Greetings from below the Antarctic Circle! We crossed this line—660 33” 30’ south latitude—aboard the National Geographic Endeavour this morning at 8:30 and, as I write, are several degrees below it making passage to Marguerite Bay on the southern end of Adelaide Island off the Antarctic Peninsula.
It’s been a fantastic voyage so far…with humpback whales cavorting next to the ship in a quiet bay…crabeater and leopard seals hauled out on bergy bits…chinstrap as well as gentoo penguins waddling uphill from the shore or sliding downhill to it on their bellies…overhead a variety of petrels, terns, skuas and albatroses wheeling in the gray skies. In fact, I’ve counted 21 “bird firsts” so far in the expedition.
We’ve had our share of rough seas, winds (up to a full gale) and some snow, but the temperatures haven’t dropped much below freezing. And in the quieter waters of channels and straights, calmer waters and great masses of fantastically shaped blue icebergs drifting by.
I look at the sharp-ridged towering volcanic mountains sheathed in ice and at white caps torn off of wave crests as far as the eye can see and am reminded of Thoreau’s dictum: “We need the tonic of wildness.” In Antarctica on this journey I am getting the strongest dose of that elixir. The White Continent and its adjacent seas indeed belong to the penguins. Man may visit briefly, carefully, but in the end this is the kingdom of the gentoos and their ilk.
First Morning, Drake Passage
No reminder necessary, no other option:
Obey the sailors’ law: “One hand for the ship.”
I must get a grasp, hold fast to the Endeavour
to steady my wobbly landlubber’s legs.
I lurch along her decks, sidle corridors,
totter fore to aft above the heaving seas,
With an envy of cavorting albatrosses
and their various companion petrels,
I wish for wings with which to skim
these white caps, pray to relinquish
all my labored habits of terra firma
that I too may woo the watery churn
with unfettered spindrifted kisses.
As I bend at the knees, dip and lean
into ever steeper, steelier swells,
does this Southern Ocean recognize
my curtsies? Do waves witness how
I swoon? Will winds know when I let go?