Before and After

Note from Felix: Due to email cock-ups, I received both these blogs

at the same time. So here they are, Before and After.

Before, Part 1:

Arbritrary day, arbritrary time.

I feel as though we are floating through a mirage. The water outside is so

calm, it can only be identified by reflections of cloud and ice. Behind us,

we leave a wake of ripples like velvet chocolate. The space in front is

dappled and continuous, occasionally broken by the landing of a bird or,

magically, breaching of a whale. It is silent outside. Inside, it is

impossible to feel any motion of the ship, so calm it is. Floating through

a mirage of grey. Mesmerising.

Yesterday I could see nothing but open water in every direction, to the horizon.

Today there are a few bits of broken pack ice floating around, blue and melting

below the surface, snow-like above, perfectly reflected in the mirror underneath.

The more I contemplate it, the more erie it becomes. So still, so silent, so

smooth, and so huge. An enormous expanse of open water so close to the Antarctic,

surrounded by ice. This is a polynya: at some point, the Shack

website should have my entry about it and photos. We’ve been sailing through

this for a couple of days now and probably have another day to go. At the other

side: The Ice Shelf and hopefully a shore lead all the way to Halley.

We went to Bird Island after Signy. From ice castles and magical light to

a heaving, overpowering concentration of life. The smells, the sounds, the activity.

Continual and everywhere, the dance of life. Mating, fighting, hunting, flying,

nesting, feeding, killing, breeding. “My anxiety on Bird Island is similar to

that which I feel in central London on a Saturday night” said one, others were

spellbound by the activity and proximity of wildlife around us.

I was a little overwhelmed by the fur seals upon arrival, unavoidable and territorial.

Similarly, the colony of 70,000 macaroni penguins was almost too large to comprehend.

But in between these two, we walked through marshland amongst large, peaceful

birds. The Wandering Albatross. Imagine you are crouching down, as though to

speak to a child. At eye level, you look at the nesting bird, perfect white,

enormous, silent, eye to eye. Some nests had birds waiting to lay, others had

chicks, a year old, waiting to fly. They’ve been sitting here on their own for

the last nine months, fattening up, replacing fluff with feathers, stretching

their wings and trying to jump. Sometimes they climb to the top of the cliff,

jump off, flap, and fall to the bottom. Then they start climbing again. One

day, they’ll jump, their wings will hold them and they’ll fly and fly and fly,

not returning for five years or so until they’re ready to nest. Once airborne,

I guess, there’s no turning back. I feel a bit the same way about coming to

Halley!

Albatrosses and penguins: so different, yet, in one way, so similar. When

the penguin swims, he is as sleek as a dolphin, when the albatross flies, it

is effortless and powerful. When either try to walk, it is awkward and painfully

funny to watch. But to swim or fly like that – who are we to laugh?

Before, Part 2:

Past midnight and I need shades outside.

We visited South Georgia after Bird Island, as heavenly as I tried to describe

last year, and then set sail East. East to the Greenwich Meridian and then south

down the coast. Rough seas first, then hard ice crunching, then the polynya:

bizarrely calm.

Eternal sunset, or is it sunrise, for a while, and now permanent light. Bright

white daylight light. I have no concept of what my next meal-type should be

like or if it’s bed time. There is no concept of time, let alone flavour of

day, week or festive date.

We have now left the polynya and are sailing down a shore lead towards Halley.

Ice shelf on one side, broken pack ice on the other. I can almost touch Antarctica!

We’re due to arrive tomorrow. TOMORROW!! It will have taken exactly eight weeks

to get here. I don’t know how I feel. I just want to be there now. It’s time,

it’s definitely time. Outside, the scenery is stunning but inside, we’re all

going bonkers. I’m beginning to realise that this trip is going to be more than

a physical challenge.

If you want to see any more photos or hear another’s point of view, check

out the Shack

and Halley

websites. A fellow-winterer, Simon, is also writing a web

diary. And if that’s not enough, there are even

more blogs

if you want them! Use these resources, that way you might have a reference in

mid-winter if really do go bonkers! Happy Christmas to you all and to my family

and friends, I love you. xx

After:

Right here, Right now. HALLEY!!!

Eight weeks ago to the day I boarded this vessel, today we arrived at Halley.

Crunch. There’s about 5 miles of solid sea ice between us and the ice shelf

we need to get to so we’ll be ramming the ice for a good day or three yet before

we get off the ship…. but we’re here.

Standing on the deck this afternoon in a towel and sarong having just emerged

from a sauna, I saw three skidoos appear. Like electricity firing when a switch

closes, the connection was made, we had arrived. By some miracle, we travel

to the ends of the earth and there, waiting for us, are people. And more bizarre

yet, people I know! A few hours later, a BAS twin otter circled over head so

close I could see the co-pilot waving at me. All my cynicism, sluggishneess

and griping of the past couple of weeks dissolved in an instant. I love it here.

It doesn’t matter how long it takes now before I see the base, I know we have

arrived. Carols on the fo’c'sle this evening were surely a celebration for us

all. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you all. Rhian xx

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2 Responses to Before and After

  1. Jim says:

    Hello Rhian,

    I am glad to here you’ve arrived safely. What does it feel like at the end of earth? How is the weather there now? We are having a heat wave here in Toronto, plus 2, no snow in the forecast. We did have about ten cm.last week. I have been on holidays since Dec.1 Nothing new in North America, except for the usual terroist threats. Have blessed Christmas and whatever New Year is like down there. Try and stay warm.

    Kind regards,

    Jim (The caretaker)

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