By Expedition Co-Leader, Anton Bowring:
Private expeditions of this size and scale are rare. In order to achieve this level of operation, you need lots of planning, fundraising and good people handling every aspect of the project. It takes time. From the trustees in London who have the responsibility for proper and diligent management to the part-time volunteer, this is ultimate teamwork.
Since we arrived in Antarctica, the evidence of teamwork is everywhere. With the possible exception of myself, who has only been off the ship briefly since we arrived here, everyone under the direction of Brian (the Traverse Manager) has worked tirelessly ashore. The aim has been to unload the ship promptly, safely and in a semblance of order while the weather remains good. My role is slightly obscure and, as mentioned in previous blogs, mainly concerned with administration. Having said that, I’m a willing helper, especially if a pencil sharpener, cellotape or clip file is required. I also have to say that such is the success of our recruitment, that we have a truly superb team at work which has, to some extent rendered Ran and myself obsolete at this time. So, while most are ashore receiving cargo, transferring fuel from drums to neoprene bladders (flubbers) or driving miscellaneous loads inland to the depot, Ran is limbering up on the heli deck in readiness for his 4,000 kilometre ski/walk and I sit in the office exercising my index finger as I type e-mails and reports for our office in London and beyond.
Everyone has VHF walkie talkies. Captain Dave remains on the bridge, often with John Parsloe for company. They observe all the activities both on the ship and ashore. The cadets are getting unique experience sharing the watch on the bridge with the officers and handling the cargo with the bosun and his team in the hold in readiness for offloading ashore. The teamwork extends from ship to shore seamlessly. The Walkie Talkies break the silence “Brian to Ian” “Brian, Ian, go ahead” “Ian, the next load is CAT spares. They can go straight to the depot”, “Roger that”. Who, I hear you ask is Roger? Where did he suddenly come from? Roger is part of the universal jargon of radio telephony. A celebrity of the airwaves and completely anonymous. Roger is everywhere.
From the bridge windows (where I follow the action as if it were a cinescope production) the movement of vehicles, crane, cargo and orange clad workforce is compelling viewing. Several faces are, like mine, pressed to the glass and not infrequently comments are quietly passed from one to another. “Is that the second or third flubber to be filled?”. “That cargo net will have to be returned to the ship if they want any more drums”. “Where’s Duncan? I haven’t seen him for a while” “He’s up at the depot with Adrian and Geoff” “Oh”. “There’s no sugar in this coffee”. “Here have mine, I don’t take sugar” “Oh” – and so on. Nothing goes unnoticed and, if that wasn’t enough, Jill, Geoff, Thea, Jo and Mike, when time permits, have been filming everything to ensure that an epic documentary (possibly not in cinescope) will be made.
All this time, the bows of the ship are forced against the ice shelf. Every now and again a shudder runs through the hull as the gentle swell lifts and drops us. A fissure in the ice has provided an excellent gap to wedge the bows and hold us while the ever turning propeller provides the momentum to keep the ship in place. The ice is strong and despite regular pushing and grinding from the strengthened hull, it remains impassable. Interestingly, all the ice that we can see around us, including the impressive cliffs that contour the bay, is floating way out to sea from such land as there is in this vicinity. The ice shelf here is constantly on the move and despite the press of our small ship, we are being forced back by 1 meter per day as the ice progresses into the sea. As it advances it becomes more fragile until one day (hopefully when we are long gone) it breaks and a new iceberg is formed. Out, beyond the bay, you can see great ‘tabular’ bergs that have broken from the ice shelf and run aground like small islands. Some drift for years slowly decaying as they head away. The sea in winter freezes for hundreds of miles to the north locking everything in place until the following summer when the pack ice breaks and enables the bergs to drift aimlessly on their way again.
While all the shore-side industry and the dynamics of nature persist, on board life continues calmly and quietly. The cadets have classes (if they are not working on deck, on the bridge or in the engine room). Those watch keepers not on duty will be catching up on their sleep and somewhere an ancient vacuum cleaner is howling as it is wielded from cabin to cabin. The carpenter, Desmond, is busy fixing a cupboard that time and motion has partly destroyed. Ray the electrician is dealing with the air conditioning and chief engineer, Hannes, is overseeing maintenance on a generator. It is all very civilised and reassuring. Even here, at the end of the world, mankind maintains standards.
And so, in the full splendour of constant sunshine, one day follows the next. How long it will take to fully unload is still not known. It depends on the weather and everything (man and machine) working faultlessly. The energy and commitment of the entire team is impressive. From London to Antarctica, everyone is hard at work ensuring that this great project succeeds. Of course, anything could happen. Disaster could strike, but for now we only think of the job at hand – which, for me is to write and send another e-mail. It’s tough at the top!