The ultimate freedom to photograph wildlife and stunning scenery on your own terms.
Antarctic Expedition for Photographers
I have been on many organized voyages to Antarctica and South Georgia. I love the Southern Ocean with its amazing scenery, stunning unspoiled wildlife and emptiness filled with huge chucks of ice. It is just a beautiful place that is pulling me back all the time. The only way to explore the 7th continent is by ship, there are no other options. Many tour operators with small scale expedition style cruise ships are offering voyages to Antarctica. They typically have between 50 and 200 guests on board. The ideal size is around 100 guests, as the IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) has set maximum number of people that can go ashore at the same time at 100. If you go on a large vessel your experience will be different, as it will take more time for the guests to go ashore and will reduce the number of destinations that you can visit within the timeframe of the voyage. The smaller the number of guest on board, the more intimate the experience will be and the more flexibility the expedition leaders will have to decide on the itinerary.
Only a very limited number of operators offer dedicated photography voyages, with maybe one or two per season in total. That means that all the other voyages are catering to the general public that wants to experience the wildlife and landscapes of Antarctica. There is nothing wrong with that, as you will still have plenty of opportunities to photograph this beautiful part of the world. The only limitation is that the voyage schedule and hotel management schedule on board most of the time do not coincide with the best opportunities for photography, oftentimes missing the best light. Another element that limits your freedom to photograph is the often necessary policing by the expedition staff. The expedition staff's main purpose is to keep 100 guests safe and away from wildlife to avoid unnecessary disturbance by the sheer number of people ashore. This is obviously important, but limits the creative freedom of the photographer to make the images that were anticipated.
If you really want the ultimate freedom to photograph wildlife and stunning scenery on your own terms, you need to be with a small group of like-minded people in order to set your own schedule and stay as long as needed when the conditions or activity is really good.
1-25 January 2019
Join me on a photographic expedition with a small group on a 60ft sailing yacht from 1-25 January 2019. We will determine our own schedule, locations and timing and have maximum time to photograph.
This is your chance to experience Antarctica as one of just 6-7 guests aboard a thoroughbred sailing yacht, where you will be in awe of spectacular scenery and amazing wildlife within one of the last wildernesses on earth. As a small flexible group we can tailor-make our adventures and adapt itineraries to satisfy even the most seasoned adventure traveler. A cruise to Antarctica to see its dazzling landscapes and plentiful wildlife should be on everyone’s “to-do” list, but this adventure simply beats them all!
Spirit of Sydney is an ocean greyhound and her origins as a southern ocean ’round the world’ racing yacht reflect in her thoroughbred handling and the chance to steer a real racing yacht in the southern ocean is an exhilarating experience in itself, an exhilaration matched by the soaring flight of wandering albatrosses as they lift off the wave tops and soar above the yacht. Adventurous guests of all abilities are catered for, (you don’t need to be an experienced sailor to lend a hand) as the yacht is easily shorthanded, and even non-sailors have returned as seasoned veterans of southern ocean sailing.
Day 1: Come aboard, stow your gear, and take in the briefings, as we set sail down the spectacular mountain lined Beagle Channel toward the famed Drake Passage.
Days 2, 3, 4: Depending on weather windows, we head out into the Drake Passage to commence our 550nm ocean passage, where landfall will be the snow, rock and ice of the Antarctic Peninsula. We are sailing the “furious fifties” with landfall in the “screaming sixties”, but thankfully the ‘state of the art’ weather systems aboard Spirit of Sydney enable us to negotiate the deep lows the Drake Passage is legendary for. Often we are able to choose weather windows that provide a safe, comfortable, and fast passage across- and you’ll find that with the routine of watches at sea, the time passes quickly.
Days 6-21: Our next days merge into each other as we cruise the relatively sheltered waters of the Antarctic Peninsula, exploring the wild and beautiful landscape and fascinating plethora of animal life. Now’s your chance to take to the kayaks out and slip along the side of an iceberg as lazy crab-eater seals plop into the water beside you, or perhaps to just drift along, wondering at the sheer immensity of the glacier wrapped mountains that loom over you. Perhaps you’d like to take the snow-shoes and hike up a snow hill to take in the view that literally extends for 50 miles or more in the clear crisp Antarctic air.
