All my life I
had imagined the stormy cape at the end of South America and the courageous mariners who had braved the crossing in sailing
ships. I was determined to see it. Around 3:00 AM the motion of the ship jolted
me awake. It was pitching so violently that I was sure we must be entering the
infamous waters around Cape Horn. At 4:00 I got up, pulled on my warm expedition pants and parka and started to the main deck.
As I lurched up the stairs the Filipino bartender caught up with me.
is coffee for you in the lounge, ma’am. I am just going to be sure the
ship is safe for passengers.”
I understood that he meant
I should not try to go outside, and by this time I realized that he was right. Down in the forward lounge I helped myself
to hot coffee and watched the spray dash against the windows. This was what rounding the Horn was supposed to be like! During the next hour more passengers straggled into the lounge. Someone had checked with the bridge and said we would reach Cape Horn at 5:00. The seas became a trifle
more calm, and through the rain and mist we could make out the shape of a mountainous shore. I went to wake up Benny and pick
up my camera, then headed for the forward deck.
It was cold, wet, and windy,
but with other dauntless travelers I stayed on deck and took pictures as the shoreline passed by. I finally found someone to take my picture too – looking wet and worse for wear, but grinning broadly
because I was rounding the Horn!
That day we sailed up the
Beagle Channel under blue skies. The green mountains of Tierra del Fuego were
lovely, but looking somehow soft and civilized after the rocks and glaciers of Antarctica.
We had our final briefings and held an interactive discussion on The Antarctic Treaty and the impact of Antarctic Tourism. I was impressed by the environmental commitment of the expedition staff and pleased
that they held a final presentation on the threat of longline fishing and the Save the Albatross Campaign, the environmental
program that this expedition was pledged to support.
We docked in Ushuaia around
5:00 PM, giving time for some passengers to dash ashore and check their e-mails at the nearby Internet cafes before the farewell
cocktail and dinner. We would have one last night on board, then leave early in the morning on our separate ways. We had come to appreciate what a remarkable group of people had shared our voyage to Antarctica, the common
bond being a passion for learning and a lifelong zest for travel. We had made
friends with fellow passengers from Britain and Australia, Ireland and Denmark, Canada and Israel, Switzerland and Singapore. We had been brought together by the undeniable attraction of the great white continent,
which we found to be a place of great peril and great beauty. We had learned that it is not only the coldest, the windiest, and the driest place on earth, but is also
of vital importance to the rest of the planet, containing 95 per cent of the fresh water in the world and generating the currents
that circulate our oceans. We had thrilled to the sightings of whales and seabirds and been shocked to learn how quickly their
numbers had declined. And we had experienced the rare delight of standing in pure wilderness in a place where man had quite
probably never gone before. As we left the ship the experience of Antarctica stayed with us along with a deeper understanding
of our planet, the winds, the waters, and the web of life that connects us all. We knew we had become part of a privileged
fellowship, the still small number of men and women who have crossed the Southern Ocean, forever to fall beneath the spell
of the White Continent.