Friday, March 27, 2020

Denied Entry: Stuck on a Cruise Ship

 Stuck at Sea on a Cruise Ship

Cape Town Harbor
  In a little over a week I have gone from the satisfaction of a job well done as the end of the Antarctica season drew to an end, to having to do circles with the ship off Cape Town while being told we weren't allowed in to dock, to elation that we got permission to dock, to trepidation that neither us nor the passengers were being allowed off, to hurrah!, the passengers are allowed off, to over joyed that the expedition team may be allowed off, to the ultimate denial from the South African government, and a quick 'get off the dock', to where my current predicament finds me now.

  I am still aboard the Silver Cloud, the expedition ship I've been working on this winter down in Antarctica. It was an amazing experience, a great ship, and a wonderful crew. I met lots of interesting passengers from all around the world. And of course built a bit of a ship board family as this style of living and working together usually fosters. Little did I know the kind of bonding experience we all would be forced to be a part of. After the quick casting of lines and de-docking in Cape Town we have set sail north. Our 'destination' is Gibraltar, however we aren't sure what that will look like. But those are the orders, as well as to sail economically when it comes to fuel consumption. So it will take a little over three weeks to travel the entire length of Africa to get there.

Expedition Team aboard the Silver 'Lining' 
   During that time it'll be a big part of my job to keep the expedition team going and with high moral. And it'll be part of the team's job to keep the moral of everyone on board happy. We have food, it is a corona virus free area, and we have a rare chance to really get to meet everyone else who works here. There are some engineers that I have only met once or twice all season. And other staffs work opposite hours to us when the guests are here so we don't get a chance to mingle unless we stay up very very late. With my optimistic attitude I've even gotten some onboard to change the name of the ship from the Silver Cloud to the Silver Lining.

    Luckily the team is full of exceptional people, because even with all of this going for me I can't help but think that what I truly want is to be at home with Heidi and the kids. I was already at the max time away from the family just with my regular contract, now it looks like it'll be at least another three weeks before I even have a chance to fly back. So i'm hoping that flights from Gibraltar exist when we get there, and that in the meantime Heidi, and Catalina, and Fisher all keep their health out in Hawaii.

    Now we are hundreds of miles out to sea, off the vessel tracking systems, to help avoid pirates that are infamous along the coast of west Africa. There are a few birds like yellow nose albatross and white chin petrals around but not much else. The sunrises and sunsets give us a little bit of change to look forward to as the rest of the view doesn't change much. Everyone onboard is getting more into the groove of life at sea, as we are all resigned to the fact that none of us are going anywhere fast.

Sunset on the open sea

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Cape to Cape: A Transoceanic Adventure

  As our trip draws to a close (maybe) I can't help but look back at what an amazing time we had over the last twenty days. We left the port of Ushuaia at the tip of South America on Feb 28th, then sailed for the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the remote Tristan da Cunha archipelago before ending in Cape Town. At the moment I can look outside through the fog and see the famous Table Mountain of Cape Town. But at this moment we have been denied entry into the who knows how this Cape to Cape trip will end. Cape to cape to cape anyone?

  Luckily we have been in Antarctica, then a quick turnover with new guests in Ushuai back in late Feb, before most of the outbreaks across Europe and the US occurred. So we have been traveling in a safe little bubble while we watch the rest of the world descend into a bit of chaos with the spread of the novel corona virus. Our first brush with it came as we approached Tristan da Cunha, and the islanders sent word that they would be refusing all cruise ships access to land anywhere on the islands. It made sense because the only town, Ediburgh of the Seven Seas has less than 300 citizens and most of them are elderly and far from emergency health care. So we ended up doing some amazing zodiac tours instead which worked out just fine.

Northern Rockhoppers
  It is a wild time to be stuck in limbo on a cruise ship. I feel very lucky that we are all healthy onboard, there are a few other ships of ours and like ours that do have infections onboard. They have isolated those showing symptons and are fighting hard to keep everyone else onboard. Even though we are all clear and have passed the accepted 14 day incubation period in isolation onboard, we are still running into the fear and blanket closures that countries are imposing on their ports of entrance.

