Pearls Around the White Continent
With plans in the works to send a couple to Mars, the BBC turned to high-latitude adventurers and CW contributing authors Deborah Shapiro and Rolfe Bjelke to hear how they cope as a couple during long periods of isolation. You can revisit their adventures circumnavigating Antarctica aboard their ketch Northern Light in this riveting five-part series.
When Rolf Bjelke and I first met in Fiji in 1980, the plastic dinnerware he had aboard Northern Light was pretty worn out. Granted, he'd used it since 1967, when he first placed it aboard his previous boat, a fiberglass 24-footer. On that mini-cruiser, the dinnerware sailed and raced with him around his home waters in Scandinavia. Later, it cruised with him to the Orkney Islands and came along for the transatlantic crossing to Miami.
In 1977, he brought the dishes aboard Northern Light, his new 40-foot steel cutter-rigged ketch, a French double-ender with seakindly lines reminiscent of those drawn by yacht designer Colin Archer.
The dinnerware traveled around the world via Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope to Sweden. During that circumnavigation, spanning the years 1977 to 1981, many people crewed for Rolf, cutting their food with serrated dinner knives and scratching the dishes' surfaces. Over the years, every scar had turned brown. When I moved aboard Northern Light in 1982 and we started on our first voyage together, the marred plates came with us.
Rolf and I are both outdoor people and feel best when we're surrounded by open land and vast seascapes. Our idea of cruising is to see parts of the world that one can't reach except on a boat. Raised in temperate climates and loving winter activities, neither of us considers cold a hindrance. Because we're curious about nature and Earth as a system, our ultimate goal became to reach the wilderness of the Antarctic Peninsula.
I suggested to Rolf that I, a novice to small boats, might benefit from a training trip, and I pitched an idea: "How does 'North Ice, South Ice' sound? We can go to the Arctic first. See how I do."
Rolf agreed. From Sweden, we went north to Norway and Spitsbergen, then by way of Greenland to Boston. I didn't jump ship, nor was I asked to. In Boston, shopping for some other galley gear, I happened to see a box of Corelle dinnerware.
"Rolf, look!" I said. "Unbreakable dinnerware that isn't plastic." My husband is a critical person. He has to check things out and make up his own mind. Perhaps the trait is the result of his years of skippering. Or perhaps it's the reason why he's a skipper. At any rate, he picked up a display piece and took it to a saleswoman. "Is this truly unbreakable?" he asked her.
The woman took the plate from him and hurled it like a Frisbee to the tile floor. It bounced a few times and landed unbroken against the base of a counter. "Does that answer your question?" she asked.