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Category Archives: Antarctic Circle
This morning at 10:00 we slowly nosed over the Antarctic Circle – that point at which the sun refuses to dip below the horizon in the Southern summer and stubbornly hides its face for the duration of winter. The sea was shrouded in fog as we crossed the line and the wind was eerily absent so that an feeling of mystery hung in the air to be shattered by the strident blast from the ships fog horn to mark passing of the circle. This is the furthest South we have made it this year and despite the heavy ice we know will dog us as we make for Marguerite Bay, right now there is no ice in sight and the air temperature is a comfortable zero degrees. Strange to think that here in the depth of the Antarctic we are walking around in light sweaters while in Europe people are freezing to death in the grips of an icy spell that has seen temperatures thirty degrees below zero. But then again the Antarctic is a capricious mistress and all this calm weather leaves me with an inkling that at any moment the gales will be switched on and the ship will be wreathed in ice as the blizzard begins.
We are on our way back across the Drake with the Antarctic circle in front of us … a slightly longer trip than typical and a trip which will take us into the “big ice”. This season has seen us encountering unusually heavy ice all through the Antarctic Peninsula but this time we will be heading into a region where no ships have managed to reach their destination. The ice has formed a barrier that thus far has withheld the summer traffic but we hope to pierce throuhgh the circle and beyond. Sometimes it feels like we are a very small boat in a big ocean but the journey itself is half the challenge…
This is the last trip of the season and we have reached our most southerly point at Stonington Island south of the Antarctic Circle. This means that we are now working our way slowly north up the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, and ultimately I’ll continue North all the way to Europe. I look forward to some sunshine in a way but it’s always sad saying goodbye to the Antarctic continent. This white icy land has a magnetism that is already drawing me back even though I have not yet left. Then again, there are signs all around to indicate that the season is over. The weather is shifting with strong winds and blizzards, the penguins have fled the shore leaving just a handful of miserable looking molting individuals on the barren rock now denuded of it’s white carpet of snow. The whales are still here but they are bust feeding up before they too turn North and flee the teeth of winter. It is definitely time to go, but still every moment in this wilderness is a gift and now that I will soon leave it in my wake I am relishing every moment.
Today we steamed across the thin dotted line, which marks the point in Antarctica where we get 24 hour sunlight in the summer. The weather was ferocious and the whales were plentiful amidst the spume and ice which made this a truly Antarctic experience. But it does make you think. Just a few days ago the yacht Beserker went misssing in the Southern Ocean south of New Zealand. I’ve met the skipper of this yacht and he is about an adventurous guy as they come and also keen to tackle any adventure he can conceive. But then again perhaps he bit off a little more than he can chew on this instance. Well, actually he certainly did. Late in the season the Antarctic can be a bitter place – you have to be prepared for the worst even at the best of times – the loss of life and ships at sea is no laughing matter, and for a couple planning a trip down to these waters it is a moment to ground your dreams. Here is a tragedy that could, should, have never happened. I’ve been in these waters for over six years and there are times when the seas of Antarctica are truly humbling. This is not a place to play games – the sea will always win. As much as we love the stories of hardship and adventure, the most important thing in the world is to return safely with a story to tell your loved ones and a lesson whispered into your ear by the wind.
Just days after crossing the Antarctic Circle we were reminded that this is still a dangerous place to take vessels even with all the modern technology carried aboard. Yesterday we were on standby all day after hearing reports that another ship in the region, the Polar Star, had run aground off Detaille Island and was taking on water. As we were the nearest vessel in the area we were all set to go to the rescue and take aboard the passengers and crew who had a very dismal outlook. As it turns out the Polar Star was able to get off the rock and slowly limp to a nearby research station to assess the situation, but it was a close thing. Meanwhile the ice blew in and kept us away from our landing today forcing us to divert to plan B and cruise amongst the icebergs that were likely a key factor in the grounding of the other ship. Not that I’m complaining…stunning landscape with literally hundreds of crabeater seals and an infinite array of shapes and colours in the ice. Very pretty but also it is worth remembering occasionally that this ice can lead to the end of our aspirations if we don’t pay our respects…
At 9:10 today we crossed the Antarctic Circle with a toast of hot chocolate and much cheering. Strange to think how long humans strived to reach this line on the globe, yet how easily we breeze across today. The weather had come to remind us that we were at the end of the earth with driving snow and ice bergs looming in the mist, but overall it seems incredibly easy compared to the trials of James Cook and the Endeavour as it crossed for the first time. Amazing to think of the things in easy reach today and the way it diminishes the respect we feel for the wild world around us. When we sail down here in our small yacht it will be a different story – no simple skip across the circle but a slog comparable to the sailing days of old – albeit supplement with various technological marvels to assist. But at the end of the day, I like thinking that we have to strive to reach the ends of the Earth because this is the only planet we have. It’s nice to think that we can’t breeze our way to every corner of the globe and do as we wish.
We have left Ushuaia with a new bunch of passengers and are charging south for the Antarctic Circle and the furthest south point that we have made this season. And I mean charging. Right on our heels is a very deep depression (a weather system) that promises to make life very difficult if we dawdle so we are going at top speed and trying to escape the clutches of a storm that would probably be at the higher end of severity even for the dreaded Drake passage. At our present speed of 15 knots we may just get out of the worst of it, but I expect tomorrow morning we will be feeling the wrath of the ocean as we feel the waves of heavy weather reach out and lash us with waves ands wind. So far we have been lucky in the Drake but I get the feeling we may not escape this trip unscathed…