Antarctic Tern
  We have done all of our farewell events and parties for the guests, so its a bit weird with everyone onboard wondering how much longer we will be here. I'm gathering ideas for lectures and events that we can offer for guests if we end up staying onboard for a while. While it is an auspicious end to the season it will definitely make for an interesting travel story for the rest of our lives.

  With all this said...I just want to get home to my family. It is a similar story all around the world at the moment.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Cape Horn to Cape of Good Hope: Argentina to Africa

Cape to Cape: Expedition Cruising from Cape Horn to Cape of Good Hope

With the Antarctic season wrapped up I am embarking on a grand adventure across the Southern Atlantic Ocean. I am the assistant expedition leader onboard the Silver Cloud, a 240 passenger luxury expedition ship. We have just departed Ushuaia, Argentina and will finish 20 days later in Cape Town, South Africa. This journey will take us from the wild waters around Cape Horn at the tip of South America, to the wildlife rich islands of the Falklands. The next stop will be South Georgia and its thousands of penguins and seals. Then a few days to explore the exposed volcanic islands of Tristan da Cunha before completing the voyage past the Cape of Good Hope in the beautiful port of Cape Town.

We have around 170 guests onboard which is a welcome number after being filled every voyage in Antarctica. Most of these guests have sailed with the company before....some have racked up over 500 days sailing with Silversea!

It will be another grand adventure so cross your fingers and pray for following seas and fair winds.

King Penguins stand in the tussock grass in front of the Silver Cloud 

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

A Season Adventuring in Antarctica

 A Look Back at a Summer in Antarctica

   As we pulled into Ushuaia, Argentina, I realized that the Antarctica expedition was actually coming to an end. This summer I spent two and a half months working on an expedition ship cruising through the White Continent at the bottom of the world. I crossed the infamous Drake Passage eight times, soaked up knowledge from thirty other expedition team members with different specialties like geology, history, ornithology, ecology, geography, and other marine biologists. The staff also came from a dozen different countries, while the crew and guests onboard represented almost fifty countries.

Leopard seal on ice
Towering Icebergs
 The ship I've been working on is called the Silver Cloud. It is a 240 passenger, ultra luxury expedition ship run by Silversea Cruises. Silversea was one of the first to combine the ultra luxury and expedition market which has since been copied by other companies. Since we are under 500 passengers we are able to go on land in Antarctica which I think is a must for any Antarctica cruise experience. Walking around the penguin colonies, glaciers, and, snow covered mountains is just magnificent. The guests are able to kayak around towering icebergs and penguin-filled islands and we offer zodiac cruises in bays that sometimes encounter whales and seals.

Typical Antarctic Scene
Penguin and ice
Every trip I cross my fingers for killer whale encounters and we usually get lucky, especially in December and January when we have almost 24 hours of light to search by. I also hope for at least one day a trip with absolutely no wind and flat calm water. The mirror-like quality of the ocean on these days reflects the towering snow-capped mountains that sprout straight up from where the water meets the shore. Those mornings are what I will remember most about Antarctica.

Wilson's Storm Petrel dancing on water
And while the photos may be stunning and the penguin antics fun to watch, the total experience is very hard to describe. It is a feeling of being at a place so isolated and inhospitable that there have never been indigenous people. Yet at the same time the beauty, size, and vastness of the landscapes have to be seen to believe. It is one of planet Earths great adventures. And even though it is over for the season I am already looking forward to coming back next year.
Humpback close encounter

Sun setting on the Errera Channel

Monday, January 20, 2020

Snorkeling with Sea Lions in Patagonia

  A quick minute and a half movie of my experience snorkeling with southern sea lions off the Patagonian coast. The ride was super rough out of Puerto Madryn, Argentina. The boat was small and didn't seem to handle the choppy waves well as you can see. Even after we got in the water the waves crashed over us and the wind whistled past our snorkels. But it was all worth it to jump in and swim with a new species of sea lion. It felt like a true adventure...and I brought a few guests along for the wild ride. If you ask them, just getting into the dry suits was an adventure in itself!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

First Impressions of Antarctica

Common zodiak tour conditions
Icy day at the side gate
 After three voyages spanning six weeks in the far south of planet Earth, I finally have a moment to sit down, connect to the internet, upload some photos, take a breath, and really look back and the incredible experience that was Antarctica.

