Antarctic Blog

As no 'real time' communication was allowed whilst onboard HMS Scott, I had to relay info back home to then be posted several days later.

18 January 2010:

Rowan arrived safely in the Falkland Islands and is settling in well to life onboard HMS Scott. Everyone is most welcoming and she is looking forward to taking on the challenges ahead, both artistic and otherwise.  A lovely coastal walk to a Gentoo penguin colony provided good subject matter for her sketch book and a first enjoyable encounter with penguins in the wild.

gentoo and king sketch berthas
gentoo sketch

Sketch of Gentoos and King Penguin at Bertha's Beach, Falklands

23 January 2010

Rowan is relieved to have finally made it to Antarctica after a fairly benign crossing of the notorious Drake Passage. Her first sighting of land were some small islands off Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands. The weather is constantly changeable from mist and snow to sunshine, with a sea temperature of - 1 degree and air of 1 degree. Her portable easel has been tried and tested on the journey over with a canvas painting in chroma completed from the foredeck - in spite of the movement of the ship! She has seen a lot of Albatross and Petrels, and recently had her first sighting of Humpback whales.

hms scott from the foredeck drake passage  21 jan
first land wc 23 jan

27 January 2010

The weather has been hugely changeable, as you would expect in Antarctica, from sunshine and light breeze to snow, biting winds and fog. Thankfully, the sea state has been no more than 4 to 5.  Visibility has at times been reduced to almost zero, which is enormously frustrating, however the land we have managed to see around the South Shetland Islands has been truly spectacular. Huge, glaciated, angular snowy mountains rise straight from the sea, with Mt. Foster on Smith Island reaching 6900ft.The lower level Deception Island is no less impressive with her volcanic snow-covered rim a sight to behold. Livingston Island's Byer's peninsula and the appropriately named Snow Island nearby made for good quick chroma studies and Livingston's Mt Friesland (5807ft) appeared from the clouds long enough for me to paint her in watercolour and on canvas. Working from the ship's many decks is an exhilarating experience and my specially designed easel harness is proving invaluable. We are constantly moving but, as my canvas is attached to me, whilst painting I'm able to freely move around the ship as she alters course and so can continue working without being unduly affected by a change of direction. Apart from the subject matter getting closer or further away, that is! My 'dribble and scribble' pocket sketch book is also filling up nicely and now contains penguins, parts of the ship, islands, skies and icebergs. We have passed some massive flat-topped tabular ice bergs which would once have been part of an ice shelf. These sea-ice-bergs are different to the glacial ice bergs I painted recently in Greenland, and the tabular pieces can be - and indeed have been - several miles across in size.

Here are some paintings and sketches that Rowan has done of Livingston Island, plus some photographs of her in action!

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Rowan using her self designed and constructed portable easel to paint from the deck of HMS Scott (photograph taken by Leading Photographer Williams, RN, HMS Scott)

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"Mt Friesland, Livingston Island", Chroma on canvas

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"Mt Friesland, Livingston Island", watercolour

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"Snow Island", Chroma on canvas

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Rowan sketching  from the bridge of HMS Scott (photograph taken by Leading Photographer Williams, RN, HMS Scott)

28 January

Never has one painting been soooo labour/preparation intensive!! 20 minute struggle to get into dry suit, 20 minutes of extreme bouncing speedboat (RIB) to get to destination, 15 mins to take off dry suit and get 'normal' again, 10 minute walk to painting spot. 10 mins to get painting kit up and running, 50 mins painting time in freezing wind, 10 mins pack up painting kit, 10 mins walk back to landing site, 20 mins to put on dry suit again. Boat arrives but can't come in too close so have to WADE out to it, chest deep through waves. Was then grabbed by the hands and scruff of the dry suit to haul me aboard, then 15 mins of extreme, extreme bouncing speedboat back to ship. I think I've strained every sinew in my body for that 1 painting - and as can be imagined, it's no masterpiece. But hey, I've been ashore!

I'm really struggling with my kit despite all my preparations - this just isn't the place to do outdoor painting! It's been freezing, grey, v.v. windy with light snowy flurries every now and then. It's really not the environment to be messing around with tubes of paint, but i give myself full marks for trying! I set up my H2 Zoom sound recorder as there was a penguin colony about a mile away that i could see and vaguely hear when the wind dipped. However the wind is the predominant feature in my recording - as it was in reality!

I had to walk past a fur seal - gave it a wide berth - and we saw one gentoo penguin close up. I didn't get to the Chinstrap penguin colony as I had to spend my time painting and taking photos. It's impossible to do everything unfortunately!

