Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!

Happy new year from the Nathanial B. Palmer research vessel! It's been
a few days, I know… I haven't been avoiding you, it's just that life on
a boat with 24 hours of sun keeps a guy busy.
Where to begin? I want to start with today, but I feel like today was
full of crazy surprises that I am not quite ready to reveal. So first
off, I am officially off of all my motion sickness meds! Granted, we
have had calm sailing the last couple days but I am beginning to enjoy
the gentle roll of the ship.
We made it through the Drake Passage and I got my first glimpse of the
Antarctic Peninsula 2 nights ago. That was also the last night I saw the
sun set. If only I had stayed up another hour I could have watched it
rise again. While being able to say I went through the Drake is pretty
cool, our passage was so uneventful that seeing Antarctica after days of
nothing but endless ocean was extremely exciting. I stayed up way to
late taking pictures and finally forced myself to go to bed.
If I thought islands on the horizon were cool, imagine me waking up the
next day, looking outside and seeing icebergs and mountains in the not
so distant distance.
On top of all of that we had our fourth SOCCOM float launch. The
weather was perfect, sunny, calm seas and almost no wind. What does that
mean? TIME TO FLY THE DRONE! I have was a bit concerned that we may not
see favorable conditions to fly, but here they were. The Captain and I
have been talking drones for days and he wanted to see it fly as well.
So we went out to the Heli-deck (after wandering the ship trying to find
someplace I could calibrate the compass that wouldn't suffer from
magnetic interference…Can't imagine why that would happen on a massive

ship). After a short test flight to make sure that interference wasn't
going to make the drone go haywire, it was time to fly! As my first
flight off the ship I kept the flight short, simple and close enough to
bring it back quickly.
From all of the issues that I have read about flying drones this far
south, it performed flawlessly. The drone was seeing up to 20 GPS
satellites so there was no need to fly manually. My big concern was
battery temperature, but I am keeping the batteries inside until I need
them so they never have time to get cold.
Ok, so mountains in the distance, sweet. Then yesterday one of the
research groups needed to move close to shore into the sea ice to hunt
down some ice loving bateria. This was not part of the original plan,
but it did mean that we had to go through a lot of sea ice and past some
enormous icebergs. It also meant more drone action! Feeling a bit more
comfortable and a little less nervous on the sticks, I took the drone a
bit further out and even did a partial flyby of an iceberg that made our
ship look small.

I am out on the decks a lot right now. The scenery is some of the most
spectacular I have ever seen. Every time I go to sit down and work at my
computer, or contemplate going to bed, I look out my porthole window and
can't resist getting back out there.
So you all have been patient and I commend you for that. Now let's get
to the exciting stuff! Today it was necessary for the ship to make an
unplanned visit to the British Antarctic base of Rothera. With the boat
going to port, we would have about 4 hours to get off the boat and
explore the base. I didn't think I was going to set foot on Antarctica
for another 20 days, yet here we are!
Exciting, but it gets better. The Brits were extremely welcoming,
Photo by Pablo Cohn
offering to give us tours of their base, the surrounding shoreline or
even a trip up onto the massive glacier right next to their base (Which
they use as a ski hill). All of these options ended with a tea party.
But there was something else they offered as well. The base was holding
a New Year's Eve 10k running race on their runway and anyone on the boat
was invited to participate. I love running, but for various reasons I
haven't been able to run much over the last 2 months. But being able to
say I ran a race on Antarctica? I would have done it even if it was a
half marathon (though I doubt that would have turned out well).
It was settled. First, I would venture up the Glacier to have an
Photo by Pablo Cohn
incredible view of the frozen bay below and the many mountainous islands
in the distance. Then at 4pm, we raced.
No dear reader, I did not win the race. Those guys and gals have been
training for this for months and were incredible fast. What else are you
going to do every day when you are on Antarctica for a year?
I ran pretty well for a guy who hasn't run in 2 months, and I can say
that I did set a new personal record for running the 10k… while on
Tonight we celebrate the New Year. I wish I could be with my family
tonight I miss all of them with every bit of my heart. But here I am, on
this adventure like no other. I will go into this New Year determined
to make the most of all of these moments and to never take any of this
for granted.
See you all next year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Release the Floats!