Several scientific bases dot the peninsula
Kayakers dream day
  It is on average the driest, windiest, coldest continent on Earth. 99% of it is covered in ice, the other 1% leaving a tiny opening for hardy creatures carving out a niche for themselves amongst the inhospitable conditions. While life can be tough it means that competition is limited as are the number of predators and pests. Summertime brings twenty-four hours of daylight, which in turns creates conditions perfect for massive blooms of photosynthetic phytoplankton. Practicall all larger animals, from penguins, to seals, to massive whales, all feed on the zooplankton that thrives on these phytoplankton blooms.

Early season snow conditions
Antarctic Iceberg Sculptures
  There are many tales of heroic travel to Antarctica in the past. Not all the stories end well once the explorers reached these conditions. But nowadays, myself included, it is possible to travel a bit more style and comfort. Aboard Silversea's Silver Cloud it is about an luxurious as you can get. Imagine butlers in every room, limitless wine, multiple restaurants to choose from, a spa, heated pool and hot tubs on the top deck, gym, photo studio and more. I'm working as part of the expedition staff, leading hikes, driving zodiac tours, and lecturing as one of the resident marine biologist.

First time at Cuverville Island
  Each day we try to get to two different locations, either for a landing and walk or a zodiac tour. The landscapes are breathtaking, with mountains rising up straight out of the reflective water and massive glaciers tumbling down into the bays. The landscape presents itself in shades of black and white with an occasional deep blue of some deep compressed ice laid bare by a glacial calving.

A lonely Skua

Penguin highway
   The wildlife abounds, sometimes in huge numbers. Gentoo penguins are the usual suspects, although we do see adelie and chinstrap penguin colonies as well. One wayward emperor penguin floated by on a large iceberg but that species is mostly farther south, past the pack ice.

Gentoo colony with glacier behind
Gentoo penguins and the Silver Cloud
  The colonies hold thousands of breeding pairs, sometimes hundreds of thousands. The caucaphony of calls can be overwhelming after a while. Watching the social antics of the penguins can be an all day activity. From stealing rocks from each other's nest to slapping their neighbors with their oversized flippers, they certainly entertain.

Paradise Harbor

Type B Orca sighting

 Whales also abound down here around the ice. Humpback lunge around the bergs, corralling the abundant krill in their giant mouths. An occasional minke whale paces the channels between islands. Elephant Island seems to be the place for fin whales...the 2nd largest whale in the world. But it is often glimpses of those huge black dorsal fins belonging to the killer whales.

Orcas off the bow, lit up by the midnight sun
  On a couple of occasions we came across pods of orca in the Gerlache Strait. We had perfect whale watching conditions both times with flat calm water. Both encounters came quite late after most guests had finished dinner and retired to their suites. However, even at 11:30pm at this time of year Antarctica provides plenty of light for whale watching. I was still shielding the sun out of my eyes as it hung low in the late night sky. You can check out the eternal daylight in the video below.

Weddell Seal
Deception Island volcano walk
  Seals also abound, with four types on the usual suspect list. Weddell seals were the most often seen, although southern elephant seals took the prize for the biggests groupings on land. Crabeater seals were difficult to find with 5 or 6 sightings over the three trips. But the big find for Antarctic seals on these trips has to be the apex predator among the bunch, the beautiful, and huge, leopard seal.

Weddell seal yawn
Leopard Seal yawn
  Most of the time these seals would be lounging on a beach or an iceberg, so getting a good photo of them could be a challenge. On a few occasions I had my camera out just as the seal would yawn, showing off its impressive array of teeth.

  There were so many magical moments of beauty and serenity down here in Antarctica. I feel very lucky to have traveled here for work. And very lucky to have shared this experience with so many excited guests. Perhaps the best part of all was getting to know all of my fellow expedition staff. Their passion for this part of the world is contagious.

  These are a few of my favorite photos from the past month of a half. Now its time for some well deserved family time in Maui.

Gentoo portrait

close Humpback encounter
Humpback and Krill

Zodiak tour in Antarctica

Dive, dive, dive!
One of my favorite views

Soaking in the geothermal heat

Chinstrap Penguin portrait

Remains of whalers past

Crabeater Seal
Luecistic penguin

Tabular Iceberg from Larsen Ice Shelf

Glacier in the mist

Chinstrap with colorful background