Smelling the Hay

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This is the point in the movie when our weary protagonists prematurely celebrate their survival and triumph, letting down their guard just long enough for the villain to rise from apparent death, or a forgotten henchman to slip from the shadows to fire one last shot.

We’re not due to make Punta Arenas until tomorrow, mid-morning, but I think the sea is done with us. For now, at least. I scrambled up to the bridge this morning just as dawn was pinking the silhouette of Isla de los Estados. We were in Le Maire – the narrow strait cutting the Southern Ocean swells off from the sheltered lee of the Atlantic coastline current. I’ll flatter myself that I recognized it from the way the boat was riding – a slow, loping pitch – and called it before I even looked out over the bow: “We’ve got a following sea?” McKenzie, the Mate on watch, smiled and nodded from the chair. “She’s giving us three knots, free.” And she – the sea – was. We were making almost 15 knots headway, surfing the swells through the notch.

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In spite of the forecasts, it wasn’t actually that bad a crossing. I’d heard horror stories about how the Gould was a bath toy when the waves were right. There’s that one lateral stairway you just don’t use when she’s rolling – a few years back, Bug got launched clean across from near the top step to the opposing transom when the ship snapped starboard and back, breaking a couple of ribs on the way down.

But this time? I’ve had worse. [Cue the ominous music, right?] I mean, the only casualty I was witness to was up on the bridge, right after – oh, let’s call him ‘K’ – remarked that ‘This was nothing” from the comfort of the starboard observer’s chair. It couldn’t have been 15 seconds later that Neptune threw a little smack that – when I looked over – left K floating mid-air, grabbing at the rail as the chair departed aft beneath him. The coffee in his left hand missed the console, but I expect they’ll still be finding traces of it in improbable places when this old girl makes her final crossing.

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And there’s been some glorious weather, too. I can’t imagine coming up through the Neumayer Channel ever getting old. On the way down, we had only hints of the majesty we were in the presence of, but afternoon we pulled out from Palmer Station northbound, the clouds pulled back to reveal the full grandeur of the peninsula. Everyone – old hands and first-timers alike – were out on the bow, swiveling and snapping pictures that we knew would never capture the serene, severe magnificence of the Antarctic peninsula.

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Even at sea, once we were clear of the South Shetlands, there were moments. I wandered out back to the 01 deck that first morning and watched moonlight play over the unbroken, swaying deep. Five minutes later, a fury of snow was sweeping across the ship. Another 10 and the moon was back, the eastern sky now reddening with the coming day.

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Screenshot 2023 04 10 at 3 30 47 PM

But all that’s already memory, and this morning we somehow found ourselves gathered around the filing cabinets of the lab, two steps ahead – talking about the place Isaac is renting in Buenos Aires, and the hike Hector’s going to be taking down around Cape Froward.

Me, I’m headed up to Rotterdam after this to spend a week working on another ship – alas, only in port. But I’ve got a one week window ahead of that for a little R&R. I’d been planning to catch a bus north to Torres del Paine for that, but a switch flipped in my head about a week ago. So instead I’ll be flying north as soon as they’re done with me here. Turns out the best flights from down here up to Rotterdam connect through either Casablanca or Lisbon. Yes, you know what my first instinct was, but I decided I needed something easy for a change, so I’ll be taking a one week layover in Portugal, enjoying the change of latitude and soaking in a little sunshine.

I may sneak in another post between now and then, but if I don’t, well, Até logo!

6 responses to “Smelling the Hay

  1. Portugal? That’s where Val’s brother and brother-in-law live now. She visited there I think toward the end of last year. More lyrical descriptions, Pablo. Thanks for sharing the gorgeous bits!


  2. Lovely post Pablo. Love your writing. If you have a chance, check out Nazare Beach near Lisbon. The waves are best in December but there are still some big ones in April. Plus it’s a really cool little beach town with great food. Enjoy the sunshine!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! What a terrific adventure for you AND the rest of us! Thanks ever so much! For a guy who has never left the North American continent (well, there was that time, when I was 10, I went out in a fishing boat west of Neah Bay! I puked…), the photos, maps and especially the well written descriptions took me (and everyone else) to the marvelous places where you were traveling to and from.
    Looking forward to your smiling face and more conversations when you return…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As usual, great photos and recap of your days. Thanks Pablo. And, have a great time in Portugal. Can’t wait to read about it.




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