Saturday, 30 November 2013

Saturday Morning

Saturday Morning - 30th November

Time is just flying by here in Antarctica. It is already the end of November - terrifying! It is hard to believe that is a month since Andrew, Helen, Tudor, Bertie, Dave and I set off from Ushuaia. So much has happened since then and yet it still feels like this adventure is only just beginning...

This morning really feels like a Saturday morning here at Port Lockroy. It has been quite chilled as we have no ship visits and it is snowing heavily outside. The snow feels magical but wilder than anywhere else in the world. We still have a lot of snow cover here on Goudier Island, which means that some of the penguins remain waiting to nest. It is a weird time as others now have 2 eggs - including one of our characters! I was lucky enough to see a penguin lay an egg yesterday and saw "our" penguin eggs within minutes of them being laid too! It just reminds me of how privileged I am to be able to witness these things. I just hope I do the filming justice so I can share as many of these magical moments with you all as possible. The skuas and sheathbills are very active now - they really pester the incubating penguins. I am torn between admiration for their intelligence and perseverance and the sadness at the stress it places on penguins. I realise it is part of nature and from a scientific perspective seeing the whole process is fascinating. I do feel protective of the penguins though and (not so) secretly root for them in any battles!

Google (other great internet search engines are available)

Thank you for all your offers to help with my lack of internet and thus ability to look things up. Generally the things I would look up are somewhat embarrassing, such as who the American Chris Evans is (I'm sure I know but can't place as can only think of our own lovely one from Radio 2). It's good to have work things out for yourself more and not depend on the internet for things anyway (not at all said through gritted teeth) - my mum would say "character-building..."

The sound of music

I would like to know what the title of "How do you like your eggs in the morning?" song is... Can you guess who and what we've been talking about?! Both Jane and I are big fans of Chris Evans' Breakfast Show on Radio 2 (other amazing DJs, shows and stations are also available) and have been trying to find Candyman and the song aforementioned on our generic music players!

We have our own unique soundtrack here with the breeze that creates a different sound every direction it blows, penguin calls (from an endearing honk to the chilling skua alert and cat-like hisses), terns flying overhead and even the occasional kelp gull cry (could be in Paignton-esque). The best sound is the silence. On a still evening, this silence fills the air and seems to come from the mountains and snow itself. Nobody wants to break it. Even the penguins respect it. It stirs the soul and feels you with peace. It always seem to occur when the mountains and sea look their best too - the pastel colours that I will never be able to recreate or describe. If I could have one thing forever, it would be those moments.

However, there are times when music is needed, even with this soundtrack enveloping us. It's funny how evocative a music track can be. We all have songs that mean something to us and it often isn't until you are in a place or situation like this that you learn what they are and why. We have started thinking about our own Port Lockroy version of Desert Island Disks, which I may share with you all one day...

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Sunny Side Up

Sunny Side Up - 26th November

Yes you guessed it, we have spotted the first penguin egg here at Port Lockroy. It is a very momentous occasion in the Post Office season calendar and we are now hoping that the parents-to-be can keep the lurking skuas and sheathbills away so that we can see the arrival of our first chick in a few weeks!

It is impressive how quickly the penguins have got busy since the snow melted from the majority of nest sites only a matter of days ago. The penguins have already gathered stones and built nests got on with the matter of reproduction very rapidly indeed. It feels as of the island is changing daily, becoming even more alive by the moment.

Spirits within the team here at Port Lockroy are high, despite being isolated for a couple of days due to sea ice once again. We had two ships visit today, bringing more smiley passengers. These groups were mostly from China so spoke less English than previous visitors but took lots of pictures with us and seemed to enjoy their visits as much as we enjoyed seeing them! :)

The day started perfectly. The bay was still completely full of ice this morning and the sun was shining brightly. I grabbed the opportunity to film in the good conditions and am pleased I did for the winds have picked up as the day has gone on and now there is a blizzard raging outside! The winds have blown the ice out of the bay though, which is what allowed the ships in to visit. As I look out of the window now, I see penguins huddled down, anchoring themselves into the snow with wings and beaks. Once again, I am using the time to look over rushes and log them. I don't think I will ever cease to be amazed by how quickly conditions change in this part of the world. Back home, such extreme changes in weather would be disruptive. Here, we just roll with the good and bad, making the most of everything we see and every opportunity we get. It is the most liberating way of life and keeps us on our toes!

