Pip’s sudden death was a dreadful shock to the whole team. We actually weren’t that far from Antarctica and after the drama of the morning we tried to come to terms with what had happened. I’ll continue the events of that fateful day.
Thursday 25th January 2001 (continued)
People began sobbing and I stared blankly and couldn’t believe it. I also couldn’t work out what would happen to the rest of the trip – what would happen?
I wanted to be alone and I went up on deck. We had passed into the Antarctic zone with icebergs etc. I looked out and saw an incredible sight of icebergs floating magnificently in the ocean and I saw King George Island with the curved masses of ice in beautiful blues and whites.
However the sight of this seemed irrelevant – the sight of my first iceberg seemed like nothing compared to losing Pip. I felt numb. It felt irreverent to take photos.
I just stood up on the deck watching the world go past, a remarkable Antarctic world and I just thought. I thought about death and the mission and Pip and what had happened.
I had felt bad that I hadn’t done much to help.
I tell you, the worst thing I had to do was to carry Pip, when dead into one of the cabins. She looked dead, no life in the lips, eyes shut – lifeless corpse. It was a terrible thing to have to do.
So I just stood and watched and looked at Antarctica – we had arrived, but under the most tragic of circumstances.
When I went up on deck I said to Jane, ‘I’m just going outside, I may be some time’.
Anyway, it was good to stand up on deck on ‘growler duty’. I was there for a while by myself then Damien joined me. We talked a bit and looked at the snow and ice. Damien said, ‘it’s a bit irrelevant now, jut just doesn’t seem important’. I didn’t feel like taking pictures – it just didn’t seem right.
Damien and I talked a bit and then Marcus came up and joined us on deck and we talked some more. All of us were in shock and we couldn’t quite believe what had happened.
My mind was racing, do we stop here, will I get to see Antarctica, how do I respect Pip?? So many questions.
Talked a bit with Marcus and Damien and then I took a few photos.
Antarctica really is an amazing place. All around me I felt power, the sheer power and size of the ice and snow. It has a strange feeling. I felt like I shouldn’t be there.
Anyway as we went past King George Island we got closer to Bellingshausen and I noticed a storm brewing. We motored into the bay where the base is and we needed people on deck to help get things ready.
We put the sail away and tied everything up and went into the bay. I saw a blue iceberg, one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
The wind picked up to some 30 knots or so and we got closer and closer to Bellingshausen.
We sailed through an ice-field, there were growlers everywhere and we had to slow down so we could get through ok. The wind was very strong, but we got through fine and eventually found the bay and saw the Bellingshausen base for the first time.
There were quite a number of buildings there, mainly the Chilean base, but we could see the Chilean base on the left and Bellingshausen – the Russians – on the right.
All of the buildings seemed so out of place, they seemed such an intrusion on the natural beauty of King George Island.
We anchored and then went down to the saloon. Jane and Lynn cooked us up some food – sausages in pastry – quite nice.
Then we had to recount the whole story. We went through everything and wrote it down so we could all agree on the correct sequence of events for future reference.
The tale was quite sordid as we recounted all of the details. I didn’t say very much at all, I realised how little I had to do with Pip on those last couple of days. Lynn, Damien, Marcus and Mark and Jane bad been the best with her. I felt guilty that I hadn’t done more to help at all. I liked Pip and I had a couple of good chats with her. She was quiet – but a very valuable member of the team.
Eventually we finished recounting the details which seemed to take an eternity. We got our stuff ready for transfer to land. We went across in the Zodiac an met up with the Russians on land.
When I got onto land it felt very weird. My body was so used to the water. My head and body was spinning around. I had sea-legs.
Then we got onto the back of a Russian truck an we went up to our ‘hotel’ (later one of the Russians described it as a ‘1/2 star hotel’). It was situated high up away from the rest of the base. It overlooked the bay, but it was hard to say what we saw, for it was dark.
We got to our rooms, they were dry and warm. It was an old scientific research area. There were beds there and bedding. We got our stuff together there and made up beds etc.
We also met Oleg and Valerie from the Russian base. They gave us a bottle of cognac and Damien go out a bottle of whiskey.
We talked briefly then the Russians left, I was totally exhausted so I prepare myself for bed. I thought the others would as well, but they sat up talking and drinking. I tried to get some sleep, but I couldn’t above their drinking and talking.
In my head was the Bible verse from Ecclesiastes, ‘A time for mourning and a time for joy’. I felt it was the time for mourning.
Eventually they all went to bed and I got some sleep.