Archive for Antarctica

60 days in Antarctica

Posted in antarctica, Leopard seal, penguins, photography, Uncategorized, whales with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2014 by polarguide

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The last voyage of my Antarctic season just ended this morning and I am already sitting in the  airport.  After two months on the ship being completely absorbed in such a remote and beautiful landscape my head is swooning as I am forced back into the  world. The airport is a harsh re-enty to society.

One Ocean expeditions markets the last voyage of the season as a marine mammals special exploratory trip. In late March the penguin chicks have all fledged from the nest and the adults are heading out to sea and penguin viewing becomes less of a focus of our journey. The whales in Antarctica tend to congregate around the Antarctic peninsula this time of year. Krill, the main food source of all the marine critters, aggregate in deep water bays and swarm into a biomass that can exceed  two million tons.  We sail into these bays, launch zodiacs and cruise among the feasting whales hoping for close encounters.

The second day of our voyage we spotted two Blue whales charging forward of the ship.  Blue whales reach lengths of over 100 feet long and weigh over 170 tons. Not only are they the largest living creature on the planet today, they are also the largest animal to have ever lived, larger than any dinosaur that ever roamed the earth. It is estimated that there  are only a two thousand blue whales in the southern ocean. Given the size of the southern ocean a blue whale sighting is a near impossible occurrence.  The opportunity to see  not just one, but two so close to the ship was, well, words can’t describe it and the pictures don’t do it justice.

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Blue whale surging past the ship

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When we arrived in Antarctica we launched our zodiacs and kayaks and were immediately visited by Minkie and humpback whales.  The whales are so satiated from feasting on massive amounts of krill that they log on the surface napping in a food coma. As we cruise past them they ofter become curious and swim over to us to have a closer look. It’s quite exciting to be held in the gaze of such a and large mysterious sea creature.

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We spent six days cruising the peninsula and the South Shetland islands searching for whales and seals. The leopard seals begin to prey on penguins this time of year. As the fledging chicks enter the ocean for the first time they are easy pickings.  Leopard seals like to show off their kill by swimming close to our zodiac’s, forcing us to watch as they thrash the carcass to tear off bits of flesh.

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Along the Journey we get excellent opportunities to see and photograph Elephant seal, Crab eater seals, Wedell seals and Fur seals.

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There are still plenty of penguins around. We make at least two landings a day to wander among the remaining penguins. Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins are the most common penguins we see late in march. On this voyage we were lucky to see a rare pair of Macaroni penguins.

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Wildlife viewing is obviously a huge draw to travelers wanting to see this portion of the world, but the ice that covers and surrounds the entire continent is what gives this place life and creates a magical landscape unlike any other place on earth.

I look forward to getting back there next season.

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Return to the land of ice

Posted in antarctica, Uncategorized with tags , on February 24, 2014 by polarguide

Its been ten months since I last visited Antarctica. Its hard to believe that much time has passed. Its fells so natural to return and I am often surprised at how familiar I have become with a places so remote.

I Boarded the Akademic Vavilov on the 6th of february and started a three week expedition that visited the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and Antarctica. This voyage is one of the most historical, remote and wildlife rich journeys in the world. I feel blessed that I am so fully involved in such a euneak and special experience.

I am in Ushuia, Argentina today on a two hour shore leave before disembarking again for the Antarctic continent I have so many photos and stories to share, but so little time. And the internet connection is too slow.  Here are a few shots of the journey. I will share as many as the connection will allow.

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I have to admit I was a little rusty after spending so much time off the ship. It took at least a week to regain all my confidence running zodiac and kayak operations in this wild and unpredictable part of the world. I have my sea legs under me again. I leave this afternoon for three more voyages to the land of ice.

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My job

Posted in alaska, antarctica, icebergs, photography, sea kayaking, travel, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 7, 2013 by polarguide

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I have a unique set of skills that don’t lend themselves to consistent employment.  As a result my life is diverse and adventurous. I can’t always predict what will come next and I like it that way. I flow from one season, one country, one job, to the next. Like the tide rushing in to meet land again, then retreating slowly, floating away every stick or stump that has been ditched on the beach by the tide before, for the sake of memory, then abandoning them again on some other distant shore.

Sometimes it feels very insecure.  I don’t make much money and I travel often. This strains my relationships and sometimes makes finding work more difficult. People are less willing to commit to me personally and professionally because they know within a few months I will be leaving. That lack of commitment goes both ways.

