|60°51.7’S / 63°34.7’W
“G’day, G’day, G’day. It’s Monday the 2nd of January and it’s a ripper of a day out there. Blue skies with just a little bit of the white fluffy stuff. Sure, it’s a tad brisk, but there’s only a light breeze and a moderate swell. So, there’s no excuse to stay in bed like a pack of bludgers. Get up and get amongst it why don’t yah? When I bid for this prize, I didn’t realise that the speaking slot extended beyond the morning obligatories but, apparently, I get to occupy the stage for a few more minutes. I think by now you all know that I enjoy sharing a laugh. But these moments come spontaneously - as much from you as they do from me, so I must apologise if you are now expecting a comedy routine. Instead, I’m hoping that this will be a little bit like when you see a film where an actor has been cast in a serious role after debuting in a comic one. It might make you uncomfortable for a short while but hopefully I can still give you your money’s worth. Because what this opportunity does afford, is a chance to share some reflections from the passenger perspective - so that’s what I’m going to do.
It’s now only the Drake Passage that lies between us and a return to our normal lives. Although, I don’t know about you, but I can’t really imagine just picking up from where I left off in a normal fashion – because the journey of the past 17 days has been such a profound experience.
Like so many of you, I have travelled far and wide on this magnificent planet, but for me nothing can quite compare to this expedition on the Ortelius:
The wildlife has blown my mind – its diversity, its intensity, and its intimacy. Splendid plumage. Squeals and squawks. Reverberating blubber. Cooperation and competition. Care and dependence. Youthful bravado. All this playing out on the main stage with us in the prime seats, set against a dramatic backdrop and a constant reminder that survival is the ultimate quest.
The landscapes have been awesome in the true sense of the word (as opposed to the reaction when someone returns to the table with a couple of beers and a packet of chips). The rugged coastlines. The stark mountains. The expansive glaciers. The incredible array of icebergs. All have jostled for the gold medal position and I’m still not sure of the winner. Well, maybe it’s the icebergs!
It feels like I haven’t stopped smiling since boarding this vessel. While this is largely due to the natural beauty I’ve experienced, the quality of the people I have shared this time with has had a logarithmically multiplying effect. It’s hard not to single people out because I’ve shared memorable moments with so many of you. But I’ve learned not to stand between a mother and her cub, and I know that it’s only me that stands between you and breakfast, and my survival instincts tell me to err on the side of caution, so I will just make some general remarks.
What words can I use to describe the crew? From the generals to the infantry, every single member of the crew has provided first class professionalism served up with a beaming smile, a cheeky grin, a sharing of knowledge or some light-hearted banter. From the bridge, the gangways, and the engine room to the hospitality team of chefs, food and beverage staff, manager and the housekeeping team, the level of excellence has been superb. The expedition team has been first class from the outset. Their care for us and for each other has been contagious and seems to be a natural extension of the passion they have for this special part of the world. A team is made of many individuals and each cog on this ship has interacted with each other like a symphony orchestra…and they’ve certainly been playing my song.
And then there’s the rest of you lot! The merry band of misfits that have ridden shoulder to shoulder with me during this incredible voyage. Like it or not, I now consider you to be my friends – and I’m sure the feeling of camaraderie will continue long after we dock at Ushuaia. I sincerely hope that I see some of you in the other land down under at some time in the future – and I’ll be happy to kick the dog off its bed if you ever need a place to stay!
Finally, as embarrassed as she’ll be with the mention, I just have to save a special word for my wonderful mum, Jane, because if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be here at all. I think we both had some trepidation about the prospect of spending 19 days together in such close quarters, but she’s been an absolutely, brilliant travel companion and I’ve loved seeing her share so many unforgettable moments with so many of you. Thanks Mum!
Sara has consistently said that the passengers are responsible for the weather and by crikey, haven’t we done a good job. Our collective karma must be stratospherically high, which says a lot for the rest of you because my mates at home are always reminding me of what a shady character I am!
Now, I can just picture Steven champing at the bit to let us know the dining room is about to open so I’ll wind this monologue up and let you go and wrap your laughing gear around some bonza tucker. Thank you for tolerating this indulgence. I look forward to having a farewell beer between here and the dock at Ushuaia – especially if it’s your shout!
Have a cracker of a day!”
And on that note, passengers stirred in their bunks and Ortelius continued to plough a steady course north. Our exciting adventures in Antarctica were over, now the task was editing and sorting out the thousands of photographs of penguins, albatross, seals, whales, landscapes, icebergs, waves, clouds, fellow travelers. What to show our friends back home, what to print and frame, what to consign to the waste bucket?
The first lecture of the day at 09:30 was delivered by Bill. This was an interesting and extremely detailed account of the development of the design of ships to operate in the hostile environment of the polar regions. Illustrated with paintings, etchings, and early photographs of whaling vessels. Stories of the extreme hardships experienced by whalers beset in ice and having their ships crushed and sunk and how this experiential learning led to the design of the strongest ship ever built at that time, the Dundee constructed vessel ‘Discovery’. Some of the most interesting features were the demountable rudder and propellor to avoid damage in ice and the extreme angle of heel experienced during the Mawson expedition when carrying a heavy deck cargo including an airplane.
This was followed rather sadly by the return of our muck boots, no longer required as we have no further plans to be splashing off the bows of zodiacs. We were suspicious of these boots at first, failing to accept staff reassurances that they would be comfortable and easy walk on. How wrong we were, they proved to be superb for the environment we were in and supremely comfortable.
Throughout the day we were reassured by sight of the thoroughness of guide and crew training as the officers and captain led small groups of staff on a series of life raft deployment exercises. It just reinforced the realisation we all had that Ortelius was a very efficiently manned vessel with crew attending to every minute detail to ensure our safety during operations. After lunch we had a showing of ‘Round the Horn’, a superb film from Mystic Historic Boatyard in the US. It was an account of a voyage undertaken by Captain Irvine Johnstone when he was a crewman on one of last great sailing vessels the enormous 4 masted ‘Peking.’ The dramatic shots of stormy seas from swaying masts filmed with an early movie camera were utterly amazing and his iconic, humorous commentary made this presentation a highlight.
Late afternoon we had a sobering presentation from Sara, Hazel and Adam, which focused on the human impacts, specifically the fishing industry, on the wildlife in polar regions. The stark figures illustrated clearly extend of the problem for some declining species and examples were given of the creative solutions and remedial steps that were being taken.
The final recap was hotel staff explaining disembarking details, Sara as usual with next day plans and weather, followed by seal vocalizations from Felicity and our enthusiastic historian Bjarni with a very detailed mini lecture on Francis Drake.