Shiny-looking krill herder

We have been playing word games here in the Nissen Hut in our limited down-time. So far, the words we have picked have been quite penguin-orientated. I'm not sure how that happened. Anyway, we have come with the phrase "shiny-looking krill herder" which pretty much sums up penguins in water. I've been trying to think of inventive ways of replacing the word penguin in case I should ever be banned from saying it (apparently I say it quite often)...

Turkey Surprise

Still not been banned from saying "penguin" but I finally cooked a whole meal for 5 people. And not a tin in sight... I named this meal turkey surprise as a tribute to forthcoming thanksgiving. The surprise was that it contained no turkey. I think a recipe book may be in the pipeline of some of the creations that have been produced here so you will have to wait for more details of the meal... ;)

Thanksgiving - 28th November

We are celebrating Thanksgiving with our American team member, Kristy. We have spent part of the day reflecting on what we are thankful for. I think we can all put our hands on our hearts and say we wouldn't be anywhere else right now - we are all very thankful for the opportunities that have brought us here. Every day I wake up and have to pinch myself - I have a backyard that is more beautiful than I can ever express and full of penguins! I have spent the day filming and observing our penguin characters. No eggs for them yet but it is only a matter of time now. VERY EXCITING!

First mail bags of the season left us today - fingers crossed the post makes final destinations in time for Christmas.

Have had a very busy day filming today so taking a few minutes out with the team this evening to appreciate the sunshine, location and company with a celebratory drink whilst batteries charge and rushes offload. Smiles all round :)

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Another day out of the office

Another day out of the office... 19th November

Well I just didn't stop smiling all day on Tuesday! Andrew and I spent another glorious day on Goudier Island filming penguins. We were joined for much of the day by three chinstrap penguins and a weddell seal as well as our usual cast of gentoos and sheathbills. Our gentoos were having an easier day of it without the blizzard conditions we filmed them in on Monday. Although it was a real privilege to see them hunkered down in the snow as we struggled to film in blustery white-out conditions. At one point, we thought we may be stranded from Pelagic as wind hit 35 knots - unsurprisingly, it is hard to operate a zodiac in these conditions (and a camera as we can now testify). But we felt very lucky to be able to embrace the weather with these remarkable birds. And Tuesday was just exhilarating! Our penguins were clearly as glad to be in the sunshine as we were and were busy interacting with one another. Port Lockroy had another visit from a ship on an expedition that had been to South Georgia and we were delighted to catch up with penguinologist, Tom Hart, who has a camera trap study going on on Goudier Island. His data from this year's sea ice will be fascinating I'm sure.

Pelting down the Peltier... 20th November

Yesterday, we went for a sail down the Peltier Channel. The weather was once again glorious and we all got up at 5am to make the most of the favourable conditions. We saw a gorgeous crabeater seal hauled out on an ice flow and lots of porpoising gentoos. The ice looked almost indescribable, with shades of white ranging from the brightness you would expect from a colgate advert (other brands of extremely good toothpaste are available and will make your teeth gleam equally white) to topaz blues and pinky / purple hues. At times, ice looks even looks black, which really surprised me when I first saw it. I have been told this is the oldest ice and it certainly looks tough when you sail past it. For our next filming adventure, Andrew hauled himself (with the help of the Pelagic crew) up the stick. It took him a while to become accustomed to the height and sensation of sitting in a moving harness at height but once he had done so, we had to work really hard to persuade him to come back down after he had the shots he needed! It is great to get out and see a little bit more of the area we are in here, if only to gain perspective on the positioning and size of Port Lockroy. We returned back to our mooring spot just off Jougla Point before the weather turned. It's amazing how much sea ice blows around in a few hours as there was a touch and go moment when we thought we might struggle to get back to our position, but all was well and we relaxed once again.

Heads down

We should know better than to celebrate or relax on this trip. No sooner were we moored in place and thinking about dinner then the next challenge came our way. A rather embarrassing one I'm afraid. I may have caused somewhat of a blockage in the head (boating term for loo, which is a British term for toilet). Oh the shame. This happened approximately 24 hours ago and we still don't have working facilities. It turns out there may have been an issue with the pump which I triggered and poor Dave and Bertie have spent the whole day trying to fix it. I obviously tried to sort the problem initially and helped where I could but it really was beyond my very limited capabilities in this area - I just want it to be clear that I didn't just leave a situation for someone else to deal with! Anyway, it has been a very blustery and cold day (35 knot winds and down to minus 3 degrees with snow) - not what you want when you have to expose yourself fully to the elements to do your business. Still we haven't had anything frozen to anything that it shouldn't be so I suppose we should be grateful.

