(This blog is in an unconventional format: The dates displayed are actual trip dates - not post dates.)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The first ice-berg

January 24, 2010
54°48′0″ S, 68°18′0″ W  - to - 62°35′44″S, 59°54′12″W

Just after breakfast on the third day, the first of many frenzies was sparked on the announcement of an iceberg on the starboard side. Flocks of berg-watchers, driven to the brink of boredom by a full day of spare time to entertain one's self, swarmed from the port side. If you happened to be comfortably seated and enjoying the early morning beauty, your scenic view would be quickly filled with a row of Gor-Tex covered rumps. All this for a huge cubular (I like making up words, okay?) block floating out in the middle of nowhere - a loner - the flag-berg in the coming flotilla of ice, announcing our proximity to the South Shetland Islands. Antarctica. Somebody tell them this won't be the last iceberg.

I stepped outside and snapped one or two compositions of a sight that, while thrilling for the blue-jacket holding the camera, would provide a less than ordinary experience for the unwilling and unsuspecting friends and family members (now) sitting brain-dead on the couch seeing the 100th slide of said iceberg. If you are one of those people, and I know you exist, I share with you my deepest sympathies. Many blue jackets didn't leave the comfort of the observation deck for their photos, without a doubt giving the berg a special veneer of green-tinted, dried salt spray and the occasional silhouetted body part.

Eleven AM was our allotted time to tour the bridge, and a group of thirty-odd shuffled into the long room, jostling for the best position to harass the captain with child-like curiosity. Sometimes being amongst a group of tourists can be a bit embarrassing, and while this wouldn't be an extreme example of such behaviour, I tried to put on my best I'm-with-the-crew face. One person had even dressed for the polar conditions of the bridge - obviously, not a single caring sole had told him that the bridge was air-conditioned, too. I was quite happy studying the region maps splayed out on the benches while the captain did his best to describe the many ways he avoids sinking the boat on a day-to-day basis. The experience wouldn't be complete without someone asking a question already answered by the captain's narrative, and I'm pleased to say that these situations rarely disappoint. Out the front window a pair of humpback whales surfaced and quickly dived out of the way.

The swell was dropping away. Murky shadows appeared one by one on the horizon through the ocean salt haze: smooth white banks of cloud. As the Fram drew closer to the silent strangers, I blinked a few times, realising that I was in fact not looking at clouds, but huge glaciers stretching up and over the horizon. The sea flattened, and we sailed smoothly amongst the South Shetland Islands.

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