Friday, 17 February 2012

Sport Diver Awards 2012

The dive gloves are off! Sport Diver Magazine has announced the launch of its 2012 scuba-diving awards and the votes are already coming in. This is your chance to support your favourite people, places, manufacturers and businesses in the dive market. Voting is open throughout February and March, with the winners announced at the London International Dive Show in late-March.

In addition to promoting excellence in the dive industry, voters will also be in with a chance of winning one of two prize packages, each worth around £5,500. Both prize packages include a week-long Red Sea liveaboard holiday, as well as a stack of scuba equipment.

Prize one is a Red Sea liveaboard adventure, courtesy of and includes a 5mm O’Neill wetsuit, Otter Watersports drysuit, dive computer, BCD, hoses and regs, Epoque camera and housing, underwater photography course and loads more.

Prize two’s Red Sea liveaboard holiday is courtesy of Scuba Travel and includes a 3mm Proteus wetsuit and Robin Hood Watersports drysuit, with hoses, regs and stacks more scuba stuff from other top brands.


Best Manufacturer (Code: MANS)
The brand that you think can be relied on every-time, to deliver top-notch gear.

Best Tour Operator (Code: TOUR)
The company that has given you your best-ever dive experiences, helping you to plan your perfect trip and offering expert advice along the way.

Best Liveaboard (Code: LIVE)
If you’ve stayed on a fantastic liveaboard that was well-run with attentive staff and an astounding
itinerary, this is your chance to vote for them.

Best UK Dive Centre (Code: UK)
Which local dive centre truly embraces the spirit of UK diving? Perhaps they organise outstanding trips, host excellent parties, or are true experts in your local area.

Best Overseas Dive Centre (Code: OS)
Who shines in the competitive overseas dive market? Is there one centre that truly stands out from the rest?

Best Retailer (Code: RETAIL)
Which shop/retailer always stocks the best kit, offers affordable prices, expert advice and spectacular customer service?

Best Product (Code: PROD)
What’s the one bit of kit you love more than anything else in the world? Your super-comfy rash vest? Your uber-cool BCD? Your speedy pair of fins? Share the love by voting.

Best PADI Instructor (Code: PADI)
Big-up your instructor by texting the name of the person who confidently, safely and expertly guided you through a PADI course, whether it was your Open Water or Assistant Instructor qualification.

Best dive-related website (Code: WEB)
Which dive website do you consider a real hub in the scuba community? Which so you always come back to for holidays, gear tips and scuba news?

To vote, send in a text to 80058 stating which category you’d like to vote in, along with the name of the organisation/brand/person you’d like to nominate and your email address.

Texts cost 50p plus your standard network rate, and you get a free text for every two paid-for texts – you can vote as many times as you like for different categories.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Vanishing Ice 27/1/2012

As infinite and diverse as clouds 

Our final day on the peninsula carried a subdued undertone, as we boarded the Zodiacs for the last time. After visiting the Chilean research base at Paradise Bay, we cruised the waters one last time, still transfixed by the world of ice sculptures and glaciers that rose and crumbled, bobbed and swayed around us.

Final kayak cruise through the Antarctic waters

The luminous underbelly of Antarctic ice
Overwhelming glaciers near the Chilean base

We beached the Zodiac on snowy pancakes and starred at seals whose gashed sides and bloody mouths reminded us again of the everyday survival game played out here. We pulled up besides penguin colonies to smell the familiar pong of guano and regurgitated krill for the last time; we watched the popping chests and peach coloured-beaks of the gentoos as they heralded our departure with resounding calls; we starred through the clear water beneath our boat as penguins darted beneath us, flashing their white chests and pink feet as the propelled themselves across the surface; we pulled up beside the crumbling snout of an exposed glacier and sat in silence, gazing at its fissured surface, tracing our eyes over the intracity of the ruptured ice and glowing crevasses  we drew breath as detonated blocks collapsed into the water and sent waves across the surface that rocked our Zodiac; we followed nuggets of ice as they drifted on currents; listened as freshly calved ice fizzed and crackled in the water; deciphered the contorted shapes of elaborate iceberg sculptures and starred at their luminous-blue bellies that glowed beneath the surface.

