This is the day for the good news and the bad news.
On the good side the sea is calm. I mean really calm. I mean calmer than Sydney Harbour on a calm day. I slept almost all through the night and everything on the ship is where it was left last night. In fact, I don’t think my middle ear had adjusted to the sudden stillness and as I rolled over in bed I had a momentary episode of BPPV.
We don’t know the results of the iceberg spotting competition, but the first one was spotted last night. That’s if we had a night. It was still fairly light at 0130 this morning.
The scenery has completely changed. Rather than seeing nothing but ocean for as far as the eye can see, there is nothing but sea-ice for as far as the eye can see. This actually has a bit of variety and the vista is punctuated by the jagged outline of icebergs. The biggest one so far has been about 200m long.
This ship is not an icebreaker, it is only ice strengthened. This means we can push the ice out of the way as long as it has somewhere to go.
Some of the pieces of ice has the tell-tale signs of having had penguins slide across them, but as of yet, I haven’t seen a penguin. We have seen several seals lazing on the ice.
We are 62° 39 minutes south, 145° 59 minutes east so still a long way from the Antarctic Circle. Rodney says it is unusual to see so much ice so far north and that it didn’t bode well.
It hasn’t, as we found out at the morning briefing.
The bottom line is that we are not going to get to Mawson’s Hut. We are not even going to be able to reach the Antarctic continent.
The grounding of the Mertz Glacier tongue has hampered the usual flow of ice out of the Ross Sea. This tongue broke off last year and is over 90km long. It ran aground near Commonwealth Bay and is blocking all the ice that would normally float past. Of the two ships that were ahead of us, one has turned back and the other, which is an icebreaker, only got to within 14NM of the coast. That ship has helicopters and was able to get people ashore. Of course, it has two vital pieces of equipment that we don’t.
With the way the ice is at the moment, it could be years until it is possible to get a normal boat into Commonwealth Bay. It might score a bit of street cred to say we were the last of the expeditions to attempt to get to Mawson’s Hut, but nothing can overcome the profound feeling of disappointment at not getting there.
I have saved for this trip for two years, both in money and in leave and it has all come to nothing. Sure, I’ve seen some great scenery and great wildlife, but they were merely sideshows for the main event, which will now not be screening.
Rodney ran through some scenarios in the brief, but they were not real options. He still wants to have Christmas in the Auckland Islands, which means we don’t have to leave here until 20 December. When I asked if we could meet Santa at Invercargill or at our homes, Rodney dismissed this by saying “Santa is all packed and ready for Auckland Island.” That means six days of cruising around in the ice. As exciting as it is, one can only stand on deck looking at ice for so long. The first seal is exciting, the first penguin is exciting, but I strongly suspect most of that excitement will be eaten up today.
According to the current timetable, it will be 10-11 days at sea, before we get to walk on dry land again.
Although if we come across an ice floe that is big enough, Rodney might launch the Zodiacs so we can step on the ice.
Eleven days at sea would be challenge enough on Fairstar the Fun Ship or the QEII, but on this Russian rust bucket it is going to be depressing.
Rodney won’t even consider the option of shortening the trip. He says Santa has packed up all the presents for Auckland Island and it can’t be changed. I think that sucks. We can’t get to where we want to go and we have already visited all the places originally scheduled for the return journey (excepting Snares Island where we can’t land anyway). It seems utterly pointless to cruise around looking for fucking seals when we could just cut our losses and go home. I now feel like I am in prison. The ship is a physical prison and although I am free to leave my cell the moat around the prison prevents any escape. It is also a mental prison. My mind wants it to end and I am counting the days till we get back home. It doesn’t matter how often I look at the calendar it doesn’t get any shorter. I don’t want to wish my life away but shear tedium of day to day is excruciating.
I am not homesick as such, I can just think of a lot of other things I could be doing with my time. Prior to coming on this trip I hated organised tours and I hated cruises. This trips cements my distaste further.
We kept heading south through the ice looking for seals and penguins and came upon a very large iceberg. The water was dead still and it was surrounded by ice floes. We hove to and got the Zodiacs in the water.
We cruised around the iceberg and surrounding floes and saw some penguins on the ice. We also climbed aboard one of the floes. With each step we sank into the ice by about half a welly, but overall it was quite stable. Today I broke my own personal best for taking photos with 260 between about 0900 and 1630. Amazing. I suspect I may have a lot of time to edit them.
One photo I took is absolutely fantastic. The professional photographer with whom I share my cabin is raving about it and he is telling everyone on board to come and see it. He is suggesting I enter it in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. That’s a pretty big rap!