Speaking of heads down, we really will be getting our heads down and resting as much as possible tonight so we can get out filming at 3am tomorrow. It is very frustrating losing days to poor weather but we couldn't leave the yacht to film in today's blizzard and it just means we are better prepared and ready to embrace a very long day tomorrow!

Finally, a catch-up with our readers...

Firstly, apologies for any mix-up with blog posts. My computer somehow did a time shift back by about twelve months which affected my blog posts. If you haven't already, please have a look through all the posts in case you have missed a more recent one! Hopefully the error has been corrected now but do feel free to comment if you spot any anomalies as I can read your comments here in Antarctica - thank you by the way if you have left a message, all are gratefully received!

On that note, I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Alan Carroll who has kindly been providing the Port Lockroy team (and therefore also Pelagic and filming crew) with weather reports. These have been invaluable throughout our trip so far, particularly given the unusual and somewhat tricky conditions we have recently faced.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Meet the Team

Andrew Graham-Brown
Andrew is the producer, director, cameraman for Penguin Post Office. The project is being made by his company, AGB Films, for the BBC. So, as the producer, this project is Andrew's baby. He chooses the shots and then (in his cameraman capacity) films them. Before this project, Andrew made Kangaroo Dundee - the book is currently available at all good bookstores and Amazon! You can find out more about Andrew and his previous projects at

Ruth Peacey
This is me! I am the assistant producer for Penguin Post Office. As there are only two of us in the field, this mostly involves me recording sound and acting as a sounding board for Andrew. I am a bit of bird / penguin nut (Andrew's words), so I spend my time in the field attempting to look out for different behaviours that we can point the camera at and really getting to grips with our penguin characters. When we finish filming each day, it is my responsibility to ensure all our rushes (material we have filmed) are properly backed up so we can re-use the media cards in our camera the next day.

Tudor Morgan
Tudor is our polar expert, having spent a great deal of time in the Antarctic. As well as guiding us on all our slightly riskier missions (like crossing sea ice), he has been an invaluable point of contact between the Penguin Post Office project and the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, the charity that runs Port Lockroy. There really is little the guy man doesn't know about this area and we feel very lucky to be working with him! Sadly, he is leaving us now to go back home but will be back periodically throughout the season working on the Fram.

Helen Annan
Helen is base-leader at Port Lockroy this season. She came down ahead of the other Post Office workers with Tudor, Andrew and I to get things set up and organised. She spent a season working at Port Lockroy a few years ago and we are delighted that she has come back this year. So far, she has been very tolerant of our filming requirements, as well superb company, and we look forward to working with her more as the season progresses.

Dave Roberts
Dave is the skipper of Pelagic on our first voyage. He has safely guided the yacht across the Drake Passage and secured us in place just off Goudier Island since we arrived. He embraces any challenges thrown his way, always with a smile on his face. Prone to understatement, his classic quote of the trip so far has been "it's a little breezy" when referring to 60 knot wind gusts. Oh and he's a top good cook too, specialising in banana bread and roast lamb!

Bertie Whitley
Bertie is the first mate on Pelagic, working closely with Dave to ensure we are well-looked after and our voyage runs smoothly. She is one tough cookie - a totally awesome person who can turn her hand at anything. From sea kayaking in sub-zero waters to leaping in and out of zodiacs to ensure we are moored safely in place, as well as shimmying up the mast (or "going up the stick" as we have come to know this process) to guide Pelagic through brash ice or to look for a safe path out of a sticky situation. She is a pretty dab-hand in the kitchen too, making a mean risotto and delicious quiche to name a couple of dishes.

