a strong candidate for the cartoon villain role of the Antarctic seas, rivalled only by the Orca. But Orcas are whales, and therefore cute, and therefore get a free pass. I’ve never actually seen an Orca, which is actually quite remarkable, but I’ve seen plenty of Hydrurgra leptonyxes leptonii leptonyxii leopard seals. And here, in another set of Antarctic rough cuts, are some of them.

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Posted in category "Antarctica" on Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 10:51 PM

66°S

in Antarctica , Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Having left everything to one side for a while, I’m now feeling ready to tackle the major task of editing down the thousands of photos I brought back from Antarctica earlier this year. I’m being quite ruthless with my editing: nobody wants to see hundreds of similar photos, however good they may be. And I want to present a personal view, not a set of trophy shots. Some distance helps with this.

But as I go through the vastness of it all, consigning reams of icebergs, penguins, seals etc to the great bit bucket in the sky, I’m noticing little sets of images that belong together, which maybe tell a little story, and so I’m going to publish some of these here.

Here’s the first. Icebergs at 66 degrees South.

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For the technically interested, these were all Olympus E-5 shots, with the ZD 50-200mm lens.

Posted in category "Antarctica" on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 11:48 PM

Return to Damoy

in Antarctica , Sunday, February 03, 2013

On January 21st, 2013, I returned to Damoy hut, on Doumer Island, having left on January 2nd, 1988. I first arrived there on December 5th, 1987, with about 20 British Antarctic Survey colleagues, expecting to be there a few days, before being flown further south to Rothera. As it turned out, things didn’t work out quite as planned, resulting in myself, Clem Collins and Alan Osbourne not only being the 2nd ever party to spend Christmas at Damoy, but smashing all records by being the first to spend New Year there. So it figures quite strongly in my memories of Antarctica.

Damoy hut 1987

Damoy Hut, 1987

So, a few weeks ago, thanks to Graham Charles, the OneOcean expedition leader on the Akademik Vavilov, I was dropped off, together with Luchiana, at Damoy point, and we trekked up and over the point to the hut, about 1km away. As far as I remember there was considerably more snow back in 1988… The hut itself has for some reason been repainted a sort of turquoise colour, rather than the pink hue it used to have. And the penguin weather vane has gone.

Damoy door

Welcome home. We’ve been expecting you

Inside the hut very little had changed. On opening the door it felt just like I’d never been away. Apart from a few notices on the wall placed by the British Antarctic Heritage Trust, pretty much everything was exactly as it was. Even the smell was the same. Inside the bunk room, the only thing missing apart from my sleeping bag was the radio. Three pairs of the original snowshoes, without which it was very difficult to get around outside, are still there. Actually it was only marginally easier getting around with them on: snowshoe design has improved somewhat over the years.

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Proper snowshoes - they make you fall flat on your face every 3 steps

One thing had changed, which I knew about, but had forgotten - the group photo we took on Christmas Day 1987 was on the wall.

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Christmas 1987

Digging out my notes on my enforced holiday at Damoy confirms that although it is a beautiful spot, I was increasingly frustrated, and bored, by being stuck there. It would probably be something like paradise now, with a generator and a digital camera, but back then I wasn’t really that in to photography, and I was supposed to be a further 15 degrees south. And we were running very low on paraffin, meaning that in the last couple of weeks we could not use the heater. And Alan, Clem and myself were not the most compatible trio you could pick. The weather was usually foul, and when it wasn’t, it was either foul at Rothera, or the aircraft were busy somewhere else. With the skiway snow warming up and deteriorating, It looked increasingly like we were going to have to be evacuated by ship. Finally, we were rescued by a Twin Otter piloted by my field party pilot Mike Collins, with the new BAS director David Drewery along for the ride (everybody at Rothera disliked Drewery, and gave him the cold shoulder. I felt sorry for him, and tried to get him involved in planning my field work, as it was in an area he’d been involved in. This did not prevent him stabbing me in the back a short while later, thereby demonstrating what a good judge of character I am).

Back to the present day, it is remarkable how well preserved the hut is. Even to the extent of tins of the despised “Nespray” still being on the shelf. Actually there’s probably a hidden dump of Nespray tins outside somewhere. The various “Use Before Feb 1968” ingredients we used to cobble together some form of Christmas baking are still around too.

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There’s never a shortage of Nespray…

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All that the creative cook requires

I didn’t want to make Sophie, our zodiac driver, wait too long, and conscious of the fact that we’d been out of sight of any of the expedition staff for over an hour, I felt it was time to close and bolt the door one last time, and make our way back to the Point. On the way I couldn’t but help stopping a few times at the various Gentoo rookeries on the way. But none of the penguins seemed to remember me.

Back on 23rd December 1987, the nearby (but inaccessible to us) Port Lockroy was visited by the cruise ship m/v World Discoverer, as I mentioned somewhat inaccurately in an earlier post. There were very few tourist ships around in those days - nowadays there would be one almost every day - and this was our only visitor. Quoting from my notes:

23rd December, Damoy: Well, we’re _still_ here, but at least today was exciting! The tourist ship “World Discoverer” passed through Neumayer Channel, answered our call and invited us on board for an evening barbecue! As they had anchored in Port Lockroy, they kindly sent a zodiac around for us. We were well looked after by both the crew and the passengers, the passengers being mostly Americans. Before I got totally inebriated I gave the assembled masses a talk on BAS activities, using a familiar AKG microphone. Biggest audience and best applause I’ve ever got though! Anyway, we then passed on to the food, which was exquisite after 3 weeks of munch, and the mulled wine. This was probably my biggest mistake, but when you’ve been doing sod-all in the middle of nowhere for 3 weeks, you don’t pass up the offer of refill after refill from a rather nice young German girl. (…) We finally returned to Damoy with crates of Guinness,  Budweiser and Carlsberg, 2 bottles of Port and a bottle of Bacardi, not to mention steaks and fresh vegetables.

Later in the evening I felt rather unwell.

On returning to the Akademik Vavilvov, after, finally, after all these years actually making it to Port Lockroy, the when turned full circle as Graham invited me up during the recap to give a brief account of the day’s adventures. Little did I imagine this scenario just over 25 years ago.

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Hogging the spotlight once again

I’d like to effusively thank Graham Charles for this opportunity, and for trusting me not to get lost or do anything stupid. And equally a big “thank you” to Sophie Ballagh for driving the Zodiac and patiently waiting for our return. It was quite an experience…

Damoy table 87

Inside the hut, 1987

Damoy table 2012

Inside the hut, 2013 - photo by Luchiana Cinghita

Damoy stove 87

Damoy stove, 1987

Damoy stove 2012

Damoy stove, 2013 - photo by Luchiana Cinghita

Damoy bunk

Somebody’s stolen my sleeping bag! - photo by Luchiana Cinghita

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And not forgetting the legendary epic explorer Sir Basil Doumer of Damoy

 

Posted in category "Antarctica" on Sunday, February 03, 2013 at 06:41 PM