Final Zodiac cruise in Antarctica

Endless ice sculptures in Antarctica
The waves created by recently carved ice
 "As diverse and infinite as clouds" John - our Zodiac driver and ship's naturalist - remarked, sensing our ceaseless fascination with Antarctica's frozen vistas.

The soft skin of a crabeater seal

So-long seals -sating goodbye to Antarctica's inhabtants
Reflections and depths of Antarctica's ice

Gentoos at the Chilean base

We stayed out on deck to watch Antarctica melt away, each of us willing the ice to close back in. But as the ship gained speed, the landscape of white gorges and unnamed Antarctic peaks dissolved to give clear horizons and towering bergs became occasional ice-cubes in the open sea. It's with heavy hearts that we leave Antarctica behind and begin our passage back to Ushuaia, across the whale-playground of the Gerlache Strait and brave it through the notorious Drake Passage, past the infamous Cape Horn and back to Argentina via the Beagle Channel.

Gentoo chicks at the Chilean base 

At the Chilean base on the Antarctic Peninsular
Time to head home 
This blog-post forms part of a series of adventures experienced on-board the M/S Expedition in January 2012, whilst on an Antarctic Cruise - The Spirit of Shackleton - courtesy of Gadventures

Port Lockroy 26/1/2012

We visited the the British base of Port Lockroy after supper. In January, this far south - at 64º49’S63º30’W - the sun never quite makes it below the horizon and so we made the most of the long evening, exploring the base and nearby gentoo colony until almost 11pm.

Port Lockroy - the original base of the British Antarctic Survey

Gentoos wave to the M/S Expedition at Port Lockroy

Designated a Historic Site in 1994, Port Lockroy - which sits on Goudier Island - was renovated by The British Antarctic Survey in 1996 and has since welcomed visitors. With the original base, living quarters and scientific equipment preserved, this site gives a fascinating glimpse into the early years of Antarctic research and survival. Despite the humble conditions and lack of hot water, the quaint kitchen and living quarters breathed an element of home and comfort into the icy Antarctic world, particularly when viewed through the panes of the kitchen window or modest bedroom, whose view of the resident glaciers and gentoo penguin colony was framed with gingham curtains.

The kitchen at Port Lockroy, Antarctica

An original bedroom - complete with gingham curtains
Today, Port Lockroy is home to a handful of volunteers and scientists, who maintain the gift-shop and museum, and carry out daily surveys of the gentoo penguins that occupy Goudier Island. With strict environmental controls still in place, despite occupying newer living quarters built alongside  the original, even today's BAS representatives survive here without hot water and make do by boiling up pans of ice. Brrrrrrrrrrrr.

The original comms room at Port Lockroy, Antarctica

2012's accommodation has no hot water

This blog-post forms part of a series of adventures experienced on-board the M/S Expedition in January 2012, whilst on an Antarctic Cruise - The Spirit of Shackleton - courtesy of Gadventures

Into the Ice: 26/1/2012

Out on deck: the M/S Expedition

Our passage towards the Antarctic Peninsula becomes increasingly ice-filled with every passing moment. Dispersed cubes have changed to broken-up brash ice and bobbing growlers, which have now begun to fuse, turning the horizon from a swelling ice-blue sea to a disjointed view of bobbing white pancakes.

The sea becomes choked with ice as we near the Antarctic Peninsular
Mesmerised by the sea-ice, it's become impossible to stay inside the ship, just in case you miss a particularly large berg, the parting of a perfect sheet, a reclining crab-eater seal or a sun-bathing leopard seal.

Nothing but ice...and penguins
Zodiac Ice-Cruise
So far, Zodiac cruises from the ship have been an opportunity to feel the thrill of speed, as we've opened the throttle and planed across the waters, bouncing over white-caps and clutching onto the safety rope with the wind whipping at our faces. But today's Zodiac ride administered a silent  and more concentrated dose of adrenaline.
The journey to the Antarctic Peninsular

We had to wait for the ice to be cleared before we boarded the Zodiacs - a ceaseless job breaking up the ice-pancakes and propelling the floes away with a continually running Zodiac engine. With a pool just large enough for us to gain a little momentum, our boat began pushing through the porridge-like slush, pausing every now and then to lever the larger pieces of ice aside with an oar or to shove the bow, when it became wedged on the ice.

