Our Turtle Eggs Come to Life!

This morning part of our group was out surfing.  Derek had his alarm set for 5:00 am and we were on the beach before 6.  There was Derek, his friend, Pat, from Corolla, North Carolina on the Outer Banks and Pat’s girl friend, Chelsea, were in the water.  Another friend, Jeremy, the photographer from Austin and I were on the shore shooting.  About 8am, Jeremy hollers to come over to him.  What he’d seen was a tiny hatchling turtle about the diameter of an orange crawling toward the water.  Just as a reminder, you can click on any of these images to see them full screen.

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Further back from the water we found a spot were they were coming up from under the sand where they’d been layed as eggs about two months earlier.

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We watched as eight hatchlings made their way to the water.  We know that 71 eggs had been layed by the female last Thursday night so we would assume a similar quantity would have been in this nest.  We don’t know if others had preceded these or if more were to follow.

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While we weren’t permitted to photograph a Mom laying eggs about an hour up the coast we were able to see these heading for their new home.

The purpose of the trip was surfing…not turtle hunting…so here’s some images first of Derek.

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Most every trip along a wave has to come to an end eventually and sometimes the ending is more interesting a photo than the surf ride.


Here are some of the others in our group.  There were seven of us at the beginning.  Two more joined us this morning.

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Hope you enjoy!

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It’s a Surfin’ Safari Costa Rica style!

My son and I left Dallas Wednesday morning February 8, with a stop in Houston where we met one of his friends, Jeremy, who is a wedding photographer in Austin.  The three of us flew to Liberia, Costa Rica where we met up with two other couples…their friends from the Outer Banks.

We are staying at the Marbella Surf Inn, a six-room hotel about a mile from the beach.  There is not much else around.


It has a nice pool, gazebo, and bar/dining room.


The food is good…expensive…but good.  Cokes and water are about $1.75, a beer is 2000 colones or $3.75US.  There are seven of us. Four surfers, two photographers and two spouses, one of whom is a surfer.

On Thursday, I had made reservations to go to a national park about an hour-and-a half north of here to see and photograph Leatherback turtles.  They come ashore to lay eggs in a hole they dig in the sand at high tide after sunset.  On Thursday, high tide was 2am.  We had to be a the park ranger station at 10:30pm and if a turtle came ashore, we’d pay our $27US and they would guide us to the location on the beach.  First, we had to watch a video about all things Costa Rican…including the turtles.  At that point they informed us that you could not take cameras to the location.  Everything I’d read said “no flash” but nothing said no cameras.  I discussed it with the head ranger but he said it was the law and he couldn’t do anything about it.  So no pictures.  I had specifically selected this night because it was a full moon and it would photos possible.  Visibility was good for the walk.

There was about 30 of us that departed the ranger station about 1 am.  We hiked about 1.5 miles to find one turtle.  It was about 5ft long.  There was a group of researchers there measuring the turtle, taking samples of parasites off the shell and counting the eggs that were deposited into the hole.  There were 71 eggs.  It takes about 60-65 days for the hatchlings to come out and make a run for the sea.  Very few make it to adulthood.  The ones that do leave for at least 20 years before they are able to have their own eggs.  They then return to the same beach that they were born at to deposit their eggs.  Often travelling up to 4000 miles.

It was an interesting trip but I was disappointed that no one had informed me or mentioned it on their website that cameras weren’t permitted.  We got back to the hotel about 3 am.

We are usually up about 5:30 am to check the surf.  I haven’t made it every morning and the surfers haven’t gone out every morning either.  We usually have at least one other surfing excursion about mid-day.  It’s hot.  Temperatures are in the low  to mid-90’s. Surfing is best, I’m told, just before high tide and the guys all have apps that tell them what tide conditions are and when surfing should be good at our location.   I take some images from near the water then back up to a row of trees for a little shade.

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Our folks surfing.  Chelsey, Pat, Derek’s former boss and Derek with mohawk.  His special haircut for this trip.

This weekend there’s a surfing contest at the beach we go to.  Here’s an assortment of shots from this morning.  Most of these surfers are 12-13 years old.  It was fun watching them

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I’m here until February 20th.  More to follow.




