So You Want to Visit the Southern Ocean? Be Careful What You Wish for: Zodiac Misadventure Video « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

So You Want to Visit the Southern Ocean? Be Careful What You Wish for: Zodiac Misadventure Video

The ship Usuaia on a relatively benign evening awaits the return of the last zodiac. This image was created with the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS EF USM AF Lens (hand held at 105mm) and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital Camera (Body Only) w/FREE Bonus Item – $150.33 Value! [expires soon]! Evaluative metering +1 1/3 stops: 1/100 sec. at f/5.6 in Manual mode. Lower central sensor/AI Servo Surround/Rear Focus AF active at the moment of exposure. Click here if you missed the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Zodiac Misadventure Video

As I have mentioned, a cruise to the Falklands, South Georgia, and or/Antarctica can be physically demanding, grueling at times, and dangerous at other times. Marc Lombardi,a fine and creative photographer whom I met on the recent Cheesemans’expedition, sent me a great video. As I watched it the first time, my heart was stuck in my throat. Was this guy gonna make it onto the ship or not?

You’ll want to watch it twice so click here and then when you watch it a second time, check out my commentary below.

OK. Now the details. As I watched the video a second time (it is only 1 minute, 39 seconds long) I realized that I was the guy having all the problems. Yikes!

When you are getting on or off the video, the guidelines are:

1-Never do anything until the zodiac driver tells you to go.
2-If you do not feel safe when told to go, it is OK to abort.

There are small lengths of heavy duty ropes used as handholds around the gunnels of the zodiacs. As the zodiac approaches the gangway, the seaman on the bottom platform tosses a length of rope to either the zodiac driver, or, in rougher conditions, to the seaman in the front of the zodiac. He is always dressed in a survival suit… Then either the zodiac driver or the second seaman keeps tension on the rope to hold the zodiac in place. On rough days with lots of swell, the rope can be released and then re-tightened by the person holding it to keep the zodiac safely in position.

We had landed at the spectacular St. Andrews Bay early that morning and had planned on being ashore till 7pm. Though it did not seem to have gotten any windier, we were told, at about 4pm, that the swells were getting dangerously larger and that the captain had called off the landing; everyone needed to get back to the ship now.

OK, now that the scene is set, you can watch the video again by clicking here.

At about the six second mark, expedition leader Ted Cheeseman, our Zodiac driver that day, said “Go.” I felt the zodiac began to drop and not feeling safe, decided to wait for a more opportune moment. At the 7 second mark of the video you can hear a loud pop as the handhold rope broke. That was followed by Ted’s “Yooooh.” He pushed us away from the gangway, re-started the outboard, and came around for a second approach. At the 1:08 mark Ted said “Go” again but as the zodiac dropped about 5 feet at that moment I chose to stay aboard. At the 1:24 mark I mercifully made it onto the gangway followed soon thereafter by Denise Ippolito. Whew!

As I wrote in BAA Bulletin #422, “Kudos to expedition leader Ted Cheeseman for putting together the great itinerary and pulling it off. He made several major changes due to sea conditions and all were spot on. The Cheesemansโ€™ staff’s greatest skill is in getting folks safely in and out of the zodiacs and onto shore even in condition where most other tour companies would call it a day. In addition all were knowledgeable and helpful, and trust me, at 66 I appreciated their help.”

Thanks a stack to Marc for sharing this great video. You can see some of his great photography here. Click here to see his trip gallery. Be sure to find his Silver Grebe photos! For more trip images, these created by his life partner Elise Spata, click here.

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If you missed the South Georgia/Falkland Islands Southern Oceans Trip Report, see BAA Bulletin #422.

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18 comments to So You Want to Visit the Southern Ocean? Be Careful What You Wish for: Zodiac Misadventure Video

  • It was a great adventure and lots of fun. Only one close call ๐Ÿ™‚

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Surely a great adventure and trip. To be honest, I never really felt in danger. Except when I was looking at the video.

  • That is freaking scary! I think I’ll just stay with the Hooptie Deux and photograph the penguins at the zoo ๐Ÿ™‚ Doug

  • avatar Christer Widlund

    Thanks Arthur, do let us share your memories and pictures from South Georgia and Falklands. Even if we were on the same trip, it is really lovely to see your pictures, which are so much better than the ones we brought back. It is good to see that the quality of photos not only comes from expensive equipment, but more from the eye and brain behind the camera.
    We hope to see you on another of Cheeseman’s trip in the future.
    Christer & Kjerstin

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Christer for your kind words and thoughts. I am glad that you are enjoying the images. More coming soon. later and love, artie

  • avatar Marc Lombardi

    Thanks for the kind words! And glad everyone enjoyed the video. I actually had the victory at sea sound track on my iPod and we played it in the cabin when the ship rocked and rolled at Force 9. Also, I must say my own landing on the gangway a couple hours earlier was equally challenging … hence my readiness to capture the action.

  • Artie, Thanks for sharing. I have heard of similar situations but have never seen any up close until now. It must have been awfuly hard to walk up the stairs once you got obnoard. I could almost sense being there. I think I probably have been sea sick. Thank God everyone safely made it.
    Thakn you very much for sharing the your experience and the great pictures.

  • avatar Phil Liew


    Another observation would have been to use a pilot ladder to disembark personnel without any backpacks, these should have gone with a heaving line. Using the accommodation ladder (gangway) is dangerous. The the Mate on watch should’ve known better.

    I am surprised they allowed you guys to transit between vessel and shore with no survival suits. Anyone falling overside would not last very long.

    The call to “move” is yours and yours alone. No one can tell you to do it if you feel the timing is incorrect.

    • Hi Phil,

      Artie alerted me to your suggestion that all should use survival suits. If we required that, I believe we’d keep the ship doctor busy with cases of heat stroke. I do not take sea conditions lightly, but with focus and skill we have successfully operated for 20 years now, never had an injury in a zodiac nor had anyone overboard. As Artie said, we instruct people to follow these rules (among others): “1-Never do anything until the zodiac driver tells you to go. and 2-If you do not feel safe when told to go, it is OK to abort.” Obviously you know quite a bit about marine operations; we’d love to have you onboard with us next year to Antarctica to see for yourself! The bird photography, as Artie so wonderfully shows, is quite good too! ๐Ÿ™‚

      • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

        Thanks for chiming in Ted. As a follow-up, even in the video, I never felt in danger. Remember, I was amazed when I realized that that was me. On my two CES trips no passenger has gotten hurt getting in or out of a Zodiac…. artie

      • avatar Phil Liew

        Hi Ted,

        It was an observation nothing more. Like you say you have been operating for well over 20 years without any incidents which by all means is a very good track record and speaks volumes for the training that your crew have.

        I too have worked in ice conditions in Sakhalin, Far Eastern Russia in the oil and gas industry. We have our regulations and I am sure these are different to yours. Peace…

  • Kudos to the videographer on his selection of music. Kinda reminded me of something out of Victory at Sea.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      It is the Victory at Sea music!

      • avatar Jim Kranick

        I remember watching Victory at Sea with my father many decades ago when I was just a kid. Now have the whole series in VHS, will have to get it on DVD. I guess that dates me.

        • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

          I remember watching that show and looking for my Dad. He lost his right arm on Okinawa and wound up in the hospital (where I was conceived, as in Garp), for 19 months. He died in 2001 after surviving enough bad stuff for any ten folks.