December 27th, 2016
Now that I have mostly acclimated to life on rocking ship (with the aid
of my wonderful medication!) It is time to get to some serious work.
Today we have 2 SOCCOM floats to deploy and prior to both launches, the
boat will send out a CTD to take water samples. A CTD is a cylindrical
looking device that has a ring of water bottles that can be individually
remotely triggered at different depths to capture water samples at
varying points in the water column. The CTD has a number of uses. Some
of the other science teams use the water samples for their experiments
to analyze components of the water such as chlorophyll. The first CTD
deployment only goes to a depth of 200M as below that there is not much
photosynthesis and hence no chlorophyll.
The second CTD deployment goes to a depth of 2000M and is used for
additional experiments. Our SOCCOM group uses this deeper test as a
control to calibrate the some of the sensors in our SOCCOM floats. So
why 2000M? Well it just so happens that the SOCCOM float spends most of
its days at 1000M. Roughly every 10 days it descends to 2000M before
making a dash to the surface. As the float rises through the water
column all of the onboard sensors come to life creating a highly
detailed profile of what is happening at that location in the ocean. The
CTD test allows scientists to ensure that the sensors on the float are
providing accurate information. If there is any discrepancies in the
readings, the data can be corrected in accordance with the CTD readings.

So my friends, as you can see there is a lot happening today! It seems
as if the entire boat was up and working as early as 3am. I was able to
sleep in and didn't have to get up until 4:45am. We really wanted to get
some footage and photos of the CTD going in the water so it was divide
and conquer time! I set up the GoPro while Greta took photos with the
Canon SLR.
Shortly after the CTD was done, it was time to toss the first float
overboard. Que the Benny Hill music, because we really had to hustle! We
really wanted to be on the aft deck during the deployment, but because
the waves and wind were all up in our business, the only thing we could
leave on the deck was our GoPro.

Was I finished? Well what do you think?
Of course not!

I still had my Blackmagic URSA mini to setup on the helideck. Greta and
I found our positions overlooking the deployment site just as the float
was being carried out onto the deck. While Greta furiously snapped away,
I stayed focused on the float box. Steve Riser really wanted to see the
biodegradable box break open and the float fall out. While I was able to
track the float box for a minute or two, it slipped behind the waves
before we could see the big payoff.

1 float down, 1 to go!

By the night of the 27th we had reached the next deployment site and
the CTD team got to work doing their thing. By the time we were ready to
deploy the 2nd float, it was around 3:30am. The seas and wind had both
died down, but now we had a light rain. As you can guess, water and
cameras do not generally mix well. (ok so the GoPro does, but my big
camera would not be thrilled)

Did I let this stop me? Heck no.

Before the trip, I assumed floating around in the Southern ocean may
expose everything to some water in one form or another. To cover my
bases, I picked up a Porta Brace rain slicker for the URSA. I am never a
fan of the bulkiness and awkward handling that goes along with a rain
slicker, but is sure does keep things dry.

Shooting on a ship, the jungle or a car wash? Bring something to cover
your camera. Yea it's an expense, but also way cheaper than replacing
your water and suds filled gear.

So this ends another long and exciting day here aboard the NBP. With a
little sleep and some food, I will be ready to do it all over again!
I know, I promised a post about working with the 360 cam. It'll happen,
perhaps tomorrow? Come back soon to find out!
Cheers and stuff,

