Friday, 24 December 2010

Day 13 – Too much ice

For days we have been admiring the magnificent ice structures towering out of the ocean. Some as high as 50m covering many square kilometres, the equivalent of free-floating islands. But today we cursed them, or at least I did. By early afternoon it was clear our southerly path to Dumont d'Urville was blocked by a belt of heavy ice. Spirit of Enderby had valiantly confronted this obstacle, time and time again attempting to skirt or break through the pack that kept us 32 miles from our objective. Rodney came over the PA system with the news. We would spend our early Christmas in the ice, then head north back to Invercargill via Campbell Island. The French base had already warned us of heavy conditions when their own icebreaker, Astrolabe, had been delayed. SoE is not an icebreaker in the strictest sense, instead she is an ice-strengthened vessel with a bow that can barge and shove its way through the floating pack, but there is a real risk of getting trapped if the currents close the door behind us. True icebreakers are much more powerful with a hull that rides up on the ice, cracking it under the weight of the ship. As we turn to head away from the impenetrable mass, three lonely Emperor penguins and several boisterous Adelies line up to farewell and commiserate us. Such is the nature of this land, full of promise and disappointment in equal measure.