Monday 27th February 2012

Early this morning, the intensity of the storm increased severly. That was apparent to us all. Most of our stuff fell off the shelves and I almost fell out of bed. The chairs have been lying upside for two days already, and there really is no point in trying to keep them upright. Our speed has been reduced to about 4 knots, severely slowing down our progress. Hopefully, the storm will be over by tomorrow, but I hear that there is another on the way that we might just hit or just miss…

(Wild, but pretty exciting! The Little Red Boat is about 110m (330 feet) long  – and is being tossed about by the ocean as if she were a cork in a bathtub)

It is really difficult to do anything when the ship is bucking around like this. Even staying awake is a challenge. I spoke to the doctor and asked why so many of us were feeling so tired. The response was that it is hard work for the brain to maintain the body's balance and its proper, upright position when everything around it is moving unpredictably, especially when one is indoors and unable to see the ocean and the horizon and thereby, anticipate the movement. Makes sense to me. Many passengers spend much of the day in their bunks, emerging only at mealtimes.

(I got soaked taking this photo as the water was splashing onto the deck with great force)

I got up early, had breakfast and was fully intending to be constructive. I sat down and started reading then woke up an hour later, still sitting but just emerging from a gentle coma. I tried reading again. Then woke up another hour later, still sitting up…

Sadly, the Northwesterly wind has transformed into a Southwesterly, which means we get hit by the swell from the side. Thus, instead of a rhythmic up-and-down swaying motion, the ship perfoms an uncomfortable corkscrew motion. My ‘favourite’. Ha, ha! But all that was forgotten for a while when the heavens provided a dramatic and astonishingly beautiful sunset…

(Charcoal clouds barely allow the sunlight to shine through onto the wild ocean)

The weather is not improving and we already lost time yesterday from having to slow down to about 4 knots. The front that was predicted to have passed over us still has not finished passing by. I am not sure that I still have patience for this. I feel so much closer to home and yet still so far away. It certainly looks like this darn storm is following us around!  At midnight tonight, we will set our clocks forward by one hour.

“Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow: Such as creation’s dawn beheld, thou rollest now.”  (Lord Byron)




Monday 9th January 2012

We are progressing well, just a few ice bergs and melted-down 'bergy bits' still floating around in the sea, here and there.

We are heading NW to our first pit stop, at Southern Thule Island. Right now, we are at 62°S and 3°W. To my utter horror, I discovered that we had been on terra firma just long enough for me to lose my sea-legs!

I had to find them again rather quickly, over the past two days. The swell has calmed down and is more in line with our line of travel, and therefore today is a more pleasant ride than yesterday, when the swell was hitting the ship side-on.

Thursday 8 December 2011: D- DAY: DEPARTURE DAY

D-Day has arrived. For a while already, I have been steeling my nerves and heart for this day. We were due to sail at 14h00 but were delayed – and we only left at 4pm. There was a festive atmosphere at the quay. Live music.

Excited passengers and their families milling about. I was more afraid than excited. Speeches – one by the director of DEA, Henry Valentine and one by Capt Bill Leith, a retired master of the SA Agulhas, who then unveiled a plaque in honor of the ship and Cape Town as a key link in Antarctic exploration over the past 100 years.

The two hour delay was very difficult for me. Sort of like holding your breath for as long as you can and then having to hold it some more. Worst of all, I was aboard the ship and Paul and the children and Tanya and Charl and kids were on the quay. We passengers were no longer permitted to get off the ship. If we had been able to spend that time together, the delay would have been an enjoyable windfall. Instead, it prolonged the agony of leaving.

The longer I stood up there on the ship's deck, the greater the urge became to leap off, onto terra firma.

When the harbor tug/pilot (whatever that thing is called!) came for us and the ship finally started moving, my heart leaped into my mouth. One of the most unbearable things I have ever experienced was watching my family and friends get smaller and smaller as the ship moved further away from the quay. Even now, writing about it days later, it brings tears to my eyes.

They looked so frail and vulnerable, standing on the outermost point of the quay. That was when I heard that little voice in my head scream out "Oh God, what have I done?" And then the tears flowed freely.

Here is an extract from poem I happened upon. It yanks at the heart strings, doesn't it? But at the same time, it also provides a little solace:

As slow our ship her foamy track
Against the wind was cleaving,

Her trembling pennant still look'd back
To that dear isle 'twas leaving.

So loth we part from all we love,
From all the links that bind us;

So turn our hearts, as on we rove,
To those we've left behind us!

(Last verse:)

As travelers oft look back at eve
When eastward darkly going,

To gaze upon that light they leave
Still faint behind them glowing, – So, when the close of pleasure's day
To gloom hath near consign'd us,

We turn to catch one fading ray
Of joy that's left behind us.

(From: The Journey Onwards, by T. Moore )

Later, on departure day

You may be asking "Why are you so tearful, if you are actually getting the chance to live your dream?" That is a very good question. The reason is that it is hard for me to leave my family for so long, and to be so utterly removed from them. Their vulnerability suddenly becomes so clear. This journey defines the word 'remoteness'. There is basically no turning around and quickly coming home…

Leaving the harbor, the swell was about 2 meters (6 feet) high. As a preventative measure against sea sickness, I went and stood on the main deck, watching the ocean and the horizon, and anticipating the movement.

Bobbing up and down, very rhythmically, I actually thought, 'Hey, this is rather "lekker"!' (Lekker – an extremely versatile Afrikaans adjective without equal in English, meaning enjoyable, tasty, delightful, nice, great, cool…) Within about 2 hours of leaving Cape Town harbor, the swell had increased to 4 to 5 meters (12 to 15 feet). That was rather a quick increase in swell size and my body no longer found things to be so very 'lekker'. Not only that, but the time between the rises and dips was very short, which meant that the ship did not do a simple up -and-down cycle. Rather, she would go UP – then- roll-and-twist-to-the-side and then only, DOWN, and then UP and twist and so on. One of the crew members told me that they call this particular, vomit-inducing motion, 'cork-screwing'. The fact that it had been formally named did nothing to ameliorate the seasickness that quickly gripped my body.