Its Christmas on the NBP

December 25th, 2016
Merry Christmas from the Nathanial B. Palmer! (ok this is a few days
late, I will get to that) Today I got up and had a lovely breakfast, all
the stops were pulled out to give us a delicious spread for the day. I
would like to add, food on board has been really good so far (Thanks
Well, right after eating more than I probably should have, we started
hitting some rough waters (I am told that these are actually small waves
and that we are lucky to be broken in mild conditions such as these) My
insides told a different story and within about 15 minutes of rocking
and rolling with the waves, the dreaded motion sickness began to take
over. Now, I am a fortunate individual as all I experienced was some low
level nausea. Not everyone was quite as lucky.
I was told to just let nature run its course and that I should be
feeling as good as new within a couple of days. I really tried to heed
this advice. In fact, I got through pretty much the entire day before I
had to throw in the towel and admit defeat. This really should come as
no surprise, as I am the type of person to feel queasy sitting in the
passenger seat of moving car. To that end, perhaps I should have asked
the captain if I could pilot the ship? Seems like a reasonable enough
It turns out the one thing that stops sea sickness in its tracks (just
one mans experience) is to lie down in a dark room and sleep. And oh boy
did I do a good job with that! The constant rocking is reminiscent of a
hammock, or perhaps being rocked to sleep in a parents' arms. The
hardest part of the day was having to pull myself out of bed to
participate in the aft deck training. This involved suiting up in a
mustang suit (or in my case, a mustang jacket) and going out on the back
deck to learn how to safely navigate a possibly treacherous part of the
ship. On this ship, the aft deck is low enough to the water that waves
regularly break over the railings sending a small wall of water towards
your legs in an effort to take you down. Luckily for me, there are some
large containers we are transporting that I could lean against. The cold
air does help minimize the effects of being sea sick, but I was still
not having it.
As soon as we were finished with training, I high tailed it back to my
bed to rest until lunch time. Despite feeling miserable, I still managed
to hit every meal! As I mentioned above, the food here is good, and
somehow eating seems to help.
As you may have surmised dear reader, this was not a day to get work
done. I did attempt to write this post, but after a couple of minutes
staring at the screen, it was time to head back to bed. Shooting video
was definitely not on the agenda for the day.
For the first time in my life, I missed celebrating Christmas on
account that I slept for the better part of the day. By 9pm, I gave up
on trying to go the tough guy route and cracked open my prescription
motion sickness patches, sea bands and ginger chews. They must have
worked some Christmas magic as I woke up on the 26th feeling like a new
While the holiday has come and gone, I felt it necessary to tell you
about the joys of celebrating a green Christmas. Most of the
conversations on the ship today revolved around how we were feeling and
what drugs we were taking to make the first day at sea a bit more
tolerable. My only hope is that I eventually acclimate to the constant
rocking. If I have to take medicine the whole time, so be it. However I
would be even happier if I could kick my propensity for motion induced
nausea once and for all. Only time will tell, I suppose.
Stay tuned for your regularly scheduled programming, my next post will
go back to thrills and difficulties of film making at sea. Perhaps I
will share my experiences shooting with a 360 camera? Yes? No? How about
this, if there is something you would like know about my adventures in
film making at sea, leave me a message in the comments section! I will
do my best to address any questions in an upcoming post.
Happy holidays and stuff,

Monday, December 26, 2016

December 24,

We boarded the ship yesterday and this morning we left port around 0700. (For those of you not familiar with ship time, that’s 7am.) The ship is so much bigger than I imagined and is a veritable labyrinth! After being on the boat for no more than 20 minutes, I could not find my way off again. This is probably a good thing as I suspect getting off the boat while at sea is ill advised.

So back to disembarking! Now you only get to leave port once, so what does that mean for a filmmaker? It means the night before you walk every square inch of the boat and decide where the best places are to mount your cameras. Then you spend another hour or so rigging all your cameras and talking about the best order for setting them up and triggering record in the morning. This was a really important step because some of the locations we wanted to place cameras are restricted to passengers while the ship is leaving the port due to safety issues. I also wanted to mount a camera in the Ice Tower (I know, totally bad ass name, and equally cool place to go.) The Ice Tower is the highest place on the ship that you can get to and is located about 30 feet above the Bridge (the second highest place you can go) To get up into the Ice tower, one must go to the Bridge and then climb up 3 sets of ladders. The first thing I noticed as I climbed up for the first time was how quiet the tower is (ships are loud!) Then as I stood up I was greeted with a fantastic 360 view of the world below.
So clearly the Ice Tower is must have location for filming, however the Bridge is off limits about 15 minutes before the launch so there are no distractions for the port pilot.

Now I also wanted to get our 360 camera mounted on the bow of the ship, also another location that is off limits just before the launch and also quite a far hike from the Ice tower. The solution? Well, first, Greta set up the GoPro overlooking the stern of the Ship while I made a mad dash for the Ice Tower carrying the Osmo and the 360 cam. Once the Osmo was in place, I waited until about 0643 to turn it on and get it recording, then I very quickly climbed down the ladders and down about 5 flights of stairs, out the level 1 exit and ran up to the bow. I was able to get the 360 camera mounted and turned on, only to realize that, whoops! One battery was dead. This resulted in another mad dash back to the Lab for some new batteries. Thankfully I got there and back in a few minutes and got the shot set up and rolling.
The only thing left was to get the big camera set up on sticks on the deck of the ship and record a short interview with our SOCCOM scientist, Steve Riser as the ship pulled away from the docks. Despite the rain we were able to pull all of this off with hardly a hitch! So far off to a good start.

