Phew! It's finally over. Over a month cramped in a vessel filled with horrible people, boring days and desolate landscapes devoid of life is over and I can finally return home - Is what I would like to have said, because it would have made the 'goodbyes' and the 'see-you-laters' that much easier. But I can't say that, it would have been a lie.
I have been in some of the world’s most amazing places. So amazing, in fact, that it feels like a dream. A dream that is about to end. In a couple of days I'll be back home, and in a couple more, this whole trip will feel distant and blurry, like when you wake up and barely remember what you dreamt. But this wasn't a dream. And even if almost everyone on this ship, including permanent crew, calls the world we return to 'the real world', this adventure was very much real, and I will do my best to remember that, because it means that I can return here. I've seen hundreds of whales, thousands of seals, and hundreds of thousands of penguins of different shapes and sizes. I've sailed in sort of rough weather and steered a motoring ship through the calm. My hands have hardened a bit from sail handling, even though my sailing experience can best be described the same way as my beard: Thin and patchy, and better in some areas than others. I have climbed the mast, all the way to the top. And I have, yet again, tried furling the upper topsail under the guidance of Peder. Fear took me out on the yard and while I managed one gasket, my legs started shaking and I decided to go down. I'm sure Peder felt me shaking. Antarctica was an amazing place. I would have been content with just seeing an iceberg the size of a house - I saw one the size of a city! There were also smaller ones that were covered with penguins. How cool is that?! It wasn't as cold as I expected though. In fact, with the exception of some days at sea, it was pretty warm (I'm sure some would disagree). The day we entered Antarctica was especially nice. The sun was shining, it was pretty calm waters and we had whales around us. I spent a lot of time on the bowsprit, a spot I've found perfect for alone time, if not a tad weather dependant. I sat there, listening to the waves, looking at the sky and the sea, seabirds around us. "PC, is that a growler?" Titus (he prefers Tito nowadays) is shouting from the lookout. I squint my eyes and sure enough, there's one, still far away, heading straight for us. Reported to the captain, and avoided. I'm glad Titus saw it first, as it hopefully boosted his confidence after his two-in-a-row loss of backgammon against me. James was in the foremast, chilling on the royal yard. I decided to join him. We saw whale sprouts in front of the setting sun, it was awesome. It may sound like romanticized penguin guano, but it's true. We even saw the fabled green flash as the sun left the horizon, a myth I didn't think was real. We did a polar swim as well. The Deception Island beach was amazing. A nice and warm volcanic beach with warm water for about 30 cm. When I kept going I hit the freezing Antarctic water. We were about 12 people doing the swim and I was in the first zodiac to arrive. I remember standing in the water thinking this wasn't so bad. Then we ran into the icy cold water. Like a penguin chick hiding in his parents warm pouch, my privates hid inside my man-pouch from the sudden hit of cold. I managed to control my breath this time and stayed in long enough to not feel my feet anymore. It was very nice. As I was drying myself I was afraid that my diamond nipples would cut holes in my towel. It was cold, and it was awesome. I'm proud of my fellow swimmers, good job everybody! I've learned so much this trip. Sail handling, ocean currents, weather and wind, seals, ice and history is just some of the many topics we've had at our lectures. I've learned that living in a cabin with 4 other men isn't too bad. And once you get to know each other it gets easier to get along, though I've never encountered an issue with anyone on this ship. People now know I'm not a morning person, and are very considerate during the early breakfast hours. I've learned that there is a place called Brown Bluff, and that it is named after its brown bluff and not after what happens when you try to pass gas and get a little bonus in your pants (I did not know what a bluff was). I apologize for my bad humour just now, and I blame hypothermia for my sudden decrease in comedic standards (don't worry mom, I don't have hypothermia, my humour have always been bad). Now, I could go on forever about all the things I've seen and experienced, but you'd have to experience it for yourself to be able to feel what I feel. And the tallship experience is something else. If you think about going on a cruise ship to Antarctica, don't. Because the Europa has something that cruise ships have not: A soul. You can feel it in the deckhouse when the voyage crew enjoys each other’s company in the calm waters. You can feel it during potato peeling sessions, or in your bunk when you hear music and laughter from the galley (no, it's not too loud). You can taste it when you eat the divine food coming out of the galley, with fresh fruit and vegetables even at day 35. I'm starting to think they have a greenhouse in the hull. You see it when you attend lectures by the passionate Jordi and Sarah. Oh, and Nilla, I almost forgot you. I guess you weren't on my mind (I kid of course, I will never forget you, nor your love for snickers toblerone, or snoblerone as I have named it). What I'm trying to say is that the soul of Europa is everywhere; In the perfectly imperfect Mars and Snickers bars, squashed when stashed away somewhere; In the eyes of the permanent crew as they join us on the landings and experience things for the first time together with us; And the watches, when half is asleep and the other half is reading a book, when Martijn comes in, shouting in his happy voice 'BRACING'. We get up, brace ourselves first, then go outside, happily, because we enjoy it, every second of it. As I'm writing this we're crossing the washing machine called the Drake passage. Many has yet again become sea sick, including some of the permanent crew. If you are one of those permanent crew, I hope you feel a little bit better after reading this. Because you all make this trip. It wouldn't have been the same without your positive and energetic, yet chill and cool personalities. Even when you're sick you dish out comments that leaves a smile on my face and you smile back. Thank you for that. You've opened yourselves to us and let us into the warmth. Not fully opened though, as there exist a professional barrier between the voyage crew and the permanent crew. A barrier that have to exist, for your own sanities sake. But open enough to make me feel part of the Europa family. I won't drop names here because it would take up too much space and I promised Natalie to not mention her mistakes and bad habits. A joke, of course, as Natalie is one of the greatest people I've met. Funny, kind, knowledgeable, caring and hardworking. And along with some of the others, one of the people that makes me want to work as a permanent crew. So thank you, every single one of you, for making this an amazing and unforgettable journey. I also want to thank my fellow voyage crew comrades as we have grown quite close. For some of us, this is goodbye, for others it's see you later. I am happy to say that I have made some nice friends here, ones I'm looking forward to seeing again. Thank you to the blue watch, also called the best watch, for the smooth and painless watches. Thank you, white watch, for your caring wakeups in the morning (morning is every hour of the day here). And thank you red watch for relieving us when we're tired and cold, though you were five minutes late that one time. I've enjoyed spending time with you all and getting to know you. And close we have become. As I wrote this in the poker corner, Birdy got out of his bunk, came to me and asked me if I was alright, like truly alright? I must have looked thoughtful and a little bit sad. It warms a Norwegian heart that we've gotten this close. I'll miss you Birdy. In fact, I'll probably miss most of you voyage crew and all of you permanent crew. It's with a heavy heart that I succumb to Europa's warm embrace for the last couple of nights, letting her rock me to sleep next to my cabin 10 mates. My watch is ending and I'm returning home. But this is not the last you see of me, Europa, that's a promise.
Till next time
Per Christian, 32, Norway, city-dweller and adventurer