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Published: March 2nd 2014
Meanwhile in the South...
In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, an albatross starts to a follow a ship. Back in the days of sail, being followed by an albatross was generally considered as good luck. However, the mariner in the aforementioned poem gets out his crossbow and kills the albatross, which is regarded as a dreadful act that would send a curse upon the ship – a curse of windless days, disease, hunger and thirst (In the poem, the ship and crew do indeed suffer terrible misfortune.) To punish him, his shipmates force the mariner to wear the dead albatross around his neck, seemingly forever - until they all eventually die from the curse.
The albatross can be both an omen of good luck or bad luck.
‘Ah! Well a-day! What evil looks? Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross about my neck was hung.’
The epic tale continues.
‘One after one, by the star dogged moon to quick for groan nor sigh
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang and cursed me with his eye.
Four times fifty living men and
I heard nor sigh nor groan
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump they dropped down one by one.’
I have come to be quite fond of the Drake Passage – it’s an incredible body of water... Very moody! We are the undrunk, like zombies are the undead, we stagger about the ship as it bobs up and down like a cork – we are not drunk – it just appears that way!The sea has a mesmerizing power that we all seem to love.
Crossing the Drake is such a huge part of every Antarctic Peninsula trip - and albatross have followed us every time… Below the Circle…
It was three o’clock in the morning, dark and snowing when the ship crossed the Antarctic Circle, that imaginary line of latitude at 66°33’44”S. Darkened outlines of clouds were visible in the eerie light of the southern sky, and by dawn, the dazzling horizon was broken only by icebergs… The sun does not set on the circle on the Austral summer solstice in December and even now in February it receives a generous dose of sunlight! On the flip side however, the sun does not rise on the
winter solstice in June… We did all go back to bed after crossing the line, but shortly after breakfast we had a crossing the circle ceremony… We all had to get Neptune’s permission to cross into his waters, this involved us kissing Neptune’s blue toe and drinking a horrid concoction of a drink. Once Neptune and his beautiful queen granted us the rite of passage we were free to explore this wonderful part of the world in the deep southern regions of our planet…
It was a ton of fun making the costumes and the whole ceremony was a hoot! I was a pirate, but we had henchmen and mermaids too.
Afterwards we were definitely overthinking it a bit - we were discussing the ceremony of kissing Neptune’s blue toe? Apparently, in the northern hemisphere, when vessels cross the Arctic Circle there is a ceremony that involves everyone kissing Neptune’s blue thumb. We were curious as to what the custom is when vessels cross the equator? Any suggestions!? We were also debating amongst ourselves whether mermaids were mammals or fish? We settled on mammals… About Mermaids
Interestingly, mermaids were believed to be true by mariners of
times gone by! Most hardened sailors in the day claimed to have seen them at some point and many even claim to have heard them sing. I must say though, I personally saw a mermaid a few weeks ago when a fur seal lifted its head out of the water and was covered in seaweed… I could see how any gentleman who’d been at sea for a year or two could easily mistake this for a fair maiden of the sea. Mermaids, unlike the albatross, were often associated with bad luck. There are stories of sailors hearing their songs from afar, the mermaids used these mesmerising chants to lure them to reefs and rocks so their ships would run aground and sink. Fascinating creatures are mermaids! As are water nymphs and sea spirits! Even the captain of our vessel claims to have seen some weird and wonderful stuff out here on the big, big sea… I believe him…
‘Her hair was a fleece of gold, and each separate hair as a thread of fine gold in a cup of glass. Her body was as white ivory, and her tail was of silver and pearl. Silver and pearl was her
tail and the green weeds of the sea coiled round it; and like sea-shells were her ears, and her lips were like sea-coral.’ Oscar Wilde ‘The Fisherman and his Soul.’ On a Different Note
A completely different note actually.
We are a bunch of goofs for sure! As we sat in one of the staff cabins talking nonsense, I was observing what we were doing. Lily was knitting, Franny was eating chocolate, Will was fiddling with his sunglasses, Merel had her face buried in her laptop, Liz was lying on the floor with her hands in the air and Kevin was poking his face with a piece of cardboard. Good times! Where did we go?
We visited Stonington Island in Marguerite Bay and visited the two abandoned bases, one British and one American, and at 68°11’01”S, it would be the furthest south we’d get on this or any other trip this season. There is something about exploring abandoned buildings that brings out the inner child in me? I love going up dark stairways and snooping around in old dormitories, kitchens and bathrooms - the decor, the curtains, and the rusting tins of food that line
the pantries! So much fun!
We also visited Horseshoe Island and Bigourdan Fiord before cruising north to Detaille Island in Crystal Sound. The scenery in all of these areas was spectacular! The bare mountainsides, rugged islands and huge icebergs were all stunning… Our crossing north, back over the Antarctic Circle was less dramatic! Most of us were having an afternoon nap!
We, of course, visited many of our usual spots, and at Cierva Cove we were honoured to have had a pair of humpbacks swim right under my Zodiac and spray us with a fog of breath as they emerged like a pair of submarines only a few feet from us. The smell of their breath was overpowering and amazing. Before we headed back out to sea we had a call from one of the rooms about two small birds stuck on their balcony. A pair of Wilson’s storm petrels had landed but could not take off because of the strange-angled edge on the balcony walls. Our trusty ornithologist (Lily) rescued the birds but before releasing them she let me handle them as she wanted some ID photos of them. It was lovely holding these tiny fragile birds
- so warm and soft, with a beautiful beating heart! The Antarctic wildlife is truly remarkable, and it was great to be covered in whale breath, bird vomit and penguin poo all in the same day… And also sea water as we splashed our way around on a boat on choppy seas… Mmmm, yummy! Salty!
It really is an amazing world down here!
Stay tuned for more Antarctic antics!
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