Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mauling of the Australis

Mauling of the Australis
(The Anarchic Summer of 2010)

She plunged down by the head, and all the mass of the Drake waters surged forward.  The Captain knew it was coming, crammed the ninety of us guests into what was called, the meeting room (sometimes called the after-room) on the third deck of the ship (the ship being perhaps 20% empty of full capacity guests), the waves were hitting above the third deck windows, spouting skyward, all of thirty feet I’d say. The water impacting against the four sides of the ship, and I really didn’t see the crew, or shipmen.  And all this to the bulk of several monsters waves, swept the ship, rolled it, dipped her decks rail to rail of the cold Drake waters. The Captain had at that point advanced back to the bridge, hoping us guests would not realize the mauling the ship was undergoing. Ere, the captain did his best to make us unaware of any anxiety we might receive should we open up those same curtains he had so diligently, and calmly had his midshipman close.   But I had noticed the matter had been building up, not only from my cabin window, save that the ship tilted, but when I had ventured earlier on to her stern deck, being the back of the ship, where the poop is, and where the structure of the ship can break waves, having left Cape Horn, seeing beyond the Cape, the dark stormy skies fermenting; but had I not been able to see the dark gray skies forming, being a Minnesotan, my body acted like a barometer, in that it could detect an atmospheric change in pressure—or that being fluctuations in the weather long before they hit you directly. And even a two degree difference was a hint for weather change.   And ten minutes later when I reached the zodiac, there was a call from the ship to the mate walking beside me, of a rising breeze that appeared and awoke over the ship’s bow, and therefore, the good old sea was shifting moods quickly, so to hurry it up.  One must if anything, have a growing respect for Cape Horn, and take serious the weather conditions in the Drake. The wind coming out of the southwest, and by the time we reached the ship, the sky over us had turned into a grayish-darkness. And this was the start of the seas burst, and the outpouring that would soon take place.
       The young prodigious, yet incredible captain, then appeared who knew the teeth of the storm evidently, and its danger, could feel aft with him, the working of the ship’s motors against the heavy mauling of the waves, thus, he was no weakling of the sea, he knew it, and we were entering the center of the back of the storm I do believe; he painted no dark-pigmented scenes.
       I sat in a chair, as if I was made of iron, as I looked onto the other faces, those in peril—lest I join them, I lightly smiled my wife feeling safer that way; my wife was to my side, arm tight against mine—as a thousand tons of Drake water surged across the bow; that being the front of the ship. Looking straight ahead, at the heavy iron door now locked tight, on the port side of the ship, or larboard side, the ship’s left side, knowing right outside that door, the nearness of the Drake Passage was 19,000-feet deep; in essence, miles deep. The starboard side, or right side, had life-lines rigged, I would imagined for the sailors that may have to deal with what is considered the gustiest headland, or cape in the world; a better  phrase might be: the inhospitable  tip of the continent. This being the end of the Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire; an ancient name for back thousands of years, the natives of this region—had one sought sight of it from a distance—would have seen campfires everywhere dotted throughout the terrain of the mountains area, and so the name such).
       I was no Midshipmen, but I knew enough, not to tread outside the inner part of the ship—that being the open aired decks, I would have gotten a prime soaking. Although I did venture to the bow of the ship, on other occasions when the sea was rough, but not too rough, to feel the force of the wind and waves, but not this time. I suppose for the crew it was merely a day’s work, as it was for the ship. Actually now that I think of it, I never really know where the crew were housed, there didn’t seem to be any forecastle, on the upper deck, towards the bow where it usually would be. So I never got to see them coming or going, fore or aft of me, for the most part. Or perhaps I missed it; the ship was rather new and what is customary today on ships, perhaps is quite different from the old but huge clippers and windjammers, and galleys of yesteryear, and this was my second cruise, my first being on still waters in the Galapagos, —in which an Olympic swimming pool had coarser waters: this was some eight-years prior, on a similar ship of this type: a small cruise ship that is, with a rather a flat bottom.

       I was in a way, praying for more weather like this, I knew if I said what I was thinking someone would wring my neck. But now four years later I got the gumption to say it. Just the same, the sea settled down, and I went to get a bite to eat. And my wife, well, that’s another story, she was nearly seasick the whole voyage, and when not in bed, she was with me with a woozy head, and this did not help, except for when she went to some remote island with a few crew members, and investigated the beaver environment, that day I took a five hour siesta, and she had commented, “What a relief getting off that ship, to get my head back in balance, and my body into a more stable equilibrium.”
       It seemed to me, when we left the Drake Passage, and could no longer see Cape Horn, now into the Pacific Ocean, or that side of the ocean, we had lift behind, what might be referred to as ‘the hill of the earth,’ figuratively speaking, —and so as, Jack London referred to the end of the Terra del Fuego, lest I’m misrepresenting his figure of speech, for between Cape Horn, there is only Elephant Island, and then the Shetland Islands, and King George Island of any significance, until you get to Antarctica itself, and to my understanding it would be the highest peak what Jules Vern referred to as: the ‘End of the World’; if indeed that is what London was refereeing to as the ‘Hill’. For Cape Horn is not liken to the Himalayas, in comparison it would be a hill—it seemed to me we were in tranquil seas the rest of our voyage, there beyond, right up to disembarking at Punta Arenas, Chile.
       I can still remember the damp cold on top of Cape Horn, with its brisk wind that penetrated my clothing right into my the pores of my skin, per near to a freezing point, now part of my wind swept past. And for this region of the earth, it was summer, in South America, and winter in the North America, the best time to travel this part of the world. I couldn’t imagine come winter, surely it would be savage, forsaken and bleak at best. But the main point being, we had made it through the graveyard of ships; for over 800-ships lay at the bottom of Cape Horn, and within its vicinity, as well as 10,000-sailors.

Written 10-14-thru 10-15-2014 (No: 1026)
Note: drawing by the author, does not resemble the Australis.
Note: When it is winter in North America, it is summer in South America
As well as for the Antarctic waters.