The Sixtyfifth Latitude

It is a difficult job to narrate the events of the last three days in a few paragraphs, but here is an attempt. Wednesday morning we awoke surrounded by bergs and islands, ice on all sides. A morning landing at Neko Habour, first footsteps on the mainland of the peninsular. There was some group discussion onshore and a walk up a snow hill to watch the calving of the ice coastline. A large chunk of ice gave way to the sea. Back to the ship for lunch. I spent the duration of the afternoon on the ship bow. The water was peculiarly flat and the sun was warming. We drifted through a narrow channel in between islands and bergs. The colours of the ice and sky reflected vividly in the water. Back to the gangway late afternoon equipped with sleeping bags and bivy sacks.

We were taxied out to a small island in Paradise Bay to setup camp for the night, getting busy building ice walls for shelter. We had a tent per team but most people, myself included, opted to sleep under the stars. I skipped dinner and stayed on the island until the following morning. Ice cliffs ashore thundered with the occasional calving. As is normal at this latitude, there were uninterrupted views of an extended sunset. Brilliant yellow-pink colours eclipsing the polar landscape. I watched the silhouette of the Ioffe sail out of the bay to leave us isolated on the island. The sky was fabulously exposed, I have never seen so many stars. Frequent glimpses of shooting stars and satellites. We stood around watching the sunset and gazing at the sky, eating energy bars and chatting about trivial things as if it were normal. By the time I buried myself in my sleeping bag my eyes were heavy, but I found it difficult to let go of the night sky and the faint outline of a glacier behind me.

Thursday morning we awoke before dawn to pack up camp and return to the ship for breakfast. Makes a change from Jumper’s usual “team inspire, team inspire, team inspire” wakeup call. Back on the ship bow to admire the peninsula coastline, spotting the occasional penguin and whale. In the afternoon we arrived at the Ukranian research base, Vernadsky, at the 65th latitude as far south as we would go. It’s wintering over time and we are the last ship this far south. Thus, following standard protocol, we are obliged to drop off supplies for the Ukrainians. It was intriguing looking around the base. Rob was last here at my age, when it was a British base. When we Brits were done with the base it was passed it on to the Ukrainians for a dollar. Behind Vernadsky still stands a pre-existing British base from the 1920’s, Wordie House. We were ferried out to see this frozen time capsule, preserved in the exact state it was left centuries ago.

Returning to the ship we congregated on the bow for a team photo and a ship ceremony before turning our backs to the pole and making for the Drake. A wave of euphoria as the trip climaxes at the most southern point we will likely venture ever again. Some bright spark observes that the ship’s outdoor plunge pool has been filled with sea water. Next thing I know I’m jumping into the ice cold water in my summer boardies. We spend the remainder of the afternoon dipping in and out of the pool and recovering in the sauna. For some reason me, Nial and Dave decide it would be fun to go through this ordeal ten times. It took no less than twenty minutes sitting in the sauna after the final plunge to fully recover. Good times. Up to the top deck to watch the sunset before dinner, one last glimpse of the Antarctic peninsular before the dreaded passage home. Rob Swan’s final presentation in the evening. Drinks all round at the bar.

Friday morning and we are back to empty horizons and the swagger of the ship as we pursue Cape Horn on the Drake Passage. People busy themselves with their various workshops and teams. I attend two sessions with David Noble and Kartikeya on their respective projects, 2DegreesC and the Indian Youth Climate Network. The passage is relatively calm, but the ship is rocking around a sufficient amount to bring on bouts of sea sickness. I am abstaining from taking any medication as I don’t plan on revisiting the delirium of the journey down here. For the first time on this trip I couldn’t face a full dinner. I finished my first course and headed out on the lower deck. I stood there, headphone in one ear with the other free for the ocean. Both hands firmly on the handrail as the waves threaten to breach the deck. It was a good time to collect my thoughts and re-engage with life as it will resume in a couple of days, stilla foreign concept as I contemplate it now. I sat in the bar for the remainder of the evening until everyone disappeared to bed.

So today is Saturday, final day onboard the Ioffe. I have paid off the bar tab and am beginning to think about packing. Workshops and sessions will continue through the day, I plan on being out on deck for much of it. We should be past the Cape by late afternoon, slowing pace in the Beagle channel for a final night before alighting in Ushuaia. This has been a mental and a physical journey. It has been the tipping point for re-examining my future, my aspirations, my “thirty years”. Robert Swan and Antarctica have been the inspiration. Viviane Cox and BP have been the enablers. The people have been the passion. Thank you all.

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