So, yeah, that whole thing with the Ukrainians was pretty surreal. A pub in Antarctica? Are you kidding me?
I mean, what’s next? Being woken up by a dinghy with a crazy dude in a kilt in it, playing bagpipes and inviting everyone to a party on board British marines’ sailing boat, where I’d meet an expedition trying to conquer Forbidden Plateau, National Geographic Antarctica-kayaking-crew and arguably the best solo sailor of the world?
* * *
I had totally underestimated the human element of the trip while planning it. Four years later, Antarctica remains a memory of the magnificent stillness of the ice and the quiet beauty of its animals, but I sure as hell got to know some interesting people along the way, too.
Martin, the captain, said about 20 words in three weeks, and yet — or perhaps, exactly because of that — I would feel comfortable sailing with him anywhere in the world.
Adam, my American bunk-mate, more than made up for his lack of sailing prowess with great attitude, a good camera, a tip about a good trip (being dropped off in Alaska and kayaking back to civilization, something that is on a short list of the next excursions) and by introducing me to the works of Kurt Vonnegut.
And then, there was Adrien, a fellow French watch leader, who was just a great spontaneous guy and a great sailor and with whom I was going to bond even more when both of our strengths will be more than tested to get us all home safe.
I guess, if you do something somewhat out of ordinary, you increase your chances of meeting people who don’t fit too many molds.
* * *
So, there we were, in Port Lockroy, a good, safe bay, where sailing boats often stay overnight. It was crowded for what life in Antarctica is like – there were four sailing boats around. We were making a last stop on our way back north, preparing food, sorting the photographs and just reliving everything.
Then we heard the bagpipes.
Seriously, bagpipes. In Antarctica.
Then we saw a dinghy and bare knees of two British army specimens. And then, you know, how do you not go to a party under such circumstances, regardless of the endeavors still ahead?
I think this one was even more surreal than the last one, because we were on deck, under the clear skies and next to a huge glacier. I mean it. Right. Under. A. Huge. Glacier.
Thirty minutes in, I was exchanging sailing wisdom with Sebastien Magnen.
Now, I’ll forgive you if you’re not quite as excited as I was, because you probably don’t know who Sebastien Magnen is. You probably don’t know what Mini Trans-At is either, but you really should.
It’s an extremely prestigious race across the Atlantic, and it’s not called “mini” because there is anything miniscule about the race whatsoever, but rather because they race in boats smaller than most would take for a day excursion around the Bay. The boats are under 22 feet. They race alone. With no electric or electronic help whatsoever, except for a short-range radio. Most of the times they have no clue where everybody else is. Majority don’t finish the race. People regularly die while trying.
Sebastien not only competed and finished twice, he won both times on the boats he himself designed. He is the only person in the world ever to do this.
And now, over a glass of Laphroaig, somewhere around the 60th parallel, underneath a huge glacier, on board British army/research sailing boat, Sebastien Magnen was telling me that it’s not really all that difficult and that I, yes I, should give it a go.
Afterwards, I spoke to a National Geographic crew who were doing a seven part kayaking documentary. Turns out, one of the parts was back home, Dubrovnik.
What a perfect way to spend a last night in Antarctica, I thought, while dinghying back to our boat. I came back to Santa Maria Australis thinking just how perfect everything was.
Until I saw the newest satellite report. Between us and South America, 500 miles of Southern Ocean were turning into one hell of a roller coaster, a mine field we had to go through if we wanted to come back home.
* * *
1. Nothing like a cute seal to grab your attention, right?
2. We managed not to hit any icebergs. However, this one hit us. Sometimes there were strong currents in the bays where we would spend the nights or afternoons and we had to quickly evacuate our positions not to be hit by floating chunks of ice. This was the one time we failed to do it.
3. The standard procedure of “docking” was to find a bay, get into a dinghy with three 200+ft pieces of rope and find something on land where to tie them. Often, it involved some climbing as I had to do herex.
4. Idyllic, isnt it?
5. Cold, isn’t it?
6. Penguins defending their eggs
7. The first building placed on Antarctic soil, now very much defunct
8. The penguins expressing their profound love for my baseball team
9. Seals going over newest Jane Fonda fitness tape.
10. Waiting for a good picture and freezing my butt off.
11. Guess what this is?
12. I mean, Paco was not the biggest of men, but those whale rests are plain huge.
13. Bagpipers in the bay.
14. Now, seriously. I have never seen a better party background than this. Have you?
15. Music was a bit strange
16. I was holding my liquor way better than Adam here. It was gonna change soon enough.
17. Them kilts are really a practical wear
18. One last picture, before parting ways