Spencer Smirl’s Reflects on Life Since South Africa
It has been 15 days since we all left Cape Town, getting out to sea to begin the adventure of a lifetime. We arrived at Crown Bay in Antarctica on Sunday, 20th January. The ice was far too congested in the bay; it would have put the ship at huge risk of being pinned down if we entered and the ice flow shifted unfavourably. It was late afternoon on Sunday anyways, so we decided to wait till the morning to see what it was like.
We woke to a beautiful sunny morning. The sky was blue and there was barely a breeze in the air. Curious penguins were surrounding the ship; some were sunning their feathers dry on drifting ice bergs, others were racing around the ship in the water. You could see the ripples in their wake as they came right up to the ship, just below the surface. It was incredible to see first-hand. So much so that I didn’t even think to get a picture until it was too late.
The ice was still too thick to proceed into the bay at midday. It was disappointing but with such fabulous weather it was hard to be upset. We decided we would wait for the Belgians – who had so kindly offered to help us – to arrive later in the day to assess our landing from shore. I was so anxious to land. My body was tingling. After a year of build-up and prep for this moment, to get right up to it, to see it in the distance, only to have to wait. I would say it felt like the hardest thing ever but I’m positive I would soon eat those words.
The Belgians arrived late Monday and contacted us on the radio. They assured us that with the wind in our favour the bay would be empty by morning. Even though they had driven for 16hrs from their base, some 200kms inland, they worked through the night prepping the offload site. They had three Prinoth Snow Cats which they used to plough us a 3km road down from their storage area at the top of the bay. They also levelled us a staging area near the edge to offload and assemble on.
We have been very fortunate to have such amazing weather the past five days. It has helped us to make very good time with our unloading. We might even have all the fuel transferring complete by the end of tomorrow (Sunday). It has definitely made it easier for me being a newbie in Antarctica. To not have to worry about bad weather and high winds while I’m dealing with all the other stresses of offloading and set-up has helped me ease through it.
The two Cat D6Ns have been running on the Jp8 Jet Fuel for three days now problem-free. No noticeable differences. Operating temperatures are right on spec. I would have thought we would have seen some high temps, pulling to the top of the ramp leading down the bay. Even at 70% engine load when pulling the bigger pieces flat out in second gear it still doesn’t heat up. It is nice not to have to struggle with keeping this ice-specific tractor cold in the sunny coastal warmth. Hope fully it doesn’t mean I will struggle to keep it warm in the frigid cold of the mountainous interior.
By my guess, I would say we are over half way through the unloading of all our kit. The ship and its passengers, including the returning, non-Ice Team members, are becoming anxious to return to warmer climates and the warmth of their own beds. I would think they should be on their way very soon. For me the warmth of my own bed will be my bunk inside the caboose. Jo Hardy, Brian’s partner, spent yesterday making up our beds in the cabooses. It looks very cosy. We should be able to start spending our nights their by the end of tomorrow’s work day. I am very excited to start sleeping out there. One Step Closer. Dr Rob had a very good point though: the sooner we start living in there, the sooner we start stinking up the place. In that case we should stay on the ship as long as we can.
We should be completely offloaded in three more days. It will be another three to complete the assembly of our “Ice Trains” and a final test for function and mobility (man, I hope it moves, it’s so heavy! I don’t think I could cross my fingers any harder), then the Agulhas will set sail for home leaving us to our madness. Soon after we will set off on our 600km run inland to depot our fuel at the top of the mountains. With all this intense adventure, how will I ever return to a normal life back home?
By Spencer Smirl