How It All Started
Today I sit in the sun, thinking back on the years I spent with my Oceanwide family since my retirement in 1997. My first trips were on a little Russian vessel, Grigoriy Mikheev, which carried only 44 passengers – but a nice size for me to get to know everyone on board.
My Oceanwide Family
I loved the crew, everyone from the bridge down to the engine room: Alexey, Oleg, Monika, Erwin, all of them my friends forever. Even today I keep in touch with them. Sadly, they have now gone to other ships, but new friends have joined my Oceanwide family: Francois, Janke, Yury, Andy, and others too numerous to name.
Why I Keep Coming Back
Now that I am approaching my eightieth birthday, I feel my days on the sea might be coming to an end. Even so, I have been blessed with the best retirement anyone could have. I travel to the embarkation points by myself, but once I’m there I know I’m well looked after. In fact, I am treated like a queen. The capable crews keep me so safe, I have never worried even in the roughest weather. What a thrill when the waves break over the bow, and how beautiful when we are engulfed in a sudden snow storm! No wonder I keep returning.
New People, New Friends
Over the years, other passengers have joined me from all over the world – both young and old, but among them are friends I will keep for the rest of my life. Some of these friends have passed on, but others I hope to see again. What joy to reunite with people who live half a world away! Once someone told me that I only go on these trips because of the friends I make. Not so, though they definitely add to the enjoyment. Where else is this “old lady” going to meet so many young people who share her interests? They keep me thinking young.
New Places, New Adventures
Not to mention the fabulous places we visit: Greenland, the Ross Sea, other polar venues only the few are lucky enough to see. It’s a real adrenalin rush to fly over this icy wilderness in a helicopter, twisting between the peaks, gazing down into the countless crevasses.
Surprise Visit from the Whales
Growing up on a dairy farm, I have never been someone who wanted pets. I prefer my animals free. Seeing the abundant polar wildlife, then, is a rare treat. I love when whales come right up to the ship: In 2002, a young sailor spotted twenty-six whale spirts before breakfast; around Christmas, the captain found whales next to the hull; and on Christmas morning, I saw a southern right whale (and later, humpbacks) feeding in Cierva Cove.
Did I Mention the Penguins?
And then, the penguins. How many people get to look over a valley filled with some half a million king penguins moulting, mating, going about their lives? My favorites are the feisty macaroni penguins and the little rock hoppers that bounce all the way up to their clifftop rookeries. How lucky I am to watch the penguins go out to fish, stealing stones for their nests, fighting over a new partner, as well as the tiny chicks emerging from their eggs.
Seeing Things in a New Way
Once I came home from a trip and told my friends that all we saw were “dead houses and birds, birds, birds.” Now I see the birds as beautiful, inquisitive, and so interesting. Familiarity has changed me a lot. Having an inquisitive skua come around at Cape Adare and look me over is a memory I will never forget. Then, down in the Antarctic Sound, I enjoyed the rare sight of snow petrels taking a snow bath.
The Wonders of Ice, Earth, and Light
I now see the beauty and diversity in the ice as well: immense bergs, one of them 125 kilometers (78 miles) long, others quite small, many colored in shades of blue, green, even yellow. It’s a pleasure to photograph them in different light conditions, getting magical pictures with stripes, icicles, arches, and windows. My most enchanting days were when the light was most unusual, during sunsets that last for hours and deep red sunrises. The icebergs would turn pink and the mountains take on a fairy tale appearance. And what a sight, the reflection of the mountains on the sea.
My Adventure Continues
Later in the season, I leave for another cruise aboard Ortelius – and I already have another booked for next year. Did I say this was my last trip? Not if I can help it!