Snow, Gales and Merlot
Snow is falling on l’Astrolabe, which is being hit by gale-force winds up to 45 knots an hour, while westerly swells pound with four-metre waves and southerly swells hit with two-metre waves.
We have been sailing for five days and are about 58 degrees South on our voyage to Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica.
Filing this blog is a perilous experience. Last night, expedition leader Tony Stewart ventured out onto the deck to help me file.
In rolling seas we made our way to the helideck and then to the stern of the ship to a container where we could get some shelter and hang on for dear life.
I held the computer as Tony carefully made his way out of the container to lay the satellite aerial in order to pick up a signal. It was bitterly cold, wet and dark.
Once we got a signal we had to wait five minutes to feed one email and a small blog-size photograph. To send a larger photograph would take 30 minutes and it is just not safe to be out on deck for that long. It becomes dangerous when the waves wash over the deck at a ferocious speed.
We have hit “the convergence“, where the truly icy Antarctic water and the, relatively speaking, warmer Southern Ocean meet and send nutrients lying on the ocean floor towards the surface, making it an ideal feeding spot for ocean birds and sea life.
The sea temperature dropped from about 4.5 degrees Celsius to 2.5 degrees Celsius in the space of two hours when we hit the convergence.
The convergence is a line around the planet about 55 degrees South which contains an abundance of food in the form of krill, plankton and small fish. My colleague Dr Chris Henderson describes the convergence as “a nautical ratatouille”.
We are more than three quarters of the way through our journey to Cape Denison in Commonwealth Bay, East Antarctica. We should reach our destination in about two days.
A helicopter will then take us from the ship onto the ice where our team of 10 people from the Mawson’s Huts Foundation 2009/10 Expedition will live for nearly six weeks restoring Australian Sir Douglas Mawson’s 1911-13 huts.
Despite the rough seas, life on board has been comfortable compared to what Mawson and his team must have experienced on their sailing vessel the Aurora, nearly 100 years ago.
The food is excellent, for those with the stomach for it. There are three hearty meals a day. Breakfast is cereal and toast. Lunch consists roast duck in a creamy mushroom sauce, smoked salmon, chicken and chips. The dinner menu is steak and chips, beef and potatoes and spaghetti bolognese.
All meals are followed by fresh fruit and a beautiful array of cheeses. A merlot wine is always close for the less faint hearted, but to date I’ve only seen two people enjoy a wine with their meal.
But trying to eat when the boat is rolling takes a lot of energy, as you struggle to keep your chair upright. You reach a point of exhaustion, when you think this is just not worth it. Thankfully I can report nothing has spilled, fallen or smashed! The chef deserves a medal.