Tuesday 3rd January 2012

The weather is still great. Radio 702 called from Johannesburg early morning and said they wanted to do a live interview with me over the telephone, at 11h00 GMT. They called back and asked me to hold on while the news was read, so that they could cue me. How weird was that? There I was in Antarctica, listening to the news broadcast in Johannesburg, over the phone, two hours later than the time I was on! The interview ended at 11h25.

We were informed at 11h35 that we (Hanlie, me, Lood the cameraman, Paul, the SANAE 50 team leader and Maruma, a meteorologist) had to be ready to board the chopper to fly to the ship at 12h00, and not at 14h00 as had been the plan up till then. Thus the mad rush commenced. Packing, running here, there and everywhere, to sort out last minute things and to try and email as many photos as possible for the blog site. Dressed in full kit, we boarded. What a wonderful flight  -  being able to gaze at that vast expanse of white to my heart's content. Here and there were mountains, crevasses and blue ice that looked like ponds of water. At one point we came over the tracks left in the snow by the Cat Train!

(Cat Train tracks between SANAE and Penguin Bukta, as seen from chopper at 1000m altitude)

When we landed on the helicopter deck of the Little Red Boat, I involuntarily said, "Ah, we are home". The chopper had to fly a few more sorties to offload some cargo and would then return to SANAE where it would remain for the next 25 days, while the ship sailed to South Georgia before returning to Penguin Bukta to load the old SANAE team and all the other people who would sail back to SA.

I put the luggage that I had brought back from SANAE far away from the luggage that had to fly with new passengers to SANAE. While the sorties were being flown, I sat down in the hangar to try and finish something that I wanted to send back to SANAE by chopper. And then it happened. Disaster crept up quietly from behind and dealt me a heavy blow: unbeknownst to me, somebody took my luggage (with all the gear I had taken to SANAE) and loaded it BACK onto the chopper, to fly BACK to SANAE. Meanwhile, my laptop had developed a keyboard issue and my only memory stick had picked up a virus.

Huh? What is going on here?

Soon, the passengers boarded the chopper. We all gaily waved goodbye and then the chopper took off for SANAE, for the last time, until 25 January.

The sunlight was filtering through mist and clouds. The light was incredibly beautiful and turned the entire landscape into a breathtaking scene. I whipped out my camera and started snapping away, not knowing where to look first!

Within about 15 minutes, the mist had overwhelmed everything and I could barely make out the bow of the ship. The temperature dropped quickly. I turned to take my luggage to my cabin. All I saw was an empty spot where once my bag had been. My heart pounded in my ears. Running, searching, running, searching, looking all over inside the ship, in case someone had carried it in. Then I had to face the unbelievable: that my bag had been flown to SANAE for a summer vacation, without me. I thought my head would burst. There were things I needed in there, the most critical being chargers for assorted cameras. Not to mention pages of notes of interviews I had done along the way. I screamed a scream for King Neptune to hear, 3 degrees of longitude from here. And then I cried.

With my red eyes, I woefully walked around the ship asking everyone if they might have a charger that I could borrow for my videocam. Everyone tried to help in some way. By the time I had asked 99% of the staff and passengers without any luck, I gave up hope and accepted the fact: No charger on this Little Red Boat. And that was the end of that.

The ship departed to on her voyage to South Georgia. The water was mostly clear of ice and very calm. The slight swaying motion seemed to soothe my bruised soul a little.

Five hours later, we were at dinner. I was miserable. The first engineer, Derek, came over to our table and calmly told me that he owned a Sony videocam and that we could check if his charger could be used on my videocam. SAY WHAAAT? My ears could not believe what they had just heard: that there even existed such a blissful possibility! He fetched it. I tried it. It works. Now I believe in miracles again. All I can say is this: never disregard the last one percent. It might be the most important of the preceding 99%!

Later, we entered very thick pack ice, sporting all sorts of shapes and sizes. I spent hours outside as the light changed and the landscape went from beautiful to indescribably beautiful. Whenever I became totally frozen, I went into the bridge to warm up. And then out again. What a wondrous place this is.

