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T&T here we come! – 7th March 2009

 Trinidad and Tobago Flag

T&T Flag

Back now in the green and pleasant land.  The Ice and blood seem long ago.  Leopard seals killing Adelie penguin chicks sounded easy compared to the Killer whale Kamikaze mission but proved tough. Adelie Penguin numbers have crashed in the last 10 years (G’ warming) and the Leopard seals seem to know it.  We just sneaked it in the end.  I got a full kill underwater and cameraman  John Aitchison covered it with the Phantom High Speed camera on he surface.  At 500 frames a second (slowed down 20x) the action is quite amazing! He is quite a talent that boy.  I now have two weeks before hitting Tobago for a Flying fish sequence – the last trip on the BBC “Life” series.  A shoot that seems to have been around my entire career – cancelled, rescheduled and cancelled again.  Finally were going to do it.  I’m looking forward to the rocking and rolling and reggae of the “Hog-snapper”  – a 30′ Tobagan fishing boat we will be working on for a couple of weeks. Of course I’ll be taking my Trinidad and Tobago Passport!  I got it 2 years ago but have never used it – my mum was born in Trinidad.  Resident queue here I come!

A family that slays together stays together

Our work is half done.  The most amazing trip of my life so far.  We found our Killer whales and they were doing what they do best.  25 attacks on Weddle seals in 3 weeks- quite a strike rate (weird but they leave Crab-eater and Leopard seals alone) Really the only seals we didn’t see them kill was one that got “Saved” by a Humpback whale and one that managed to get out onto a small iceberg.

We totally and utterly nailed it.  Every angle including some underwater wave-washing – achieved with a pole-camera I hasten to add. I may be a crazy wee Scotsman but no’ that crazy!  I will probably never get another sequence like it – an apex predator killing something in a completely new way.  I will die with the gentle thought that we did this and I was a part of it. Now onto Leopard Seals killing Adelie penguin chicks. Excited to be getting in with the Leopard seals again.  They get the heart pumping I tell ya!

Finisterre rocks!

Just a quick pick for the lads and lassies at Finisterre. They make some really sweet cold weather gear down there in cornwall. I’m wearing a couple of marino bases, a Etobicoke and a blue Anabatic jacket – together a really nice layering system for working out of boats in the Antarctic Peninsula summer. One of my buddies has just got the Sastruga jacket which I’m developing lustful thoughts over too….

Doug Anderson and Dion Poncet in Zodiac

Nice Jacket!

 

Dion – 12 Jan 2009

Dion at the "Golden Fleece" window © Doug Anderson

Dion at the "Golden Fleece" window © Doug Anderson

Dion Poncet son of owner Jerome and co-skipper on this job – 30 years old and already an Antarctic legend.  One of those guys that when you say  “couldn’t have done it without you” you really mean it.

 

Pretty in pink – 10th Jan 2009

Sea-ice sunset © Doug Anderson

Sea-ice sunset © Doug Anderson

Filming bergs tonight.  Sun set and it went so cold and so pink.

Ice and a slice?

Hit the peninsula proper today.  Woke up, made tea and padded up to the wheelhouse. Jerome was picking his way through a massive Ice field.  Dion picked up some glacial ice from the water with the landing net.  This evening Jerome threw together  a jug of Caipirinia, putting the ice to good use.  It fizzed as it melted in the glass.  Had it with Krill Pate!  Just another evening in a little oasis of Frenchness in the Antarctic.

How do you eat an Elephant? – 29th Dec 2008

In Stanley now.  The colourful corrugated iron clad houses of the little town clings to the edge of the sound much as always.  And on the pier is our boat – the “Golden Fleece”.  Run by frenchman and Antarctic legend Jerome Poncet.  It’s a big experienced crew on this one.  Jerome,  Bob Pitman and John Durban from NOAA (Bob has seen more species of whale and dolphin than anyone else on the planet – I think only 4 species elude him),  Doug Allan (the other cameraman has done over 30 trips to the frozen south), Dion Poncet (Jerome’s son – Dion was born in the Antarctic delivered by his father whilst their small yacht was frozen into the sea-ice) and the whole lot of us lead by Kathryn Jeffs (producer on “The Frozen Planet” the latest in the BBC’s “Blue Planet” – “Planet Earth” sequence – who are, after all paying for all these shenanigans).   Were prepping the boat now.  There is a mountain of kit.  We even have a ciniflex heligimble on this one.  It’s the camera we usually use for helicopter aerials.  We are mounting it upside down on the wheelhouse of the fleece.  Doug will operate this one and I’ll use a Varicam on a Mako head (another type of stabilised head) outside as well as doing the underwater photography if the opportunities present themselves.    The first step though is to cross the Drake Passage – pretty much the roughest nastiest stretch of water on the planet.  Should hit the to of the Antarctic peninsula in 5 days and 3 further days will take us the sea-ice.  This job is huge.  But I think of a saying from a friend from SA.  Q. How do you eat an elephant?  A. One bite at a time.

