Tuesday 13 March 2001
Peter Blake history
March 19, 2020

“We all really miss being away from our families and friends for so long, but to have the chance to be here, to really get to grips with the major environmental issues that surround us, and to feel that we can actually start the “snowball” down the hill, whatever the odds may be, makes it all worthwhile.”
– Sir Peter Blake

  • Location: At Triangle Point, near Yankee Harbour on Greenwich Island
  • Latitude: 62.31S
  • Longitude: 59.49W
  • Air temp: 3 deg C
  • Sea temp: 0.5 deg C
  • Barometer: 978 mbs and rising
  • Conditions: Partly cloudy
  • Visibility: Good but intermittent

1200 hrs: On the move again

More rain accompanied by a blustery north

-westerly wind had Seamaster tugging hard at the anchor overnight. We had a very firm “hold” and didn’t drag at all, but the lights of the Chilean base shining through the gloom were a welcome feature to check our position against from time to time.

Our friends never made it – they took off from Punta Arenas and were half an hour in the air when it was noticed that the windscreen of the plane was cracking – so a rapid return followed. They will no longer be coming. A big disappointment for me, an even bigger one for them. But this is Antarctica, where the extremes of weather and rugged conditions govern pretty much everything we do.

As I write this we are at sea, having left King George Island in mid-morning. We have had a very pleasant motor-sail in patches of bright sunshine down the leeward side of the South Shetland Islands – all uninhabited except for the occasional “scientific” station. Some islands are showing more green than ever – but it is only moss, as it is too cold and there is too little sunlight for even stunted trees. However, if the warming experienced this year continues, larger plant forms may not be many decades away.

To starboard is Greenwich Island. Yankee Harbour (just around the corner now) was a favourite of sealers and whalers back in early 1800’s. A long gravel spit, coupled to a glacial moraine, almost encloses this harbour. There is only a small entranceway to get through. We expect to find gentoo penguins, fur seals, skuas, and some elephant seals here – along with the remains of the tripots used to boil them all down those many years ago.

1700 hrs: A new anchor

We have anchored under the lee of Triangle Point instead. The wind is still curling into Yankee Harbour, so we are very snug in behind some rocky outcrops and the ever-present ice cliffs. Two humpback whales have just circled us – probably a mother and her calf – both blowing in unison and staying very close together. We can see penguins on the rocks ahead, so will launch the dinghy after a cup of tea and see if we can get some new photos for the Log – a pleasant change after several days of rain and poor visibility.

1900 hrs: Exploring Yankee Harbour

We went by the red inflatable into Yankee Harbour and landed in the lee of the spit – right next to a large weddell seal snoozing just above the water’s edge. Gentoo penguins in their black and white uniforms were strutting everywhere, or lying around asleep in hollows amongst the stones. There were several fur seals – the females very placid – but the males took exception to our presence – one coming ran towards me with his mouth wide open and roaring. The skuas stayed very close to us, but the giant petrels patrolled on the wing – up and down the spit – rarely landing. There was one tripot – rusting away on the foreshore. We came across whalebones and driftwood throughout the walk.

A cloud stretching from horizon to horizon came up over the island to windward, so we have just had a fast and bumpy ride back to Seamaster, in case the weather changes for the worst.

The diverse crew

We are nine of a crew. All of us are from different backgrounds and are still finding out about each other even though we have been together for a number of months.

Alistair has a degree in outdoor education; I come from yachting; Marc is ex US military; Janot from French nuclear submarines; Ollie many years as a professional diver; Don started as an accountant; Chris – computer technology and finance; Dan, the director of the documentaries, has a doctorate in physics but with a passion for old sailing vessels, and Andy, our cameraman, spent a few years as a waiter in Scottish restaurants. He is an avid diver who decided to become the best at his preferred role of filming wildlife.

Andy has the following to say about realising a dream.

How did I get to be here?

“I put the camera down. It was time for a reality check.

I do this from time to time (don’t tell the director!)… It is the brief moment where I stop being a cameraman so I can experience the event for me, to feel “the moment” as a “person” rather than watching it remotely through a camera viewfinder.

To my left was Ollie, ex Cousteau and a veteran North Sea diver. Beside him hovered Marc, an ex Navy SEAL, and behind me (I couldn’t see him but I know he is always there!) would be Janot, a long serving French navy sub-mariner. All crew with Blakexpeditions. We were diving in Antarctica, in freezing and murky waters, on an old whaling station’s dumping ground and were surrounded by the bones of literally hundreds of great whales! It was a tremendous “WOW” moment, one of many I have been lucky enough to have in the 14 years working in television since leaving Film School. It is these moments that leave me wondering, “How did I get to be here?” I wasn’t always a cameraman… I left school aged 16 and started work as a waiter in a number of hotels in Edinburgh. It was a miserable job and I really wanted to do something more with my life. That was when I discovered photography, the only thing that I have really excelled in, and eventually won a place at film school on the strength of my photographic work. I haven’t looked back since. I am not ashamed when I say I have the best job in the world!

If you are interested in working in the film and television industry and not sure where to get started then read on. You don’t have to be a super boffin with degrees coming out of your ears – just be determined and committed and believe that anything is possible… in time.

The first thing to be aware of is there are not many formal jobs available, as most of the work is done on a self-employed or freelance basis. This means, unlike “regular” jobs, you have no holiday pay, no sick pay, no company pension or insurance. You effectively have to run your own business, which also means you can take control of your own career. It is risky, but in today’s cutthroat workplace, “a job for life” carries very little meaning and after all you can’t really fire yourself!! This kind of lifestyle is not for everyone, but neither is the 9-5, Monday to Friday visits to the office!

It does help to have qualifications from a film school or university, but the bottom line is that in my whole career nobody has asked what qualifications I have; they are only interested in what I can bring to the production.

Often the first steps in the TV industry are very humble ones… usually as a trainee or runner… that are earned by persistence! Try to find out the details of Production Companies and Camera Hire or Lighting Companies in the geographical areas you would like to work – surf the net or try to get hold of a Production Manual that lists such companies. Make contact, asking if you can help out to get some experience, even if it is only a few hours a week for little or no money. That way you can see how the business operates and get a little hands-on experience. Try to stay enthusiastic about even the most mundane tasks… like making the coffee, polishing flight cases, or delivering equipment, as it is always noticed and appreciated and gradually people around you will learn to trust and enjoy working with you. That is when the breaks usually come and a chance to go out on location as an assistant to the cameraman or a runner etc.

Alternatively, search out a course in Film Making or Photography at college or university. There seem to be an increasing number of them out there, but not all of them are any good. Find out which ones compete and win awards at short film festivals, because they will be the ones with the equipment and resources to run a course well, with lots of practical experience. Local employment centers and the net seem to be good sources of information.

It is not an easy profession to get into, but once you are underway it can be very rewarding and soon you will be having “WOW!” moments of your own. Persistence and patience are the key!”


Wine and roses

So, we are a mixture of nationalities, backgrounds, education, talents and ideas. We are all together to do one thing – to help to “make a difference” in our individual ways.

The big thing is that we are doing what we want to do. This doesn’t mean to say it is all “wine and roses” – not at all. The best in life is not like that.

We all really miss being away from our families and friends for so long, but to have the chance to be here, to really get to grips with the major environmental issues that surround us, and to feel that we can actually start the “snowball” down the hill, whatever the odds may be, makes it all worthwhile.

Best wishes from all onboard