Cruising through the sea on a snowy morning


The edge of the sea ice

63° 41 minutes south 143° 47 minutes east

Whose sea is this I think I know,

His house is in New Zealand though,

He will not mind me stopping here,

To watch his sea fill up with snow.

My little ship must think it queer,

To stop without an island near,

The captain gives a double-take,

To see if there is some mistake,

But I have promises to keep,

And nautical miles before I sleep, and nautical miles before I sleep.

(After Robert Frost)

After cruising around in the ice yesterday, we headed back north in the evening to the edge of the ice and have then turned west to follow the ice edge.

A 25 knot northerly has kicked in so we are sailing across the wind which is making for a rolling journey. The wind has had the effect of pushing the ice closer together and it is quite tightly packed. I don’t think we could make it through that ice, so we will continue to skirt the edge cruising about 200m away. Rodney has a hunch that we might see some wildlife, possibly whales although with visibility down to about 400m (oh did I say it was snowing as well), we won’t see any wildlife unless we are almost running over it.

News has come through that a fishing boat in the Ross Sea has sent out a mayday call. It is taking on water and listing at 13°. It has a crew of 32 and some of them have been placed on an ice floe. New Zealand search and rescue are co-ordinating the rescue effort, but the nearest ship is 300nm away. It will take them several days to reach the stricken vessel. We are too far away to offer help.

So outside it is cold and snow and poor visibility, so nothing much to see. We are stuck inside. There are lectures planned for today, but in a rolling sea the lecture theatre is not a pleasant place to be. We continue to mark time until it is time to go home.

There was another presentation this morning about Mawson (and Mertz and Ninnis). This was a live presentation with an accompanying slide show and gave exactly the same information as we had seen in any earlier documentary. I decided to skip the later documentary on the sex cycle of the Adelie penguin. I like a good documentary as much as the next person, but there are only so many you can take in a short space of time on the same or related subjects.

The weather has not improved and now the storm doors are closed on level 400, meaning we can’t go out on deck. The ship is very quiet, everyone is keeping to themselves. I wonder if like me they are thinking what their mental state will be if we continue to cruise around in bad weather for four more days.

At lunch several people questioned the value of this and wondered why we couldn’t go back early. To be fair, one person was supportive of what we are doing, but his logic didn’t make sense. “I paid to see ice!” he said.  Look out the window, how much more fucking ice do you want.

The plot of the ships course on the video displays tells the whole story. Previously it would only show straight lines as we went directly from one destination to the other. Now we have no destination and the course resembles the walking pattern of a sailor on shore leave. If it weren’t a dry bridge, you’d think the helmsman was drunk. If this were a bus trip I’d get off at the next stop and find my own way home.

I just pulled up Rodney and asked him why we couldn’t finish earlier and he said he had never considered it an option. It would put out the travel plans of 50-plus people and in his 25-year career he had never finished an expedition early. So while there are the practical considerations that might prove difficult, there is also Rodney’s pride/stubbornness/ hubris/reputation to consider. He said he had never thought of ending early because nobody had brought it up, although now that I had, he said the decision would almost have to be unanimous before he would consider it. He is setting a pretty high bar to jump over before he is willing to change his plans. He refers to this as rigid flexibility. The start and end times are rigid, in between is flexible even if it means sailing in circles waiting for the end time.

Close up of snow

There has just been the call that we are passing a concentration of krill. It appears as a dark stain in the ocean. As it is the only wildlife we have seen all day, I guess I’d better go to the bridge and have a look.

I missed the krill but was reliably informed that it looked just like and had all the excitement of a passing oil slick.

There is some talk that we are now heading for the south magnetic pole.  Apparently someone radioed the French base at Dumont D’Urville to ask them where it was. I think it is somewhere in the ocean (as it moves around a bit) and if so it will undoubtedly look like every other piece of ocean surrounding it with the exception that your compass might play up a bit.


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