It’s only our third day out of Stanley but life has settled into a fixed cycle of on or off watch, within which over-riding imperative the lesser cycles of cooking, eating and attempting to sleep take on an absent-minded, makeshift quality. Our watch had the six-hour real night off last night and I lay in my bunk listening to the thud of feet on the deck a foot above my head as some small-hours sail manoeuvre took place. At six am we were up again, watching snow fall into pewter-grey seas.
The watch itself consists of perching in the pilot house, kitted out in oilskins and sea boots, ready to answer Skip’s call out on deck to tail sheets or grind winches. Nobody shouts, but even so it’s clear how important it is to get things right out there – in these seas and winds, so far from any other shipping, we have only ourselves to look to. But Australis is not exactly short of the right stuff, both in terms of build and crew. I have never felt a second’s anxiety since we left the dock at Stanley.
The hours in the pilot house don’t seem long, especially in the quiet night. Last evening the four of us discussed Obama’s reticence on Palestine, and tried to list our personal top three books of all time. There are long periods of silence too. We sit in near-darkness, to preserve our night vision, particularly important this icy latitude. Down in the narrow corridor, the empty oilskins of the off watches sway on their pegs like a phantom crew, and the sleepers lie huddled behind their lee cloths.
The huge sails tower against the blackness and the occasional star swings giddily behind them. I think of the James Caird, with Tom Crean singing at the tiller, and inevitably of the Titanic, a gaudy dazzle of lights and faint dance music, steaming towards the iceberg.
It’s midday now. We are some 20 miles off Shag Rock (do stop giggling at the back) and about 160 from South Georgia itself. I‘m told that all being well we shall be there tomorrow morning, which means a passage of less than four days.
We are beginning to think about skis, and sledging rations. In the pilot house Jonathan is stitching his sledge pennant and John is mending kit, sewing away like mariners of old.
Thank you so much to everyone who has emailed me. I love getting your messages, and please don’t think the lack of an individual response means I haven’t received it. It’s just that satellite time is so minimal for social purposes, and SO expensive.