We are well south of the Equator now at a latitude of 7°S. They say that, in the northern hemisphere, water draining from a basin rotates in a clockwise direction as it goes down the plug. In the southern hemisphere it rotates in a counter clockwise direction. So what happens at the Equator? Well, I can tell you that it can go in either direction. Admittedly I didn’t try it on this voyage but on a previous occasion, when in equatorial waters, I was delighted to learn that, if you stir the water in one direction or the other, it will continue to rotate in that direction as it drains.

As almost all the cadets crossed the Equator coming north to London, there were only a handful of Ghanaians and two Cote d’Ivorians who hadn’t crossed the line before. I wasn’t privy to the ceremony that took place to initiate them as members of Neptune’s family and it is possible there wasn’t one. I searched for appropriate activity as we crossed the line but saw nothing. The decks, hangar and all open spaces were quiet. Maybe they were lucky and spared the indignity that accompanies such an occasion. I believe some rotten food was involved when the ship travelled north from Cape Town to London.

I first crossed the equator in 1967 on an iron ore carrier from Birkenhead bound for Brazil. At 16, I was a cadet and the youngest on board. A galley boy in great excitement found me on deck and told me that I was next. He was covered in red-lead paint and had a shaven head. This was not something that I wanted. In 1967 long hair was fashionable, baldness was not. In order to defy the young officers who were hell bent on doing their worst, I made my way secretly to the dark, damp anchor chain locker where I sat on a pile of links for what seemed like hours, until the evening meal was due. By doing this, I escaped. Since then I have crossed the line many times but never been subjected to the ‘ceremony’. So, please keep this to yourself or someone will see a retrospective opportunity!

North of the Equator the winds were from the northern quadrant. Now we are south of the Equator, the sea is calm apart from the minor surface agitation caused by the light prevailing winds which have swung round to the south. Flying fish are constant companions now. I have tried a couple of times to film them but they are very elusive. We have been given a wonderful piece of equipment to use with our Panasonic ‘movie’ cameras. Polecam is a brilliant counterbalanced boom which can be raised, lowered or swung to left and right with the camera on the end. Controls and a video screen enable the user to point the camera in any direction and zoom in and out. We tried with the camera over the side of the ship. It creates wonderful shots which leave the viewer wondering how on earth they were possible! I will try it with the flying fish over the bow.

A question often asked about flying fish is “do they really fly?”. John Parsloe and I discussed this at length. It is our opinion that they do not fly but they do glide. When chased by predators (or in our case, a 6,000 ton ship), they clear the water at considerable speed and glide only a foot above the sea for distances of up to 100 yards using their tails to hit wave crests in order to propel themselves onwards. At night this can go wrong for the fish and, in stormy weather, I have found them on deck, having ‘flown’ in the wrong direction. On one occasion during the Transglobe Expedition, it was reported that one had hit a bridge window of the “Benjamin Bowring” (about 25 feet above sea level!).

We also saw a small whale this afternoon. It was probably a Minke or Sei whale. They are similar to Blue and Fin whales, but much smaller. In Antarctic waters we can expect to see many more whales as well as seals and, of course, penguins. But, for now, sea life is rather limited and difficult to spot.

Yesterday, Clint, the Chief Steward, with his companions, Ricardo, Brent, Brandon and Simphiwe decorated the dining room with Christmas streamers. There is even a small tree trimmed with lights. To say it looks festive might be something of an exaggeration but it certainly has heralded the coming holiday although the extent to which it is a holiday on the ship is rather limited. Watches still have to be maintained. However, for those of us from the northern hemisphere, just as the water drains in a clockwise direction, so is Christmas a winter festival. There are only three of us who live in the cold part of the northern hemisphere on board. The other 97 all live in the southern hemisphere or, as in the case of the Ghanaians and Cote d’Ivorians, in the tropics close to the Equator. So, by majority, the Christmas experience is a ‘hot’ one and we three Europeans will have to forfeit snow and ice this year although we do have some ice on board which is much appreciated in our drinks!

As I write, the cadets are singing below in what used to be a ‘Wet’ laboratory. Each evening they sing religious songs with great gusto. Not hymns as we know them but wonderful African rhythms and harmonies. The wet lab is now a spiritual lab! The alleyways on the lower deck where they live are reminiscent of the ‘souk’ in Istambul. In the heat, the cabin doors are left open with curtains giving privacy. Each mealtime, we have to walk through the ‘Souk’ to get to the dining room. The cabins emits a wealth of music and chatter, and there is much bustle in the alleyway as young people exchange news and views and, who knows, maybe even flirt with each other. The accommodation definitely separates male from female – except in the alleyways. With the singing and the commotion each evening, it is clearly a happy ship and one which we Europeans are fortunate to be a part of. It is all a far cry from Antarctica. But that time will come. Indeed, the time is passing with alarming speed and we still have preparations to make before we venture south.

To our east lies the huge continent of Africa. All of us on board are privileged to enjoy good sight and access to opticians. Through most of Africa and the developing world, such fortune is sadly lacking. We are determined to succeed in our plans to cross Antarctica in winter. But we are equally determined to support the wonderful charity Seeing is Believing. As it is Christmas time, it is worth noting that for as little as £20 you could give a disadvantaged and very deserving child the chance to have his or her sight restored. For £20 that child could live a normal life and achieve that which most of us take for granted. A Christmas present of £20 sent to Seeing is Believing would result in the best Christmas present that child is ever likely to get – sight. Please join us in supporting such a wonderful cause and make a gift by visiting www.seeingisbelieving.org. The name is all over our ship. You could say “It says it on the tin!”.

All of us on board SA Agulhas send you our very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.