I am glad I brought lots of waterproof sacks for my equipment and paintings. I was nervous to say the least, when we had to wade in such deep water but luckily someone carried my rucksack to the boat for me above head height. It's been a great adventure today, thanks to the professionalism and effort of everybody involved in getting the working party ashore and back safely. This is one hell of a place, no doubt about that.

I'm definitely proud of those who've been with me on this excursion. I'm hoping we'll have a few more adventures - and not ones that involve storms - I guess we'll just have to wait and see.


Rowan (on the right) in sea survival gear 

29 January

The weather has been fantastic today for the first time really. I've worked hard from the ship and done another 4 studies today, 3 in chroma and one watercolour - the views have been fabulous. But it's been a huge challenge again with being constantly on the move in all directions. I'll start a painting standing comfortable in the sun then,  5 minutes in, the ship will turn and I have to cross the deck to the windy side to finish what I started. My PHD Hispar Goretex/down jacket has served me well, although it does now have a few paint splashes on it!  Photography was a challenge today. First my camera battery died on the tail shot of a Whale, then I tried to video myself painting and while recording the tape ran out! I'll try to do better tomorrow.

brabant or anvers island

"Brabant Island, Antarctic Peninsula" (watercolour)

30 January

Today has been fantastic - both in views and amount of work. The weather has been extraordinarily calm - no Katabatic wind or anything which is practically unheard off in these parts. There is no other word but awesome, really! Light winds meant painting  was pleasurable and I really enjoyed myself, in spite of having to work at high speed and having the frustration of the moving ship! I mutter a bit, as every time I start painting the ship  turns.... Anyway, I've done 6 today and now I'm truly exhausted. The crew have nicknamed me "Antartist"! And now I've got a reputation for 'Extreme Painting', you know like the mad "extreme ironing".  The sun never really shone today but it was bright and dry and gave plenty of photo opportunities.  We've had penguins leaping through the sea alongside us again and one fur seal basking on an iceberg floated past us.

The Neumayer Channel was really impressive, right from the entrance where you're greeted by the Seven Sisters peaks (Fief Mountains). Further in there's Luigi Peak and then Jabet Peak and at the end there's Billie Peak. On the left side (Anvers Is) is Mt William. All with massive glaciers everywhere! The cloud came and went around the peaks and it was largely grey but you could tell that the sun was out above the mist as it was really bright at times. There was no blue sky but mean and moody it definitely was! We were on the move up and down the channel for the whole time, but that wasn't so bad as we got different angles of everything which is a bonus for me.

A press release describing HMS Scott's work in the area together with a photograph of the ship in the locality has been published on the Royal Navy's website.


Rowan painting Jabet Peak, Port Lockroy, Antarctic Peninsula, from HMS Scott (photograph taken by Leading Photographer Williams, RN, HMS Scott)

luigi peak port lockroy

"Luigi Peak", Chroma on canvas

2 February

The sea has been surprisingly calm. Long may it last! We have been away from land now for the past few days so there has been little opportunity to paint except for a few distant views of the Peninsula. I have taken some photos of earlier work. As survey work was being carried out a few days ago, I made made the most of things by sketching quickly parts of the South Shetland Islands in my "dribble and scribble" book from the bridge, whenever visibility allowed. Some examples are shown below, together with a couple of photographs of typical sights.

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"Nelson Island, South Shetland Islands", watercolour.

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"Reiner Point, South Shetland Islands", watercolour

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Tabular iceberg (photograph by Rowan Huntley)

fur seal on iceberg

Fur seal resting on iceberg (photograph by Rowan Huntley)

3 February

We were due to move on from the Peninsula area last night and there were warnings of stormy weather which I was not looking forward too! After bracing myself last night and having a couple of bumpy hours in bed, it all went strangely calm again. I was relieved to hear this morning that there was a change of plan and that we'll now be hanging around here for a few days more, in reasonably sheltered waters.....though that's not to say we'll escape completely. The depression is a mega one - passing over the Falkland Islands at the moment and definitely worth avoiding as much as possible! In the meantime, here are two of my three Chroma paintings of distant views of Graham Land that I did yesterday.  Graham Land on the Antarctic Peninsula provided several unplanned painting opportunities from the passing ship when the sun made an appearance and visibility improved periodically. This is a spectacular mountainous coast, even from a distance,  with mighty glaciers tumbling into the sea all along its length..