 

Adventures make one late for dinner

Antarctic Peninsula Yacht "Golden Fleece"

"Golden Fleece"©Jenny Lawson

Heading back to the southern Ice on another treasure hunt on the Yacht “Golden Fleece”.  This is my first trip on the new BBC wildlife series “Frozen Planet”.  I’m packed, as well as can be expected, and head to Brize for the military flight to the Falklands in an hour.  Then 17 hours to Mount Pleasant Airfield (“pleasant”is a dammed lie) with a short stop inAscension Island (very similar to Mount Plesant but 25 degrees warmer).  Only strange coloured juice and sausages will sustain us.  The gold we seek this time is Killer Whales.  We must find them and film them “Wavewashing” seals of ice flows. It’s simple for the killer whales.   Find seals on small Ice flows.  Line up.  Charge the flow and create a wave that is big enough too wash a 800lb seal straight into the water.  Then eat the seal.  Not so simple for us.  It’s been seen 6 times in history.  First by the late great Captain Scott of the Antarctic.  Last by a cruise ship when it was filmed by an excited american.  Piece of cake then.

Big dogs little dogs – 15th Dec 2008

This was a difficult dangerous little job to do.  Oceanic White tips are really quircky unpredictable sharks that change mood so fast.  When we shot this I wasn’t sure how the “making-of” would turn out.   Whether they would sanitise it I suppose.  But they didn’t.  It feels dangerous in the film and you know what?  it felt dangerous being there too.

PLEASE PRESERVE THE END!

The Arri HSR2 Super 16 film cameras make a beautiful noise. They whirr like a really fast, super smooth, sowing machines. And actually they sort of are sowing machines. Film cameras have a little claws that pull down each frame of film and expose it (in the gate) before pulling down the next one. Normally this happens 25 times a second. If we are shooting high speed, for slow motion, the film cameras we commonly use can pull down and expose up to 150 little pictures a second. Once a roll of film is finished it is put in a lightproof can and sent to get developed – just like a roll of film out of a stills camera. Once its developed the last stage is to pass it through a machine called a Telecini. The Telecini turns the film into video that can be edited on a computer.

Everyone in TV has a big break story. This is mine.

I got a job as an assistant on the BBC’s wildlife landmark series “The Blue Planet”. I was mainly assisting open ocean specialist Rick Rosenthal. In November 1999 Rick, myself, cameraman David Reichert and producer Andy Byatt found ourselves working off the Pacific side of Mexico. After 4 years of filming it was the last trip of the series. Our main target was Striped Marlin feeding on bait balls. We did very well. We had a month and by the end of week three we had some beautiful material of the Marlin feeding aggressively on big bait balls. In the best traditions of these sorts of stories, it was the last days filming not only of the trip but of the entire Blue Planet series. For several days Rick had me using his film camera housing in the water whilst he covered topside action from the bow of the boat. I had already had some great experiences with the Marlin when David and I jumped on a small bait ball that was being decimated by 10-20ib Yellowfin tuna. We were working the scene pretty close together when suddenly the tuna left the bait ball and went down deep. I sensed David move fast behind me, spun round, and rolled the camera as a 45 foot, 15 ton Sei Whale passed within six feet of us. It had seen the bait ball and wanted in on the action. The next 15 minutes were the most intense of my life. The whale came into feed 8 times. She seemed to be trying for surface lunges mainly. Swimming shallow and fast at the bait-ball and, when she got close enough, engulfing as much of the bait ball as she could. I was pretty pumped up by the action. A couple of times I got perfectly underneath her and got really close.

After seven passes I looked at the film counter. It said I had ten feet left. The counters on the old Arri HSR2 cameras are pretty inacurate but I guessed I had about 15-20 seconds of film time left. I ducked dived down to about 20 feet below the bait ball and waited. Within 30 seconds I spoted the whale again. But this time it was different. She was deep, perhaps 150 feet below me, and swiming straight towards the surface. She was going so fast for a moment it looked like she was going to do a breach. I started rolling the camera – click whirrrrrrrrrr – I could hear the film running through. She kept coming straight up and fast, passing me about 12 feet away.

Then I heard it. Whirrrrrrrrrrclick,click,click,click. The sound of the end of the film coming off the core of the spool and loosly running throug the gate of the camera. At the last second the whale opened it’s mouth and engulfed what it could of the bait ball. It then fell away from me and with a single kick left frame. My lungs burned. I kicked to the surface to breath. I looked at the camera. It was out of film that was for sure. But when?

Back on board I told producer Andy I thought we had some petty nice stuff but was not sure about the last shot. To make it worse David had filmed me filming the last lunge by the whale. So everybody new it had happened. Question was did I record it on film. I put the exposed film in a can for procesing back in England. All over the can I wrote “PLEASE PRESERVE THE END”. When a roll is film is procesed and prepared for a telecini the lab technicians stick a plastic leader on the end of the exposed film. Usually the last foot or so of the film is lost with this process. By writing “preseve the end” on the film can I was asking then to stick the leader on as little of the exposed film as possible. I had a feeling every frame was going to count.

About 3 weeks after getting back from the trip the film was procesed and reafdy for the telecini. I was at home in Bristiol so I went through to see the material going through. My whale roll, because it was the last roll exposed on the trip, was the last to go though. The first 7 passing shots went though. I was really excited. Some of them were super close and really impressive. Then the last lunge came up. My heart was pounding. The whale came up throug frame, opened it’s pleats, engulfed the shoal, fell away from me, beat it’s tail, the tail left frame…..and then black. I was stunned for a moment and then went absolutely nuts. It was like scoring a goal in the FA cup final. I hugged the Telicini operator and then knocked over the mints as I lept onto the sofa screaming and punching the air. People from the sound room next door even came in to see if anything was wrong. Happy does not even begin to describe it. I wanted to see the end of the film. The telecine operator took the film of the machine and we had a look. From the frame the tail of the whale left frame to the end of the film there was 12 empty frames. 12 frames. About 3 inches of film. The lab technician had glued the leader onto the last few milimeters of the roll.