Sunday February 11th, 2001

Location

George VI Sound, tethered to the ice edge

Latitude

69.54S

Longitude

69.08W

Wind

Very light southerly

Sea

Calm

Air temp

14 degrees C in the cockpit at 1800hrs

Barometer

980 mbs and rising

Conditions

Sunny with cloud


1100 hrs: Alistair, Don and I climbed into our survival suits this morning. With hats, snow goggles, boots and gloves on, we went for a walk over the sea ice stretching out in front of Seamaster. The ice seemed quite thick, but there were many cracks in it. Some large trapped bergs that we thought were “frozen-in” were in fact moving within the pack – forming channels of open water around their perimeters. We watched as these enormous masses of ice and snow rose and fell quite a few centimetres.

A few crabeater seals hissed at us as we passed by and a weddell seal moved a few metres and went back to sleep. One crabeater, all on its own and a long way from the sea, had some very nasty open wounds across its upper back. A leopard seal attack? She was probably trying to recover and had decided that distance would give her the peace and quiet needed.

Quiet – it is almost a muffled quiet here. The only sounds one hears are the occasional raucous screech from a lone penguin, calling for its friends; the sharp “blow” of the crabeater seals hunting along the edge of the ice, sometimes in large “packs”; the “woosh” of a whale and the “peep” from the few terns. The skuas and wilson’s petrels and ice preons are quiet most of the time. There is little wind to whine in the rigging.

When walking ashore the ice often quietly talks. The cracks offer noises that sound like a door with squeaky hinges opening, or a rumble that could be traffic on a nearby motorway – but then it is suddenly gone as quickly as it came. The distant glaciers produce hushed rumbling from time to time – but then quiet envelops us again.

There is no doubt that the ice pack is disintegrating. Huge chunks are breaking away all the time and are drifting north out of the Sound. The slab we are tied to right now is kilometres long and, we thought, several kilometres wide. But our walk today showed us differently.

It does seem to be very long. But the width is only to the first big crack that has developed maybe only 200 metres in front of us, stretching sideways as far as the eye can see. This crack is now between one and two metres wide in places – with clear, dark, liquid sea filling the gap. This piece of shelf will soon break off and follow the rest. This piece of ice has been here for a number of years. This is its last.

There has been some melting taking place on the bergs that are trapped. Great long icicles by the hundreds – like clear stalactites made of diamonds – hang inside caves in the ice and all around the overhanging edges. We broke pieces off, like horns of unicorns, to suck like iced-lollies.

Ollie, Janot, Marc and Andy are diving under the ice again. They have the big lights with them this time to illuminate the best features. Ollie has been having a problem with his dive regulator freezing up and “free flowing” so that he loses all his air very quickly. He has spent part of the dive sitting on the ice sheet in front of Seamaster endeavouring to fix it. Alistair has been carrying jugs of warm water from the galley to help the thaw.

1800 hrs: We are adrift again…