Antarctica Was Incredible — Everything I’d Hoped

My 26-day voyage to Antarctica aboard the M/V Ortelius as tour staff with Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris was AMAZING. I have returned to California with sketches of nesting albatrosses and penguins, small watercolors of glaciers and ocean cliffs, 6,300 photos of icebergs and every possible creature, a couple hours of delightful video, many new friends, and innumerable stories to share.

As I sift through it all I’ll be posting here, “back-blogging” or “retro-blogging.” It turned out to be nearly impossible to post regularly from the ship because of limited internet access but more importantly because our schedule of landings was so intense that catching a little sleep became more important.

It was all 100% worth it and I would turn around and do it again in a heartbeat. I hope you’ll stay tuned to live through the trip again with me.

I would like to warmly thank all my fantastic sponsors who literally helped keep me warm in the chilly Antarctic waters. I was properly outfitted for the elements and everything at home was shipshape while I was at sea, thanks to your support that flooded in when I was invited to sail on very short notice. It’s my genuine pleasure now to mold the experiences of the Antarctic into artwork for each of you.

Limited edition sponsorships are still availabe for anyone who didn’t sign up before the trip and who wants in on the first artistic results of this polar adventure. Sponsors who sign up now will help insure I can spend the coming weeks in my art studio, creating new works from the fresh store of inspiration I accumulated during the voyage. I have months’ worth of painting ideas!

Sponsor Kate’s studio time!

I also have the makings of a great multi-media presentation, so if you have a venue where you’d like me to give an illustrated talk about my Antarctic experience just drop me a line [intlink id=”15″ type=”page”]here[/intlink]. I’m looking forward to sharing all the amazing things I’ve seen in every way I can.

Completely Blissed Out

Today was utterly amazing. I can’t even put into words how incredible everything was — the vast gravel plain below gorgeous glaciers with king penguins and fur seals literally everywhere, the rain that soaked almost everything, the wind that kicked up and really challenged our afternoon Zodiac landing on little Prion Island, and the giant wandering albatrosses nesting there literally 10 feet away from the boardwalk we climbed to reach them – also passing hundreds more fur seals, including tiny clumsy pups and males that charge but veer away if you touch their whiskers with a stick. I am completely blissed out. It’s amazing.

 Sent to you over a satellite phone using GMN’s XGate software.

 

First Landing in South Georgia

The Falkland Islands were wonderful (Jan. 2-4, 2012), and now we’ve traversed over 800 miles of open ocean to reach remote, wild, stunning South Georgia Island. We’ll make our first landing this morning at famous Salisbury Plain on the island’s northeast coast. If you’ve seen photos of tens of thousands of King Penguins stretching up a hillside, they were taken here.

Salisbury is also a huge fur seal and elephant seal colony, and we all have to carry walking sticks or broom handles to keep any territorial fur seals at whisker-tickling distance. They do bite but if you stand your ground and rustle their sensitive whiskers with your stick they’ll back off. Many young fur seals are in the water all around our ship, looking up and twirling playfully in the clear blue. King penguins are visible by the thousands on the beach through binoculars and also swim alongside us, bathing with their white bellies skyward or just porpoising along.

There’s a sense of jollity on the ship as passengers take a leisurely breakfast down the hall. It’s drizzling and there’s not enough light for photography so although half the ship got up for 4:30 a.m. breakfast, our 5:30 landing has been postponed to 7:00. For most of us there’s no sense in going back to bed so we might as well enjoy the early morning. I had a cup of espresso about 4:30, from the wonderful automatic espresso machine up in the library. I can hear laughter and clinking cups from down the dining room down the passage.

Soon we’ll gear up for chilly drizzle and hiking in mud, but for now we’re cozy and warm inside the sturdy Ortelius.

 

Iceberg In Sight!

The first iceberg of our Antarctic voyage is in sight! It was spotted at 10:24 a.m. on our third day sailing from the Falkland Islands to South Georgia. It’s a beauty, too; towering, with gorgeous blue depths where waves crash over its submerged ledges. This is a chunk of the massive glaciers that pour off the edges of the Antarctic continent and it has drifted northwest over a thousand miles on the currents.

Early this morning, I was awakened by an loud knock on my door and a shout of, “Whales!” I pulled on some warm layers and hurried to the bridge to join a few folks identifying the blows of humpback whales to starboard. Over about fifteen minutes we counted probably 8 whales including a mother and calf pair.

Then in the far distance, the remote and forbidding Shag Rocks appeared on the horizon. The veteran staff say this was the best weather they’ve ever seen at this spot and the captain circled the islands. Blue-eyed shags (cormorants) flew close overhead on their way to and from their nests on the crags.

Just a few miles after Shag Rocks, we passed what was possibly the first Southern Right Whale this voyage has ever seen. I didn’t see the whale myself but from the photos of the flukes I’m certain it was not a humpback.

We are still excited about the rare whale sighting, and now there’s ice!

I’ve seen small icebergs off tidewater glaciers in Southeast Alaska but this lone berg is far bigger, and it’s not even that big by Antarctic standards.

I’m really in the Southern Ocean now.