First ice

Today I experienced an entirely sensation: travelling through sea ice. I don’t think anything can really prepare you for the magnificence of the experience. After days of rolling on the high seas, we have entered a world of absolute silence and calm. The chaotic high seas have been replaced by tranquil, millpond conditions. Flat, low lying chunks of ice lie scattered across the surface, separated by narrow leads of water, which the Shokalskiy resolutely tries to follow as it works its way across this ice scape. All is white and blue. The few waves we see are shadows of their cousins further north, and these pass lazily by, leaving little impression on the surface.
One of the expeditioners who wrote a wonderful entry about the AAE’s first arrival in sea ice was meteorologist Cecil Madigan. On the 30 December 1911 the fog had cleared and Madigan wrote:
“From the open cabin door I look out on about one hundred yards of open sea, part of an open lead we are following just now through the drift, and beyond it the beautiful ice. My poor pen cannot describe it, its quietness, its perfect whiteness with the marvellous cobalt blue in the hollows, and green where it can be seen through the water: a dull sky, dark threatening clouds, a few penguins on the ice, and now and then a beautiful snow-white ice bird flying across my small field of view.”
A snow petrel
One hundred years on and fog remains our companion but not even the limited visibility can detract from the scene; if anything it adds to the sense of isolation. Though of course we’re not really alone. We have seen an abundance of Antarctic wildlife. One of our first sightings was of a solitary emperor penguin standing resolutely to attention as we steamed past, quite uninterested. But this was quickly followed by groups of Adelie penguins who scurry away, flapping their wings behind them as they dash to a safe distance. In the air, bird numbers have also increased. Kerry-Jayne warned me we would soon see snow petrels flying around the vessel – “the most beautiful bird in the world”. I know what she means. Pure white, these magnificent creatures fly effortlessly around the vessel, keeping us company as we push on south. Hopefully they will bring us luck!

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