“One journey ends and another starts”
By Geoff Long, on board SA Agulhas.
We’ve been steaming steadily north at 11 knots for over a day now, the pack was kind to us and we’ve left behind the gentle rolling carpet of sea ice, escaping its grasp easily, reaching open water after only 30 miles. Now sailing through calm grey seas, the magical world of colourful ice, crevasses and penguins whilst still relatively near, seems so far away. At 64 degrees South, 360 nautical miles north of Crown Bay, only the occasional piece of floating shelf ice remind us that we are still in a remarkable area; in fact in a few months’ time during mid-winter this part of the ocean will be frozen solid and totally inaccessible. In fact, John Parsloe the Ice-Pilot on board has just informed me that 57degrees South is the average extent of the sea ice in August – incredible to think that 780 nautical miles of the sea north of the shelf where we were just off-loading will be solid ice.
Whilst wrestling with the emotions of the last few weeks and leaving the team, it dawned on me that leaving Antarctica reminds me of the melancholic feeling I get when the snow melts at home in the UK and the brilliant white world disappears to reveal the dirty streets littered with muddy snowmen. On-board seasoned Antarctic veterans are already talking longingly of their next trip south; of how this place really gets its hooks into you and you always want more. And I can see exactly what they mean. Being a bit of a ‘sunset-junky’, the temptation to stay up all night photographing the ever-changing colours in the sky did not mix well with the need to be fed, watered and on the ice by 7.30AM ever morning!
On-board now our thoughts and talk inevitably return often to the Ice Team, their mood, activities and progress since we left; of how they will deal with the rigours of the journey ahead and the inevitable strains of living together in a confined environment. With little chance of ‘personal space’ once winter really starts to take a grip, they will primarily be restricted to the relative safety of the caboose and ‘just going out for walk’ won’t be an option. There is no doubt that theirs will be an arduous journey both physically and mentally and one that I’m not sure if I could endure myself.
Time constraints, personal, financial and physical in terms of weather and ice, meant that our time on the ice-shelf was hectic and did not offer much space for reflection. We focussed on getting the job done, working long hours alongside the guys to make sure they were as ready as we could prior to our departure. Aided by the lack of darkness, days rolled into one another – when not ashore we were eating or sleeping on Agulhas, interspersed by wrestling with the internet to get photos and blogs back home to keep people in touch with progress. The morning commute from deck to the ice via the metal ‘man-basket’, was a daily wake-up call that never failed to remind me of the amazing situation we found ourselves in and how privileged we were to be there. As the days passed, the landscape became more familiar, if no less spectacular. Particular bergs became old friends, as did other distinct landmarks such as ice caves and crevasses, these things which less than a fortnight ago were almost beyond comprehension for us who hadn’t experienced this cold world before.
In some ways it seems like we were in Crown Bay for a considerable time, certainly thinking in terms of the magnitude of the effect it had on us and yet it was over so quickly. The Coldest Journey team is morphing once again, the Ice Team ashore have been delivered and are preparing for their first real challenge of setting up a fuel depot and the support crew on SA Agulhas are getting further away by the hour, heading back to a more normal existence at home. But at the same time we are all still aiming for the same thing; albeit that the vast majority of us will be watching those six brave men from afar – we’re all looking forward to the journey.
The team may only consist of six men, but it’s backed by thousands – by us on board, the UK operations team, the hundreds of sponsors who helped supply and develop kit along the way. Most importantly it’s backed by all of you, following and supporting us from around the world and offering constant encouragement. In return we will endeavour to continue providing an insight into the magic of Antarctica, to share its beauty and physical challenges. The education programme aims to bring kids closer to this remote and unique environment and the scientific research to produce invaluable physical, psychological and physiological data. At the same time we will be raising money for the worthy cause of Seeing Is Believing and on a more individual level hoping to inspire others to challenge their normal boundaries and maybe start a journey of their own.