This is fairy-tale romance country. Well, my kind of fairy-tale anyway.
A long, long time away, in a land far, far ago, is an island. This island,
Coronation Island, has mountans like you have never dreamed, snow covered,
rearing out of the ice cold ocean. To get here, you must navigate past
icebergs forty metres high and whales forty metres deep. In this magical
land, the sun barely sets, it just glides around the horizon leaving an
ever-pink tinge in the sky. Every direction you look is breath-taking.
Mountains next to glaciers, glaciers next to rocky outcrops full of cape
pigeons flying to their nests. Snow petrels, perfect white on white,
gliding the shape of infinity a foot from my face. Mosses and lichens that
take hundreds of years to develop. An ecosystem that would not survive the
impact of mankind. This land has never been explored.
Nestled within a secret bay hidden by Coronation is a yet smaller island,
only four miles long by two miles wide, named Signy. And hidden behind a
hill within a bay guarded by icebergs are a few huts with green roofs, and
a jetty. This is my dream home. Navigation skills and wisdom alone are not
enough to bring you to this land. The blessings of the gods are also
required as fair weather is rare in these parts and seldom do the
inhabitants see the glory of their surroundings. Perhaps it is too much to
take in too often.
But the gods were having a party when we arrived. Never have I seen such a
panoramic vision. It was simply too large, too awe-inpsiring, to take in.
It’s one of those moments that you just have to accept and enjoy in the now
because no photo, no writing and no memory will be as fulfilling. So I spun
around and around and around.
There was a buzz of excitement on the ship when we first arrived. Some
folk had been up since 5am wondering at their first icebergs, the
spectacular scenery, the truth that we finally had arrived, that we were in
THE ICE at last! There was also much excitement about going ashore and
working. Working, justifying our existence here, showing our new friends
what we actually were worth, moving some limbs, exercising muscles other
than those needed to lift beer bottles. Big burly steelies in orange telly
tubby flotation suits grinning like seven year olds who’ve eaten too much
birthday cake. It was infectious. There were masts to replace, reverse
osmosis systems to install, a VHF antenna to mount and all sorts of IT
troubles to attend to. Even I found myself a purpose: in a science lab,
troubleshooting a petulant autosampler and, just as important, providing a
bit of female company to a friend who is posted here for six months with
seven men. She’s no complaints but it’s nice to have a change every now and
We went for a stomp, we slid down hills, we rolled and laughed and skidded
and skipped like people who have been cooped up on a ship for six weeks. We
visited elephant seals,- they’re HUGE, eight feet long at least and I hate
to think how heavy, and saw a sole penguin wondering amongst them. An
excited biologist came running into the lab to tell us his penguin colony
had just had it’s first chicks and there were a bunch of eggs rolling
around, chirping, due any day. We drank tea. We found friends in the
remotest of places.
Leaving Signy was as stunning as the place itself. Coronation island as a
backdrop: thirty miles long with peaks 4000m high, us sailing through a
field of icebergs, all shapes and sizes, all around, all awesome. Penguins
on some, seals on others, birds following us. It was like a cheesy clip
from a japanimation film. Blue sky with pink bits, twinkly ripply sea, huge
silent icebergs.. and, to top it all off, three mountain peaks rising
separately out of the ocean: The Innaccessibles. This is the landscape that
sailors and climbers dream of. To ascend these peaks you have to jump
straight from the yacht to a sheer face of ice. Something about them was
alluring but also terrifying. I’m beginning to understand why they call
this the Last Great Wilderness on Earth.
Note from Felix: this is a photo by Simon Coggins, who’s also on the Shackleton
and who also has a blog. Go check it