The rest of the Port Lockroy team
Although, we haven't spent that much time with them so far, the other base team members at Port Lockroy this season will be playing a greater role in our lives as the season unfolds. They are: Jane, Sarah and Kristy. All of them had to pass a rigorous selection and interview process to get here and each very much deserves their place. Together with Helen, they make a truly lovely team who we look forward to getting to know even better in the coming months. So far, we have seen their big smiles as they greet passengers from ships and the hard-work they put in to make the base a clean and fun place to live and visit.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Sun, Sea & Penguin Sex

Sun, Sea and Penguin Sex - 16th November

Well, we asked for some glorious weather and the sun delivered. We sure needed sun screen yesterday - and got a tiny bit burnt even with it on. It's hard to believe that yesterday morning we were walking across sea ice to get to Port Lockroy from the yacht, Pelagic. The sun was shining when we woke up and the skies were blue, so we trekked out to get those all-important shots before the ice melted. Even with incredibly strong sun and temperatures warm enough to be able to work in without a coat on, it took almost all day for the sea ice to melt. Pelagic bashed its way out of the ice before it had fully melted and was able to relocate to a safe mooring point back round near Jougla Point so we were able to get back to our base on the yacht via (a slightly leaky) zodiac last night. Incredibly, masses and masses of sea ice has melted overnight and I can hardly recognise places we have been over the last week or so. This is another reminder of the power of this truly remarkable continent - and how easy it would be to get disorientated without the guidance of professionals, such as Tudor and the Pelagic team.

So we started filming at about 6am yesterday, working our way from the ice to Port Lockroy, where the penguins were in full swing. We watched (and filmed) as they wooshed out of the glistening sea onto the ice and waddled up to find their mate, pooping in a most comedic manner enroute. Once back at their current spot (you can't really refer to it as a nest site as there is still so much snow, I am sure there will be some moving around as potential nest sites uncover), they greeted their partners with an elegant courtship bow and then, usually, mated immediately. The bow greeting is really the only time these plump birds really look elegant (I'm ashamed to say). They elongate their necks in an almost-swan-like fashion, making their whole bodies seem more streamlined and svelt. The subsequent mating is about as far from an this elegance as one could imagine... firstly the male often ends up pushing the female onto her belly with his (usually rather mucky) feet. If she consents, he then jumps swiftly onto her back so that he is standing on her. The mating itself lasts very little time but frequently I have witnessed the two bonding afterwards, standing together rubbing beaks, lightly pecking each other and even rubbing wings together - as if holding hands. I know one shouldn't anthropomorphise but it really looks that way so I thought it would help to describe it so! This is the best time of year to visually distinguish males from females as the females end up with slightly scruffy backs as a result of mating. We are starting to find our penguin characters at Port Lockroy now and I am very much looking forward to spending more time really getting to know them by observing their behaviours.

Yesterday's sunny weather didn't just work well for us. A cruise ship called Plancius stopped at Port Lockroy for a visit. It was fantastic to experience a visit for ourselves and see how much the visitors enjoyed their sightings of penguins and an old British base. All the visitors were lovely and friendly, so tolerant of us walking around them with our kit. A rather spectacular adolescent elephant seal even turned up to enjoy the melting ice, chilling at the edge of the water for a couple of hours, giving the visitors and us something a bit different to see. I have been reliably informed that this animal has likely been turfed out of the breeding grounds and is possibly looking for somewhere to moult.

Sadly we missed out on a visit to the Plancius with the rest of the Port Lockroy team as the light levels were so perfect yesterday, we stayed on Goudier Island to carry on filming until about 9:30pm. It was a glorious peaceful evening and we really made the most of the light conditions.

Snow Day
It is just as well that we made the most of the great conditions yesterday as, despite our predictions, we awoke to a much darker morning, complete with snow. It has been a complete white-out, but has given us a much-needed opportunity to catch up on logging. I do love watching back what's been shot and re-living some of the best moments we have witnessed. It has been quite an uneventful day but we are looking forward to having the whole Port Lockroy team over for dinner a bit later on...

In the meantime, I am sure you are curious as to what it's like living in such a small team in such intense conditions. Here are a few stories and thoughts from behind the scenes:

It's a boy thing
So far, Dave and Andrew have been having what can only be described as a cook-off. Or at least the pretenses of one, with each interrogating the other as to how they cooked a particular dish and speculating on how they themselves would improve on it. To be fair, it has meant we have enjoyed some truly wonderful dishes - Dave's banana bread and Andrew's tortilla to name a couple. However, they seem to have indadvertedly stepped up the competition and taken it beyond the kitchen. This latest contest is for the loudest snorer. Fortunately, I can sleep through pretty much anything. I hope the penguins feel the same way...

Don't get me wrong, I have been happily winding Andrew up too! Not only have I brought along a penguin hat, I have embraced the theme fully by also bringing my penguin onesie :D (Yes in answer to Anna's comment!) I think if Andrew could have, he would have sent me home when he saw it. It is great for chilaxing in on cold evenings below deck though. It has crossed our minds that it could also double as camouflage if needed...