Days 22, 23, 24: After a couple of exciting weeks cruising….exploring….photographing .... kayaking… , we begin to watch for a weather window to sail back across the Drake and make a possible sailor’s ‘Rounding of the Horn’.
Day 25: Our first night in ‘civilization’ will be a de-brief in Ushuaia where a ‘pisco sour’ or two will help provide a fitting ambience to celebrate the end of a fabulous adventure. A return to relative civilisation, but Ushuaia’s claim to ‘el Fin del Mundo’ will leave you sceptical, as like most people who travel to Antarctica, you will be forever haunted by the landscapes and thriving inhabitants of ‘that other world’…….that lies to the South, bound by ice but rich in life.
Our arrival in Antarctic waters is heralded by porpoising penguins and the fantastical shapes of weird and wonderful icebergs, with anchorage perhaps at Whaler’s Bay in the sunken caldera of volcanic Deception Island – home to 300,000 pairs of bustling, noisy chinstrap penguins.
As we enter Port Foster through the narrow Neptune’s Bellows the sunken caldera opens before us, and we sight the remnants of what was once a bustling whaling industry at the turn of last century, with fleets of whale catchers and factory ships anchored in the harbor and more than a few interesting anecdotes and shenanigans to relate! Perhaps we’ll wash off the last few days at sea with a dip in the volcanic hot springs at Pendulum Cove where steam rises eerily from the shore obscuring the dark brooding volcanic landscape.
A six hour traverse over the island to Bailey’s Head is rewarded with stunning views of the sea cliffs and “Sewing Machine Needles” rock formations…..and the incredible sight of penguins as far as the eye can see. At Baileys Head you can watch the chinnies surf in on to the black sand beach and pop out walking on their two feet!
Paradise Harbour, Lemaire Channel, Neumayer Channel – all offer dramatic scenery, but we will have the chance to cruise these and many other less visited places, in depth. The chance to see this “Last Paradise” as part of a small and flexible group offers opportunities for photography and adventures that are beyond the realms of travel by any other means.
As an independent yacht we are able to visit tiny coves and shallow anchorages where one can enjoy the magnificent solitude of one of the most remote places on earth, while watching close-up the antics of the local inhabitants, curious leopard seals, playful humpback whales, or frenetically busy penguins. You are part of the landscape – and we have the time and flexibility to stop, photograph and enjoy it.
This is an expedition and you are a participant. As we sail through spectacular islands and straits you may take the helm or climb the mast to look for leads in the ice. Imagine yourself as one of the first visitors, early explorer or whaler, pushing into new territory, dwarfed by the awesome majesty of the landscape, and astonished by the amazing wealth of animal life.
The Argentine Islands are home of the ex-british base ‘Faraday’ now Ukrainian “Vernadsky” where the original instrument used to establish the existence of the ozone layer hole is proudly kept, although today’s Ukrainian scientists are still heavily involved in atmospheric research and distillation of a particularly fine vodka! As yachties we will be invited to join the scientists for an evening of merriment! Be prepared to discuss the doppler frequency shift to radio waves caused by ionising gases in the upper troposphere!
We head through the Penola Straits, which were named by Australian John Rymill of the winemaking family when he led the British Graham Land Expedition in 1932, and we pass close under the base of towering Mt Scott before slipping into Pleneau Bay often described as the ‘Iceberg Graveyard’, where currents and shallow water combine to trap and break up the ice monoliths. It makes for interesting zodiac cruising, when the spectacle of hundreds of tons of ice grinding on the sea floor is likely to explode into fragments. It’s also a favorite spot for family pods of orcas to hunt the crab-eater seals lazing on the floating sea ice.
We spend the night tucked into a narrow rocky channel out of the way of the ice and our backdrop is the towering peaks of Booth Island often lit up in the Antarctic sunsets that literally last for hours at this latitude.