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"Distant Graham Land, Antarctic Peninsula", Chroma on canvas

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"Distant Graham Land, Antarctic Peninsula", Chroma on canvas

4 February

After a good night's sleep we're beginning to feel the effects of the storm ahead. Sea state 6 and winds increasing rapidly. I've been up to the bridge taking photos of the sea, not great as they're through the wobbly glass, but better than nothing - outside is now out of bounds. I think we're going to take shelter  back towards an island later today but the next couple of days will be 'not pleasant' apparently, especially once we hit the huge residual swell......I'm not looking forward to it but I'm trying not to think about it too much!

The ship has just shuddered horribly - I hate that I can't read what's normal and what's not. Someone's just poked their head around my door and said the juddering was caused by hitting a particularly big wave head on...........and there's just been a pipe to say we'll soon be turning and that we'll then roll heavily for a time. I should sit down now so I'll write again as soon as I can - but I'm not worried, I'm in very capable hands! We've been extremely lucky with relatively calm water up to now but I couldn't not experience something of the real weather down here!

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Photograph of the wild waves taken from my cabin

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Photograph of a lively sea taken from the bridge

5 February

Today the ship is surveying, far from land. We're still moving around a bit but it's nothing compared to last night!

Here are two sketches of Deception Island that were done some time ago.. We passed by tantalisingly close to Neptune's Bellows, which is the entrance to the volcanic caldera. It is a surprisingly low looking island, I was expecting it to be a peak (without the top obviously) but it must be the very top of the rim that we see. There was a cloudy grey sky with just a chink of light getting through, giving a real sense of mystery - even unease - to the snow covered rim. The sunset came later as we were sailing away; it lit up the sky with brilliant gold and orange and cast a purpley glow over the old volcano as she disappeared behind us into the distance.

sunset over deception island

"Sunset over Deception Island", watercolour

neptunes bellows deception island

"Neptune's Bellows, Deception Island", watercolour

 6 February

With a much quieter sea, I was able to get out on deck and paint as we sailed past King George Island at the northern end of the South Shetland Islands. A sunnier sky than of late provided a much needed glimpse of blue and a brilliance to the white of the snow that I''ve not seen in a while. Painting from the Port side aft of the ship, I was sheltered from the worst of the wind - which is largely inescapable in these parts but even more so when travelling on the open sea at a rate of knots. My chroma paint is behaving well considering I'm using it on a silicone palette (instead of the usual sta-wet type); I frequently mist the surface of the paint with a water/vodka mix to ensure it doesn't dry out and this seems to work fine. I'm hugely enjoying the challenges and experience of working quickly as the icy islands pass me by - it's something I'll remember with immense pleasure forever more.

rowan painting king george from ship aft

Rowan painting King George Island from HMS Scott (photograph Rowan Huntley)

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king george island

"King George Island", Chroma on canvas

7 February

In transit today towards the South Orkney Islands.  We passed a piece of detached floating ice-shelf 3.5 miles long and there have been some really high bergs too - one of the ship's officers used a sextant and did a calculation to find one was over 300ft high, and that's just the bit above the water.

icebergs at sunset

Icebergs at sunset, Southern Ocean

3 and half mile long tabular berg off s orkneys

Three and a half mile long tabular iceberg, off the South Orkney Islands 

(photographs taken by Rowan Huntley)

I have now taken photos of work I did the other day of islands in the Bransfield Strait (see below). Bridgeman Island is out in the middle of the Bransfield Strait between King George Island and the tip of the Antarctic peninsula. More of a rock than an island it is not dissimilar to the Bass Rock off the coast of east Lothian. It looks too steep sided for penguin colonies, however there have been penguins around in the sea - and they are resilient little things who don't mind a climb, so you never know!  O'Brien, Eadie and Aspland Islands lie beyond, further to the north east, along with the bigger Gibbs Island. We were some way off as we passed and the the usual heavy grey sky lay over any tall peaks there may have been, however it was just possible to make out the sizeable bulk and stretch of these remote pieces of land. Elephant Island lay further away still, off in the disappearing distance...  Here are some very quickly done dribbles and scribbles - all done on the move.

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"Bridgeman Island, Bransfield Strait", watercolour

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"O'Brien Island and Edie Island off Aspland Island", watercolour

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"Part of Gibbs Island", watercolour

8 February

By this evening we were on our way again, with what I have been warned is a "really big sea" to deal with in next few days. I will try to take and send through some photos, including of any wandering albatross if I can!

