Saturday, 30 March 2013

Day 16 - Orkney Passage and the Path of the Humpback

Yesterday was momentous.
The sun rose over a vast landscape of shimmering blue water with a cool icy crust. The horizon glowed red then orange and then chromatic yellows and blues. Massive icebergs, a saw-tooth of sky scrapers on the horizon. We were floating on central park and Manhattan is stretched around us.

Leopard seals are spotted, lazing and groaning, drifting along on distant frozen platforms. Rafts of penguins float by congregating on concaved ice blocks, swimming with heads poked up and bodies jumping and diving from the water. Piercing the water, before one such congregation, a fin is spotted and a spray of water in the air.

The word is passed around and we flock, like the very penguins we gawk at, to the edges of the ship. As if satisfying a whale sized thirst for attention, this giant of the sea, this giant of the earth, gives us a remarkable display (and one we are happy to receive). Scientists and permanent crew alike are buzzing. Andy Watson and I stand at the corner of the ship as the whale passes just meters from us. We are like children - star struck and speechless. Even George, veteran of 30 years on the ship is following the majesty of this creature back and forward. At one moment Gwyn and I search frantically. From nowhere the whale pops its head from the water, as if to say: “peek-a-boo!”. As Simon, the deck engineer, says afterwards: “If that doesn’t get your heart racing, you’re in the wrong job”.

Circle after circle are made of the ship, with the odd pirouette and spin under the water before a final salute and flash of its tail fin.

The excitement is hard to come down from. Work must go on. We are here for a reason. A closing of the skies, a solid southerly breeze and the beginnings of a snow storm remind us where we really are.
We are now sitting over Orkney Passage, one of the key gateways between the Sub-Polar Weddell Region and the Atlantic - A pathway between true Antarctic waters and the rest of the ocean. The ice is open enough for us to recover some moorings, but not without a fight. Tomorrow I will tell you what they are there for.  Although the story will not have the majestic draw of a creature like a Humpback Whale, the enormity, mystery and antiquity of the Antarctic Bottom Water is quite a tale. (And yes there will be more pretty pictures tomorrow ;-)

Thanks for all your comments and support! Making this Blog has been really fun and I am glad it is being enjoyed. Soon we will have more profiles and some guest posts.Here is a wonderful portrait of Gwyn talking to the Whale by JB's talanted, 3 year old, neice: 

Illustration by Thaïs: From left it reads "The man who talks with the whale - The whale - Who are you? Are you a huge red whale? (burst out laughing)".

No comments:

Post a Comment