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The Surreal - 31 January 2008

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31 January 2008
Still overcast with choppy sea

There’s something a bit surreal about all of this. Firstly we have not seen land since Saturday, which is a big deal to a non sailor like me. There is nothing but rolling water outside.

All of us are captive in this capsule of a ship. Each day the water might be more active or less active depending on the mood of the sea (as far as I can understand). Once you overcome the sea sickness you still feel out of sorts because of the extent of the movement. (To me it feels like the end of a flu). You feel disorientated and clumsy. Your legs ache from trying to stay upright. You keep crashing into walls (bulk-heads) and railings as the ship pitches forwards, backwards, left and right. Currently we are in the middle of ‘the convergence’ and nothing stays still for a moment. It’s like being on a perpetual roller coaster, earlier in slow motion, now at full tilt. Sometimes it feels like gravity has doubled as the ship ploughs into the sea. Sometimes it feels almost like weightlessness as the ship falls back from the swell. All the time you are flung from side to side. The sea water crashes into the reveals of the ship’s windows and spins round like in a washing machine. It sometimes feels like my head is doing that motion too.

There are many surreal moments to experience, such as watching people in the mess room eat, while the sea water races past the circular windows, crashing and frothing. Everybody is calm inside but the sea looks manic outside.

As a passenger it really feels as if the ship could be anywhere. There is no external visual reference to confirm where we are (none that I could name). There is a TV room with videos but no broadcast channels, not even BBC News. Everyone else on the ship – crew and passengers – are great, but despite the ability to call home and communicate with work via email, you cannot help feeling completely isolated from the rest of the world.

To confuse us even more the clocks move back one hour every two nights. This is because Halley is on South American time (GMT -3hrs) to coincide with the other bases including Rothera and the usual logistical access point in the Falklands. Currently we are on GMT but we loose another hour tonight. In total from Cape Town we have to lose five hours in about two weeks. We have been at sea for five full days, but it feels like we have been circling Antarctica forever! I even lost track of which day it was.

I popped up to the bridge to find out about our progress. 49 deg 55 mins south I was told. This rang alarm bells to me because Newcastle is further north than we are south – and we have to reach Antarctica at 75 deg south! My pleading to hurry up had no effect and that was the end of that conversation.

Then, just when you think that you are losing all touch with reality, time, space and movement, you walk into the mess room and from the galley you suddenly hear Terry Wogan on Radio 2! A reality check like this, in a world that feels so strange, does not feel like a comfortable combination. Intangible links to the outside world like this (radio, email, skype) make me feel like we are even more isolated from the rest of the world and home, and making distance. I guess sailing takes some getting used to, but in the meantime it’s a very interesting experience which does make your head turn summersaults!

The Doctor says I should come off the sea sickness drugs as they are obviously giving me nightmares. No fear!

Thank goodness the Captain and his officers are in charge of the ship, not me. Every day the Captain writes a log noting weather, speed, progress etc. This can be found on the internet at
http://basweb.nerc-bas.ac.uk/operations/ships/reports/ and is worth a look. If I get a bit of time I might plot the daily references on Google Earth to see where we are.

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