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My Trip Mapped Out

I left Kansas City on Oct. 20 for Santiago, Chile arriving Saturday morning.  After one night in Santiago, our group flew early Saturday morning to Port Stanley in the Falklands.  Our schedule was to depart Stanley that afternoon but high seas of 30-45 feet and winds gusting to 60 knots kept us tied to the dock for our first night.

Sunday morning we left for South Georgia Island.  We arrived on Tuesday, Oct. 25 but our first landing at Elsehul was aborted and we moved on the Right Whale Bay.  Here’s our route map for South Georgia.   You’ll want to click on it to enlarge it.

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That landing was also aborted for the same reason.  As you can see, we made numerous landings along the north shore of the island.  In every case, our ship anchored out and we rode zodiacs to and from the Sea Spirit.


Here’s an image of a Cape Petrel.  I neglected showing in the last post.  I like the look of the top of it’s wings.


This is the underside of the wings on the black-browed albatross.


I also saw one humpbacked whale.  I was some distance away when I spotted it between the Falklands and South Georgia on the way south.


When we were at Cooper’s Island.  There is a restriction allowing only 50 people on shore at a time.  Half the group went ashore and the rest of us went zodiac cruising.


We saw one iceberg near the north end of South Georgia and a lot more as we neared the south end.  None of these icebergs originated on South Georgia.  They are all from the Antarctic peninsula.  They broke off glaciers there and floated north and went aground near South Georgia.


These last images were shot near Cooper’s Bay and Cooper’s Island.  After our morning there we cruised the Drygalski Fjord.  It’s seven miles long.



The two biggest issues for all of us on this cruise was biosecurity and safety.  I’ve already addressed biosecurity.  Safety was an issue because there is no sea or air rescue available.  We were constantly reminded of “one hand for the ship”.  While we had a doctor for the cruise and the ship had a doctor on board for the crew, any serious injury or illness would require the ship to head for the Falklands.  That was a two plus day trip and it would impact every passenger on the ship.  We did have a helicopter drill the first hours out of Stanley but South Georgia is 700+ miles southeast of there.

We had one near miss on the safety issue.  After returning to the Falklands, we were to spend a full day on Sea Lion Island.  The largest of the many islands in the Falklands.  As was normal, a scout party from the expedition staff in two zodiacs where headed to shore to check the landing site.  About 50 yds off the beach, a rogue wave hit the left quarter of the zodiac and capsized it throwing all six on board into the water.  Luckily, no one was injured although one member of the expedition staff came up under the zodiac.  It, of course, was upside down.  They were able to drag it to shore…it weighs 1700 lbs…and right it but the engine had been overturned in the water.  The zodiac was towed back to the ship but it took almost 4 hours to get the staff picked up and back on the ship.  The landing there was cancelled.

We moved on and ended up making two landings in the Falklands….Steeple Jason and New Island.

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The company who ran this trip is Cheeseman’s Ecology Tours.  The owners of the company, Doug and Gail Cheeseman, were on board.  Doug is 79 and a former college professor of ecology and zoology and began by taking students on trips.  His company leads tours to Africa, South America, Australia and the southern ocean, including Antarctica.  This was to be his last trip to South Georgia due to the increasing regulation and landing restrictions.

It was amazing to me the number of people on this trip who’d been, first, on multiple Cheeseman trips and, second, the number of people who’ve made multiple trips to South Georgia and Antarctica.  For one lady I met, this was her fifth trip to the Falklands.  I can understand that for professional photographers who lead trips to this part of the world but for an individual I found it unusual.

Our last passage was from the Falklands to Ushuaia, Argentina, the world’s southernmost city.  It’s a city of about 70,000 people and the starting point for most cruises to the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic peninsula.  We had seas of 20-30 ft beginning during the night and continuing until about noon on Nov. 5.  At breakfast, not many were in attendance.  Two people were tipped over in the chairs and we ate with our hands trying to hold on to our cups, plates and silverware.  There was more than one breakfast that ended up on the floor that morning.  These pictures don’t adequately show the angle the ship was rolling but you can see the coffee machines were tied down.

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After entering the Beagle Channel, the waves subsided and it became a much smoother ride.  We saw our first ship near Tierra de Fuego….it appeared to be Chinese.


