South America pictures

May 23rd, 2007

I’ve finally uploaded my pictures from my jaunt around South America. Here are the links:

Leaving Rothera on the Ernest Shackleton, Lemaire Channel and the Drake Passage

Stanley and Volunteer Point – lots of penguin pics

Saunders Island – lots more penguin pics

Punta Arenas


Tren Patagonico and Viedma

Buenos Aires

Iguazu Falls

Itaipu dam

Rio de Janeiro

Cassino and Rio Grande


Science at sea

May 22nd, 2007

We’ve had a couple of breaks in our journey over the last few days to do some scientific work. Uta Neumann from the University of Kiel joined the ship in Montevideo in order to recover some instruments in the Vema Channel (also known as the Rio Grande Gap), which is a gap in a range of undersea mountains, almost exactly due east of the city of Rio Grande in Brazil (which, coincidentally is the nearest city to Cassino). The region is interesting because warm waters from the tropics pass through the gap into colder waters from further south. Anyway, Uta’s colleagues have had a set of instruments attached to a “mooring” for the last two years – it’s a long cable anchored to the seabed with instruments and buoys attached to it at regular intervals. When it’s time to collect the instruments, the ship sends a coded command to the mooring as a sound signal through the water, and the cable detaches from the anchor and the instruments float to the surface. It takes about an hour for the mooring to come up – they’re a long way down! Once the mooring is sighted (not always easy – occasionally instruments are lost because they get swept away by currents as they come to the surface) the ship’s crew grapple the mooring and pull it on deck.

recovering the mooring

Recovering the mooring

Uta and one of the instruments

Uta and one of the instruments – the yellow blobs are the buoys that brought it to the surface

On this mooring the instruments were making oceanographic measurements – measuring the speed and direction of the currents and the temperature and salinity of the water. To check the data, the instruments (after being downloaded) were lowered into the water on the ship’s CTD instrument (which also measures temperature and salinity) and the data will be compared to make sure that the instruments are still calibrated after two years in the South Atlantic.
Doing a CTD on the ship is like doing one at Rothera, but on a much bigger scale – a large gantry unfolds from the starboard side and the instrument is winched down to the bottom and then back up again. Unlike the one at Rothera you get a real-time readout of the data from the instrument, and the winch is power operated, which is just as well as the sea was over 4000m deep at the site.

the CTD instrument

The CTD instrument being swung out across the deck

into the water

The gantry swings down and lowers the instrument into the water

You can follow the ship’s progress using the magic of, which uses the ship’s regular weather reports to plot its position.

Cassino Royale

May 18th, 2007

We had a very pleasant few days in Cassino (on the south coast of Brazil, close to the border with Uruguay), staying with Mike and Clarissa at Pousada Blumengarten – a pleasant house/hotel with three cabins in the garden – and they kindly organised a whole range of activities for us. We went to see a local band play at the theatre (good, but a trifle over-technical), took the ferry across to Sao Jose do Norte, rode horses and just generally chilled out. Being much further south than Rio de Janeiro the climate is much more temperate, but we still had plenty of warm pleasant days despite the approach of autumn. And we went kitesurfing.
Cassino is the beginning of one of the longest beaches in South America – over 300km, finishing across the border in Uruguay – and so it’s a popular location for kitesurfers to whizz up and down in the shallow surf, dragged by their parafoil kites. Of course, after just a four hour lesson we were anything but professional, but our enthusiastic instructors Lucio and Raphael gave us a good flavour for the sport, despite the dropping wind. I turned out to be better at this than I was expecting (must have been all those long afternoons flying kites on Butser Hill when I was a kid) and I’m keen to have another go when I’m back in the UK.

On Sunday we made our way to Montevideo on the overnight bus. We elected to stay in the hotel with the ship’s crew (this port call was also a crew change) and headed out to see the city and do some shopping. Montevideo is a major port and the main streets bustle with shoppers buying the latest import bargains. I got slightly carried away and ended up buying more than I’d intended, but on the other hand it’s nice to have new clothes and shoes after almost two years in the same stuff (my last pair of jeans bit the dust in the summer at Rothera) and everything was locally manufactured and consequently cheap and of reasonable quality.
Our retail therapy was cut short by a phonecall from the shipping agent – we were sailing earlier than planned – and found ourselves on the JCR and sailing away at 3pm on Tuesday afternoon, rather than 9am Wednesday as had been the original plan.
Now we’re heading north, and today we’re more or less due east of Cassino, picking up some current meters that have been recording data for the last two years.

