I now know what sea legs are all about.
Let me try to sum up my first 10 days at sea in a few paragraphs. The tip of the ice bergs…
How did I get here? Thanks to the master mind chef, Phil, at the Mercenary Chefs website I landed a job with One Ocean Expeditions in Antarctica a couple months ago. Antarctica, the coldest, driest place on Earth, no big deal. I was scheduled to come down in late January to fill in for the full season chefs during their breaks, and then got called down at the very last minute. So, after a few days after the invite I hit up all the consignment shops in Hamilton, Ontario to get all the cold weather clothing I could, plus picked up a killer pair of new snow boats. I had a wonderful couple of meals with my wife Mrs. Jessica Stares (Meyer?) J <3 7="7" and="and" december="december" on="on" sup="sup">th3>took an 18 hour flight to the most southern city in the world, Ushuaia. Thank you to the Stares family for all the hospitality and love you have shared with me over the last year, it means so much to me.
To get from Ushuaia, Argentina to the edges of Antarctica, the One Ocean Expedition’s two loaned Russian vessels must first cross the wavy Drake Passage. I’m on the Vavilov. The two day Drake crossing is the bumpiest. Walking down the halls in a straight line is impossible and if you don’t get the sea sickness, consider yourself lucky. There are handrails everywhere, including the bathrooms. You never know when you may slide off the john. The doc hands out motion sickness pills prior to the Drake segment. The rocking of the boat is a 24/7 leg and buttocks workout.
My room is above the kitchen cool box and on the Drake nights I hear all the pans of our stored food crashing to the floor. Sometimes, soups on the stove take a spill all over the floor and often the oven door swings hard to the elbow giving us sailor burns. We’ve evolved to the rocking of the kitchen by tying the oven door to the wall when loading/unloading and putting a steel bar across the front of the stove to prevent any pots from flying to the floor. At night, after nearly 18 hours in the kitchen, I crawl into my bed and picture myself in the womb of the ocean rocking to and fro. It is both soothing and nauseating. Sleep is short and dreams are vivid.
Out kitchen team is made up three young dudes and one pastry chef gal. British Colombia, Montana, Ohio and Virginia. The Russian crew takes care of the dishes and tables. On ship there are roughly 20 international staff members with One Ocean, plus, at least, 20 Russian crew. I keep seeing new Russian faces pop up from the depths of the ship through little steel passageways on the main deck. What is beneath the kitchen and residence decks, I don’t know. Above the dining hall is a bar and viewing deck, but I haven’t been there yet. Maybe in January. My life is centered on sleeping, cooking and emailing those closest to me, which helps keep sanity when cooking crazily for days on end in the roughest seas and isolation in the world. We don’t have any internet, so I don’t know what the news is. It’s sunny and cold, wear no slip shoes on the deck, remember to never burn the bacon and the oven door will hit the elbow at 400 degrees while in the Drake; all the imminent news a chef needs while in Antarctica on a boat.
Tourists come on this cruise to get a firsthand sense of the nature of Antarctica. They have the option to go on kayak trips to penguin colonies and camp under the ice in a snow trench, which they shovel themselves. Every night there is some lecture from a scientist about a topic on Antarctic. Every night and day there is amazing food made with whatever goods we can gather from the southern tip of South America. The Russians sometimes fish and give us a taste of their daily catch. The Russian crew and One Ocean Chefs share the same kitchen. We share recipes, like for today, I cooked them a pizza and they cooked us some of their traditional soup. I’m learning a bit of Russian each day, but slip into speaking Spanish with them, which makes no sense. I translate the words from our dish guy by reading his mind. How I know what he is saying in Russian, I don’t know, yet in some energy form, I know.
The scenery from the deck and holes in the wall is that of a different planet every couple days. Tomorrow, we go back to Argentina to restock, and the view there is of a small city at the base of mountains with large ships in the harbor. Then, tomorrow night, we take off again through the Drake and the view is of towering waving crashing into the bow and nothing but sea and dark clouds. When we get to the ice bergs the waves settle and marine wildlife can be watched from the deck. I‘ve seen more than a dozen whales, seals and dolphins and hundreds of chin strap penguins. A few days ago we journeyed into a sheltered cove and visited a penguin colony research station and I met up with one of my penguin homies. When I got off the zodiac I walked to this ledge and a penguin from the colony on the hall came waddling down to meet me. The Chinese tourists laughed and started snapping pictures and one of the Irishmen said I must have a lot of friends here for all the time I’ve spent on the ice. He’s probably right. Standing just a meter in front of the penguin I mimicked its head motions and spoke to it through its eyes. Penguins are very intelligent and do not fear us. They find us as entertaining as we do them. I pray they can remain isolated enough from humanity to remain wild and naturally inquisitive. I come many miles to say hello and yes, burn plenty of carbon in the process, but my prayers to them are of humanity and that we can live at one on this Earth. You sometimes have to give to take a little to give a lot, right Grandpa?
There is only one ocean and one land.
I dream of wakeboarding or skurfing the wake of the vessel. The Russians wakeboard with the zodiacs, but if we could do with the much bigger boat that would be off da hook. Has anyone surfed Antarctica’s icy white water before? Aquarians always dream big.
Well, by the time I upload these pics I will have only a few minutes to jet back to the boat to begin prepping for a next dinner. Farewell to all. Happy holidays to those who celebrate. Please keep the solstice marked on your calendar and burn a candle or fire with whatever intentions you may wish to share with sky world and our helpers. 12/21/12. Much love from the sea and ice. In 10 days I shall return with more. Eat well, sleep well, live well and always smile.
PS – my only reachable emails while at sea is firstname.lastname@example.org