I want to address something quickly, I was told that life on a boat would be a sedentary affair, well I clocked about 13,000 steps and almost 7 miles of walking today. I don’t know how many stairs that includes, but it is a lot.

This leg of the trip is simply beautiful. We are surrounded by pristine mountains and countryside and the sailing is smooth. I know once we hit the open ocean, I won’t have quite as much scenery to shoot so I really took advantage of it today. I promise I will get you all some great stills from all of the wonderful shooting we did!

And you know how I mentioned that you only leave port once? Well, that is a slight lie. We actually went a few miles to the east to stop at another port and take on some additional cargo. I was able to get some additional footage here as well (Score!) though this leg was not without a big scare.
We had to pass customs at the second port, which meant after taking on the cargo, a number of government officials came on to the boat to check passports and other paperwork. Since I am traveling with a carnet, I had to be there to make sure they signed off on my paperwork. Well, here is where things go a bit dicey, for you see, customs officers came on when the ship was cleared to leave port. Once the ship is cleared, no one is supposed to be allowed off or on. However, when they got to my carnet, it turns out they were supposed to have signed off on that back at the customs office, located at the entrance to the port. Also, keep in mind that it is Christmas Eve and everyone wants to go home for the holiday. There was a legitimate concern that no one would be able to clear my paperwork (which could leave me responsible for up to 40% of the total value of all the gear that we brought on this trip). There was also the concern that we would not be able to leave the port with this outstanding issue. Yea, you never want to be that guy.

As luck would have it, one of the officers was able to finally get through to the port office and we had to run off the ship, jump in a pickup and high tail it to the customs office. I won’t go into much detail here, but let’s just say that this was the fastest I have ever cleared customs.
So back to the ship where the captain was surprised to see me return so quickly. Within another 15 minutes, I had a few more cameras set up and we were off!
The excitement never seems to stop. Even though it has only been a day on the boat, it feels like I have been here much longer. Tomorrow is Christmas and we hit the open ocean, wish me luck, and happy holidays friends!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Traveling with Gear

I have arrived! Ok, I arrived yesterday (12.20) but by the time I got my bags, met up with Greta and got into the city, there was enough time to eat some food, unpack way too much gear all over my bed and go to sleep.

Punta Arenas Airport

I would like to take some time to finish my thoughts on traveling, more specifically with a lot of gear. Going international with camera gear? If it is your first time, you are going to need some kind of paperwork to show when going through Customs. The most common is something called a carnet (kar-ney) And while it sounds delicious, I promise, it is not tasty meats. A quick google search will let you know if the country you are traveling to participates in the carnet program.
“But what is a carnet, and how do I make one?” Well reader, great question! A carnet is a detailed list of all production related gear including model numbers, item descriptions, serial numbers, price and weight (optional). The purpose of a carnet is to prove that you don’t intend to buy, sell or leave any of your gear in a foreign country. Essentially, it protects you from the tax man in the form of import duties.
Once you have compiled a gear list, you will need to set up an account with a company that can issue a carnet. There are only a couple in the US, so it shouldn’t be hard to decide who to use. I used Boomerang carnet, and the process was quite pleasant. I called for support a number of times and they were always friendly and super helpful. They happen to be based in my old stomping ground of Chicago, so bonus points! (note: Bonus points have no cash value and may not be redeemed)
Ok. SO, make sure your gear list is finalized before getting to this point. If you are on the fence about a piece of gear, list it! You don’t have to bring everything on your list, but you can’t add anything once the process is finalized. Keep in mind the cost of a carnet depends on the total value of your gear, so don’t list $100K of gear if you really only intend to bring $10K on your trip.
After the fun process of entering all your gear into the website (in my case about 90 items) you will need to provide some Tax ID info, shipping and payment details. If you are a bit anxious at this point, don’t be! After you submit your order, you will have to confirm your list through email and someone will give you a call to finalize things.
Since getting a carnet is probably one of the last things you will do before a trip, they automatically ship it out next day air, so even if you leave in 3 days, you can make it happen. But really, waiting until the last 3 days? Reader, I thought you were more responsible than that. I gave myself a week.
Now that you have your carnet, pack your gear up! Make note of any items you aren’t bringing (Pro tip: write down the line item number, it will save you time, I promise)
YOU WILL HAVE TO GO THROUGH CUSTOMS BEFORE LEAVING THE COUNTRY. Sorry for yelling. This is critical. Your gear is checked and signed off before you check a single bag. This ensures that what you leave with is there when you get back.
The next really important thing to do is find out what Terminal at your international airport handles customs. It may not be the same terminal you are leaving from. I left out of Terminal C at EWR (Newark) but customs is in Terminal B. Did I know this in advance? Yes, kind of. Did I go to Terminal B anyway? Nope. I still went to C and guess what? I then had to haul everything up and down elevators and ride a tram to go to B (cue more elevators, sans music) and then also make the return trip.
Pro Tip: Go to the airport 3 hours before your flight. It helps when you make foolish mistakes like humans are prone to do.
Pro Tip: Don’t expect anyone at the airport, other than a customs agent to know anything about carnets. The Airline employees at the check in desk often have never heard of a carnet. (They may suspect you are peddling in tasty meats)
At any customs check point, it is within their rights to check every piece of gear on your list. In practice? No one at a busy airport is going to want to go over 90 items. They will generally do a spot check. In my case, leaving the country I had to produce 1 item off my list at random. When entering Chile, the agent briefly looked at the contents of one case and did a spot check on 2 items. NOTE: This is not an invitation to try and cheat the system. Your experience may differ.
Pro Tip: Be nice! Be friendly! These traits go a long way towards making all human interactions easy and pleasant.
Well, we did it. Number 2 in the can. Now go find a foreign country to make a movie in and rest assured that your gear will be traveling legally. Stay tuned for more updates of my travels and tips for traveling!