My last two images are kind of unusual.  The first is a “God beam” shot near sunset from the stern of the boat.


The last is a high key image of some king penguins.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of blogs.  Thanks for reading them.  Any suggestions or comments are always welcome!



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On a Wing and a…..

I not a birder.  I worked on my skill at shooting birds in flight during this trip but I don’t have a “life list” of birds I’m trying to see and/or photograph.  I know a lot of people are birders.  I met a lot of them on this trip.  Some came with lots of powerful and expensive cameras and lens and others with very simple equipment.

Everywhere I’ve had the good fortune to visit has had birds that were unique to that area.  I like seeing them.  I like photographing them.  Our tour leaders would often tell us that on this island there is a colony of black-browed albatross or northern royal albatross or southern royal albatross.  My heart didn’t skip a beat but I have to admit, seeing approximately 250,000 pairs of black-browed albatross in place one is pretty darn impressive.  This is on Steeple Jason Island in the Falklands.


This photo doesn’t show all of them.  It’s still a pretty good crowd!


That little bit of black over the eye is how it earned it’s name.  Here’s a couple sitting on eggs.


Here are a few that are courting.


And flying…


Here’s another interesting looking bird.  It goes by several names including rock shag, imperial shag, blue-eyed shag.


All the birds on South Georgia nest on the ground or underground.  There are no trees.  There is tussac or tussock grass are large clumps or grass, some as tall as 4-5′ that dot the hillside.  Birds often nest in and around them.  That’s what these photographers are working in.  Again these images were captured on Steeple Jason Island in the Falklands.


One particular bird, the pipit, nests underground and its existence was threatened by rats.  When supply ships came to the islands years ago, they brought with them rats.  Those rats multiplied.  In 2014, a mass rat eradication program began to rid the island of these creatures.  It cost millions of dollars and involved developing a poison that would not harm the other birds, penguins, etc. but would kill the rats.  It was dropped from helicopters and spread throughout South Georgia.  Today, it is believed that there isn’t a single rat on South Georgia Island.  The pipit population is starting to grow.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a single picture of one although some others did.

Another scavenger bird here is the northern and southern giant petrel.  The only difference between them is that the northern giant petrel as a reddish color on the tip of it’s beak and the southern giant petrel’s is green.


In the picture on the left, it is a northern giant petrel….with a green tipped beak.  The picture on the right shows them eating a fur seal.

Another bird is the wandering albatross.  They nest in the tussac grass.  Here are a few young ones that are molting.  After birth in the summer they stay on the nest for 278 days (no, I don’t know how they know it’s been 278 days but that’s what I was told).


These birds have a wingspan of about 7 feet.

In the next image is the Sooty Albatross.  It’s the bird on the upper left in the tussac grass on the cliffside.20161029-_i3a9409

More coming…..

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It’s All About the Wildlife

I go on these little jaunts because I enjoy seeing all the wildlife in their natural setting.  It’s a chance to also improve my photographic technique.  Whether I’m capturing images of birds in flight or high school football games, there’s always room for improvement.

When I left on this trip to South Georgia Island I didn’t know a giant petrel from a tank of petrol.  This is a giant petrel.


I assume you already know what a tank of petrol looks like.

Anyway, South Georgia is the home to hundreds of thousands of penguins.  Their are five different types there.  This is the king penguin.


It has a gold pattern on its neck and yellow on its breast and shoulders.  This is a macaroni penguin.  There aren’t many of them here and this one was some distance from me when I photographed it.


It has orange braids/hair on either side of its head.  Remember you can click on an image to enlarge it.

This is a chinstrap penguin.  It gets its name from the black line under its chin.


This is the gentoo.  It has an orange bill but no other color.


Finally, there is the rockhoppers.  They live on the side of cliffs and get their name from how they get out of the water…hopping up onto the rocks and also how they move around the cliff.


These little guys are about a foot to 18″ tall.  They also have side hairs similar to the macaroni penguin but they are more yellow than gold.  Here are some young king penguins…oakum boys…getting fed by Mom.  In the first image, you can see the food actually being transferred from Mom to oakum boy.


Here are a few more images of feeding and groups.



