Perhaps it's time to talk a little more about clothing and camera protection. Our visit to St Andrews Bay and the largest colony of King Peguins was always a chance because it is so exposed to the weather and the seas. While many of the locations are tucked away in protected bays, St Andrews is open to swells from many directions and unless the ocean is relatively calm, it can be difficult to land a zodiac.
The trip into St Andrews was pretty easy. The trip back was more exciting. The waves had increased on the shore and this made jumping on a matter of timing and luck. Timing was important because, having knee high Wellington boots meant protection only so long as the water wasn't more than knee deep. As a large wave surged forwards, the water level surpassed my knee as it sank into the black sand and I felt a cool wash around my toes.
Once on the zodiac itself, you're sitting comfortably on the sides, but it's relatively low and if a large wave hits the beach before you push off, you can find the inside awash with water. This happened to us as we left St Andrews and I lifted my camera bag up onto my knee so it didn't float around in the zodiac bath!
And on the way back to the ship, the ship would often disappear from view as we dropped into the trough between waves. This isn't unusual from a sitting position, but when our skipper who was standing also lost sight of the ship, we agreed that the swell was building and it would be interesting transferring from the zodiac to the gangway on the ship.
So what does this mean for clothing and camera protection?
You need waterproof clothing because you never know when the weather might change and you'll get wet. And waterproof isn't showerproof or even ski wear - it's is proper waterproof clothing like sailors and yachties wear.
On our Peregrin Adventure trip, waterproof coats and trousers were available to hire. I think it is US$50 for the month which is great value compared to buying your own. The showerproof jacket I bought in Scotland would have kept me warm, but not particularly dry in the zodiac. And our trip from St Andrews back to the ship took about half an hour, so that's a long time to be soaked in freezing cold water. The rentals on the boat were excellent and even better, at the end of the hire someone else scrubs the penguin poo off!
Waterproof boots are also necessary. I looked at a number of apres-ski boots before I left, but the main problem with them is they only go up to your calf, not to just below your knee. These few centimetres are important to keep the water out when you get in and out of the zodiac, and even so you can have a water invasion!
The guides wear 'waders' which are a single wellington boot and waterproof pants combination with braces, so water can get up to just below chest height before being a problem. These aren't the most comfortable clothes to walk in and, once you're ashore there is often the opportunity to walk for several kilometre.
I did most of my walking in the wellington boots. Although not as comfortable as my walking shoes, they are far more practical. Often we're walking through streams and quagmires of penguin droppings, a combination which would soon ruin good shoes - the penguin smell would simply remain forever!
So, in terms of clothing, I hired the lot.
I had two camera bags, an HPRC 2500 waterproof suitcase and a Lowepro Dry Zone backpack.
The HPRC served two purposes in that it could be put through the airports as unaccompanied luggage. It would also get my equipment to shore with no water problems, but would be difficult to cart around on land. It was also difficult to walk down the ship's gangway to the zodiac carrying the suitcase - with the ship rocking you can feel a lot safer with both hands on the handrails. And sometimes I was also carrying a tripod.
Most of my trips were with the LowePro Dry Zone. It is the smaller size one, but large enough to fit two cameras and a couple of lenses. And I don't want to carry a heavy bag anyway.
The main problem with the Dry Zone is the waterproof zip: it is difficult to secure. Lowepro provides some grease to apply to the zip to make it easier to operate and I found myself applying this often and liberally to make it work.
Fortunately, the Dry Zone has two zips - the waterproof zip on the outside and a second normal zip on the inside. When on land, I just used the inside zip and so usin the Dry Zone this way wa no more difficult than a standard backpack.
The big advantage of the backpack design is it leaves both hands free which is very important when boarding and leaving the zodiac. In the beginning, I carried my tripod separately, but I often had to ask someone to pass the tripod across afterwards or before. Eventually I found the tripod holder on the back of the backpack and this kept both hands free. Obviously it only works with a lightweight tripod, but this is exactly what I had (a Gitzo GT1530 carbon fibre model).
Some of the photographers were taking normal backpacks out with the shower covers and while this stopped sea spray, it did little to protect the bag when the larger waves cascaded over the side.
One opton that the guides use is a large waterproof wet bag. I had a waterproof inner bag for a backpack with me and it was large enough to hold my Computrekker backpack, but after folding the top over, I didn't feel confident that it would hold the weight of my backpack inside (I worried the bottom fabric would rip and the camera bag fall out). There are more substantial wet bags made of much tougher material, some with a backpack harness attached and I would recommend these over the Dry Zone for one reason.
The Dry Zone works really well, but when back on the ship, I would have to wipe it down carefully with fresh water to stop salt forming on it when it dried. Salt and cameras do not mix. In comparison, the wet bags can be simply washed over with fresh water. I could also wash the Dry Zone this way, but then all the padding and covering material would remain wet for hours and this wasn't popular in my small cabin. The advantage of the Dry Zone was it was more comfortable to walk with on shore.
I hope these notes might be helpful for other photographers travelling by ship this way. I've used zodiacs before, but the difference this time was the changeable weather conditions.