The Earth turns at this point. That is what went through my mind as we headed out of the Beagle Channel and into the Drake Passage. The Drake Passage – we were told jokingly by the Russians that if ever anyone should use the words “Drake” and “Passage” in the same sentence all within earshot should respond in chorus “whooooooooow”. Around midnight we arrived in hell.
It is fine if the boat rocks fore and aft, that is a motion you can get used to. Even if the boat rocks from side to side it’s ok. All you do is stand with legs astride and you roll with your moving world. But when you do both while the vessel is sliding diagonally off the back of a wave that is three stories high, now that is a challenge. Of course we were all prepped on the usefulness of sea-sick pills, but finding your sea-legs under these circumstances was always going to be a challenge.
To a man and sea-green young bride we all succumbed, medication or not. The Drake Passage (whooooooooow) is ancient and respects no modern remedy. Two days of this – that was our fate. I was sleeping on the top bunk and had to hold on for dear life for fear of landing on the floor. A violent tossing cork on a tempestuous sea, how close you can get to embracing something so real, so frightening. Oh God how good it is to feel so totally alive. So totally afraid.
Southwards, ever southwards. Sooner or later we would see our first iceberg, and then you will know that Antarctica is a reality. Illogically I had an unreasonable fear of seeing an iceberg. In my mind it was something that existed in pictures and was as ghostly and unreal as a sea phantom.
As the ship entered the Antarctic Divergence it suddenly became cold, but mercifully the sea also became calm. Because the Earth does turn here, strong currents are formed and thus the Divergence exists. In the near mists beyond the horizon lay my illogical fear.
“The first iceberg is off the starboard bow” the crackling voice had a familiar Russian accent. In the clear brightness of day, the fog of irrational dread vanished. What beauty, what majesty. Not long now and we will see land. The cold land so far south, so removed from ordinary understanding – Antarctica is just over the horizon.
More to follow…