I have been a massage therapist for fifteen years.  Massage makes up at least fifty percent of my annual income.  I have worked at sports clubs, fitness centers and chiropractic offices from philadelphia to Alaska. I’ve done massage while sailing through Beaufort 9 storms on ships in the Norwegian Arctic, through the legendary northwest passage of the Canadian Arctic and Antarctica.  Surprisingly, massage has carried me across the sea to some of the most remote parts of the world.

I have been a wilderness expedition guide for almost as long as I have been a massage therapist. In the summer I guide mainly sea kayak expeditions into remote parts of south east Alaska.  Guiding has allowed me to experience and learn things about the natural world that I always dreamed of as a child and gives me the opportunity to share and teach. It allows me  to follow another one of my passions, wildlife photography.

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Paddling below Mt. St. Elias. Wrangell St. Elias national park, Alaska

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Wrangell St. Elias national park, Alaska

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Me and co-guide Ken with our guests in front of the Guyot glacier.

I recently received my captains license. In between sea kayak expeditions  I captain a thirty foot aluminum boat named Taurus, that acts as a water taxi, delivering people to remote parts of south east Alaska.

The Taurus, loaded with kayaks and ready for a water taxi run.

The Taurus, loaded with kayaks and ready for a water taxi run.

My job working on a ship in Antarctica is the only place where all of my random skills, Massage therapist, kayak guide and boat captain, are unified. I suppose you could say I become complete, in a very narrow sense.

It takes two days for our ship to sail from Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica. During those days at sea I’m the massage therapist on board the ship.  I offer a variety of massage modalities to the passengers to meet their relaxation or pain therapy needs.   Arriving in Antarctica we offer two excursions off the ship each day to view amazing landscapes and exotic wildlife.  Passengers have the option of  going to shore via inflatable zodiac or going on a sea kayak excursion through the icebergs.  On these days I split my time between kayak guiding and zodiac pilot.

The Akademik Ioffee in Antarctica

The Akademik Ioffee in Antarctica

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Kayaking through a snow storm in Antarctica

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Zodiac cruising among giant ice bergs in Antarctica

Intertwined with all of this work and travel I am slowly building a home.  for years it’s been my dream to buy a piece of land and build a small home, myself.  Paid for out of pocket, no debt.  I have begun to realize that dream, all my spare time and money is dedicated to seeing it become a reality.

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I’m feeling the need to consolidate my skills and contain them geographically. This gives me sense of peace and anxiety.  The thought of being less diverse and less mobile is unappealing.  Continuing on my current course seems unsustainable.  I’m at a cross road.

More than once in my life I’ve steered into what felt like a dead end, then navigated ninety degrees from everything and everyone in my life.  Its hard to do, but it has its rewards.    Im not looking for anything that drastic now.  Its time for a change, but not a sea change.

I have never been fully conscious of  exactly what motivates me, only that I am motivated.  My best  perspective of the past is found by exploring where I am today.  The consequence of my motivation is in league with coincidence.

I need to meditate on the genesis of my motivation. Distill all of this experience and crystalize it into what comes next.

To fly or not to fly

Posted in alaska, antarctica, bears, guiding, icebergs, photography, Uncategorized, wildlife with tags , , , , , , , on November 1, 2013 by polarguide

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I could be on a plane right now.   I could be on a plane flying south.  South to South America, to Uruguay and Argentina and then further south to Antarctica.  But I chose to stay in Alaska for the winter.

Alaska for the winter or Antarctica for the summer.  Or both, simultaneously. I feel indecisive about my decision. I feel like a paradox.

Work is slow, money is tickling in and flowing steadily out.  Heavy grey clouds,  good food and the company of friends make me feel at the same time comforted and discontent.  I have too much time.  My mind is too idle. The days are growing shorter. Lying on the couch, lying in bed, from the tin roof  the slow rain applauds my apathy.

Its the money.  And the work.  The work and the money, That’s what I fret about most.  Work keeps my mind busy, I would work for free if I had money.   I don’t give two shits about money, never have.  I just need to pay the rent and for food, and my teeth.  I broke two last week!

Winter is coming.

Summer is sweet in Alaska, with all its sun and whales and endless work.

Winter is slow and dark, its a vacation from summer.

I like fall best.

