Thursday, December 09, 2010

Trip To Antarctica

Earlier this week I spent a few days getting photos online from a recent trip to Antarctica. I also did a bit of DJ’ing while I was down there, and have recordings of three live shows online. I’m finally getting around to my last project associated with the trip, ie. a description of what we actually did. However, before I do that, if people are curious about seeing the photos that I took, the gallery is at this link:

I’ve got a few of those photos here in this blog post too, but in much smaller size & resolution. Really, you need to go to that photo page to do them justice.

Anyway, our trip lasted from November 20th to 30th, aboard a Russian scientific expedition ship called the Akademik Ioffe. The trip was organized by a friend of mine, through Quark Expeditions. There were a total of 107 passengers on the ship, although a smaller group of 17 of us were friends who were travelling together.

November 20th – Day 1

We arrived on the ship at about 4pm, turned in our passports (which the ship’s crew had to hold onto during the voyage), and got settled into our cabins. I was in a triple, and the quarters were obviously tight, but still quite clean and comfortable. We had a quick introductory meeting in the dining room at 5pm, and our expedition leader suggested that we go explore the ship and hang out on the top deck for our departure at 6pm.

We had dinner at 8pm, and a lifeboat drill afterward. Then, after watching our progress from up top for a bit, I headed to bed. I already had a scopolamine patch on to prevent nausea, and I took a gravol too, just to be safe. I expected a pretty rough trip, since there was a Beaufort force 11 storm ahead of us. That basically means waves of up to fifty feet, just slightly under hurricane force winds. However, the seas weren't expected to be bad over night, since we were protected by land for a while yet.

November 21st – Day 2

The anti-nausea drugs really put me out. Not only had I slept through the first night with no problems, I also slept through most of our first day at sea, although I had really intended to do that so I could be caught up on my rest for the adventures ahead. The ship’s crew ran lectures and demonstrations all day, with sessions talking about whales, seabirds, and several other topics. I skipped most of them, in favor of resting.

The Captain made a decision to hide behind Cape Horn before venturing out into the Drake Passage, since the weather was so bad. We actually spent most of the day fairly stationary, without making any real progress. I think a lot of people were disappointed by this delay to our adventure, knowing that it would cut down on our time in Antarctica, but I knew that the crew knew what was best. I was nervous about getting sea-sick, so I didn’t mind avoiding the storm system. I’ve only ever gotten sea-sick once in my life, during a storm on a ferry to Newfoundland, but that was definitely one of the worst feelings of my life. I figured that lots of water, only moderate amounts of food, no alcohol, scopolamine patches, gravol, and lots of rest should keep me in good shape. So far, so good. A lot of people were having trouble at supper though. By that time, we were well underway into open seas, and the ship was dancing around quite a bit. Certainly not as bad as I had expected – average big waves of probably only around ten feet. But of the seven people at my table at dinner, five bailed before eating their main course.

November 22nd – Day 3

Gravol tends to make me pretty thirsty. I had a sink in my cabin, right beside my bed, and I am pretty sure that I drank a couple dozen glasses of water. But I didn’t ever feel sick. From the sound of things though, a lot of other people were. It seemed that everyone wearing scopolamine patches were mostly OK. The crew put on more presentations throughout the day.

Our private group was given access to the Lecture Lounge for the evening, to use as late as we wanted. We moved all the chairs aside and set things up for a night of entertainment. The group stated off by doing a “Century Club” of sorts, which they called “Power Hour.” A real Century Club is one ounce of beer per minute for one hundred minutes. This group changed the rules a bit and went with an ounce and a half per minute for one hour. So in the end, they were ten ounces short of a real century. Needless to say, I had nothing to do with these shenanigans, wanting to keep my supper down. Somehow though, everyone in the group made it through without any nausea problems.

Once the drinking games were out of the way, I set up a system and played a couple hours of Drum & Bass music for the crowd. Shipboard Rave number one. We also had a couple projectors, so we could project random video graphics on the walls, and they had a Wii set up in one corner. I recorded my set, and it can be downloaded from my website. This was a bit of a historical moment in my DJ career. Normally, I’ve always mixed on turntables or CD players, but it was obviously impossible to bring a full set of that equipment with me, halfway around the world. Instead, I used Ableton to play my set, and tapped into the ships entertainment system for a speaker system. This was not the first time that I used Ableton for a live gig – I did that once before at Defcon in las Vegas in 2008. However, this was the first time that I actually recorded the set. I think it turned out pretty good. Here’s a link to that:

November 23rd – Day 4

This was supposed to be our first day in Antarctica, but because of the storm delay the first day, this was our last day of travel through the Drake. People were starting to get used to the ship’s motion already, and I don’t think many people were sick. The ship’s doctor was also handing out extra anti-nauseants like candy.

