“There are three kinds of people – those dead, those alive, and those at sea.” —Anacharsis, 6th century B.C.E.
It’s a long way down to get here. Never mind the two-plus days it took us to get to Ushuaia. Winds and swells in the Drake southbound were…suboptimal. Captain’s decision was to minimize the pukiness of taking the six meter swells from a quartering angle and ran us downwind to the easternmost part of the South Shetlands. Gave us a nice steady following sea but meant that, once we were “inside” of the Bransfield, we’d have to push upwind for nearly a day to get us back where we wanted to be. So it’s our third morning on the ship, fifth or sixth(?) day of travel, and we’ve finally made landfall. Or rather, icefall.
We’re currently abeam Trinity Island – a foreboding pile of ice and rocks – hoping to tuck into the lee of Two Hummock Island by noon for our first (drum roll please) landing. Woot! But the winds are still a bit stiff, so we may have to wait until evening to actually set foot off the boat. Or tomorrow. Or… you know. No one here wants to push things.
It’s been an odd few days at sea. As you know, my only real experience in big boats has been with USAP, and this has been very different. Our living spaces – the passenger spaces – seem curiously sealed off from the rest of the ship. It feels a little like Disneyland, where you know there’s an awful lot of machinery and activity going on behind the scenes, but the experience is so circumscribed that it’s hard to even figure out where the door to backstage is. The ship floor plans that are posted in the stairwells show only passenger sleeping berths, exercise room, the restaurant and two lounges. Everything else is blank. And we see the Polar Latitudes employees almost constantly, as well as the restaurant staff at each meal, but the rest of the crew is damned near invisible, apparently moving through the ship in the own passageways around our almost hermetically-isolated oceangoing hotel. I’ve probably twice crossed paths with a ship’s officer, and they always looked a little “caught out,” like they weren’t supposed to be seen.
It was only last night, at the so-called “Captain’s Toast” that the staff were presented and paraded past us and we could “meet” them. That is, see them for a few seconds as they paraded past without stopping. There are more of them than there are of us – 80 alone managing the “hotel” plus a couple dozen officers and engineers. All, as I said, hidden from sight.
Within our expensive little cocoon, we eat our three meals a day and we lounge around the lounges making new acquaintances – where are you from, how did you decide to come on this trip, and what do you do when you’re not on a boat? We wait for announcements of when there will be lectures: Citizen Science opportunities, taking pictures of birds, history of the Antarctic Treaty. Etc. Etc. The waves of smalltalk are almost deafening.
But now, finally, there’s ice around us, with solid islands beneath them, and conversation is shifting – which landings, where. Who is signed up for kayaking, who for camping. There’s an energy of imminent anticipation. Of course, there’s also still the wind, still a bit too stiff to launch any Zodiacs. So for now there are more lectures: Fascinating Facts About Penguins and the like. And more meals and, undoubtedly more drinks in the lounge.
(BTW: very dodgy bandwidth on ths ship, so updates may be intermittent or entirely absent for a while. Sorry!)