The other frustrating thing here is the amount of time it takes to upload blogs and emails via our satellite data connection. Thankfully, we don't have to suffer the old dial-up tone that was present when internet first came about but it feels like it's there as it's equally slow. I am going to start uploading even smaller pictures to accompany these posts I'm afraid. However, we will do some photo galleries when we return to the UK, so you can see the highlights of our adventures for yourselves properly. The other thing that I have leaned to appreciate is google (and other search engine) access. We don't have access here and it has made me realise just how often I use it in my normal everyday life - from settling arguments to checking rules of games, to looking up last minute facts and even checking if I recognise a famous person when their name is mentioned (often, sadly not). Bertie and I have been keeping lists of things to google when we finish our trips!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Penguins Ahoy!

Penguins Ahoy! (11th November)

Penguins to my left, penguins to my right - everywhere we look there are penguins in sight! And boy are they awesome!! Finally, Andrew and I have started filming critters...

We now have open water at the back of Pelagic and can get the zodiac out and about. Goudier Island (home of Port Lockroy) still remains land-locked but we can at least access Jougla Point where the penguins emerge from foraging at sea to begin their mile-long trek across snow and ice to their future nest sites. It really is a sight to behold as thousands of penguins leap out of the water and shake themselves off before waddling onwards. Sometimes they greet each other here, occasionally, they even mate. Mostly they are just keen to get on with their foot journey however. The sound is tremendous. Firstly, you hear splashing as the penguins near the shore, then a plod as they land on snow. Then there is the pitter-patter of tiny feet as thousands of pairs of webbed toes make their way across the snow. Sometimes there is a bit of chitter chatter too. We are being cautious not to alter the penguins' behaviour by getting too close to them. Andrew even went alone at one point so as to fit into a one-man crevice in the rock. I took the opportunity to sit on a deck chair on a snowy outcrop above with Pelagic crew, Dave and Bertie, and Tudor. I feel incredibly privileged to escape and enjoy such magical moments as this and am left with a huge sense of appreciation not only for penguins but this dynamic landscape in which they adapt to survive. For anyone who is concerned that I am relaxing too much, I can assure you that I will be spending the evening logging - any excuse to spend more time looking at those penguins!

Dave and I went for a quick recce in the zodiac this afternoon. It is evident that we are still trapped in this channel as sea ice blocks all our exits. Saw lots more penguins scattered around the coast, including some that looked like adventurous mountaineers scaling a very steep slope. They can't possibly be nesting there!! We also took time to admire the icebergs that litter the bay - they are truly beautiful with deep blues that make them sparkle and stand out from an otherwise white backdrop. Some of them have formed what looks like gothic carvings around the edge, turrets and edges that feel like giant ice cathedrals. It was great to speed across the water, feeling the salty air on our faces and the water slap us up and down in our seats. Dave also taught me to drive - from a safety perspective this means in the unlikely event he or Bertie go overboard I can turn the boat around and pick them up. Can't wait for more ice to open up so we can explore further!

Tudor and Helen have moved into Port Lockroy now. They are keen to get things ready for the arrival of the other post office workers and, of course, visitors to Port Lockroy - when eventually the sea ice clears sufficiently for people to be able to get in. Although we feel trapped, it is fortunate that we sailed south so early that we were able to access this area ahead of the ice. It has meant we have witnessed some remarkable penguin behaviour already as they wouldn't normally have to walk so far to feed. The seals are also gathering around their point of entrance to the water, a sign of the dramas we hope to witness. I am still not sure how I will feel watching my favourite animals being devoured though!

Before we left the UK, many people asked us what we would be able to eat during our trip. Like them, I envisaged tins of spam, sweetcorn, rice and other canned basics. I have to say, we have eaten very well so far thanks to the Pelagic team. We started the voyage with two dead lambs strung on deck. They arrived, perhaps like us, a little weather-beaten but well-salted and frozen through! There have also been good stocks of fresh fruit and vegetables (all chilled nicely in the fore-deck) and virtually any cook's ingredient imaginable. We have enjoyed mushroom risotto, curries, soups, tortillas, steaks and even a Sunday roast so far thanks to the cooking skills of the crew :) For those of you who know me, don't worry I have been embracing the washing up side of things so as to do my fair share of the work but not to inflict anyone with my... erm... unique cooking ability.

