Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Latitude Zero

Our planet is spinning. Once around its own axis every 24 hours. As it is a spherical body, Earth's rotation provides us with two poles and a girdle in-between, which we call the equator. Here lies the longest parallel, here we are the fastest passengers on the globe: Whereas our movement at the poles is close to zero, we are turning with incredible 1660 kilometers per hour at our planets belly.
Latitude Zero - The Line.

Myths and stories have formed a tightly woven net since the old days, and the traditions and superstitions are carried forth into our time. If we refer to this voyage as to "The Crossing", this is what most have in mind. We are not only going from one shore of the Atlantic to the other - we are changing hemispheres...
Sure this calls for celebration.

After yesterdays bridge visits Captain Arild HÃ¥rvik meets everyone out on deck to officially apply for the Neptunian permit to cross the line. The ship's data and the names of the ones traveling with it are carefully placed in a bottle which is then entrusted to the Deep Blue of the ocean.

In times of slow internet it may come as a surprise that the answer was there within the hour...Crossing the Equator is a GO!
And shortly before midnight the instruments did the epic jump from South to North. It's like the new season begins here and nowhere else...
The next sunrise finds FRAM unusually busy - people milling about, delicious pastries steaming next to pots of coffee, cameras checked. It seems that nobody is sleeping, at a quarter to six!
The reason appears at our bow a few minutes later. Gaining contours in the rainclouds are the islets of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, tiny barren rocks in the middle of the sea.
Their wonder is purely of a geological nature - we are looking at the world's only "Oceanic Core Complex" that emerges from the sea. There is no second place like this on the planet. Although it is still a really tough nut to crack for science, the gist of it is as follows: We are now at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the divergent seam that produces fresh Earth's crust every day and drives Africa and South America gently apart. Here the spreading is extremely slow, with rather cool temperatures (well, at least for a volcano). Cool means brittle, and so the spreading causes giant cracks to form, called faults. The result is a stack of huge slices of crust, like books in a shelf that fall over. Only a few of these "megamullions" are known, but there are all deep under water. Not this one - a significant place on Earth.
As if this weren't enough we got company in form of a group of common dolphins that played a while with us. What a morning!
Everybody got time for a little breather in the mild temperatures of this cloudy day, before the afternoon should bring a long awaited event - the baptism of the "Pollywogs", of people who have not crossed the Line before.
While this was a rather barbaric procedure in the past (there was beating with ropes involved, sometimes to such extent that people died from this "happy" tradition - makes you think about human nature. Again.), it is a fun thing today. The galley crew has concocted their special recipes for a long time. It has to be slimy, it has to be smelly. Don't wear your best shirt!
After King Neptune has verified the position, the uninitiated get tied to a chair and then the crew does their worst. However, there are differences - as an occasional traveler of the lowest latitude you are done with a strong cookie and quite some ice water down the neck. Not so the crew: Here it is stinky fish broth, loads of cream, nasty stuff injected in the mouth and unspecified items down the shirt (if you wear one). All with a lot of laughter and of course the cleaning hose afterwards.
Five new souls were baptized today; plus a few who had to undergo the procedure again, for reasons of not having brought the certificate. One was so happy about the honor that he gave the captain a thankful hug...
Neptune and his Queen were utterly satisfied, and so was everybody else.
The rest of the day was spent with cleaning, tea, and eating.