As America endures a polar vortex, the North Sea rages with storms, daily news reports of ships with 20 metre cracks, containers lost at sea, etc. I couldn’t help but feel like it was a bad time to be joining a new ship. I’m quite susceptible to sea sickness and I’m really not a fan of being awake and thrown around until I pass out. But one news report really caught my eye, harrowing yet comical at the same time, the report of a research vessel stuck fast in ice in Antarctica and the vessel coming to rescue it getting stuck too was the ultimate tip of the iceberg for me!
I fondly recall my time in Antarctica and our trips deep within the pack ice, one particular trip is still my favourite; the time we re-supplied Halley VI. We began in Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands. We loaded all manner of things, From copious amounts of beer and toilet roll, to food, tractors and sno-cats! The brave men and women at Halley have to fend for themselves during the austral winter but I’m sure it’s quite an adventure. Only a small number of people remain in the bases over the winter, as the conditions are too fierce to conduct science work safely, so it was our job to ensure they had enough resources to live on for the coming months.
After setting off from Stanley we sailed straight into horrendous seas and poor visibility, I was fairly new to the ship at this time and everything was exciting and interesting to me. As we sailed past South Georgia, resting place of my favorite polar explorer, Shackleton. No one really batted an eyelid as we didn’t get very close and everyone had seen it all before, but everyone soon came running when I shouted KILLER WHALE!!!! The amazing thing about the crew on that ship was; they never ever got bored of seeing the wildlife, especially the elusive orcas or blue whales!
As we got further and further south we started encountering ice, small growlers floated past seemingly harmless and almost dainty, huge icebergs could be seen off in the distance like huge White Mountains sleeping on the surface of the sea. As we approached the bergy bits would often come thick and fast, sometimes hidden amongst brash and larger growlers, like sentries sent from the bergs as a warning not to get too close! We pressed on and on, crossing the Antarctic Circle, passing king penguins, Adelie penguins and of course the infamous emperor penguins. The initial entering of the pack is easy, just gliding full power through first year ice, roughly a metre thick, certainly no match for the reinforced ice knife bow but as we edged closer to our destination the ice got thicker and thicker, harder and harder to break, until, well… We got stuck!