Antarctica Cruise Travel Insurance

Throwing a Wobble

I sleep fitfully and half wake several times but try to fall asleep again. Suddenly I am wide awake, thinking I have overslept, it must be late and I might have missed my chance of trying to reach the Pole. My watch only shows 1 a.m., I guess the battery has failed because of the cold and therefore it could be any time. I dress in a great hurry and dash over to the cook tent. The large clock on the far wall also shows 1 a.m. and I feel relieved but more than a little foolish. Only Robert Swan, Duncan Haigh and Lorna Doone are still there and they have obviously been drinking steadily for several hours. Robert waves me over to join them but I make some excuse and beat a hasty retreat. Back to Byrd and bed again and this time I sleep soundly.

I’m up and dressed again at 8 a.m. and once more rush to the cook tent. This time it’s full of people eating breakfast and I move to join them. Before I sit down someone quietly announces that Max has decided that the weather is good enough throughout the entire flying route to take-off. I hold down my strong to desire to scream out my excitement and try to appear nonchalant at the news. I nod in response, not able to find appropriate words. I have a quick breakfast, just in case it’s the last food for a long time. Ian still hasn’t showed and I rush round to his tent and tell him to get ready urgently. He’s more cautious than myself and is not prepared to believe it without reservations. Leaving Ian to dress and pack I urge him to hurry whilst I set out to find Max.

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Of course Max is with his beloved Cessna, making last minute checks and the necessary preparations. He is relaxed and cool but now very much the pilot, the man in charge. I help him fill the fuel tanks and he tells me to get all my gear together, including my sleeping bag. We must be prepared for any emergency and take everything we could possibly need in case we have to land suddenly and wait for a rescue. The total journey there is approximately 1,000 km. We will need to take all the necessary provisions for the journey itself and Max will organise the emergency equipment and rations in case of a forced landing. Max tells me we fly the first leg across some mountain ranges to the refuelling base of White Fields. It’s necessary to fill up the tanks again as they are so small and can’t get us much further. That’s always the procedure; Patriot Hills to White Fields (85 oS), refuel, then final leg White Fields to the Amundsen-Scott Base Station (90 oS). Just the name itself sends a thrill charging through me. I could almost have kissed Max I’m so happy, but that would have probably changed his mind and I don’t let him see how excited I am.

I race round to the cook tent and find Ian eating an enormous and leisurely breakfast he’s not prepared himself in any way. I force him to finish quickly and go back to his tent to get his stuff together. Fran, bless her heart, is already preparing our food and drink for the journey in three separate packages and will have everything ready when it’s needed. I zoom back to my tent and prepare my own backpack including my sleeping bag and anything else I might need. I don’t forget to put in my lucky Kenyan safari hat (wearing it always reminds me of Slim Pickens in Dr Strangelove, when he’s riding the atomic bomb after the mechanism fails and he’s waving his cowboy hat and hollering crazily). I’m hoping I won’t need to repeat that wild scenario as we descend to the South Pole but I can certainly feel the adrenalin already flowing. I round up Ian and the food packages and we rush over to the Cessna. I’m trying to get us off the ground before anything occurs that would prevent us from going. Steve, Ann, Lorna, Rachel and Art have come to see us off. But where is Max?

They guess he’s at the Met tent checking finally on the weather and we all must wait, me very impatiently, until he returns. There’s just no way of telling from his facial expression what his decision is. I raise an eyebrow as I can’t trust my voice not to give me away and Max nods, ‘Let’s go.’ He starts to load our backpacks and asks Ian why his is so light Ian has forgotten to put in his sleeping bag. It’s the first time I have ever seen Max angry, shouting out how every item is essential and this is not a picnic and we must prepare for the worst. He almost seems prepared to cancel the trip. Ian reacts just as angrily and it’s a tense moment. I try to smooth everything down and run to Ian’s tent and find his sleeping bag and hurry back with it and Max stuffs it impatiently into the back of the Cessna with our other packs.

The Cessna normally seats four, the pilot, the co-pilot and two passengers. However, as we are flying over such a desolate, barren wasteland we must carry on board a whole host of survival and other items. These include a 2/3 person tent, food for 18 days for each person, an ice saw and shovel, emergency locator beacon, several flares, portable radio, life vests, first aid kits, mats, and signal mirror. That’s apart from our own extra clothing and our sleeping bags. Because of these emergency items one seat has been removed and Max will fly without a co-pilot. That seems a little precarious but at this stage I’m not going to comment on anything; Max is still looking a little frazzled and any query or criticism might be enough to cause him to cancel. Ian, as the biggest person by far, offers to sit in the rear with the equipment but I volunteer for the first leg and quickly scramble in.

We strap and buckle ourselves in and it’s a tight fit. Max starts revving the engine and hands us ear cans to help muffle the heavy droning. The chocks are taken away, Max taxis the Cessna to the short runway and before I can even think about it we are airborne. It’s 10.30 a.m. here and this would be 3.30 a.m. New Zealand time, actually the next day at the Pole. Max circles once round the camp, briefly flies around Patriot Hills and then we are heading deeper south, across hundreds of kilometres of ice and snow wastes towards our destination.

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