My first friend in Punta Arenas! Dogs are everywhere

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

December 19th. Take to the skies

The Author, starting to relax at the beginning of his journey

Wow. I am sitting on the tarmac about to take off and I can hardly believe that I am here. This moment is a culmination of 3 years of hopes, false starts and more planning and paperwork than I am pretty sure I have ever had to do for anything.

Santiago, Chile in the early morning
And now here I am. About to embark on the most remote, harsh and isolated trip of my career/ life. You know what? I couldn't be more excited or ready.

I suppose I should take a few steps back and provide a little backstory into all of this, seeing as this is my first post and quite frankly some of you have no clue what I'm talking about, let alone what my name is.

They call me Ted Blanco. Not my birth name, but damn close. I am a filmmaker (ok, video maker) and for the last few years I have been working with a great team of people at Climate Central. (The non-profit climate news organization, not the people who service your HVAC)

Every so often, I get to break from the day to day projects to go someplace interesting to tell a story using my particular set of skills and toys. Last year it was California, Louisiana, Mississippi and Virginia. This year was California and the exotic Jersey shore.

Then about 7 months ago, something started to take shape dear reader. For you see, when I was  brought on at Climate Central, there was talk of an epic journey to the Southern Ocean around Antarctica to document science that was taking place in an effort to understand what was happening beneath the surface of the southern ocean. That initial discussion was during my interview 3 years ago. What started as one hell of a sales pitch slowly morphed into a phantom project that felt like it was never going to materialize. Occasionally dates would be discussed only to have some insurmountable hurdle push the project to the back burner.

Right. So back to 7 months ago. "The trip is on!" I'm told, prefaced with, "I'm totally serious this time...". And as per usual, I say I'll believe it when the flights are booked. But something WAS different this time, and quickly it became apparent that yes, I would be spending a month on a boat destined for Antarctica.

I will save the details of what goes into preparing for a trip like this to a future post. For now, I would like to mention how I have the most amazing wife ever. Breaking the news to a loved one of a 5 week long business trip is never easy. Now throw in 2 kids under 5.  Now explain that your boat leaves Christmas Eve.

Now tell me how that works out for you.

For me? Nothing but support from the moment I said, "The trips on! Can I go?" Even as the details emerged from launch date to duration, my wife has been my biggest supporter. Which if you were around my house for the last couple of weeks, you would know I needed all the help and support I could get. Thanks Aja!

Nothing but the best in 1st class!
Not your ordinary airplane food...
So here I am in the air and this is really about to happen, no take backs allowed. The gear is packed and all arrangements made. It's time to relax.

See you all next time  from El fin del mundo, Punta Arenas, Chile.


Mountains on the way to Punta Arenas