personal: Back on the Shack

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.

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4 Responses to personal: Back on the Shack

  1. erika salmon says:

    You have rediscovered the night, touched the grass, ecountered exotic wildlife – now just your first rainbow to wait for. And very soon the automobile and aeroplane. These contraptions will speed you home and I look forward to your arrival. Your blogs have been wonderful.

    Keep healthy and safe and without too much sea sickness.

    Much Love


  2. Amy says:

    Safe journey. Take it from a less able-bodied

    sea(wo)man the horizon really helps! But if in doubt, stick to stugeron, eat ginger and keep horizontal low down on the boat near the middle! So when are you due back if all is on schedule? What adventures (detours) do you have planned for the trip home? So excited about hearing your tales in person. Thank you for brightening my life. Love always Ames xxx

  3. esteebie says:

    What were the people left behind guarding the base from? – Those pesky thieving penguins?

    See you soon, can’t wait xS

  4. Nikki says:

    An incredible journey, you never fail to amaze me. With much love, admiration & one question…

    Would you be up for Glastonbury for my hen weekend?

    Nikki xx

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