Last night we arrived off Signy Island on the South Orkney Islands. I had a stupendous morning today - RIB riding into the British Antarctic Survey's Signy research station with massive icebergs, curious seals and penguins in the water to meet us as we arrived at the station's jetty. Yes, there was a wee jetty this time so no wading!

I tried to get a seal to speak into my sound recorder but without success. There's a big fur seal colony right by the research station, which was noisy when we arrived but by the time I was able to visit it most had gone into the sea - except for those who were sleeping!

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Snoozing Fur Seals, Signy Island (photograph taken by Rowan Huntley)

snoozing fur seal signy

I had a good few hours painting; I managed a decent medium canvas painting (my largest size) which I'm very happy with, a double page in my dribble scribble watercolour book of the research station from the hill above (complete with snow spots - see below!), and I'd made a start on a small canvas not long before we had to leave, which I'll work on again when the weather is not so good. Talking of which, it deteriorated rapidly just after we got back onboard at about 1.30. It was never blue skies but when I was painting the sun did get through the cloud enough to give some quite dramatic light. Unfortunately we haven't been able to see the big island behind yet because of low cloud, there are some massive peaks on it but there's more bad weather on the way, so it's unlikely we'll get to see them at all.

I took some photos of the research station, including of their recycling bins and compactor! The station is really modern and comfortable  - though still a group of big green sheds really!

I've just had a sandwich and am off for another warming cuppa - my hands get freezing on the RIB as there's no blood getting to fingers because you are gripping so tight. I relished the two rides today - it's awesome fun bouncing and swaying on the waves and the swell, even though we look ridiculous!  We're well protected with lifejackets and the dry suits, and my neoprene mask has been invaluable. We also wear helmets - and today even had the goggles down - fantastic!

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Robin Peak, Signy Island, with Coronation Island behind", Chroma on canvas

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"Signy research station, Signy Island, South Orkneys", watercolour

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Rowan painting above Signy Research Station, South Orkneys 

(with apologies for the snow on the lens!)

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Close up of Rowan painting using her self designed and self made portable easel

9 February

I didn't get much sleep last night but managed to get through it ok. I  videoed for a while when it was really bumpy, we're back to rolling now for the moment. I was just trying to get some kind of record of what it's like with all the creaking, rattling and thumping - not that I'm ever likely to forget! Got a couple of minutes of good video last night of waves over the front bow, not that it's easy to do though.....and the effect is best from the Wardroom not the Bridge. Will keep my camera with me until I'm confined to bed but, have you ever tried focussing on an albatross over 5m waves while travelling at 11 knots from a Bridge that's rolling at least 15 degrees and considerably more at regular intervals!!   Apparently we are going to go through an even bigger storm tonight and tomorrow - Drake Passage at its very best! I hope you like the waves and wildlife pictures!

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Storm, Drake Passage from HMS Scott

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Albatross in Drake Passage (photograph taken by Rowan Huntley)

12 February

Well, we've finally made it across Drake Passage after coming through some horrendously stormy seas over the last few days. We've arrived at our destination and the sun is shining. And I even managed to do a quick painting!

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Rowan painting from HMS Scott off East Falkland

We are now back alongside, my time with HMS Scott is almost at an end. Today I ventured, for the last time, along the vast expanse of Bertha's Beach and sat in the dunes for an hour or so close to the small colonies of Gentoo penguins that still remain. I was able to enjoy some final doodles in my dribble & scribble book and attempted a page of more refined studies - both of which I will look back on fondly.

Travelling with HMS Scott has been the most brilliant experience ever and it has provided me with a painting platform like no other I have ever known. I have greatly enjoyed every second. I have improved my capability of working while on the move and also my ability to produce worthwhile paintings of icebound landscapes in fairly extreme conditions - and over short periods of time. I have experienced a spectacular view of what is the truly unique environment of Antarctica and I have had the privilege of seeing at first hand how a Royal Navy vessel is run. I have gained insight into her operational tasking abilities too - in this case the invaluable surveying in the Antarctic Region - and these  are all things I will take away with me. Each aspect of this trip has been of great importance to me and they will all contribute to the overall success of the future studio paintings I now look forward to doing on my return home.

Thanks to all of you who have followed my icy adventure, thanks again to the Friends of Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) for affording me this incredible opportunity, and my sincerest, heartfelt thanks go to Ship's company HMS Scott, for accepting me as one of your own and allowing me to work amongst you - I will treasure the memories always.

gentoos at berthas 16 feb dribble scribble
gentoos at berthas 16 feb
gentoos at berthas beach 01
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Gentoo colony, Bertha's Beach (photograph taken by Rowan Huntley)

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