From the Archive: Crossing the Southern Ocean to Antarctica

The  Aurora Australis  powering through huge waves in the Southern Ocean, on route to Antarctica. © www.thomaspickard.com

The Aurora Australis powering through huge waves in the Southern Ocean, on route to Antarctica. © www.thomaspickard.com

Little can prepare you for a journey through the Southern Ocean.

Leaving the safety of a port, then a harbour and confronting large, ocean swells, which can last for days, can make any journey feel like an eternity. Life slows. Your eating wanes. You try and sleep, but between the corkscrewing and shuddering of the ship, sleep - decent sleep - becomes elusive.

As you gain your sea legs, your appetite returns. You brave the winding internal stairwell within the ship’s belly, to gain access to the bridge. Seeing the horizon settles your gut. Seeing the rhythm of the waves and knowing when the ship is going to hit them, somehow makes it easier.

When the ship is out of time with waves in a big swell, there comes a moment when the ship rides to the crest of a wave, only to fall through air to the trough far below. The flatness of the ships hull, means the ship hits the ocean hard. Really hard. You can hear and feel the steel of the ship groan under the strain. It is an unsettling sound. There was more than one time, when I wondered if the ship would actually break under the immense forces of the ocean.

I was on the maiden voyage of the Aurora Australis. Not only was it the AA’s first voyage south, it was mine too. I didn’t really appreciate it at the time, but I do now - to travel to Antarctica by ship is really quite something.

A long voyage to a distant land gives you time to adjust to the rhythm of the ocean. As the days pass and the weather cools, you start to feel like you are voyaging off the edge of the map. The space and time gives you a perspective on how large our planet is and how empty parts of it are.

Having completed three journeys or six crossings of the Southern Ocean on the Aurora Australis, I am so grateful for the opportunity to have done those voyages. At times they were tough due to the long hours of monotony and the endless ocean vistas. But the slowness of ship travel and being slowly introduced to the polar continent, as the weather cools and the first icebergs appear, is something I will always treasure.