Journey to Antarctica: Final

18 December 2012

Eight ice stations later, my voyage aboard the Aurora Australis has finally come to an end. The planned seven-week cruise became nine weeks after the ship was unexpectedly packed in by metre-thick ice from strong and constant northerly winds. Delayed returns are not surprising so early in the summer season when sea-ice extent is at its maximum, and by the end of October it became apparent that the ship would not make its expected return date of 5 November. While the extra data collected was a hidden bonus, I was more than happy to return to Australia.

The past few weeks have been a total blur. Starting with breaking free from the ice, everything that has happened – from leaving the marginal ice zone, to returning to Melbourne and adjusting back into society, has been done with a bittersweet enthusiasm.

Here we were stuck for three weeks in the same spot, solid ice visible in all directions, when, suddenly, a crack appears! Imagine the excitement that erupted across the ship. Most people had finished their science, and had packed away their instruments and samples, leaving us with nothing much productive to do. Just when I thought, "I don’t know how many more games of Cluedo I can possibly stand," rumours of a crack appearing started flooding in through the mess. I remember that moment clearly; running up to the Bridge to take in the beauty that was the 100 metre-wide lead of open water – the first open water I had seen in weeks – just under a kilometre in front of the ship, the word ‘FREEDOM!’ blaring in my head.

The next few days were filled with emotional ups and downs. One moment we are crashing towards open leads, the next it’s too cloudy to get a good satellite image of the ice around us, and it might be days before we can move again. Our estimated arrival back to Hobart would fluctuate by +/-5 days on an hourly basis. Then, suddenly, we were no longer carefully navigating through hundred-metre-wide floes, but sailing smoothly through the marginal ice zone and we’re four days from arriving in Hobart. To be clear, the actual timeline of our freedom was over a week: the crack appeared in the ice on 4 November, we left the marginal ice zone for open water on 11 November, and arrived in Hobart on the morning of 16 November, a full 11 days past our original return date.

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