Wednesday 8 January. Day 32, Day 6 on the Aurora Australis.

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08 01 14 - 16:09

The phrase emotional roller coaster is an over-used cliché. It’s also a very useful description. The good news has came through that the Shokalskiy and the Xue Long have been able to free themselves from the ice, with a change in the wind. Shokalskiy is expected to be in open sea within two days, and an estimated date of arrival back in Bluff New Zealand on 14 January.

It’s great news for the Russian crew we left behind, great news that our unfinished business is being resolved. But meanwhile we are stationary at Casey. Strong winds have come up, stopping any resupply activity. We are anchored out in open water, rocking on a sea with a 3 - 5m swell. Through the porthole I see the sea, the waves, the clouds rising and falling. It’s not that pleasant. These conditions are expected to last for the next two days, then hopefully the weather will improve enough for the resupply to be completed in a further three days. We will be confined to the ship during this time, limited in where we can go on deck because of the loading and unloading. Our best case estimate of our arrival date in Hobart is 22 January.

Don’t get me wrong – being rescued was profoundly appreciated. It was absolutely the right thing to do, the best thing to do, the only thing to do. There was no certainty at all that Shokalskiy would free herself – in fact it looked likely that the ice we were trapped in could well have become new fast ice. Cards fall, cookies crumble, c’est la vie.  

Last night things were up. We arrived at Casey just before 11pm, with a sense of progress having been made, landmarks being reached. And coming into Casey was stunning. The last few hours we travelled alongside the ‘Peterson Bank’, a long stretch of grounded icebergs each as impressive as each other, ranging from tall majestic monoliths with sheared off sides to eroded mis-shapen ice sculptures, cratered with holes, rounded, fallen, battered by sea and wind.

We saw them appearing out of misty low cloud, then as we neared Casey the light improved and the bergs were sentinels in an evening sky which was a mix of grey stratus with patches of pale greys, greens, orange, with small flurries of darker grey cumulus floating across the lower sky. Plus three orca whales at one stage, and lots of penguins on ice floes – what more could a girl want!

There was quite a crowd up on the top deck as we arrived, chatting, cheery, engaged, everyone rugged up against the biting wind: I had six layers on top and balaclava, neck garter, gloves, and wind resistant overpants to finish off the ensemble.

The AA personnel worked overnight, continuing the Casey resupply which they had left off when they came to rescue us. They loaded and unloaded cargo until before the winds strengthened early this morning. Now everyone waits for the weather.

I can view the next few days as being punctuated by meals and not much else. Time and hope stretching. The trio of things one needs for happiness: someone to love, something to do, something to look forward to, all being strained.

Or I can work at keeping myself in a positive frame of mind. I know how to improve my mood. It was good this morning when I was exercising. It was good during this morning’s writing workshop, it was good last night when I was preparing a powerpoint presentation on acting on climate change.

Writing this of course, has improved my mood. Being creative always does. I am mulling over two writing projects I can get stuck into, I can start on my maiden speech, I’ve got plenty of books and films to lose myself in. I’ve just discovered there’s a piano in the lounge tucked away downstairs. I can get to know some more of the fascinating people I’m sharing this ship with. I can enjoy the weather, the stunning skies, the power of nature. I can enjoy not being busy. And I can reflect on my own reactions, learn about myself as I’m dealing with and coping with this situation.

Life is what you make it.

PS. My mood picked up some more after I finished this piece - I went out on deck and immersed myself in the the wildness of the southern ocean, being buffetted around by the wind and swayed by the sea, and surrounded by an amazing sky filled with a vast array of clouds, interspersed with gorgeous soft light. This is an incredible place. I came back in all full of life. Yep, a rollercoaster.


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