The most abundant penguins are the king penguins.  They tend to move in groups…lines, bunches heading in and out of the surf and just standing around.  Here’s an assortment of images.



As we moved from landing site to landing site, we found the different kinds.  The rockhoppers were in the Falklands and not in South Georgia.  Here are some at the colony where they were nesting with eggs.


Here’s a gentoo gathering material for his mate’s nest and a gentoo with an egg on the nest.


There isn’t a lot of predation but this fellow…a leopard seal… patrols the surf area looking for those penquins that are out of a swim.  They also like to take a nibble out of a zodiac tube on occasion.


While out on a zodiac cruise along the shore, I saw a couple of penguin and a baby fur seal that had been killed and giant petrels were feeding on them.


The other common wildlife on the beach are Antarctic fur seals and elephant seals.  Both will charge you if you get too close.  The fur seals are afraid of anything taller that they are so if they come at you you can simply stand up to them and swat them with a tripod leg or walking stick.  Elephant seals are another matter.  The bulls are huge.  They can be as large as 20′ long and weigh up to 5 tons.  If they are moving, you get out of the way.

Here are a few fur seals.

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There are rules about how close you can approach fur seals, penguins and elephant seals.  There aren’t any rules how close they can approach you.  Penguins, in particular, are very curious and if you stand still many of them will walk right up to you.  Female elephant seals are smaller…about 10′ in length and only weigh up to one ton.

Here’s some of my elephant seal images.  The first one has blood on its side.  It had obviously been in a fight with another bull.




Here’s a couple of ladies elephant seals that reminded me of the recent presidential debates.


Tomorrow we’re going to the birds.







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Sea Spirit, South Georgia and Shackleton

This was my home from Oct.22-Nov.6….It’s the M/V Sea Spirit.  It’s 297′ long and 50′ wide.  There were 100 passengers, 21 expedition staff from Cheeseman’s Ecology Tours and 68 crew members from the ship’s owner, Poseidon Expeditions.  It’s considered an all-suite luxury ship.


Unlike Caribbean cruises, there was no shuffleboard, climbing walls, midnight buffets dancing penguins or a comic.  There was no swimming pool although there was a hot tub that may have been used by 10-15 people.  There was a bar and afternoon tea with appetizers was often served between 4-6:30. There was also a small library with mainly books on Antarctica and the southern ocean.  When dinner was over, most everyone hit the sack to be ready for the 4:30am wake up call many mornings.  We had a couple of late wake up calls at 5:30 while at a landing and the luxury of 8am while at sea.

Here’s an image of the ship with elephant seals and fur seals on the beach.


I shared a room with two others…Angiolo (pronounced Angelo) from San Francisco and David from New Zealand.  David had lost his wife to cancer in March and had decided to take this trip to clear his head.  Both were very great roommates.

There were passengers from Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Switzerland, Hong Kong and, of course, most of us were from the US.

Our cabin contained two beds slightly narrower than a twin bed and a sofa sleeper.  We also had a large window.  At night, the ship was blacked out so that birds wouldn’t fly into the lighted windows.


It was quite comfortable.  A twin room had the same twin bed setup and the sofa was setup as a sitting room.  There were a couple of cabins on the 5th and 6th deck with balconies.  We had a lounge set up for lectures with 6 large screen tv’s across the front and swivel chairs screwed to the floor.

Meals were served in the dining room with seating for everyone at once.  Breakfast and lunch were buffet style and dinner was a sit down dinner.  Breakfast consisted of several dry cereals, bacon, scrambled eggs, ham, sausage, oatmeal, six different juice choices, assorted fruits, bread and sweet rolls, coffee and tea plus you could order the chef’s specials from the menu.  Lunch also offered multiple choices of main courses, sides, salads and two desserts.


Dinner was ordered from a daily menu.  There was always four appetizers/salad choices, four main course choices including veggies and two desserts.  There were about 8 waiters at every meal.  The guy that served us breakfast at 5am also served us dinner at 8pm.  They became our friends.

