Heavy weather

Very short post. We are having some heavy Southern Ocean weather.

Last night on our 9pm to midnight stint we knew there was ice about because the retiring watch had warned us.  The visibility was poor, only a few hundred yards in places, and the radar doesn’t always show up growlers that could still be big enough to do serious damage. The windows of the snug pilot house were fogged up and we hung anxiously over the radar screen, all the other lights in the boat extinguished to preserve our night vision.

‘This is horrible’, Laura muttered.

There was only one thing to do. We took it in turns to mount a 15-minute ice watch, alone outside in the icy wind and pitch blackness, scanning the waves for the glimmer of ice. Fifteen was the longest any of us could manage before diving back into the warmth again. I hunched my shoulders inside my oilskins and tried to think of the poor old penguins, who stand outside there for weeks at a time until their moult is completed. I could see a distinct glow on the starboard bow. Big berg, I thought. But a few minutes later it turned into a light and then a blaze of light. There’s a neat marine app thingy that allows you to hover the radar cursor and up come all the other ship’s details – this was the Ocean Nova, a cruise ship bound for Shackleton’s grave and Grytviken shopping.

‘What you want from me?’ demanded their Russian officer of the watch when they eventually answered Laura’s VHF call on channel 16. All the cruise ship crews seem to be Russian. Used to the weather, I suppose. Laura asked politely if he had seen any ice and he answered nothing since Stanley. We relaxed a little and went to bed at midnight.

Up again at 6, not much rested. We are chefs of the day, unfortunately. Winds are up to 30+ knots and the boat is bouncing about like a demented rubber ball. We made roast squash soup for lunch, Gavin is baking ginger cake and we have unwisely promised cassoulet for supper. The bread board laden with crumbs, loaf, chunks of cheese and serrated knife has just flown through the air, covering the saloon with debris. I have been eating, cooking, sleeping, working and ice watching in the same clothes for 30 hours and there is no immediate prospect of changing, let alone washing. Even the simplest task is fraught with risk and there is always the prospect of joining galley hardware and flying through the air yourself. I told Gavin I felt like bursting into tears, although I knew he would do no such thing, being a bloke.

‘I’m crying inside’, he said.

Things can only get better.

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