After five days being shaken through the ship as a pair of marbles that got forgotten on a wash cycle, Friday I woke up strangely horizontal…and cold. Through the small hatch on my room I could already see big blocks of floating ice on the other side. We had just reached the edge of the Antarctic sea ice. At the time we were somewhere between 50 and 60º. In these latitudes, the ocean is still warm enough to prevent sea ice from forming up but its already cold enough so that the blocks that are being dragged north with the currents remain solid for quite some time. The water temperature is around 3º around here.
I could sense the agitation on the ship almost immediately. After all the days fighting to keep meals, so thoughtfully prepared by Shackleton’s chef, in the correct areas of the digestive system, everyone was visibly relieved. Now you could finally stop popping those dreadful seasickness pill and you could run around the corridors without fear of breaking the hip.
Moral around ship was high.
Besides that, after days stuck on the inside, the captain finally gave us green light to go out on the deck and other exterior areas, as long as we were properly clothed of course. Until that point all exterior areas were out of bounds to us since there was too much oscillation and searching for dead bodies on the angry sea is mostly annoying.
The air temperature is going around 0º C from the past two days now. On a quiet day it is fairly bearable but all I need is a small breeze to get unbelievable uncomfortable. In the beginning of this week we got access to out kit bags. These are big orange clothing bags, issued by BAS with all our exterior clothing for the Antarctic. Its a big set with coats, hats, gloves, pants and even socks. The most interesting and useful item its the boiler suit, which is basically a big heavy overall that is so orange that it almost glows in the dark.
The bight orange has a logic behind it. It is very easy to spot someone wearing one of these in the snow and thus steer the tractor away from him or her. For now it is still a bit overkill because it is so warm and fuzzy, but it will be perfect for doing work on the snow later on. If the wind is calm, with an extra shirt, a thermal coat over it, gloves and a woolly hat I can stay outside for wildlife photos for as long as I want.
Fist day that I stuck my head outside and I spot an iceberg almost immediately. Last satellite pictures from N9 bay, our planned docking point on the antarctic coast, show two giant icebergs, each one with over 20 miles (~3.2 km) end to end, blocking the access to it. It is still early to worry about that anyhow. With some luck, the ascending antarctic currents and wind should push them far away. After all, if it wasn’t for these currents and the natural tendency of these things to go up and down the oceans, James Cameron wouldn’t have won that many Oscars. This one is much, much smaller.
Shortly after, as pieces upon pieces of floating sea ice were going through the side of the ship, I finally saw my first penguins. Until this time I had already seen plenty of birds, mostly petrels and an odd albatroz here and there, but the first penguins is always a memorable event. It was just a pair of “chinstraps”, one of the smallest and fuzziest types around here. They were all happy and socializing while drifting on an ice floe in the middle of nowhere. They were also probably bad mouthing us.
Some of us were lucky enough to spot a whale that afternoon, but not me thats for sure. Smokers are the best whale spotters. Around these parts, you need a lot of patience and luck to get just a glimpse of a fin. Wildlife around here is still very sporadic and any penguin or seal that we might see are probably lost or in the middle of some whacky adventure. Thats why any smoker that spends 10 or 15 minutes every hour or so contemplating the calm ocean has more chances of spotting a whale than any other.
From these latitudes onwards, rain is going to be rare. Any kind of precipitation from now on would be snow for sure. For someone who spend most of its life in the southern part of Portugal, snow is something that still amazes me. Probably I will be sick of it an year from now, but right now it still gives me the giggles. After a couple of minutes under it, I get as much or more wet as if it was rain, but getting hit by snow is not as half depressing as it is with rain.
I can almost smell Antárctica…