Starry, starry night ….

Then it hit me – the vaguely glowing streak of a ‘cloud’ across an otherwise moonless, almost starless sky was actually millions of stars themselves! Imagine a pale lustrous gossamer river meandering lazily through the middle of a brown-black sky, over an inky black sea. Or imagine if a million stars, abandoning their seemingly dispersed stations in the sky, rushed to the middle of it. Imagine a child left with black felt paper and silver sparkle glue in a dark room. Imagine a rush of cold, crisp air going straight to your lungs. Imagine Van Gogh….

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Sixty six south, eighteen below

The first icebergs were spotted, as vague white ‘somethings’ in the horizon – which when approached, turned into mammoth floating flat-topped islands of ice. As that day wore on, we sailed into waters packed with these gigantic, breathtaking, blindingly white icebergs that were all around the ship. Most were the typical table-like flat topped ones that were clearly calved from the glaciers of Antarctica. But there were the funny shaped ones too – that were a very cool (no pun intended) subject for playing “Oooh, that one looks like…”. In places, there were floating rivers of bergy bits – pieced of all shapes and sizes chipped off from large icebergs. Last but not the least, there was the bizarre pancake ice – small rounded pieces of flat ice, formed by the piling up of freshly formed ice flakes.

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In the realm of the west wind drift

… Sometimes it rained, sometimes we crossed thick fogs; but two things that were constant during the period were the clouds and the colour – the permanently overcast sky and the sea were always slate gray. We often spotted the Southern Ocean’s most famous birds, the albatrosses and petrels lazily riding on the swells. They softened the images of the violent sea with their presence and their apparent indifference to the sea state…

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Who are these people?

As things stood when we sailed out of Port Louis, I was only familiar with two other people in the entire ship – the two people from my own institute. I knew next to nothing about the other passengers on the ship – be it the Indian Scientific contingent or the Russian Officers and crew.

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Adventure is a state of mind

When you travel on land, there’s a defined set of landmarks – an old, gnarled tree or an impressive chain of mountains, or geographic features to orient you. At sea, your best indicator is the rising and setting sun, and of course the stars (if you know how to read them!). The land has characters which show you the way, and assure you you’re headed in the right direction, while the sea, it would seem, has nothing. This isn’t strictly true – a seasoned sailor will tell you that all seas have character. For instance, the Arabian Sea is ‘predictable’ – with terrible winds, rain and swells during the monsoon and mirror-calm waters in the winter; while the only thing you can predict about the Bay of Bengal, is the unpredictability.

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Right, Where are we going…?

After some frantic shopping for everything from a humungous wheely suitcase to a dozen pairs of socks (as Dumbledore once said “One can never have enough socks…“) and a small truck full of plastic containers for our samples and other boring “science stuff”, we were ready – atleast as ready as we’d ever be for a trip like this…

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