This was the first time that I had ever really experienced seasickness. And my God, it is indeed an ungodly thing to experience. For the un-initiated, imagine you are an old tennis shoe inside a washing machine, soap and all.

Around and around you go, being tossed this way and that. After a while, you no longer have any idea of which way is up. EVERYthing seems to be moving in convulsions, both clockwise and anti-clockwise at the same time.

Every few minutes I had to run outside or find a toilet. This is when I realized how wonderful it was to have a cabin situated close to an external door. Outside, it was getting rather chilly. In between vomits, I tried to dig into my luggage to find some warm clothing but could only search for about 30 seconds, before having to rush outside again. The mere physical position of bending over to rummage inside a bag was enough to send my belly into vomit-mode. I am grateful for one thing and that is that as far as I know, no-one photographed me in the outfit that resulted from these desperate, lightning-fast rummages in the luggage. I am especially grateful that my daughter, Gabriella, (who has excellent dress sense) did not see me in my final outfit of the day. Let me just say that it involved lightweight cotton shorts and long woollen socks pulled up to above the knee, and leave it at that.

At a point I realized it would be a good idea to find the doctor. Perhaps I could even dictate my last will and testament to him. I was told where to find him, but getting to him was not that simple. There was puke everywhere – no, not mine – from other passengers. On the steps, in the passageways, everywhere. Thank God I had not contributed to that.

Luckily, my cabin was close to an external door. With every desperate scramble to get outside in time, I managed to open the heavy door a bit quicker.

The sea sickness persisted. The first 3 days were hell. The good doctor gave me some pills to take and told me that it was important to "eat something before taking them." Ha ha. That kept me busy for a while. I had to eat three times before the food stayed in long enough for me to take the pills.

Then it started to get a little better each day. However, I was still horizontal most of the time. I think it took about 5 days before I felt like myself again. I lost track. Those days are basically blanks in my memory.

Sort of like when I had malaria, in Tanzania. At first you think you are going to die and then on the third day you fear that you might not die. Lest there be any confusion, let me just state that the SA Agulhas is not a pleasure cruise vessel, and does not have very many fancy mechanisms to stabilize itself in the water. This might be why some old sailors have thought up not-so-flattering nicknames for her!

Day 9 – All White

I am feeling much better, voice dodgy but chest doing ok. More lectures and briefings. Aaaargh, never ending.

Scenery beautiful. I stood out on the deck, soft snowflakes blowing in, semi-white out conditions  -  only a radius of about 100m of visibility around the ship and then pure WHITE. I actually cried, it was so beautiful. I also cried as i wished so much that my family could have been standing there, next to me.


Day 8 – Cold and sick

Outside is cold. We are nudging 60 degrees. In fact, I have been writing for a while and we could already be past 60 South. The pack ice is everywhere. It is snowing outside. The snow is coming at a 180 degree angle!

One can't go out even for a minute without a hat and coat and gloves.  I seem to now have a chest infection, which I think I got from running outside when I needed to, and to watch the horizon during my seasickness period. Will be seeing the doctor today, at his own insistence. My voice was gone for almost 2 days as well.

It gets light around 3 am. Pretty soon it will be light all the time.

Day 5 – Yippee

Today is the first day that I actually feel good. I sure hope I have finally found my sea-legs. We may still hit some bad stormy water and I can’t bear the thought of not having my sea-legs before that happens! At least I am not the only one that has taken strain in this regard. Many fellow passengers, younger than myself have also been suffering. It is the first day that I have been able to really do a bit of work. I hope to finish the newspaper report by tomorrow. That was really causing me extreme stress, as I was sooo scared of not getting better in time to meet the deadline. I have done a few interviews and am doing more as we go along.

I am feeling rather lonesome and am missing my family desperately and must bite my lip often to avoid splurting tears over all and sundry.

Later tonight we enter the Furious Fifties…

Day 4 – Mmmm

The swells are 5m high, but that is not the problem. They are 8 seconds apart. Before we are out of one we are on top of another (but my stomach sometimes doesn't agree – I can guarantee that a stomach is more convincing than eyes). And it's going to get rougher. The temperature has dropped severely. The wind speed is down from 35 knots to the high 20's.

The ship looked so BIG and tall in the harbour. Out here in the huge ocean she looks pretty small!

In a day or two "they" expect calmer water (at the moment I sometimes think a bath might be a bit rough). Then storms. Then pack ice, which is a bath.

Day 2 – Bow moment

Went and stood right at the bow – Leonardo and Kate style, but the wind almost blew me back into the bridge (not Leonardo and Kate style). So I sat. Much nicer and not half as scary – but not so elegant. After an hour or so the water started getting rougher. Then a wave came over the bow and dumped me, followed closely by a crew member informing me that I had to vacate my position on Captain's orders (also not Leonardo and Kate style).

It did help for that dastardly sea-sickness though – felt like riding a dragon (Daniel Radcliffe style). Where are those legs I needed?

(Photo from a previous traveller of the LRB in the seas I'm speaking of)


Day 2 – Saturday (less hell)

Those pills were good (clearly not lethal). Slept for hours. Tried to post some, but the sea got rougher and I felt a little queasy and needed to go outside for a couple of hours to feel better.

Crossing into the "Roaring 40's" tonight. The sea is fairly calm though.

I was supremely confident that I would have my sea-legs by now, yesterday I hoped to die. Today, humbly, I pray that I might have my sea-legs and survive the 40's.