Zodiacs wedged on ice

Pushing through the ice
As we forced our way through the choked waters, transfixed by the endless landscape of sculpted ice and bobbing plates, we cruised within metres of lazy Weddell seals, whose soft-looking flanks bore the red scars of whale attacks and whose pale fur made a halo of light around their cat-like faces as they twitched their black-whiskered noses and blinked back at us with ice-frosted lashes.

Seal City

Sea kayaks venture out

For the first time on our expedition, we cruised on the Zodiac without our usual whoops and cheers, listening instead as the icy breezes carried the gentle chorus of  gentoo penguins, the slosh of the reflective waters between and beneath the ice-plates and the murmur of our engine or splutter of the propeller as it became choked in ice.
Zodiacs make a slow journey through the ice

The ice-clad M/S Expedition

This blog-post forms part of a series of adventures experienced on-board the M/S Expedition in January 2012, whilst on an Antarctic Cruise - The Spirit of Shackleton - courtesy of Gadventures

Deception Island 24/1/2012

The desolate landscape at Deception Island, South Shetlands

 From the impossible anchorage at Elephant Island, to one of the safest harbours in Antarctica: today we swam in the open mouth of an active volcano. The landscape at Deception Island bears zero resemblance to any of the penguin-populated beaches, ice-clad coastlines and fur-seal filled landings that we've experienced so far.

Volcanic cliffs at Deception Island

Despite its gloomy appearance, the blackened beach at Deception has been a refuge from the Antarctic storms for sealers, whalers and explorers, since the early 19th century. Today, the island is unoccupied, and whilst a few rusting boilers and tanks of a 19th century Norwegian-Chilean whaling company remain, other structures have since been buried in volcanic eruptions - most notably, the 1969 eruption. With a history of British, Argentinian and Chilean occupation, today the island is visited by cruise-ships and the occasional Argentinian - the latter seeming most intent on maintaining a presence here.

Gearing up for our second polar plunge

In with a splash: swimming in the Antarctic waters of the caldera

And straight back out again - brrrrr!
For us, the most exciting aspect of Deception island was the opportunity for an Antarctic swim and thermal bath. Tossing my clothes onto the volcanic beach and sprinting through the snow into the icy waters of the caldera, I managed a good 30 seconds in the sea, before I charged back to the shore to plunge my hands and feet into the hot earth: just a few centimetres below the surface, the ground becomes so hot that it starts to burn at your fingertips and toes. I relished the burn as it soothed away the numbness in my big toes and, after a bit of wriggling around, managed to find a comfortable position lying face-first on the shore, that almost struck a balance between the intense heat of the ground and the icy chill of the lapping waters...almost.

Thermal sands and ice-cold water at Deception Island

Thermal sands or not, I soon hot-footed it back to the M/S Expedition sauna for a hot chocolate with Kahlua!

The swimmers salute: back on-board the M/S Expedition

This blog-post forms part of a series of adventures experienced on-board the M/S Expedition in January 2012, whilst on an Antarctic Cruise - The Spirit of Shackleton - courtesy of Gadventures

Half Moon Island 23/1/2011 - afternoon landing

Half-Moon Island - the Zodiac shuttle service
Continuing a southwards passage of the South Shetland Islands, our next landing was on Half Moon Island. Despite its small size, - just 130 acres - imposing mountains loom close to the shore, creating a penguin theme-park of tilted slopes, lofty look-outs and icy snow chutes.

Snowy slopes on Half-Moon Island
False impressions? A sun-drenched landing 
Jagged off-shore islands

Drenched in sunshine (yet more, unusually hot weather for this neck of the world), our experience of Half Moon Island made it seem almost hospitable; but the foreboding rock slopes, jagged off-shore outcrops and immense glaciers that guarded the sun-warmed slate beaches stood as symbols of the power and hostility of the Antarctic environment; and the occasional blast of an icy gust or shadow of a storm-cloud, reminded that the sun's warmth could be overpowered in a single Antarctic breath. 
Feeding time on Half-Moon Island

You might think that we'd seen enough penguins by now...not so: The more penguins we met, the more we learnt, the greater our interest grew, and Half Moon is a chinstrap playground, where these robust little birds spend their days skidding and toboganning down icy slopes, chilling-out on the sun filled beaches with Weddell seals and feeding their fluffy chicks on rocky cliff tops.