Depending on our daily wake-up calls, which were often 4:30am – 5:30am, breakfast would be served from as early as 5am-6am to as late as 8am-9am when at sea.  Dinner was never earlier than 7pm and often 8pm after a full day on shore.  On two occasions we had packed lunches to take ashore while in the Falklands toward the end of our trip.  You always had the choice of returning to the ship for lunch and going back ashore if that worked for you.  The food was excellent with fish, steaks, lamb, pastas, pork and casseroles being offered at different times.  There was always a good assortment.

There was also an open bridge policy except when navigating into a tight situation.  There was a strict no smoking policy on the ship except on the bridge and there only the cigarette-addicted captain was allowed to smoke.


As I stated all meals where served in the dining room except for our BBQ night.  The food was good but it was served outdoors on the 5th deck.  As you can see, it was chilly….


Fun idea but not my favorite location.  I would have preferred to eat without having to wear gloves!  Everyone ate in a hurry.

South Georgia Island was a whaling station.  In the mid-1800’s whaling was done on factory ships where whales where slaughtered, blubber melted and meat taken.  Eventually, the whaling moved ashore to whaling stations.  We visited two…Stromness…which had restricted access due to deteriorating buildings and Grytviken (grit-vic-un).  This is Stromness.


The main whaling station is Grytviken.  This is the only active location in South Georgia.   There is a British research station here.   There are no permanent residents.  There are three government officials at the research station including the lady who runs the library and her husband who is the customs officer.  South Georgia is a administrative protectorate, I think is the term, of Great Britain.  There is a governor on the Falklands who overseas South Georgia.  The research station has 7 people there during the winter and it swells to about 30 during the summer months.  We were the first ship of the season.  During their summer many other ships come here.

Grytviken has a church….


and a museum/gift store.


There are also some rusting whalers and tanks used for storing blubber.


This is also were the British explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, and two of his crew are buried.

Shackleton and his crew of 27 departed Great Britain in 1914 on a specially-built wooded boat headed for Antarctica.  Their plans were to make a land crossing of the continent.  They became locked in ice in the Weddell Sea and their boat, the Endurance, was eventually crushed.

After months locked in the ice the men got onto an ice flow with three wooded lifeboats and floated for months until spring when the ice started to melt and they were forced to take to their boats.  Eventually, after more months they made it to Elephant Island.  Two of the boats were turned over and became shelters.

Again, months went by and Shackleton and five of his crew departed to look for rescuers.  They sailed to South Georgia Island but landed on the opposite side of the island from where the whaling stations were located.  Shackleton and two others decided to hike over the mountains and left the other three with the boat.  They eventually descended into Stromness much to the surprise of the whalers there.  They organized a rescue party to pick up the three left behind on the other side of the island and to go back for the others still on Elephant Island about 700 miles away.  It took four months and four attempts before he able to rescue them.  All of his 27 crew members survived.  They were rescued in 1916 two years after leaving Great Britain.  They had been living on seals, sea birds and anything else they could find.

Shackleton returned to Great Britain and was knighted.  He then set about organizing another trip to the southern ocean.  He died of a heart attack on board the ship in 1922 on his way back to Antarctica.  His wife wanted him buried on South Georgia.  Later, two other shipmates were buried beside him.


When our group landed at Grytviken we gathered for a toast and group picture at Shackleton’s grave.

This brief description doesn’t do the story justice.  You can read about it in the book, Endurance, and supplied to us by our tour company prior to the trip.  It is a very interesting story.  The author is Alfred Lansing.  I believe the original book was published in 1986 but the copy I got was published in 2014.

Whaling continued at South Georgia until 1965.

Now, here’s a taste of what’s to come.  This is 9-image panorama I shot from a zodiac at St. Andrews Bay.  Please click on it for a larger, expanded view.


There are hundreds of thousands of penguins.  These are king penguins.



This is a view from a ridge of king penguins and their young.  The brown groups are the youngsters, called oakum boys.  In a couple of months, there won’t be any space between any of these birds….yes, penguins are birds.  The area will be wall to wall penguins.

More to come!







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South Georgia – The Trip Begins

I departed Kansas City on Oct. 20.  After an overnight flight, I arrived in Santiago, Chile at 6:30am the next morning ..Friday morning.  After clearing Immigration and Customs, it was a short walk across the street to our hotel.  I had met a couple, Paul and Anita DePratt, from California who was on my flight from Dallas.  Others were arriving about the same time. Since our rooms weren’t ready at that early hour we all headed to the dining room for the breakfast buffet.

