It’s 3 o’clock in the morning. I’m standing alone outside on deck. The night envelops me, I can dimly make out the outline of the landscape, very slightly gray, barely discernible, the ice stands out against the black water, on the horizon the tiny golden sparkle of the first dawn.

It is calm and there is total silence. Almost. From time to time, the water gurgles along the hull of the Selma, I hear the soft sizzling of the ice, the sound of escaping air, a subtle crackling. And somewhere out there, very close by, in the direction of the strip of light on the horizon, which is getting bigger by the minute, I can hear the breathing of a whale from time to time. It is probably sleeping and drifting in the calm water, just like us with the Selma. One with the water, the universe. Perfect peace surrounds us.

But that can change quickly, which is why I’m out here. I watch over the sleep of the others, watching the drifting ice that drifts with us between Seymour Island and Cockburn Island on the east side of James Ross Island. And if it gets too close, I use the long pole and put the ice in its place. This works with smaller floes and growlers, but if a larger iceberg comes too close, I wake Piotr and we start the engine. But it remains calm, the skipper snoring quietly in his bunk, the engine off.

Drift freely for a night instead of anchoring somewhere. Just letting yourself drift. I know this from sailing on the open sea, but here in the Weddell Sea near Ross Island I wouldn’t necessarily have expected it. But the conditions last night spoke for it: calm weather, hardly any wind, the water between the two islands too deep for anchoring, but halfway free of ice, but the two coastlines full of drift ice, sometimes dense packs, icebergs and floes of all sizes. Which – anchored off the coast or in a bay – could have become close and dangerous at night. The drift variant is at least the one that promises the calmest night. This is already the second – at least for me and most of us – unusual and new version of an anchoring maneuver within two days.

Selma’s sleeping place was already special yesterday. Just like the whole day yesterday, which was special.

The day before

It’s almost a little surreal. We are in the Antarctic. In the Weddell Sea. We have already half rounded Ross Island and are very far south by local standards on the east side of the peninsula. This is not really an area for a ship, let alone a small sailing boat. Only very rarely does one venture here, who knows if one has even been here before? Even expedition cruisers are not usually to be found here. The sea on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula is too often covered by thick pack ice, impenetrable even in summer. However, we took advantage of the opportunity and the favorable conditions – after all, we are on an expedition and full of the spirit of discovery – and ventured to circumnavigate James Ross Island, somehow cheating our way through all the ice barriers to get here. And are now gliding along the south coast of Snow Hill Island, south-east of James Ross Island. At 64 degrees 35 minutes south.

Snow Hill Island. A place steeped in polar history. The Swedish polar explorer and geologist Otto Nordenskjöld spent the winter on the north side of the island twice (planned and voluntarily in 1902, forced to do so the following year) during his Swedish Antarctic expedition with the Antarctica (1901-1904). His hut still stands today, and we also want to pay it a visit if possible.

Today, the conditions are the opposite of an Antarctic winter, and we also expected a different Antarctic late summer. The sun is shining. The sky is deep blue. There is no breeze, only the wind brings a little life to the small (still Chilean) flag on the mast. It’s anything but rough, cold, wild … for once, most of the crew are on deck, noses are stretched out into the warming sun, sun cream is applied thickly, Alan plays a soft guitar: Lou Reed’s “What a Perfect day”. Nothing fits better at this moment. You could easily imagine yourself in warmer climes, only the view of the passing landscape reminds you that we are in Antarctica.

With the ice shelf edge of Snow Hill Island on our port side, we are on the lookout for the local emperor penguin colony, the northernmost in Antarctica. But there are no penguins far and wide, hardly any life in sight. Two lone seals bask on passing floes, the occasional Arctic tern, nothing else but blue and white. Snow Hill Island is almost entirely covered by a gently rounded ice cap, which flows into the sea on almost all sides of the coast as a high ice shelf edge. The penguins are probably already on their way again, or further south, in the pack ice.

My second watch today is over. It’s been relaxed at the helm for the last four hours, just a bit of slaloming around the white in the blue. A lot of ice and no wind unfortunately also means a lot of engine and no sails.

This morning the sky was again bathed in a soft pastel color. The Selma swam around the iceberg that we had used as an anchor the evening before, for lack of alternatives. The water was too deep and the entire coastline was an ice shelf several meters high. The stuck colossus was just what we needed. With the help of the dinghy, we deployed a 250 m long floating line (twice 125 m), laid it once around the iceberg and tied it to two cleats at the bow of the Selma. During the night, the Selma drifted very slowly with a light wind or current towards the edge of the ice shelf and this morning once clockwise around the iceberg. Then it’s up to the ice guard to intervene and push us off the ice with the long pole and create enough safe space again. This works surprisingly well in calm conditions, in the morning the two lines were retrieved reasonably quickly and we were ready to start the day. Hopefully this will bring us a little closer to rounding James Ross Island to the south of Snow Hill Island and then heading north again.

A perfect day that followed an already perfect day and will probably lead to more days that just feel perfect to us.

One Comment

  1. Liebe Paula,
    Es ist so toll deine schönen Texte zu lesen und „mitzufahren“. Wünsche dir weiterhin, dass alles so unbeschwert bleibt und weiterhin so glatt läuft.
    Dicken Kuss an das andere Ende der Welt

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