Angular Iceberg

A large, angular iceberg floats off the coast of South Georgia Island as a strong storm descends.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM at 70 mm, 1/1250 sec at f/8, ISO 400

I created this image from the starboard side deck of the M/V Ortelius as the ship rounded the southern tip of South Georgia Island into the teeth of a furious storm. When I brought the camera up to my eye, I had to steady myself against the lifeboat support structure to counteract the gusty winds that threatened to tear off my glasses and whisk away my beanie. Rarely, if ever, had I felt the power of such strong winds, but the scene unfolding before me was far too stunning to abandon in favor of shelter. A narrow beam of light had found a gap in the clouds to illuminate the iceberg while the rugged shoreline stood in the background and shockingly dark skies loomed above. I seized upon that moment to capture the photograph featured here.

I watched and took several more photographs as the light on the iceberg faded and the winds escalated further. While gazing out on the scene in awe, I was treated to the sight of seawater being whipped airborne from a fairly flat ocean surface by intense gusts, which sometimes resulted in small rainbows appearing briefly. Before long, the ship’s captain closed all outdoor decks to passengers and I sought refuge from the fury of the elements.

For five days while at South Georgia Island we had been blessed with almost freakishly calm and mild weather. That mild weather came to an abrupt end as we bid farewell to South Georgia Island and set sail for the Antarctic Peninsula. We would be in for a rough crossing, facing 70 knot sustained winds and 90 knot gusts. At times, the ship’s forward progress was slowed to just over 3 knots — a daunting prospect considering the Peninsula was nearly 800 nautical miles from South Georgia!

While extreme weather often brings travel delays and sometimes seasickness(!), it also has a tendency to create dramatic photo opportunities. This photograph would not have been possible without the nasty weather our expedition endured that day. I briefly considered naming this photograph Silver Lining, since it was literally the beneficial consequence of dark clouds, but decided it would probably be too much of an inside joke.

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