Archive for October 30th, 2008


October 30

October 30, 2008

Having messed about on the notebook late into the evening, confined to the privacy of my cabin-bunk behind little drawn curtains (more Clojure), I dreaded the early onset of the Dick Tracy watch alarm this morning. It had been set extra early, in fact, to wake us for the moment the Puerto Edenwould navigate the “English Narrows”, a perilous one hundred and fifty metre wide strait somewhere in the middle reaches of the Canales Patagonicos.

The alarm arrived and I stirred slowly from torpor, dragging the nearest clothes on in the dark, letting Max get ahead of me, grumpy and tired. A hallucinatory progress to the upper levels followed. All night revellers had transformed the dining hall into a Bohemian sprawl of empty bottles and ashtrays, and a handful of them were still there, drunkenly carolling “One” and “Redemption Song” accompanied by a Spanish troubadour: emancipate yourselves/from mental slavery segueing into did I ask too much?/more than a lot/you gave me nothing/now it’s all I got.

Outside, on the topmost prow deck, a freezing fusillade of droplets of rain pelted each of my sensory organs. Nothing much was visible from the rails, just dim cliffs and promontories looming in the fog and gloom of dawn, and I was driven downstairs again for scarf, necksock, gloves, beanie and raincoat, emerging once more swathed in alpaca, sheep, polypropylene, acrylic and quasi-Goretex, but still tired, cold and thus far unimpressed by the view.

As the sun climbed, colours began to warm the previously featureless black and grey of the silhouettes around us, dark greens flecked with yellow, brown and red, rocky outcrops covered in hardy vegetation. We were chugging forward alongside steeply banked bodies of land, which converged to a closest point a few hundred metres ahead. At the meeting point, the wind stiffened and the ship banked sharply but confidently, carving an arc through the soft centre of dully reflective water, of which the surface was all of a sudden pocked and erratic, scored by the presence of submarine obstructions.

Things became very impressive. The murk cleared out and white stripes of snow and ice could be seen at the tops of the cliffs. The rain eased. We took our photographs, and then I went below, and back to sleep.

When we woke again at half past nine, Max, still far more energetic than I, raced upstairs to try to catch the tail end of breakfast. I was resigned to having missed it, but once I arrived (half an hour or more later, I suspect) in the mess hall, the awesome kitchen staff gave me two ham-and-cheese rolls on the sly, and a fistful of instant coffee sachets. I planned to waltz around the corner to Max and floor her with my largesse, but found her sitting over a similar stash that she’d claimed on my behalf. So we both had plenty to eat in the end.

A rather superb documentary on migrating birds screened shortly after we’d finished eating, and I sat there enthralled for nearly an hour. I’ve surprised myself with my enthusiasm for bird life in the last few weeks, and after seeing all manner of bizarre gulls, cormorants, albatrosses and terns circling the boat over the past couple of days I’m getting very excited about that side of the Antarctic voyage. This documentary had a lot of beautiful sequences, and finally convinced me that the goose is a world-class athlete.

Max and I have been reading a battered copy of Ruth Park’s Poor Man’s Orange, first published in 1950. It’s an enjoyable novel about the plight of the working class in Surry Hills post-WWII, packed with Dickensian caricatures to which it condescends slightly. So I attacked that for an hour or two in the common lounge.

The view of the channels up on deck, the few times we braved the weather, was excellent. We were in real fjord country, constantly close to land on both sides, under heavy winds. I can’t imagine how ships of the line used to manage this sort of territory under sail, especially given the poor accuracy of the old charts we’ve seen.

Lunch seemed somehow to segue rapidly into dinner, and after sharing a beer and a drop of wine with Sydney, a Californian avocado-grower that we’ve gotten to know a little, we retired to bed at some shamefully early hour – perhaps nine o’clock. As we left the area, Liam the Irishman, a former regional manager of Aldi now studying for a psychology degree through the Open University, bought up the last of the bar’s stock of Casillero del Diablo cabernet sauvignon in one lot.