Gosh, I just cannot get over the fact that I am actually here! As I am writing, I glance out of the window and see four penguins walking past the yacht tentatively
On the sea ice. It seems they are as wary as we are about crossing this surface but are truly dedicated to return to their future nest sites. I could watch these entertaining, fascinating birds for days. Just as well really. On that note, better get on with the logging...

Apologies for lack of pictures with this one - I seem to have lost my phone... hopefully it's just in one of many pockets and not in the drink...

Monday, 11 November 2013

Ice Ice Baby

Ice Ice Baby - Saturday 9th November

We are heading into our fifth night trapped in sea ice frustratingly close to Port Lockroy. The boat is still in place thankfully and we have had a chance to recover and collect our thoughts from the life-changing experience of the legendary Drake waters.

We have now completely cleared the boat of ice - probably at least 5 tonnes of the stuff. Seriously!! We have also sorted our kit so that we are ready for action when the opportunity arises - this involved kicking everyone out on deck whilst we sorted through cases and bags, cameras and microphones.

Yesterday, we ventured out onto the sea ice, led by Tudor. We walked all the way to Port Lockroy and met our penguin characters for the first time. As we walked, we found ourselves parallel to a penguin highway, walking alongside gentoos returning from 6 hours of foraging at sea. It was a breathtaking experience, watching penguins waddle back across the snow, using their wings and long brush tail to balance their rotund bodies. We are pleased that the penguins haven't yet started to nest as there is still plenty of snow coverage - particularly as we are not certain when we will be able to free ourselves from the ice and begin filming properly.

It is incredibly frustrating to be so near and yet feel so far away. Despite our frustration, we are happy and appreciative of the truly remarkable and majestic snowy landscape that surrounds us. Since we have been moored in place, more ice has been blown in so that we are now surrounded. It looks as though we are in the middle of a beautiful snowy open plain; it is only when you remember that you are on the deck of a yacht that you realise you are still at sea and that this magical snowscape could shift at any time. Even as I write, the winds have picked up a little yet again and we are rocking with the tide. Andrew and I have just been out on deck testing camera settings and getting a taste of what it is like to operate cameras and change lenses at minus 7 celsius with snow falling - it's going to be a challenging few months!

Skipper Dave and Tudor set up a pulley system yesterday afternoon to enable us to send kit across to the mainland without having to carry it across sea ice. Of course, its use is dependent on us being able to cross the sea ice safely ourselves and we won't be taking any risks, that's for sure. For now, we are staying on the yacht and awaiting safer conditions.

Lots of love to friends and family, as well as all our readers! Will keep you posted as our adventures continue...

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Crossing the Drake

Crossing the Drake (Wednesday 30th October -Tuesday 5th November 2013)

A good start
After leaving Ushuaia, we headed down the Beagle Channel on board Pelagic. The sun was shining, the winds on our side. After a few hours, we arrived at Puerto Williams to clear customs into Chile. We got to check out the yacht club - an old boat that had been turned into a quaint clubhouse, full of character and memories from thousands of previous visiting yachts. A good time could definitely be had here! With the weather still on our side, the need to get started on the Drake was pressing. After a delicious chicken dinner, cooked by our very own Andrew, we headed off back into the Beagle Channel just as darkness enveloped us.

Sea sick
The team were fearful of sea sickness so had been taking appropriate preventative medication. As the evening drew on, we realised we had all been taking double-doses - no wonder it was making us feel spaced out! The decision was made to stop taking them as they made us feel so fuzzy. But the fear was still with me so I popped a final (correct dose of one pill) before bed. This was a big mistake. I can only remember a very small part of the terrible hallucinations that took over my mind that night. I am very grateful for the team who spotted me tripping out and managed to calm me down. If only this was our only sea-sickness related nightmare... Despite being the person with the least experience of sailing, the rest of the voyage passed me by nausea-free. Sadly, the rest of the team were terribly afflicted for the entire crossing of the Drake. The sound of retching seeping up from below deck still haunts me. It was a tough time for our yacht crew, Bertie and Dave as they struggled to keep everything going with only one extra watchman.

