It’s about three weeks since I joined her in the Falklands and I keep singing a line from that wonderful 70’s LP, Ogden’s nut-gone flake: “Here we all are, sitting on a rainbow, du du, doodlie, du,du,duuu…” Except it now goes: “Here we all are, sailing on Europa, du du, doodlie, du,du,duuu…”
Yesterday (no-one notices the day or date), we drifted sunnily into the South Shetlands’ Paulet Island in tee-shirt weather, and waltzed up and around and down some cute volcanoes (well, our resident volcanologist Tito, told us they were young cinder cones) with sun-cream on our noses, and cameras rapidly reset for a sunny white tropical beach. Washing the deck later, the steam rose in a comforting haze.
Captain Klaas announced 24hours ago that the forecast was for more of the same, and so it was, even up to 23h00 as we sailed a comfortable 5 knots across a flat, clear Bransfield Strait heading for Joinville Island. Lo and behold, we arrived mid-morning in a snowstorm, strong winds and visibility less than 50 metres. Jordie, our lead guide, descended icily out of the misty tops after furling, screwed a Marlborough into the corner of his mouth, grinned his wicked grin and announced “Welcome back to Antarctica Doc!”
It means no chance of a landing as we sit this out, and it back to ‘catching up’. So, I changed my bedding, put in a load of washing, muddled through my photos (got a fabulous humpback tailing in front of a tabular ice-berg yesterday), and helped stow a slippery Desmond (that’s a big sail by the way, not a patient) on the icy deck.
Last week we had a dozen perfect landings in South Georgia, before slugging our way across the Scotia Sea to Elephant Island where any thoughts of a Zodiac visit to Point Wild were dispelled by a hostile, heavy sea, sky and swell. All the better to appreciate what Wild’s men had to endure.
So, the Doc is enjoying being a few other things on this marvelous ship: a guide – at least the assistant to the assistant guide, history lecturer, assistant bar-man, dishwasher and dryer, while trying to help rather than hinder the crew on deck (“Hey Finn, is this the foretopmast stay-sail halyard?” Finn, as he tries not to roll his eyeballs, “No Doc…try again!”).
We are a pretty healthy ship, now that the initial stubborn epidemic of sea-sickness has passed with the help of pills, ginger tea, even some suppositories and no doubt a few prayers and promises from the depths of a rolling bunk. Proof of recovery? Marianne’s gastronomic galley (Toad in the hole yesterday, and the best soups ever) is being stretched by huge appetites and no pills have been dispensed for 10 days! A few strained muscles and joints are soldiering on with a little help from the dispensary, and a splinted broken finger is on the mend (“please don’t mention my name” said the teak-tough, fearless deck-hand, “my mum will kill me”).
Best quote? It came from deck hand Natalie, part of our Port watch team: driving the Zodiac up Larsen Fjord with shags racing by and a blue-hearted glacier ahead, she gazed upwards with the sun glowing on her pure face, and sighed “This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.”
So it is, Natalie, so it surely is.
Primary impression? As on my previous voyage, it’s the crew. Ours are remarkable, and I don’t just mean their extraordinary industry, courage and discipline. It’s their loyalty to each other that touches this doc, and one just has to love them all. I am officially part of the Port watch, and it’s a privilege to be included in this brilliant band of young brothers and sisters with quirky humor and constant smiles.
Sail on Europa!