I spent a lot of time on the deck of the boat during the day, watching several different types of albatross species, some other sea-birds, a whale, and our first signs of ice.

November 24th – Day 5

We were in Antarctica when we got up. And I might add, we got up early. There was a 5am wake-up call, because the expedition staff wanted to fit as much activity in as possible, to help make up for our lost day. We got into the Zodiacs (motorboats) and went for a cruise at 5:30am at Orne Harbour. We came back to the ship for breakfast, then went for another cruise at Cuverville Island. Some people went climbing, some people went kayaking, and in the afternoon we did a full beach landing at Neko Harbour. Penguins everywhere! We ended the day with a very tasty BBQ up on the deck of the ship.

November 25th – Day 6

The weather was pretty bad in the morning, so we didn’t get to go out in the Zodiacs. However, we went for a drive in the afternoon at Almirante Brown and saw a couple of bases. However, the ice was too bad to get the Zodiacs to show. We did see seals and a whale up close, and of course lots more penguins and blue ice. It was American Thanksgiving, so we had a turkey dinner on the ship. After supper, about thirty of us went camping and all of the non-campers also did a short landing at the camp site in Paradise (Danco Island). That was pretty cool, and possibly the highlight of my trip. I got to play a short DJ set while camping. That’s an interesting story in and of itself, which you can read here:

November 26th – Day 7

We got up early and went back to the ship, and had a solid breakfast. I had a quick nap after breakfast, and then we went for beach landings at Jougla Point and Goudier Island. This is where we saw Lockroy Station, a British outpost. The outpost is manned for six months a year by four Commonwealth staff. Imagine spending six months living and working in a remote outpost at the bottom of the world, surrounded by penguins, with no cell phones or internet, and almost no electricity! I’d have internet withdrawal for a while, but it still sounds like heaven to me. I picked up a job application, just in case. I saw a couple seals and lots of penguins, and a few whale bones. I also bought lots of postcards at the station gift shop. After lunch, there was a quick zodiac cruise at Damoy Point, plus the kayakers and skiers went for special events. After dinner, we did a special “Titanic Night” and I DJ’ed in the ship’s lounge for quite a while, a bit of jazz and then a full DJ set. Here’s a link to that:

November 27th – Day 8

We spent the day today in the South Shetlands, which were a bit less snowy and ice-covered than the places we visited the previous three days. We did a beach landing in the morning at Whaler’s Bay (Deception Island), and another in the afternoon at Half Moon Island. Whaler’s Bay gave everyone a chance to do a polar plunge. After supper, we knew that we had to start heading north for Ushuaia, and this would be our last view of Antarctica. I spent several hours on deck, watching the scenery, before we finally headed out to the Drake Passage.

The Rest of the Trip

On the 28th and 29th, we passed through the Drake Passage once again. We had waves of about twenty feet one night, but everyone was a lot more comfortable going through it this time. I skipped the gravol, and just used a scopolamine patch, and felt fine. We got back to Ushuaia on the morning of the 30th without any incidents, and everyone headed off for more travelling, or to return to their homes.

If you want to download a PDF summarizing the wildlife that we saw on this trip (probably of interest to the biologist types out there), click here.

One recommendation if you ever take this trip. We drank our ship completely out of mix by the last night of the trip (mind you, I think that can partly be blamed on our small group). If you're going on this trip, and take a bottle or two of alcohol with you for your cabin, make sure you don't forget to take mix too!

Before I go, here's a late addition (June 25th, 2011): some video footage from the trip, set to a dubstep remix of Avicii's "Penguin"

All in all, it was a pretty amazing trip. You’d think that it would be easy to get sick of snow and penguins, but I’m definitely hoping to head back in November of 2012. In fact, I’m going to organize a group tour that would be open to any of my friends and associates from Mount Allison University, and also for music industry friends. Let me know if you’re interested! And again, if you haven’t already checked out the photo galleries that I have online, go up and check out that link at the top of this page. The smaller photos that I included in this blog posting really don't do the trip justice!

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