Thursday, 27 December 2012

Living on the edge

… on the edge of the ice, that is. Which is exactly what we have done for the past three days! Our original plan was to sail from South Georgia to the South Orkney Islands, but we were not able to do it because these isolated islands were completely surrounded by pack ice, as you can see from the ice charts of the day:

Of course, Fram’s hull is reinforced to be able to navigate through a bit of floating ice, but it definitely cannot traverse solid pack ice, which is what we have been sailing past for the last several days. The edge of the pack ice makes for very beautiful and interesting scenery, but it is best observed from afar: let’s not forget that all too often Antarctic expeditions turned sour when the ships were engulfed by the ferocious grip of ice, which tore its frigid claws into their hulls…
Plan B was to skip South Orkney and sail directly to Elephant Island; but of course, this being an expedition cruise and Antarctica being a place famous for dramatic climatic changes, plans are something to deviate from. But even if we know this, we were completely unprepared for what awaited us: yesterday’s ice charts and satellite images showed that the ice that had previously surrounded South Orkney, had now flowed all around Elephant Island, making it impossible for us to reach it.
It was also remarkable to see from the satellite images, that some of the many icebergs migrating out of the Weddell Sea are 5-6 times bigger than Elephant and South Orkney Islands. That is, we could probably not reach them easily, even if we were on board an icebreaker!

So, on to plan C… Which meant a HUGE detour around the ice to be able to reach the South Shetland Islands, where we hope to make a landing tomorrow. It is always sobering to remember who the true ruler is around Antarctica; it certainly isn’t mankind…