Friday 21 December 2007 à 15:55

Merry Christmas!

Par Sophie Mouge. Correspondent aboard the Aurora Australis

Martin Riddle had told us from the beginning of the voyage: the first requirement for members of such an expedition is flexibility! We’re fully and happily proving it today since we’re celebrating Christmas four days ahead of time! Beginning December 22, operations on board the Aurora Australis will keep us from being able to revel all together on December 25.

Such a time shift may seem strange to land-based readers but on the ship it doesn’t matter because we lose track of time in our focus on one thing: the success of the scientific operations. Everybody adjusts to using time as a function of the constraints linked to the progression of scientific activities and to weather conditions.

As on any Australian research vessel, alcohol is forbidden on board: it’s called a “dry ship.” Everyone accommodates the rule quite easily but it’s still nice to drink a glass of wine or a beer as an aperitif on this day. The captain of the ship makes a speech that ends by cutting the enormous fruitcake, decorated and iced with sugar, that was so generously This offered by the Tasmanian Shipping Supplies to the whole of the passengers.

The merrymaking is followed by a sumptuous feast. Here is the menu.

Seafood followed by the main course of turkey helps the French feel not too far from home. Between mouthfuls of oysters and lobster, discussion flows freely and everybody wonders who will win the competition to spot the first iceberg. Roger, who seems to have missed his calling as an actor, changes his Neptune costume for a Santa suit to everyone’s great delight. He calls us up each in turn to sit on his knee and receive a small present.

Everyone on the expedition had to bring in his or her baggage a small gift to help fill Santa’s basket and the contents are redistributed entirely by chance. The presents are very varied: perfume, books, games, chocolates, calendars, candles, stuffed toys, etc. So although Santa Claus has chosen to live at the North Pole, he can also deliver presents as far away as the South Pole J ! Suddenly, a rumor swells in the corridors: “Iceberg in sight!!” Not one or two but everyone grabs a camera and heads to the bridge, straight up the five flights. And there it is, a dazzling spectacle: 2 nautical miles directly in front of the icebreaker, a superb iceberg. It measures about 200 meters long and 15 meters high. We are even more impressed because the visible part is only one-tenth of its true height.

The iceberg is surrounded by seabirds (Cape pigeons, petrels, albatrosses), which confirm that the Antarctic continent is close.

Southern giant petrel (Macronectes giganteus) :

Antarctic petrel (Thalassoica antarctica) :

The white giant petrel is immediately recognizable from its enormous wingspan (about 2 meters). It can be distinguished from the albatross by its more massive shape, shorter wings and two nostril tubes atop the beak.

At midnight, we watch the magnificent setting of the sun, which soon will not rise again …



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