+27 (0)82 4000 470 rob@robcaskie.com

I have really struggled to get onto the Internet this morning, even walking all over the ship to try and get a connection. It has not worked so I am sitting in a lounge, typing a mail, and hope to send it later. The dreaded Drake Passage has lived up to expectations, and really is the Drake Shake. Yesterday afternoon, the Expedition Leader took photographs of the instruments in the bridge. The wind was Beaufort Force 10 – Force 12 is a hurricane. The waves were 10-13 meters and hitting the side of the ship from the west, and wind speed at 60 knots. Le Boreal is incredibly stable, and all the old salts are singing her praises in terms of her stability and forward speed in conditions like these. Nevertheless, as the afternoon progressed the ship became like a ghost town. Lectures were very poorly attended, and I was forced to lunge for the lectern quite often to prevent falling over. Dinner was very poorly attended, and I fear there are a LOT of sick passengers on board. There were many glasses and bottles broken in the bar before the hatches really were batoned down. All outside decks are out of bounds. After a wild afternoon with lots of people videoing the seas from the ship, and the waves crashing onto Deck 3 and 4, we all thought the worst was over. Not to be, the night was fearful. I was thrown out of bed twice, so it is not just little people like Sally Horne who get tossed from their beds in the Drake Passage. The movement of the ship made sleep impossible for me, but my cabin mate who has been at sea for 40 years, on far less stable ships than this slept like a baby. In fact, I think he sleeps far better in rough seas! We are now roughly half-way across the Drake, and I think there are many passengers wondering why on Earth they came down here? Back to French design – the doors on the wardrobes and bathrooms are wide and heavy. In conditions like these the pressure on the hinges is extreme, especially with small, older passengers struggling to open and close them timeously. I have spent some time this morning tightening the hinges, but I cannot see them lasting long. The shower door (glass) has a lock to keep it secure in these conditions. Perhaps there is much to be said for a shower curtain, and floors that can be easily sponged down. During the afternoon I heard many folks speaking about how sick they felt in the tiny confines of the loo. I was comforted that it was not only me who finds the loo minuscule, but also how adversity tends to unite people and lower their usual social defences. The Expedition Team call it ‘Yellow Fever’ – the look is easily identified with the poor souls who are seasick. Having spent some time on ships and experiencing various lecturers, it would be fair to say that this Expedition Team’s reputation is well-deserved. With more than 200 years Antarctic experience between them, and acclaimed experts in their fields, the quality of lecture is astounding. I am feeling very humbled and privileged to be afforded this opportunity, as the usual historian is home for Christmas, but will come down for the last two cruises of this season. Most of these lecturers have published papers and books. I am learning so much from folks who know the Arctic and Antarctic intimately, and hope to perform well enough that I be invited back in the future. There are two restaurants on board – a casual, buffet style area on Deck 6, and the more formal, sit-down Le Boussale on Deck 2. Sea conditions yesterday forced the staff to only serve meals on Deck 2 – less ship movement, and clearly safer not to have folks moving around a buffet on Deck 6. The food, outside of the coffee, is excellent. I am wondering whether this foul black fluid they call coffee is not partly the reason for French slimness? It cannot do one’s stomach any good at all, and along with a Gauloise or two, I am sure the net result is a Twiggy Lookalike. With a largely American clientèle, I bet Starbucks would make a fortune on board….. This morning, walking down the passage, I could have sworn I saw a CafĂ© Latte in mid-air, but when I reached for it, realised I was hallucinating! This is what the Drake does to formerly sane human beings. The dues one pays to get to Antarctica. I regularly think of Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen, et al and their brave men on tiny, unstable wooden vessels, wet to the skin almost permanently, in freezing conditions, making their way into the rigging set with ice to adjust the sails. Their ships had none of the comfort, speed or stability of these modern super-cruisers. In addition, Scott’s living and eating quarters were situated beneath the horse stables, so covered in detritus permanently. We modern souls have absolutely no comprehension of their efforts, their sufferings or their fortitude. Amundsen and Cook on board the Belgica had made regular sledge journeys to secure seals. Fresh, undercooked seal meat undoubtedly saved the expedition from scurvy (it could not save some members from losing their minds). Amundsen said that man-hauling a sled was hard, sweaty, stupid work, and that he planned to use dogs for any Polar journey to haul the sleds. Intriguing that Scott would persist with the noble work of man-hauling in 1911/12. Being early in the season, I am told there is still much, deep snow in the Peninsula – will be a photographer’s dream.