Crossing the Drake
The Drake Passage really is every bit as epic as its legend foretells. One moment, it is plain sailing - blue skies and calm seas - and the next, ferocious waves beat over the deck brought about by extreme gusts of wind of up to 63 knots. As we headed south, the temperature dropped and we soon found that the waves were freezing to the deck. It was a terrifying situation as the yacht crashed on through the rough days and nights. The one thing you cannot do is escape the sea. The best that we could do in the worst times was to hove to and sit it out. With weather as savage as we encountered, even at hove to, we couldn't let our guard down. I pulled an all-nighter watching out for potential sea ice and keeping an eye on wind direction, as Bertie and Dave took turns to get some rest. I have to confess that I found the whole experience exhilarating and hugely exciting. This is the Drake I had built myself up to sail across... And I delighted in the fact that I wasn't experiencing any sickness through it. (If I sound smug, it is only because everyone had forewarned that I would suffer as I had no sailing experience to speak of!!!)

A very happy birthday
My birthday came around quickly. Skipper Dave woke the team at 4am to see a pod of dwarf minkes that surrounded the yacht. The seas were fairly calm and the sun shone once again. The team had recovered as the sea flattened and were all in high spirits. I was still feeling tired from my long night-shift so popped bag into my bunk for a bit more sleep! After breakfast, I headed up on deck. We all spent most of the day there, watching the snowy mountains and icebergs of all sizes that we passed. It wasn't long before I saw my first group of GENTOO PENGUINS porpoising through the water. The feeling that passed over me as I saw them dart so elegantly through the water really left me lost for words. I hope I always feel that delight when I see that behaviour - it is the one thing that you really can't see in a zoo. Yet seeing them here, now, so naturally speeding across the waves makes me feel confused about zoos and their place as a captive home for penguins. There is no doubt in my mind that as a conservation tool, zoos play a very powerful role - both directly and through education. However it is sad that they cannot provide enough space for this most natural and remarkable behaviour.
We were privileged to be graced by the company of minke whales, including one which gave Bertie and me a shock by appearing abruptly right next to the starboard side of the yacht. Seals scattered ice bergs - leopards, crabeaters and weddells. We passed a penguin colony and the pungent smell of guano came wafting over to us. Eau de krill.
As the afternoon came, the team appeared with a birthday cake (complete with candles and a chorus of "happy birthday") and tea on deck. We were making excellent progress and looked forward to an evening ahead of relaxation...

Things take a drastic turn for the worse
The snow started and we entered the ice zone. Brash ice filled the sea ahead of us and Bertie had to go up the mast, or up the stick as it has affectionately become known by our team, in order to navigate a safe path through. This took a lot longer than any of us anticipated. Finally, just as we reached clear seas, the winds picked up. We just can't seem to catch a break! A nightmare ensued as Tudor, Dave, Bertie and Andrew braved terrifying gusts of wind and huge crashing waves to work in pairs and avoid the potentially fatal ice that still littered the water. As darkness drew in, we all took turns to act as spotters for Dave and Bertie. It was a bitterly cold and vicious night that seemed to last forever. As the dawn broke, things still looked bad - ice was still popping up from behind waves, disguised at times by the foamy white crests of waves - and we still had about 25 miles ahead of us.

Eventually, the wind cleared and the ice dissipated. Blue skies once again brought us hope and joy. We sailed down the most beautiful stretch of water in Neumayer Channel - snowy mountains seemed to completely surround us, much like a Norwegian Fjord. As we continued, it looked as though the channel led to a dead end. However, this is a fine example of how these waters play tricks for the channel continued around a hidden bend. Once again, we were in high spirits as we sailed into the body of water that surrounds Port Lockroy. Once again our celebrations were premature. After breaking for lunch, snow started to fall again. Winds picked up once more and, as we struggled to clear the ice from the ropes and rails needed to moor, the sea ice moved in. We found ourselves in yet another nightmare, racing from bay to bay in the desperate search for a safe anchor. Eventually, our skipper decided the safest thing for us all would be to nudge ourselves into the ice as close as possible to Port Lockroy. Once in place, we had to moor ourselves. Polar expert, Tudor, stepped out onto the sea ice to tie us onto a couple of grounded ice bergs. Meanwhile Bertie and I ventured out in a kayak to moor us onto land. We scrambled up the snowy slope to tie the mooring line onto an old but secure whaler's chain about 5-10 metres from a gentoo colony. The penguins looked on curiously as Bertie secured us in place.
Finally, safe and sound, we enjoyed delicious meal of steak and chips and a well-earned drink.