Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sea (Nov. 20)

We've spent the past two days at sea, making our way from South Georgia to the Antarctic Peninsula. They've been relatively uneventful, but I'll catch you up on the highlights.
Days at sea can seem either surprisingly busy or smack of sheer boredom. Yesterday was mostly busy with talks from the staff on Robert Falcon Scott, the second man to reach the South Pole who died in the attempt, and some time working with the photo staff on improving creativity in our next few days at Antarctica. The weather was unusually calm with fog and occasional hard snow.
Scott was a remarkable person and an incredible explorer, but I was surprised to learn that he was a troubled soul at some level. His quest for the Pole seemed to reflect his introspective nature and personal insecurities. It seems that he needed Antarctica as a mirror to show who he really was. He needed the wild and unconquered places to test his limits as an explorer and a leader. In his case, Antarctica proved too much. He succeeded in reaching the Pole, but he could not make the return journey. He and all of his men died getting back to base camp. He made it to within 11 miles of a food cache he had prepared, but neither he nor any of his men had the strength to continue on. He froze to death in his tent after writing letters to his men's families and finally a letter to his ever-supportive wife who was on her way to New Zealand in anticipation of his safe return. His story is a tragic success. It reminds me what the few remaining blank places on the map can mean to us. For some, they are testing grounds, to others, mirrors to the depths of their own souls. Still others look to these places to see their own insignificance, see the power they know exists in something greater. Antarctica can be a place to strive for and strive in and through. It's like a mirror. There are as many Antarcticas as there are people who come here, as many images as there are people who look into the mirror. Scott and Shackleton competed for the same Pole, but each experienced a very different Antarctica.
When I woke this morning, I heard a loud vibrating and shaking noise followed by a sort of small crash. Next I felt a rise that kept rising and rising and finally fell with the same shaking. I eventually put together that we were in a storm and that the shaking was the propeller coming out of the water as we crested a big wave. The gale kept blowing all morning. The waves crested and blew spray through the air. We crashed down wave after wave, and most people stayed in their cabins. At breakfast, we heard metallic crashing and banging from the galley and saw crew people carrying power tools -- not a good sign. By lunch it was starting to calm down and everything was fine, but the weather we had was a reminder of just how tough these seas can be. The twenty-odd feet and 45 knots of wind we had can be much much worse, but it was quite enough.
Now we're only about 50 miles from the Continent, and we're very excited to be getting off the ship tomorrow.

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