Monday 19th December 2011

We have crossed 67° South and are at 2°1’ West within a few miles of crossing the Antarctic Circle, at 67° 33’. Today is the day that King Neptune’s bears will rough up those persons who have not yet been initiated…. Once they have been charged and punished, they will join ‘OAF’ – The Order of the Antarctic Fellows.

You might have noticed that we did not really move today. That was involuntary… the ship got a little stuck in the ice. Nothing to be too concerned about, but she was stuck indeed. Captain told me that they would wait until later, because, as the tides and winds changed, it often caused the ice to break up and float apart. Meantime, we will enjoy our beautiful parking spot. The engines are kept running, and some thruster thingy at the back is kept running, specifically to keep the ice from closing in on the ship from behind, as, apart from then really freezing us in, this poses a risk of damaging the rudder and some other important anatomical parts of the ship. It's all hydraulics, they say, which don’t like to receive pressure from outside forces such as concrete-hard pack ice.

Just after lunch, the buzz gets intense – over the intercom it is announced that the initiation will commence at 14h00. All initiates started preparing themselves, mentally and physically – trying to figure out what to wear, how they will keep warm, etc…. I made a few litres of hot chocolate and handed it out to all who had congregated on my deck level, mainly the SANAE 51 team and the chopper pilots. The SANAE team had decided to wear as little as possible, so that they could dry off as quickly as possible, while lying in the freezing cold on the helicopter deck.

The initiates are ordered to proceed to the helicopter deck. The Bears scream at them to lie flat on the deck and not to gaze upon King Neptune and his Queen. They lie there, prone, and freezing, with Bears walking between them, ‘squashing them and splashing buckets of icy water over them..! One by one they get called out, by name. The charges that have been brought against them are read out, they are then manhandled towards the big seawater ‘bath’ i.e. a large wooden crate lined with plastic sheeting and filled with ice water straight from the ocean. There’s a group of OAFs who grab the initiate and dip them into the water, backwards. They get dipped anywhere between once and 15 times, depending. The frozen and disoriented initiate is then guided to appear before the king and queen, where he/she is smeared, pasted, glued, gummed etc. by the king’s henchmen, with assorted mixtures that look and smell like seagull puke. Afterwards, they proceed to the next station, where they are sprayed by hosepipe, in the face, everywhere. And then they can disappear and run for the nearest shower.

(Me, OAF graduate, 25 years ago)

(King Neptune and Queen's Peereage Bestowed, photo from 25 years ago)

Had it not been that Rhonda had happened to email me this photo of me before I left SA, then I would have had to go through the initiation again. This photo provided – only just – evidence of my past initiation. Phew, a close call indeed!!

After all had had a shower and recovered, we had a great braai out on the heli deck. The ship's kitchen had laid out a superb spread, and I totally overate. Stunning scenery, all around. The next game was to try and scoop up some ice from the floes, into a bucket attached to a rope, and onto the deck. This kept us amused for a considerable time, especially when it turned into a competition, with everyone trying to get hold of ever bigger and bigger blocks of ice.

“Emperor penguin on starboard side”!! We all charge over there with cameras… wow, what a treat to see them. Seals are not very curious about us, but penguins will come walking and sliding across the ice from afar, just to come and take a look at us on our Little Red Boat.

(Emperor penguin, photo from 25 years ago)

We also had three little Adelié penguins come a long way across the ice to investigate.

Day 10 – Planning Arrival

Just had yet another briefing – Emergency procedures at SANAE. At this point, our ETA at the German bukta, Akta Bukta, is 21 December (or maybe 22 December). That is, if we don't suddenly encounter unexpected ice conditions. Last night the ship came to total standstill for some hours, as the visibility was soooo bad.

Once we have offloaded some heavy cargo at Akta Bukta, the ship will sail to RSA / Penguin Bukta and offload the rest. However, from Akta Bukta I will probably be joining the "Cat Train' to go overland to SANAE from there. This is where the Caterpillars pull heavily-laden sleds to SANAE. Takes 24 – 36 hours if all goes well.

There is rather a lot of tension on board, as all the new travellers await the initiation when we cross the Antarctic Circle.

(photos from 25 years ago)

Pomp and Ceremony

Mmm, they have lots to fear…

Have also been doing some rope training  -  but still need to take the test. S*** I hope I get tested before I forget how to make all those bloody knots!!!

(photos from, again, 25 years ago)