It’s the rockiest day on the ship so far. Between this and last night’s
revelries, I don’t suppose there will be many faces appearing before lunch.
Or for most of the day for that matter. Best to lie low, stay horizontal,
pop a couple of Stugeron and allow them to carry you on colourful dreams.
Or get thoroughly windswept outside. Murdo, a gruff Hebridean AB
(Able-Bodied Seaman) tells me to look at the horizon but sometimes I can’t
find even that.
It’s been a good trip, quieter than the inward journey, but good. A lot of
the passengers now just want to go home. Icebergs, penguins,albatrosses,
even whales, don’t attract crowds anymore. The decks outside are empty.
People would pay thousands for trip like this and we’re inside playing
cards or watching videos. But each to their own.
I’ve been loving it.
Departure from Halley was dramatic and quick. A break in the storm and we were
bundled aboard and sailing away before we could say goodbye. The ship was waiting
for us, nestled sideways in a Shack-sized gap
against the ice. (Have a look at the photos on the Shackleton website.)
Bags were thrown in a net and pulled up by crane. Our journey aboard was not much
diffferent. Before we knew it, we were waving goodbye to the fourteen remaining
winnterers standing on the ice shelf. Actually, only to twelve as two had to stay
behind to guard the base. They looked like a very
little group. But very able. And away we sailed.
The memorable days at sea this time ’round are notable by sitings of land.
The ocean-only days blur together. It was a shock to suddenly have nothing
to do again. Everyone slept for the first week. Calm seas. Nights. NIGHTS.
Did you hear me?! NIGHTS! STARS! PHOSPHORESCENCE! I had forgotten how dark
the nights could be. I tripped over my feet. I had forgotten how numerous
the stars are. And how huge is Orion, how bright Venus. I had forgetten the
comforting blanket of darkness, the joy of night invisibility as welcome as
city anonymity after living in a small community. As vast as Halley is, it
is flat and the the light was continual. There is a sign-out board that
follows everyone’s movements. The radio will always find you. There is
nowhere to hide.
We found ourselves sailing past the South Sandwich islands at some point.
A rare spot to visit, a treat. They were covered in fog for most of the day
but the occasional break revealed mountains soaring out of the ocean and
many clouds above. Clouds forming as condensate on steam coming out of the
mountain. These are live volcanoes. Behind us we saw a brief glimpse of
smoke billowing out of a different island peak, and then it was gone.
I saw whales breaching and playing. Killer Whales, Minkes, Right Whales.
Right Whales look like logs floating on the surface hence their name: they
were the Right whale to kill. Beautiful and large, a glimpse of a whale is
exciting beyond the superficial; it is comforting. There is, for me,
something very restful about knowing that whales still inhabit the ocean.
It doesn’t take much to restore my faith in the Earth.
We also returned to South Georgia, that paradise I raved
about on my way in. Within minutes of arrival, the ship had emptied and island
absorbed its visitors in all possible hiding spots. Winterers who hadn’t left
Halley for 33 months were greeted by an onslaught upon every sense. The smell
of seals and penguins and greenery and life! The feel of bouncy ground, touch
of grass, the taste of fresh spring water, the sight of mountains and the sounds,
o! the sounds of wildlife calling from every cranny! An onslaught indeed. This
time I went for a walk from Grytviken to Myviken. Try as I might, I couldn’t imagine
where else this scenery could be found. New Zealand perhaps? Scotland? The Mediterranean?
Green, moss covered ground, bouncy. Scree. Mountains. Ocean. Blue, island blue,
ocean. Crazy huge clouds. Lakes. High tuffets of grass. Pebble beaches. Caves.
Children’s paradise were it not for the FUR SEALS! Under every nook, ready to
hiss from behind any tuffet, watching you always, chasing you, ‘get off my territory’
fur seals. That’s what you first notice, because you have to. Once accustomed
however, the wider variety of life becomes apparrant. Penguins: Adelies, Kings,
Chinstraps and Gentoos. Elephant seals, huge and docile. The blue-eyed shag (it’s
a bird, I assure you!) and South Georgia pippins. I think this is where life began.
Four o’clock ship’s call and we were all on deck again. This time waving
goodbye to a different set of winterers. It’s so nice to know I’ll be back.
“See you next year” we shouted as the ship pulled away, big grins on every
face. The mountains, the glaciers, the islands and colours…. if you ever
take a tour ship around the South Atlantic, try to ensure South Georgia
appears on the itinerary somewhere. From the places where life began to the
ones where life can’t survive, this continent has it all.