The famed Lemaire Channel is home to dark, majestic waters overhung by precarious seracs and snow cornices that make us hesitant to sail too near the rocky cliffs. We breathe a sigh of relief as we pass Cape Reynard (otherwise known as ‘Eunice’s titties’ after the secretary of a Falklands Islands Dependencies Governor!) and set our sails for a brisk sail across the Gerlache Strait to the Peltior Channel.
As we cruise down the spectacular channel the Fife Mountain Range looms over our starboard hand. We drop our anchor under the ice cliffs at Port Lockroy and visit the English historic base that was pivotal in the days of early exploration and of fascinating Operation Tabarin, a secret wartime initiative to counter Nazi intelligence. The antiquated risqué paintings of 1940’s temptresses seem demure by today’s standards!
We head round to Dorian Bay and take a snow shoe walk up onto Harbour Glacier where the panorama includes: Thunder Glacier to the north, with the Fife Brothers range towering above, Jabet peak to the west, and across the Neumayer Strait – snowy Mount Francais (the highest peak on the peninsula at 2760m) rises majestically above all else.
Return through the Drake Passage
Cape Horn and Land ho! As we round the Horn the obligatory bottle of whiskey comes out…a share to King Neptune and the rest for the crew! If we missed a landing on the way out, we try again, and hopefully visit the monument which evokes the souls of lost sailors, with its interesting sculpture that sings hauntingly in the wind. As we sail up the Beagle Channel, the verdant green magic of Patagonia with its lush Antarctic beech forests and cascades will delight senses accustomed to sea ice and snow.
Fitness levels: These trips are designed for fit, agile and active people who have adventurous and positive outlooks. Participation is the key to enjoyment. No sailing experience is required. There is no age limit as we have had fit and active people of all ages, even a 77 year old sea kayaker who was out paddling almost every day!
Medical: All expeditioners will need to have a medical before departure as we are operating in a remote area, and its best for all concerned to have no surprises.
What’s Included Aboard?: Once you step aboard Spirit of Sydney all food, drinks (including local beer and Argentine wine), port fees, Antarctic permits, and IAATO passenger fees are supplied. You need only bring some US dollars for buying souvenirs at Antarctic bases we may visit and for gratuities. You may also wish to bring a bottle of whiskey etc. for nightcaps. Kayak rental is included and 4 kayaks are carried aboard, although more can be provided by arrangement. What’s not included: Personal clothing and equipment, travel insurance, entry visa for Argentina, hotel and meals in Ushuaia, travel to and from Ushuaia, iridium communications while on board, cost of medicals, and dry suits for kayaking.
Sea Kayaking: Included: Boreal Design kayaks, paddles with pogies, spray deck, pump, and lifejacket. We also have hand held VHFs, 2 hand held GPS. Drysuits are mandatory for safe kayaking – you may bring your own, or rent from us for the duration of the trip.
Getting There: Latam Chile, and Aerolineas Argentinas each offer regular flights to Buenos Aires with connections to Ushuaia. Hotel accommodation in Ushuaia is relatively inexpensive and we can suggest a few favorite places based on any customer’s budget – from luxury to best-value. It’s a good idea to book flights in advance for better rates, and please allow a few days pre and post trip to allow for the flexible nature of expedition travel.
Trip format: If you’ve been on luxury charters in the Caribbean or Mediterranean before…. FORGET IT! This is a real ‘hands on’ expedition and everyone will need to be active in making the trip work. All tasks aboard are shared including: sailing, helming, anchoring, even cooking and domestic duties….. You can always opt for the barbecue! Our aim is to take like-minded people on an experience of a lifetime and the expedition will work best if everyone is prepared to lend a hand and be a part of the crew. When you steer the yacht around Cape Horn and return to South America, you will have a real sense of achievement knowing you have been a part of a small team that has not just ‘been to Antarctica’, but you actually did it with your own hands!
Spirit of Sydney has ‘state of the art’ weather and communications systems. Individual email accounts are provided for guests and daily uploads are possible via the Iridium satellite phone network. She is also equipped with Xaxero’s Sky-Eye System for real time satellite image downloads of weather