Update from aboard the SA Agulhas – by Anton Bowring
We have consoled ourselves in the knowledge that we had an unusually good week since we arrived in Crown Bay. It is unfortunate but not entirely surprising that our luck would run out. For the second day we have not been able to get at our berth against the ice shelf. It is made all the more frustrating by the fact that today was a beautiful day – a beautiful day for unloading drums – if only we could get them ashore. The sun shone brightly from the start. The sea ice was brilliant white and the sea, normally black, was, like the sky, distinctly blue.
We are here to complete a job. Fanciful observations of our surroundings are not our priority. But, if you stop for a moment or two and tilt your head back to feel the warmth of the sun on your face, then look at the scenery around you, I challenge anyone not to feel pretty good. It is a stunning and inspiring place untainted by development or man-made construction (apart from our own transitory presence). It is also awe inspiring and demands respect. In minutes such beauty can become horribly contorted and misshapen by a sudden change in the weather, a darkening of the sky and an icy blast to stir the sea and chill the bone. But we haven’t yet experienced that on our ship which adds to the injustice. If it was a horrible day we could understand that to continue unloading would be misguided. But to bask in the sun with little to do feels wrong.
We spoke by VHF radio this morning “Brian, Anton. Do you copy?” dramatic silence, pause “Brian, Brian, this is Anton. Do you copy?” continued silence “Anyone, Anyone this is Anton. Do you copy?” “Morning Anton. This is Anyone – reading you loud and clear” “Morning Ian. How are you today?” The Ice Group are now equipped to speak for themselves and will no doubt provide their own account of the day. I shall simply allude to their presence and the fact that we spoke on a few occasions to discuss ways in which we might give help from afar. The only real contribution was for us to collect items dotted about the ship, which they will need ashore before we depart, and place them in a pile ready to be taken off at the first opportunity. On board, someone suggested the possibility of moving to another location but this was quickly dismissed as the risks would be great. Our berth was the only one within reasonable distance which provided access to both ship and Ice Group and, although we had been warned by Alain Hubert, the leader of the Belgian group, that the platform of ice we were using to deposit cargo was not stable, it had served our purposes well and we had put down 25 ton Caterpillar bulldozers and hundreds of drums of fuel, sledges, containers and accommodation cabooses, flubbers and all manner of paraphernalia as well as people stomping hither and thither. In our book it had served us well and nowhere else could reasonably compare.
So, under pressure to keep a close look at the ice concentration in the bay and knowing that our Belgian friends were intent on leaving as soon as possible, we spent the afternoon pacing up and down the entrance to the bay rolling noticeably in the subliminal swell as the floes around us jostled and pushed each other away to our forceful nudging. Adelie penguins, undeterred by our significant presence, stood their ground as we glided past them. Not only do they bravely refuse to stand aside, they also follow the ship, running (or waddling) the length of a floe, as fast as they can, once we have passed. I even thought I heard them shouting “come back, come back” but I was probably wrong.
By evening we had decided to see what tomorrow morning would bring and whether or not we could resume activity at the ice shelf. But, while I was reporting in to Alain at the Belgian base, Mike and Thea Stroud came into the office to reveal a dramatic turn of events….
(read Brian Newham’s blog for details!)