50° 32 minutes South 166° 13 minutes East.
This morning at some ungodly hour of the morning we began moving from our little sheltered inlet around to the north part of the island and another inlet called Port Ross. It is here that we will have our penultimate landing (the last one being the landing of no return).
Everyone on the boat is happy and wishing each other both Joyeux Noel and Happy Christmas. The Russian (Orthodox) Christmas is not for a few weeks yet.
Soon after I awoke I listened to Sue’s Xmas message, which consisted of a song and instructions about the three numbered presents. One was a novelty Christmas ear-ring, two was a pair of novelty Christmas boxing shorts and three was a 5cl bottle of 21 year old Poit Dhubh Gaelic Whisky. I was instructed to wear the first two all day and drink the third at lunch time. There was also a card that Sue had made with pictures of her and Jules and scented with her perfume.
Although there are two sleeps to go, there are really only two days to go as well, since the third day is basically wake up, have breakfast and get off.
The landing today was awesomely magically almost indescribable. Rodney gave a very detailed briefing before hand and said how there had been Maori and Moriori living on the island when the Enderby business tried to start a settlement with 300 people. It lasted from 1849-1853 and very little of it remains. There are the ruins of a boatshed and a castaway depot and a small cemetery with a handful of graves. The original wooden grave markers had been replaced with new ones, except for two original stone gravestones. One of these was for a three month old child. The grave stone had a square hole in the middle of it as it had been made from a millstone. It was quite poignant as it was clear the father had realised he was never ever going to use the stone with milling grain and found a more tragic use for it. The path to the graveyard was really the only path on this part of the island and was lined with a boardwalk. In total we had about two hours to just explore on our own.
The rata forest here is absolutely magical. The forest had been cut down during the settlement times, but the trunks had not been removed and grew back with multiple trunks growing out of the original single trunk. The result is a forest with fewer trees, but many more trunks. These trunks tend to grow tall and straight, leaving a fairly open sub-storey and a tight canopy. The light in the forest is subdued and mottled. When the wind blows the light and shadow dances along the forest floor in waves and it almost looks like the ground itself is rolling in the wind.
Because they was nowhere to get lost we were left to our own devices and so I wondered off into the forest to take photos. I got to one point where I thought I would take a photo and just stood there with a camera and tripod and my shoulder and looked. Before I knew it, the dancing light had induced an almost trance-like state. I stared at nothing in particular and took it all in. I then began listening to the forest. I closed my eyes to heighten my hearing and then tried to focus it even more. I said to myself, “Try to hear the sound of a single leaf falling”, and very soon I could. It was absolutely beautiful and before I knew it a tear was rolling down my cheek. I realised that this was the first time in 25 days that I had been absolutely alone without any man-made noises. No pumps, no fans, no motors, no inane comments from fellow passengers.
Although I originally stopped to take a photo, it now seemed wrong to do so, as if I was violating some secret pact between me and the forest. Once I tried to take a photo I was forced to think, and think technically and the moment began to fade. I did take a few photos and then sat down in the leaf litter in front of the tripod. I rested my back against the root of a tree, felt the cool of the earth and the moist leaves. I lay back and closed my eyes again. The mottled light drew patterns on the inside of my eyelids and the semi-hypnotic state return. Having spent the last two weeks lying back with my eyes shut wishing the days away I was now lying back with my eyes shut wishing the moment could be longer.
Several people walked past at various distances and mostly they seemed to be respecting the silence of the forest. Then Ira walked past, very close and said “Isn’t it magical?”. I gave a short “Mmmm” of agreement, although I really wanted to say “It was until you opened your fucking mouth.” There was a certain irony in breaking the magic by mentioning it, but I don’t think he realised . Once he was gone the magic returned quickly and it was another 20 minutes until I moved. Even when I did it took about 10 minutes to pack up. After every little moment I stopped and took in the scene some more. It was a long goodbye to the forest.
Although I had been there for only an hour or so, it was quite harsh to come back to the beach with the sound of the Zodiacs and my fellow passengers. I tried to savour that last moment and although I couldn’t regain the silence I lay down on the warm pebbles with my eyes shut and hands spread out literally feeling the ground beneath me. I didn’t talk until I got back on board the ship.
Once on board we had lunch. This was merely a lunch on Christmas Day, not a Christmas lunch. Our Christmas meal comes tonight.
Because we never made it to Antarctica, we never had the chance to have a “Polar Plunge”, so we just had the “Sub-Antarctic Plunge” instead. The port gangway was lowered and the brave souls either jumped into the water from the top or walked to the bottom and jumped in from there. There were about ten participants (I wasn’t one of them) but with a water temperature of around 11° it wasn’t outrageously cold either. Still slightly colder than the blow-up swimming pool we have at home on Christmas Day.
The bar is opening early today and we are having a Christmas Quiz. I will probably consume my Gaelic Christmas present around that time as well.
I dutifully consumed my present and some beer besides and participated in the quiz. The Francophones decided to sing “Silent Night” although it would have been better had they merely demonstrated the concept of having a silent night.
Soon afterwards we sat down for Christmas Dinner and it was a buffet style with 73 different types of meat. As is always the case everyone ate too much and then had to be rolled away.
I went up to the bridge to watch the ship make its way out of the bay when something wonderful happened. Helen Mawson appeared on the bridge with a 1911 bottle of Seppeltsfield Port, the same port that the company had supplied for the Mawson Expedition. Yes, that’s right, 100 year old port, and she was giving out samples. It smelt wonderful and tasted magic even if it was slightly syrupy.
We have now set sail for the Snares. It is 156NM and we should arrive some time late tomorrow morning. I have heard talk that the shallow waters between here and the Snares are some of the most treacherous on the trip, as if the Southern Ocean is preparing a last and unforgettable goodbye. I hope it won’t be too bad, but even if it is, it won’t last for long.
I decided to forego further festive celebrations and take a horizontal approach to the trip to Snares. I would hate to end the trip feeling ill.