Back into the ice

63° 38 minutes South 143° 27 minutes East

Sunrise on sea ice

I think the sun set last night at about 0130. Not that it got dark as such. The sun just dipped below the horizon briefly and then came back. By 0430 there was enough light streaming into my cabin to wake me up.

At about 0615, Rodney announced we were heading back into the ice. We had found a sizeable lead and were heading south. This saw the morning sun stream directly through my now eastern facing porthole and onto my bed.

I got up and put on almost every piece of clothing I had. Although a bright sunny day it seemed to be sub-zero outside and the decks had a thin yet treacherous layer of ice on them.

The sun poked its head above a cloud bank producing that classic Bible cover starburst effect which then glistened off the surrounding ice floes.  At least one floe had an Adelie penguin on it but it was several hundred metres away. The ice is apparently about 20NM further north than when we left it. I am not sure if this is good or bad news. I am also not sure what the plans for the day are. Perhaps we will just continue to head south until we find an iceberg to Zodiac around. (I have just turned Zodiac into a verb).

There are now only nine sleeps until the voyage ends. Although it is good to get to single figures, it is still a long time. Maybe if I break it into smaller chunks. Five sleeps till my birthday. Then two more sleeps till Christmas and solid ground. Then two more sleeps till New Zealand, then one more sleep and I am home.

Ahhh…. That’s much better.

It took all the mental strength I had to get out of bed this morning. Part of my mind was thinking of the wonderful views I would see, part of my mind was saying it would probably not look too different from the last time we were in the ice (with the exception of the lower sun). My body was telling my to go back to sleep. I think I may be suffering from mild depression.

More people are voicing the opinion, which roughly goes “What the fuck are we doing and when will it end.” Unfortunately few if any have expressed this to Rodney.

My cabin mate, Ira, would like to return to Macquarie Island and permits notwithstanding, this is a practical suggestion as it was close to the path of the original homeward journey. However, I have just discovered that he is a guest of Heritage Expeditions and doesn’t want to bite the hand that feeds him.

No doubt we will learn more as the day progresses. We will probably have a briefing after breakfast.

Caverns in an iceberg

It is now just after lunch and we did indeed find an iceberg to Zodiac around. It was quite an old iceberg and had lots of caves and arches and cracks and crevices. The sky was overcast so the sun was evenly filtered and dispersed with any highlights. It was the perfect sky for photographing the icebergs, which show as either perfect white or the type of blue for which the word azure was invented. It was magical. From some angles the iceberg looked like a matte background used in a movie. The light was so unlike any light I have seen before the result is a series of photos that look digitally enhanced even though they are completely unadulterated.  We saw some penguins as well. We saw two Emperor penguins, two Adelie penguins and another group of four Adelie. They are great to watch for short periods of time, but they tend not to do much.  They take a step or two or flop onto their bellies and stay there while five Zodiacs worth of people take their photo.

Don’t get me wrong it is a wonderful experience. But the law of diminishing marginal returns has to kick in at some stage. It is probably safe to say that I am all penguined out. If another species shows up I’ll be racing for  the camera, but more of the same is more of the same.

After two hours in the Zodiacs my feet were starting to feel a bit numb, despite one pair of thermal socks and thick woollen socks on top. Next time I will use the heat pads that Sue bought for me. I tried them when we came back on board and they seemed to work, although not that good through two pairs of socks.


Ice pillar and Zodiac

So far it is only the skivvy, scarf and ski goggles I have not used in anger. The scarf is superfluous if I’m using the balaclava, the skivvy I’ll pull out on fancy dress evening to be the Black Wiggle, and although the ski goggles would have been handy on the last Zodiac trip I wonder if they would be better or worse for taking photos. On one hand it is an extra thing to look though, however they would divert the breath that now steams up my glasses when I’m wearing the balaclava.

The post-lunch staff meeting was an sign that Rodney had hatched a plan and it was soon made public. We are to head further south into the ice and look for an iceberg to Zodiac around. If today didn’t already seem like the Groundhog Day version of two days ago, this afternoon will be the Groundhog Day version of this morning. I think after steaming a few hours south I am likely to be overcome with an acute case of couldn’t be fucked.

In fact I think it just kicked in as there is nothing more I can think to write.

It is now after dinner.

The second Zodiac cruise went ahead although only 35 people went off the boat. The most favourable description of the cruise was ‘lame’. They cruised around shitty little ice floes and saw a couple of terns.

On their return the bar was packed. Everyone needed a drink and most people were bitching about the state of affairs.

One person revealed that two weeks before we left, next years trip was taken off the Heritage Expeditions website. This is serious because it means that two weeks before we left they decided not to run a trip next year. Clearly they knew then that we would not be able to make it to Mawson’s Hut and yet that let the tour run without notifying anyone or giving us the opportunity for a refund. If this is true it is absolutely despicable and probably breaches some part of the Trade Practices Act. I will certainly be having a chat to people at Fair Trading to see if these people can be brought to task.

Rodney didn’t speak to anyone at drinks tonight. After dinner he announced his plan. We would stay where we are tonight with the engines off and drift in the current. The ocean is like a mill-pond at the moment and there is very little wind. But the decision to drift aimlessly seems to now be a metaphor for this whole trip. Normally you would use the night to get from one place to another. Instead we are going to stay here and make a decision in the morning. What could we possibly do, another lame Zodiac cruise around the same ice floes? Or is this just a delaying tactic to put our departure to as close to Rodney’s original plan of leaving on the 20th. He is fucking us around just because he is too stubborn and proud to alter his plans.

Pointing penguin on icefloe

Today he gave one of the Zodiac drivers a dressing down. The driver in question is the most popular driver as he is very accommodating and takes the passengers where they want to go. This free spirit is too much for a control freak like Rodney. Today Rodney decided to teach our Zodiac driver a lesson and while her attention was on the penguins at the front of the boat he deliberately nudged ice floes across her escape route and boxed her in. He then berated her efforts to get out.

He calls these trips expeditions, but I am pretty sure the expeditioners of the heroic age of polar exploration didn’t walk aimlessly in circles because they didn’t want to return to base camp early. Expedition my arse.


Cavernous iceberg

I have just been outside for a walk around the deck. It is incredible. There is not a breath of wind and the ocean is the flattest piece of water I have ever seen. The swell is so small it is barely perceptible, a few centimetres if that. You can see a change in the colour of the water as it slowly comes towards the boat. The only ripples on the surface are where the (insert name of ) seabirds are occasionally dipping their toes in the water as they fly past. Around the boat at a distance of a few kilometres are 7-10 icebergs. The sea is absolutely silent. It is magical, beautiful and slightly eerie. The only sound is the ever-present sound of the whatever engines are required to keep the ship functioning. It is a total feeling not just a visual experience. Trying to capture it on film (or digital image to be precise) could not do it justice, so I will not even sully the moment by attempting to do so.

I wish to savour this moment so I will go to bed now and dream on a silent sea.

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