Monday, April 18, 2011

The Fitzroy Expedition along the Magellan Straits.

This 8-days seagoing expedition, along the islands of the straits of Magellans, rates among my 3 top adventures of my last 20 years.  It reminded me of my sailing passage of the Galapagos Islands.  They shared navigation among the islands, the tameness of exotic animals found there; but this adventure provided the thrill (or illusion) of being in places never seen by humans before.

Once out of the Straits of Magellans proper, we never saw another boat of signs of human activity. Imagine walking around nameless glaciers and navigating along uncharted narrow channels not knowing if they let to an outlet or a dead end.

Every couple of days or so, the vessel will approach a stream coming off the mountains to refill its bilges with the pristine water running from the melting glaciers. The crew will land with a water pump connected by a hose to the ship bilgesmto replenish the water supply, so clean that not additional treatment was necessary.  During some of these occasions, we went ashore and walked through enchanted forests that had not known the sound of a chopping ax. 
The landings provided outstanding photo opportunities of glaciers, geological formations and marine animals that came ashore to rest.  On one occasion, after landing, safety gear and photo equipment were laid on the beach at what appeared a safe distance from the waves. A small tsunami arrived causing despair among the photographers who rushed to rescue their gear. 

I had the opportunity to photograph King Penguins and Elephant Seals for the first time.  The King penguins just ignored us and in occasions, they were the ones approaching us. I also got shots of Rock Hopper Penguins and of the elusive Giant Kingfisher.

I was amazed at the huge size of the elephant seals and their disdain for the close proximity of humans; they just followed our movements and snorted at us when approached to close.

Most of the participants of this expedition were photographers, among them, some of the top wildlife professionals from Argentina and Chile; I was the only outlier there.  There were also a naturalist guide, a filming team from Chile, as well as the vessels' crew. 

During navigation time, the photographers shared their images and gave informal lessons on basic photo equipment, and Photoshop CS5 techniques.  As for the first image above, where else have you seen a professional photographer providing photo tips to an attentive audience aboard an inflatable boat in frigid waters? Or what about such an awkward position to take a photo; only possible in the southern hemisphere where everything is upside down.

Often while navigating among the channels we ran into whales, orcas, dolphins and sea lions offering great photo opportunities.  In particular, the breaching of aquatic mammals was a challenging activity to capture.  It appeared that I was always in the wrong side of the ship; when a whale breached, all I could catch was the huge splash of water created as they hit the water, but as consolation I got a few images.

The M/V Forrest was a cargo ship recently converted to an adventure vessel capable of carrying about 20 travelers in comfort.  The relaxed environment of the voyage was the results of a highly trained crew whose first duty was safety followed by friendliness, impeccable service.
What about the food?  Well, I have been in luxurious ocean going cruises and honestly, the freshness and gourmet quality offered here, exceeded all others.  Three full courses were served daily, with the option of ordering items other that the regular offerings. All was included in the price of the cruise.  I was not even charged for the pound /day I gained during the cruise
 We were all the best friends of the galley's Master; who could resist such an incentive?  If interested in getting more information regarding this extraordinary ocean going safari go to