Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Still Bobbing About

Welcome to the Drake Passage! To the North is the southernmost tip of the Americas, to the South, the Antarctic peninsula curling up towards the ship like a beckoning finger. And to either side, there are grumpy scientists wondering why the deuce they can’t hold the boat steady because all the waves are making the science difficult! My eyes did widen a little bit when I heard this last but years of hospital medicine and the intriguing stories that people tell to explain why the bottle caps ended up precisely where they did, stood me in good stead. I only let loose a tiny guffaw. Miniscule in fact. And I would like to say, right now, that the rather unkind rumour circulating the ship that the doc’s laugh and voice is so loud that she can be heard three decks up is nothing but vicious lies.
The James Clark Ross is supposed to arrive at Rothera station on Sunday although this is naturally dependent on the state of the ice. I’ve been told that this is the earliest that the ship has attempted to get into Rothera for 15 years. Apparently the last time the ice was so thick that the ship had to turn back rather than get stuck! It seems from the satellite pictures, however, that the ice is at last starting to break up. My opposite numbers in Rothera, Tom and Jenny, assure me that they can see leads in the ice forming already so I’m looking forward to a little bit of ice breaking over the next few days!
 When we’re at Rothera we will be resupplying the station with all the goodies that they may have been running low on throughout the winter. Many of those goodies include food and gear- such as a water vapour spreader that will reduce dust on the runway- but we’re also bringing in a healthy supply of new personnel. On board at the moment we have the dive master, a builder, a plumber and a wealth of scientists all of whom are desperate to get there and see their new home. I really feel for them at the moment because they’re passengers on the ship and as such don’t have specific duties. They do an hour of “gash” each day (That means all the horrible jobs aboard ship like cleaning the toilets. I really hope it’s an acronym for something...) but otherwise have to entertain themselves. This probably explains why there are never any biscuits in the bar!
In view of the forced inactivity various things have been trialled to keep everyone entertained. Our purser, Rich, is a cruel and evil fitness fanatic who runs a circuits class down in the hold on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Doing burpees on a moving platform is definitely a novel experience! The sit ups have a certain comedic value too; sitting up when the ship is climbing up a wave is a lot harder than when it’s sliding down the other side. It’s wise to time things well! I’ve learned that the kitchen staff have a hitherto unsuspected streak of cruelty. Just after completing this gruelling and savage workout I got to the duty mess to try and force some food into my debilitated frame. Only to find a tray of beautiful looking pastry and cream slices laid out which quickly made a mockery of any calories I may have burned.
But we need the fat this far South, right? Am I right?

I’ve carried on with the quiz nights and last night introduced a comedy DVD night. This was not an unqualified success. I’ve seen a certain comedian live in Cardiff where he was absolutely hysterical. But I hadn’t quite remembered that I had been warmed up by the two previous acts. The DVD started with him explaining that he bit his girlfriend’s bunion and somehow evolved into him undressing on stage and dancing before us all. Well done sir. You played Antarctica- not many comedians can say that! But now I’m concerned that many of my fellow ship-mates are looking somewhat askance at me!
Fortuitously naked nature was far better than comedians talking about threatening neo-Nazis whilst in the nuddy. We had a fantastic show yesterday.
I believe this is a giant petrel- feelings?

Three times during the day whales were spotted. I’m reliably informed that these are fin whales because they have a dorsal fin that “you would want to toboggan down.” Er...really? Apparently it meets the back at a lovely angle that could be sledged down whereas the Sei whales have a more vertical fin. We’ve acquired a new group of sea birds too. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to capture them on camera. Regrettably they’re fairly uncooperative – something of a recurrent theme- and I’ve deleted most of the images that I took. But I did get some shots of what I think is a giant petrel and some cape petrels but I would appreciate it if any clever birdy people out there could confirm or refute this!
And possibly a cape petrel?

Bobbing about on the waves whilst we're on station

That’s it for now my lovelies! Next stop Rothera.
Clumsy landings

Not sure who this one is!


  1. Hi Helen, I work with Andy who has been showing us pictures and telling us tales of your adventures and mentioned your blog, which I just wanted to tell you I'm thoroughly enjoying! You write excellently prompting curiosity and chuckles, well done. I particularly enjoyed the penguins. Stay warm! El x

    1. Hello! Thank you so much. That's really kind of you- I'm glad to hear that you're enjoying the blog. Hah- was Andy driving you crazy by showing you photos constantly? He is a lovely man! Hx

  2. That's a giant petrel, yes. If the tip of the beak is pale green-ish it's a southern giant petrel, if it's pale orange/red/pinkish it's a northern one. :)

  3. Hi Jon,
    Thank you so much! It's great when people can tell me what I'm actually looking at! And I am not so good on the old-bird identification front. Take care. Hx