The JCR trip. Part one. Well the only part really, I’m not gonna drag this out this time!
The journey from Rothera to Punta Arenas was a seven day cruise on the R.S.S. James Clark Ross – the other research vessel operated by BAS. A journey that would see us travel up the Antarctic peninsula and across the Drake passage up to the tip of South America. You know, that bit of ocean that is often described as the roughest in the world. Now without it actually getting too insane it didn’t disappoint, with quite a big swell for most of the trip.
From the duck-pond flatness and shelter of the bay at Rothera we hit open sea in what could be called a bit of a storm and I ended up spending an hour of my time emptying my stomach off the side of the ship. Breathing in the nice sea air aside it’s not exactly the best way to enjoy your morning. However, apart from that unpleasantness, I proper love being at sea, even when it is a little bouncy. I’ve not really been seasick before and I wasn’t expecting it this time but hey, you’ve got to enjoy it at some point I suppose? I was only really rough for a morning or so and once I’d got my sea-legs back I was able to wander round relatively free of the urge to chunder. Still, even though I was now none too rough the sea itself was still pretty excitable. Staring out of the windows you could see only sky one minute and then a wall of ocean the next as the ship smashed its way through the towering swell. Sleeping at night was only to be accomplished once you’d packed and wedged yourself into your bunk with pillows and folded bits of mattress with your bed going from flat to what sometimes felt like ninety degrees in a matter of seconds. This is of particular importance when you’re in a top bunk for obvious reasons. Still for me though, even in stormy weather the best place to be is outside on the deck. Trying, and sometimes succeeding, to take pictures of the ocean faring wildlife and quite often just staring out to sea like some philosophical old sea-dog.
First of the things to see are the giant Albatrosses, Royal, Wandering and Black Browed. Apart from the Black Browed with their distinctive eyes they can be a bit hard to identify sometimes – juveniles have different plumage from the older more mature birds and I’m not exactly an expert!
Before seeing these magnificent birds I was under the impression that they would just glide, high up in the air on their huge wings like some sort of kite. The truth is much better though. whilst they have definitely got the hang of keeping any exertion to a minimum they are much more aerobatic than a glider. Swooping up and down and over across the waves, at times skimming the surface with precision and then gaining incredible speed without any form of propulsion other than their mastery of the air currents rising up from the waves. You can watch them fly in from a kilometre away, circle the boat a few times and then rush past at speed without a single wing beat. Good thing about this of course is that you can get a nice piccy.
It’s difficult to get across how big these buggers are but when you see them head on, with their three metre plus wingspan it’s quite an impressive sight.
Having seen albatrosses looking ungainly on land trying to take off I was always curious as to how they fed whilst at sea – or more accurately how they managed to get themselves air-born again after feeding. As it happens though, they make it look easy. I presume this is down to the faster moving air currents whilst at sea but a few skips across the waves and they are up!
The other large sea-going birdys out in the southern oceans are the petrels. Biggest of which are the giant petrels, also known as geeps . These huge birds fly with almost the same skill as the Albatrosses but look a little less majestic and a little more rough and ready. Occasionally described as ugly I reckon they are just a little more pre-historic looking.
Prettier little birds are the Pintados that were always zipping around the ship when I came down from Capetown on the Shack. Again there were flocks of these little fellas flying all around the ship, occasionally resting in the wake of the ship and then taking off and catching us up again.
The waters in southern oceans are teeming with life. Out on deck, in the middle of nowhere you can see hundreds, maybe thousands of birds riding the air currents and searching for food. Underneath the waves there are plenty of things looking for a meal too, from the gigantic (more on this later) to the small and furry.
I think these were southern fur seals. There were quite a lot out at sea and then even more as we approached Tierra del Fuego, leaping out of the sea all over the place – though most of the time much too quickly to get a picture.
Occasionally I’d get lucky though!
I wasn’t lucky enough to catch any of the Porpoises that came along side but I did have better luck than last time getting some whale pics.
Still have to catch the killer shot of a Humpback launching itself out of the water but in the mean time some more Minkes will have to do. Maybe next time eh?
A few days out of Punta as we were sailing through Tierra del Fuego and the straits of Magellan the number of birds flying all round went nuts. gulls, ducks, cormorants and petrels all knocking about flying and also fishing.
Yay penguins. I miss penguins!