The fall wind and rain justify laziness.  Hunting and fishing and friends  I haven’t seen since spring because we were working all summer. Then a blanket of quiet dark lays across the top of the world as winter snuggles in for the season.

Still, It would have been nice to hop on that plane heading south to south america. By now, I would be in Montevideo eating octopus in the mercado del puerto.  A few days more I would be in Ushuaia stuffing my face with asado.

By this time next week I would be a sailor again, rolling over waves and fighting through storms on the drake passage heading to the  worlds most remote continent. I spent a few hours today mulling over my photographs of Alaska and Antarctica, trying to find a common feeling. Trying to somehow make sense of these two polar opposite portions of my life. Trying to find an emotional bridge or a rational connection.  It sounds strange but I couldn’t.  It’s as if I am two different people living one life or vice versa.

I Put together a few of the photographs I took this summer at home in Alaska, and a few from last season in Antarctica.  I chose pictures that were characteristic of each place, from my perspective.

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Almost amazing

Posted in antarctica, penguins, photography, Uncategorized, whales, wildlife with tags , , , , on March 30, 2013 by polarguide

Still sifting through the thousands of Antarctic photos from this season.  I keep mulling over certain shots that should have been amazing but the forces of nature were not always working in my favor and although the subject matter might be impressive the quality of the images is not great.

Orca whale and Wandering Albatross

Orca whale and Wandering Albatross

Orca whales and Wandering Albatross are incredible animals in their own right.  To capture a great image of either is rare, but to capture an image of both at the same time while far out to sea is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  This was my opportunity and although I got the shot, no matter how hard I try, I have to admit its a not a great shot. You can barely recognize the Orca, the Albatross is out of focus and the colors are muted due to the fog.

Gentoo Penguin and whale Vertibrae

Gentoo Penguin and whale vertebrae

Several Vertebrae and ribs bones of large whales litter the beach’s in some parts of Antarctica.  I layed on the ground for an hour or more hoping a penguin would waddle over to this large whale vertebrae and stick his head through the hole, and one did. I had prepared my self and my camera but the composition is poor and the light is dull and the background is too busy and the penguin in the foreground with his back to camera ruins the whole shot for me.

Then I though: Wouldn’t it be great if a whale swam past and I could get a portrait of a penguin with the whale bone and a whale in the back ground.  Guess what, about ten seconds later two whales swam by.

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I fumbled around to find the right angle. I changed lenses in a bit of a hurry and nabbed this shot. But again the light is grey and uninteresting. The color of the water, the whale bones and the rocks are too similar, they all blend together. There’s not enough contrast, nothing pops. If you look in the upper right portion of the picture, just below the horizon there is a black cycle shape on the surface of the water.  That’s a humpback whale, barely noticeable and out of focus. I thought the icebergs would add a nice element, but they don’t. Or maybe they do, but the composition is all wrong.

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This was one of the most beautiful pieces of ice that I saw this summer.  It was washed up on the beach and I wanted to show how the still ice was shaped by the motion of the waves.  I do like this shot but its a little boring.  I spent a-lot of time with this piece of ice and I thought the outcome would be better.  I should have changed my position and looked at it from different angles.

Antarctic Reflections

Posted in antarctica, penguins, photography, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 26, 2013 by polarguide

I am sitting in the Buenas Aires airport waiting to board a flight back to Alaska.  The Antarctic summer season has ended and I will be in transit for the next 20 hours until I reach seattle.

Leaving the ship is like leaving home and the relationships made on board are family bonds but I am never sad to start my travels home because I have so much to look forward to in the Alaskan spring. Yet I am already reflecting on my past three months at sea in Antarctica and looking forward to next season.

Here are a couple reflective photos from the past two voyages.

Reflections of Antarctica

Reflections of Antarctica

Gentoo penguin reflection

Gentoo penguin reflection

Prion reflections

Prion reflections

 

 

Antarctic Ice

Posted in antarctica, icebergs, photography, tourism, travel, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2013 by polarguide

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The ice in Antarctica can reflect some of the most intense shades of blue I have ever seen.  Its a color seen almost nowhere else in nature.  High over cast days are the best to try and capture the deepest blues.  The blue coupled with the textures created by erosion of the ice from water and wind make icebergs limitless subject for photographic exploration. These are two of my favorite iceberg photos from my last Antarctic voyage.

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