The Polar Project » Edge of the Ice

Newly formed icebergs in the waning sunlight

Day 29; February 20, 2009; Penguin Bukta, Fimbul Ice Shelf, Southern Ocean, Antarctica
Average Daily Temperature: 19.14˚ F
Average Daily Wind Speed: 18.91 mph
Feels Like: -9.23˚ F

The first day on the SA Agulhas was spent acquainting myself with my new territory. This would be my first time on a sea voyage and there was much to comprehend, not the least of which was being atop a thing which never ceases to move about below you. The seawater around the ice shelf was relatively calm, but a certain finesse was still required in getting about the ship.

My cabin, which I would eventually share with three other women, was on the upper deck. Small but workable, the best feature was the portal view. The bunks were cozy, if a bit cramped, and I remarked at the support along the outer edge, which I imagined was to keep you from falling out of bed in rough seas. As I set about unpacking my things, I began to settle into the reality that this ship would be home for the two-week journey back to Cape Town.

Having missed breakfast—sure to be a daily occurrence given that it starts at 7:30 am—I was relieved to find that the heli deck was endowed with a rather elaborate espresso machine. For all its glamour, it was undoubtedly in need of a tune-up, as it arrived at a decent brew only after a bit of perseverance and fortuity. Alas, with veritable coffee in hand, I went about setting up my studio in one of the science labs at the back of the ship where Thomas, 1stborn and I had been given space to work.

Lunch came and went, the meals here being nothing more than tolerable sustenance. The bowl of pears was rather a treat—anything resembling “fresh” is always a high commodity—and I grabbed one on my way out of the dinning room. The food on the ship is really not something I wanted to spend too much time thinking about, given that most of it was packed into containers back in early December 2008. The same, of course, was true at SANAE, but the chef at the base was somehow more adept at preparing enjoyable meals. Alas, one learns to adapt.

I spent the rest of the day up on the monkey deck, a wind-protected bench at the very top of the boat which offers a 360-degree view. It was quite cold, but the fresh air was revitalizing, and with most of my body sheltered from the wind, I was able to sit and watch the environs for hours. There was much to take in as we lingered in front of the ice shelf waiting for the rest of the flights from the base—the sea was abundant with birds!

Snow and Antarctic Petrels darted around the ship, riding the potent air currents. These little birds, indigenous to Antarctica, are quite spirited. Flitting around the boat, they sometimes gain fast altitude and then hang in the air against the wind, as if suspended, and other times race past towards the tips of the waves. The Giant Southern Petrels are quite a bit larger, and have more elongated movements, languidly making wide circles around the ship.

All the while, the horizon was dotted with floating ice castles. As the ship made its way through and around them, our ever-changing angle of view showed one façade’s contours slowly shifting into others, creating vastly different shapes from a single iceberg. On approach, an iceberg would look entirely different than once we had passed it by.

The day parted with a waning crescent moon rising over the continent, half a mile away. The early twilight barely illuminated the edge of the ice shelf, the sun having left the sky blushing.

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