Ross is Back!

March 2nd, 2009

Ross docked at roughly 9am this morning (2nd), he should put up a post soon. At the moment he’s taking time to listen to birds and stare at trees… Here is a photo that i didn’t upload with the previous post.

A beautiful view of the Akademik Federov

A beautiful view of the Akademik Federov


Through the ‘berg belt

February 26th, 2009

S54 49 W0

Pitching in a sea of total blackness, I could feel the waves rolling
around me.  The rhythmic creaking of my tired body ebbed and flowed with
the waters, sounds far distant on the surface above.  Light appeared,
deep blue, impossibly far but approaching at inconceivable speed, and
then fresh cold air billowed upon me and I sucked it deep into my
starved lungs.  Eyes opening, curtain of the bunk blowing open; the wind
had shifted and the pre-dawn light was blowing snow and air at 1.5
degrees through the open porthole.  We had come through the night, and
although the new day was still deep blue and grey it was filled with
fresh promise.

The ice-berg belt did not disappoint; rather, it has been kind.  This
morning when I had showered and made my tour of the outdoor decks on my
way to the bridge there was a garden of ice-bergs to be seen around us,
passing slowly as we continue inexorably northward.  The sea was more
friendly than anticipated, with only 3m swells through the day.  Still,
this was enough to make a few more passengers green around the gills,
and the morning clinic was quite busy.  Between diagnoses of
motion-sickness I managed to fit in two ENT cases, surgical excision of
an irritating skin lesion, a few of the usual back and limb aches that
plague the ship’s crew, and do some good dental work including a
filling.  By the time this was all completed and my notes written, it
was already time for lunch, and then I succumbed to my postprandial
somnolence with a brief nap.  It’s a hard life, aboard ship 😉

In the mid-afternoon a watery beam of sunlight tried valiantly to warm
the ship, but on the monkey-deck I was still subjected to blowing
snowflakes through which Wandering and Sooty Albatrosses skimmed over
the waves.  Retreating with my laptop to a sunny corner of the bridge, I
tried to work on the final  expedition reports, but the cheerful banter
of the chief mate and both captains (we have both a Master and an Ice
Pilot aboard on this voyage, both of whom have captained the vessel on
many occasions) was not very successful in getting work done.  Around
1600 the mate announced in her cheerful manner from the radar display
that an ice-berg dead ahead was bearing down southward on our course at
15 knots.  Ice-bergs, of course, are not well known to manage this type
of speed, and we quickly identified the signal to come from another
Antarctic ship, the  Akademik Federov.  We learnt over the radio that
she is en-route to Antarctica with a cargo of supplies for Troll and
Novolazarevskaya, hurrying south before the ice closes in.  Similar in
build and capability to the Agulhas (although slightly larger and
faster), she cut an impressive profile passing a mile abeam against a
backdrop of ice-bergs lit in the afternoon light.

My afternoon clinic was no less busy than the morning, including chronic
disease follow-up and even an antenatal visit.  In total, I devote about
4 hours a day to clinical work, and a little more to other medical work
for the ship – stock-taking, checking equipment, ordering new supplies,
and training the crew – the idea being to take advantage of the times
that a doctor is onboard.  It is hardly demanding, but rather pleasantly
stimulating and certainly helps to prevent the boredom I see setting in
amongst my team-mates who have now caught up on sleep and are finding
the days long and empty.

Tomorrow is forecast to be a little rougher – 4-5m swells and 40 knot
winds – but then it should improve again.  Very tentatively, if the
weather continues to be so kind, we may arrive in Cape Town ahead of
schedule… but the rest of the Fifties and all of the Forties lie
ahead, and such predictions are an open invitation to Nature to reminds
us of her supremacy,

Into the Tempest

February 24th, 2009

S59 40′ W 0 01′

Good old charts – the kind with inscriptions like ‘Terra Australis Incognita’ and ‘There be Dragons’ – often have similarly romantic slogans written in the margin of the mid-latitudes: ‘Zona Tempestua’ decorates the one hanging in my room. The Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties have earned their reputations, and are to be respected, but my innate love of the wild fills me with a perverse joy in anticipation of heavy seas. Indeed, the ocean has treated us tenderly so far… one wonders if it is the calm before the storm.

We left the ice-pack behind, but not the ice. Bergs large and small continue to appear regularly on the radar and over the horizon; some white, tabular and enormous, other deep blues streaked with black in unlikely shapes. Just before sunset last night we passed one shaped uncannily like an Origami swan, glowing under the brooding sky. We passed rapidly through the 60’s, steaming consistently at 12.5 knots through flats seas yesterday, but today awoke to strengthening winds and choppy waters. The swells are still negligible and the chop insufficient to cause major pitch or roll of the vessel, but nonetheless bear their own danger. Big ice-bergs are easy to see and avoid, but the little growlers – small bergs that barely break the surface and are invisible on radar – are hidden very easily by chop and white-horses. Every now and then, as I sit in the hospital near the stern, I feel the ship heel suddenly over as the officer of the watch makes a sudden correction to avoid a chunk of ice which will _probably_ bounce off the strengthened hull but _could_ hurt her. Still, we rather steam fast now while the sea is still friendly… the Fifties lie ahead.

Tonight is wonderfully dark. The thick cloud overhead has extinguished every hint of star- or moonilight, and the sea has no luminescence. My habit is to circle the decks as I climb from level to level on my way to the bridge, to make the most of the opportunity for exercise, but tonight I moved only by feel, barely able to discern the railings to which my hands froze and eyes wide to absorb any hint of light but blinking rapidly to clear the hard-blown snow. The monkey-deck above the bridge – the highest deck on the ship, completely exposed to the elements – was eerie, pitch black and battered by the wind. My hair was soon full of snow, and clad only in a thin fleece I had to retreat after a few minutes to the quiet warmth of the bridge. There, the still glow of the radar and a few other instruments served only to highlight the darkness; the mate on watch, hearing the door open and close but no other movement, nervously let off a soft “Hello?” after a minute or two and was patently relieved when I identified myself as mortal and no harpy Neptune sent to claim him for the deep. The radar showed what our eyes couldn’t; nine large bergs floated ahead within less than two miles, all on our course.

Due to the vagaries of wind and current, 55 to 60 degrees south is known as the ‘iceberg belt’, where bergs slowly circumnavigate Antarctica in great concentration. Add the tempestuous reputation of the Fifties and you have a great danger to vessels. Thus, we place a great deal of trust in the officers of the good Agulhas to find us a safe passage and not let their attention wander through the dark night. As I write the pitch and roll of the ship increases; at these latitudes there is no land anywhere around the globe to interrupt the ocean swells, and they too roll around the earth in magnitude unmatched elsewhere. Antarctica and her ice, despite the cold, have sheltered us; safe port now lies very far ahead, and with only the wild sea between.