After lunch, our group took a city tour of Santiago that found several places closed due to a municipal employees strike.  It was a chance to meet some of my fellow travelers before the late afternoon welcoming reception.  One of our group was the victim of a pickpocket that lifted his wallet with all his money, credit cards, etc.   Our tour organizer,  Doug Cheeseman, agreed to cover his expenses until he gets home to Australia.  Ironically, we were in a cathedral in downtown Santiago when his pocket was picked.

Saturday morning it was a 7am flight to Port Stanley in the Falklands.  It was 46 degrees with a wind gusting to 25 knots.  I don’t know what the wind chill was but it seemed cold.  After clearing Customs and Immigration we boarded two buses for the dock to board the Sea Spirit.  Our home for the next 19 days.

The Falklands are an interesting group of islands.  The island belongs to Great Britain but in 1982, Argentina laid claim to them.  That brought a very short war between the two countries that saw Great Britain winning.  There are still large areas that are closed to tourists because there are still a lot of unexploded land mines around.  They are working to clear them but it isn’t done yet. (I guess they haven’t found enough people who want to walk through the fields stomping the ground. 🙂 )  We got enough time in town to hit one gift shop near the dock.  We were supposed to depart after dinner for South Georgia but high winds and waves predicted to reach 50 knots and 25-35 feet waves delayed our departure until Sunday morning at 8am.  We’ll be back to the Falklands for three days at the end of our trip.

Our Sunday started, as did every day, with a fantastic buffet breakfast.  The winds and waves were still pretty good.  They got worse as we entered the Drake Passage.  During the morning, we had several mandatory lecture series in one of the lounges on biosecurity (more on this later) and our behavior around the wildlife and an hour long required movie on South Georgia history.  The night before I put on a seasickness patch just in case.  After the lectures and movie, we all headed to the dining room for lunch.  I made it through the lunch buffet but I didn’t get to take a bite before I was headed out of the room.  I picked up a barf bag (pardon the reference) and made it to the first landing heading upstairs to my cabin before making use of it.  I felt a pair of hands on my hips from behind me.  It was our lady doctor, Dr. Lyn, who apparently saw me leave the dining room.  She assisted me the rest of the way up the stairs.  She pointed out the nearest lavatory.  When I exited the lavatory, she asked me if I’d like a pill.  I told her I had put on a patch but she repeated the question….Would you like a pill?  The answer was yes.  I took the pill and a one hour nap and was fine for the rest of the trip.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t alone.  Dinner wasn’t well attended Sunday evening.

Monday was another day at sea along with more lectures on South Georgia history, wildlife, and natural history.  There are 18 expedition staff on board and 68 members of the crew along with 100 passengers. I have two roommates….Angiolo from San Francisco and David from New Zealand.   Both are great guys and we got along very well.

BioSecurity was a big deal.  Prior to arriving at South Georgia, we were required to have any item of outerwear or footwear examined for any foreign material…grass, seeds, etc. that could be caught in the Velcro closures on waterproof pants or jackets, for example.  You had to vacuum out the lint in pockets, as well as.  Camera bags that would be set on the ground were wiped with a vircon solution and tripod legs were dipped in the same solution.  Every time you went ashore you stepped in a pan of vircon solution as you headed to the zodiac.  When you returned to the ship from shore your boots were scrubbed and as you left the marine deck you stepped  in the pan of vircon.

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We had numerous lectures while at sea.  Everything from history of South Georgia, information on the various wildlife….seals, penguins, birds, …and the explorer, Sir Ernest Shackelton, who’s buried on South Georgia.

Tuesday  morning was more lectures on photography and briefings on our anticipated first landing after lunch.  Hugh Rose was our expedition leader and is a professional photographer from Alaska.  Whenever we approached a landing, a team from the expedition staff took a zodiac and checked out the landing site to make sure we could actually land.  Our first landing that day  was cancelled due to high winds and rough surf.  The alternative landing was also cancelled for the same reasons.  We moved on.  So will I.

More in the next post.

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