Briskly through Brazil

May 10th, 2007

We did go to Rio, care of a 20-hour bus ride from Iguazu, which turned out to be one of the less ideal ones. It took about 2 hours to do the border formalities, and then about an hour over the border the bus broke down, so we had a long wait for a mechanic at a roadside eatery. The bus was “cama” (sleeper – with wide reclining seats) but not as good as others, and there was no onboard food. Bruce and I met up with Ags & Lowri again at a hostel in Copacabana. It was hot. I’d just about coped with Iguazu (25 degrees and very humid) but Rio was 30+ in the shade, with less humidity, but in the merciless sunshine I felt like I was being roasted alive. I managed ten minutes on the beach before having to go back in the shade. This is a shame, as the beaches are indeed very lovely (although Copacabana beach is, like any popular beach, covered in litter and detritus above the high-tide line) and people wander around the city dressed in their beachwear – it’s a big part of the culture. Amongst the bronzed and beautiful (and not so beautiful and still bronzed) people I felt like a maggot – a pallid white thing that had to constantly seek dark places!

Copacabana and Sugar Loaf Mountain, seen from the statue of Christ
Copacabana and Sugar Loaf Mountain, as seen from the statue of Christ
There is, of course, another side to Rio. The girls did one of the organised favela (shanty town) tours that donates some money to an education project – I’m still dubious about whether these are a good thing or not, after all, I don’t think the residents of rough areas of Britain would take kindly to tourists being shown round, regardless of the income they brought – but you can see the favelas everywhere, clinging to the steep mountainsides all over the city, lacking sanitation and entirely in the control of the drug barons. I don’t think there’s another city where the very poor and very rich live so close together, the have nots and the have yachts.
All that said, the views from the cities many hills and mountains are stunning – so much green forest in the city.

rio at sunset
Sunset over downtown Rio, seen from Sugarloaf mountain

Lots of photos of Rio

Now we’re all in Cassino, a small town and resort on the southern coast of Brazil where the climate is much more to my liking. We’ve met up with another Mike – another ex-BAS guy – who’s staying down here. But the adventure is nearly over – on Sunday night we’re taking a bus to Montevideo and joining the ship.


May 4th, 2007

Iguazu is awesome. The mighty Iguazu river comes charging over a vast assortment of high basalt cliffs and crashes down into the basin below, showering everything in clouds of fine spray.

Interestingly, the river also forms the boundary between Brazil and Argentina, and nearby it joins the Parana river, which forms the border with Paraguay, so the whole region is somewhat international. I´ve so far been to Brazil on two day-trips, which is beginning to fill my passport with stamps!

I´ve seen the waterfalls from both sides – the Argentinian side is more extensive, showing a huge number of individual falls, whereas the Brazilian side allows you to walk out on a catwalk into a bowl where falls crash down around you on two sides. Both are a great experience, as is the little boat from that takes you right up and under the falls, soaking you to the skin in the process! You dry off soon enough…

More pictures of Iguazu
Continuing the aquatic theme, we also went up to Itaipu, which is a vast dam on the Parana river just north of here. It´s on the Brazil-Paraguay border, and is so huge as to defy description. Suffice to say that it´s the world´s largest electricity generation plant – just one turbine produces 90% of all Paraguay´s power. The whole plant can produce 14GW at full capacity, although normally runs at between 12-13GW as two turbines are offline for maintenance.
Throughout the site you can feel the vibration of the rushing water, but whilst we were in the control centre a generator started up and the whole place shook like a minor earthquake, followed by the sound of surging water. Our guide had to swiftly reassure us that this was normal!

turbine hall
Ags and Lowri in the turbine hall

More photos of Itaipu

Tomorrow, Bruce and I are heading to Rio de Janeiro, to meet up again with Lowri and Ags. Only ten days left now until we have to be in Montevideo…how time flies!