Penguin party: Chinstraps on Half-moon island

Weddell Seal at Half Moon Island
The most bizarre behaviour we witnessed here was a Macaroni penguin who appeared to have infiltrated the chipnstrap colony and was attempting to cross-breed with one of its cousins. Penguin-pro, Frank Todd, informed us that this yellow-browed fellow had been a resident of 'chinstrap rock' for a number of years now, and was, as yet unperturbed by the lack of eggs produced.

Macaroni in the midst at Half-Moon Island

Chinstrap with chick at Half-moon island
 This blog-post forms part of a series of adventures experienced on-board the M/S Expedition in January 2012, whilst on an Antarctic Cruise - The Spirit of Shackleton - courtesy of Gadventures

Elephant Island 23/1/2011 - Morning Landing

Not quite the James Caird

The first thing we looked for this morning was Shackleton's landing spot, but with sheer rock faces,crumbling glaciers and little more than a scattering of pebbles at their base, just how did Shackleton's 28 men do it? We had to use our imagination here, as Matt - our Assistant Leader - explained that the island had altered somewhat in the past 100 years, and the exact spot where the crew of the Endurance made camp had since been submerged. Today's calm seas and bright sunshine also gave a poor reflection of the crashing waters and bitter winds that swept Shackleton's men here in 1916 yet, despite our more favourable conditions, the inhospitably of this desolate chunk of rock was striking.

Living with ice at Elephant Island

Elephant Island is, in fact, so inaccessible, that it's best explored via Zodiac cruise. Today, Point Wild - the four-months home of 21 of the Endurance's crew members - is marked by a memorial to Shackleton and his men, and fiercely guarded by an army of plucky chinstrap penguins. Rightfully named after Shackleton's right-hand man, Point Wild was under the command of Frank Wild; with Shackleton and 6 crew members en-route to find help in South Georgia, Frank Wild motivated and organised the remaining team to ensure that all men were sheltered and safeguarded from the Antarctic elements, that seal blubber was in supply for lighting the blubber lamps, fuelling the stoves and insulating their clothes. Realising how vital his role was in maintaining the morale that Shackleton so famously fostered in his men, Wild wrote in his memoir:

“We gave them three hearty cheers and watched the boat getting smaller and smaller in the distance. Then seeing some of the party in tears, I immediately set them all to work.”

Chinstraps at Elephant Island

Shackleton's memorial: Wild Point at Elephant Island
With Shackleton and his men in all our thoughts, we navigated around the island's rocky shoreline watching chinstrap and gentoo penguins hurl themselves into the water like handfuls of jelly-beans tossed out to sea, and then catapult themselves back out of the swell to land upright and feet-first on the grey-black rocks; we cruised out to a colony of chinstraps who were ambitiously occupying a sculpted iceberg, and watched as they tried to propel themselves onto the steep-sided sculpture, onto to slide back down and back into the icy sea; we gazed at the crumbling face of the Endurance Glacier, waiting for a chunk of mouthwash-blue ice to calve into the water, and listening as dismembered blocks resounded like gunfire and echoed through the bare rocks and gaping cavities of the ice, whilst all around us the sea was alive as the ice fizzed and crackled in the water, like popcorn. Escaping the acrid wafts of seal and penguin guano, we rode the mounting waves back to the M/S Expedition, leaving our thoughts of Shackleton's starving men on the barren rocks of Elephant Island, as we returned to our ship for a sauna and four-course lunch.

Sea caves at Elephant Island

Chinstrap penguins and fur seals guard Shackleton's memorial at Elephant Island

Chinstrap colony on ice at Elephant Island

The M/S Expedition and Zodiacs explore Elephant Island

This blog-post forms part of a series of adventures experienced on-board the M/S Expedition in January 2012, whilst on an Antarctic Cruise - The Spirit of Shackleton - courtesy of Gadventures