66 degrees south
I stand alone on the trawl deck of the ship. In the soft grey light, I watch the station recede into the distance.
The red box where we slept, where we ate – where we looked out of the windows and dreamt of home.
I did my job through the months of darkness and months of never-ending light. I recorded the weather in blizzards, in storms – on clear fine days when there wasn’t a streak of cloud in the sky. After a year and three months on this strange, frozen coast, I say goodbye to the ice cliffs, the hills of grey stone, to the jade-blue icebergs that hug the coast.
This place. One million shades of blue, of white.
I know I will never return.
We head north.
60 degrees south
1 am – Twilight.
I wake to the sound of crashing, the ship shaking. Outside my porthole, ice – thick and stretching out as far as I can see. The ship slows, shudders – 10 knots, 5 knots, 2. She’s looking for the path of least resistance, feeling for cracks and leads. Black veins of water in the white ice.
I get back in my bunk, close my eyes. I feel the ship struggle to find a way through.
I try to sleep. Sleep.
4 am – Bits of ice hit the hull like giant hailstones on a tin roof – clip, clip, clip. The ship crunches through patches of pancake ice and destroys them as she goes. It’s light. Pure white snow petrels fly with us outside my porthole, black eyes searching. I watch them for hours, listening to the sound of the ice against ship.
I know I will never forget that sound.
Adelie penguins, black and white, rest on rounds of floating ice. They stand watching as we pass, ready to jump to safety.
The days roll on. It’s hard to sleep – night and day just the same.
One week until home.
54 degrees south
Soft mist turns into rain, falls gently on the ship.
The swell rolls out to the west and we cut through. A pair of wandering albatross soar on the blurred edge between sea and sky – dark outlines against a hidden sun. They are huge. Majestic. Silent masters of this ocean.
They don’t need land, not like us. Only a windy stick of rock reaching up out of the wild sea. A place to rest. A place to nest. Then back to their southern ocean.
48 degrees south
The night is back – darkness. No more endless sun. The ocean is calm, almost asleep, and we are flying. 15 knots.
I open my porthole, let the air in – not cold now. Sometimes I’m sure I can smell Eucalyptus. Trees, forest, green. A colour that has been missing for so long. Green!
I’m thinking about traffic lights, cars, roads. All those people. All that noise. I can’t sleep.
43 degrees south
Out on the monkey deck I watch for birds. The wind is up, the ocean just white water, chopped-up peaks. A Cape petrel appears above me – little turns, little wings. I reach my arm up, my fingers stretch. I reach and for a second the bird comes so close I can almost touch it. I can see its eyes, its little face. It looks at me; then rises up with the thermals. Up and up at full speed until I lose it in the light.
My favourite bird of all – the happy little Cape petrel painted black and white. So small, so at home here on this wild ocean. Probably the last one I will see now that we are so far north.
On dusk, a brown-green hue on the horizon. Land. And I can smell it now, the trees, the earth. The damp fresh air of home.
42 degrees south
Morning, and the light is just breaking. The Aurora Australis is sailing up the Derwent. Our huge orange ship.
I have come home.