Sex, Drugs, and Public Health

February 9, 2014

DAY TWO AT SEA

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 10:40 pm

February.

 

The height of Summer in the Southern Hemisphere.  100 degrees in Buenos Aires a couple of days before we departed.

 

Now, Snow.

 

The ship is driving directly into a snowstorm with 35 knot winds. Big swells and whitecaps raise the bow, slide beneath us, and we crash down into the trough. Grey clouds and fog right down to the surface of this ocean.

 

Icebergs. They begin to flow by. Little ones. They are the first hint of land hidden beyond the fog. Then, a monster drifts past us, glistening white in the turquoise ocean. It is the size of a city block and as high as a four-story building.

 

From the low clouds and fog, shadows emerge. Land. First land in 36 hours. Barren mountaintops erupting from the water, black at their tips, blindingly white down to the water’s surface. No trees. No plants. No soil.

2 Elephant Island

Between two conical mountains, a vast river of ice squeezes toward the water. It is at least 100 feet high and variously textured: white like meringue snow, with deep fracture lines; pockets of deep blue ice scattered within.

 

BANG!   Cr-r-rr-ack!   SPLASH !

 

A new iceberg.

 

Out on the deck, the wind blows so strongly, we need to grip a railing, feet into a wide stance, leaning into the wind. Only one arm remaining for the camera.

 

This is Elephant Island, named for the seal. But made famous by different mammals.

 

In 1915, Shackleton  launched an assault to cross the continent on foot via the South Pole. He divided his men into two groups, positioned on opposing shores of the continent. Over-wintering should have been a time to rest, eat, and plan details for a Summer assault. But Antarctica had different plans for them, which included first trapping their ship in ice, then crushing and sinking it.

 

Shackleton and his men from the Weddell Sea party salvaged three lifeboats, and once the ice unlocked the ocean beneath it (fifteen months after the ice had first grasped them), they sailed 250 Km. to this island – Elephant. Shackleton took off in one of the boats, hoping to obtain help from a whaling station 1280 Km. away, leaving his men to survive on seals and penguins. They “camped” here for four months, beneath overturned lifeboats, during the sun-less depths of Winter.

 

In vain my eyes search for a place hospitable to camping. In the Summer.

 

On his fourth attempt, Shackleton rescued his men from this island. There is a monument.

2 Shackleton monument

The rest of his men were positioned on Ross Island, hauling supplies for Shackleton’s cross-continental trek. Their ship, too, was carried away by ice. So, they over-wintered there, losing all but seven men from that crew.

 

I’m stirred from this reverie by a shout.

 

“Penguins!” someone yells and a dozen guests flock to that side of the ship. A couple of the iconic birds surface from the sea, but most meander over a jutting peninsula of low guano-covered rocks. Beyond my camera and eyeballs, it’s telephoto range. I trust Sarah to cover that.

 

I expected to be ho-hum-yeah-that’s-nice about it, but as these black and snow-covered mountains emerge from the fog, my eyes tear up from the overwhelming untouched beauty: barren and powerful, lonely and storm-lashed, defending continent of one of our two poles. Like a loyal bodyguard.

 

We can’t land because of the weather, but what’s out there, just beyond the ship’s railing, is magnificent to see.

 

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