21 October 2010 – last day’s sailing

One minute it has been crisp and clear, the next it’s snowing hard, the wind searing. The seas have been flowing and cold, or rising and falling like easy breath, or surging in all directions, white tripe-like webs of foam creasing and blurring between thickening whitecaps busy with the sound of their own voices.

We sleep, we tire, we eat, we dress for action. We go off in the Zodiac in groups: now we are in the arctic. We walk in the arctic for an hour or two or three and then are shipped back to our bunks. We take off the layers, dismiss the arctic and view it from the distance of the deck again.

Our forays into this terrifying country are brief and we prepare well, and our ship is comfortable, but we do not really move from one to the other. Instead, we are in the constant tension of ocean haven and land’s terror. We are exhausted from it, or preparing mentally and physically for it. It is always out there, and when we are in it we are grappling with the mighty bow and arrow of our need to be there, photographing it as though we are alone, and building the enormous myth of our presence there, as though we are not simply a tour group, traipsing in heavy clothes from one promontory to the next.

I walk the cold edges of these islands, never entering the interior. It is impossible, it is all glacier and bog and pointed rock. The sea smoothes the stones by the shore but they remain treacherous; it is an edge which is not completely frozen, a place that at least allows my footsteps.

The cold edge is the edge between ship and land, the constant dipping to and fro. I want to stand with my feet in one place sometimes, day after day. This constant preparation and struggle reminds me of not belonging, of always working at being somewhere, at getting there or at staying there, anywhere.

My hands are broken from writing, from hauling myslef onto my bunk against the listing boat, from not doing my yoga, from not eating what I usually eat, from not sleeping how I usually sleep. The brown but drinkable water, the smelly clothes, the last night in this bunk, which has been perfect but has got so hot the last couple of days. We turned off the heating completely last night, and it was still warm enough to sleep naked; like a Perth summer night when the westerly hasn’t come, just without the mozzie net.