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.
On its maiden voyage, the continuation of our Arctic-to-Antarctic expedition, the Corelle went through the Panama Canal to Tahiti, then down to the Roaring 40s and east to Chile and through Patagonia to the Antarctic Peninsula. In 1984, few yachts had been to the peninsula. There was little information; it was a voyage of exploration. Clothing wasn't sophisticated in those days, and our heater wouldn't run on the poor-quality kerosene available in South America.
After six weeks there, and one too many dramas, we were worn out, so we sailed back to Sweden. Over time, while we wrote and lectured about the voyage, the bad memories evaporated. We each came down with a bad case of polar fever. We renovated Northern Light with new high-latitude voyages in mind. She got a furling rig, a new cockpit, and floating sheeting-point tracks-all to make her easier to handle on solo watches-and a wing keel to improve the way she sailed. We also rebuilt the interior, improving the insulation and the heating system.
In 1989, with the boat a suitable polar abode, we sailed back to the Antarctic Peninsula and stayed for 16 months. We let the boat freeze into the fast ice and wintered over. We both still rate it as the best time of our lives. Every day we learned something new, firsthand, from observation. Entranced by the winter's pastel light and removed from the daily onslaught of information, we put time on ice. We got to think our own thoughts.
When the thaw came, we planned to visit the subantarctic islands. We wanted to spend time in the realm of the albatross and see bigger penguins and more whales and seals. But our engine seized. A circumnavigation of Antarctica in the waters the Antarctic Pilot describes as "beyond the normal route of ships" was too risky without an engine. Instead, we sailed to Sweden.
Ashore again to install the new engine and rebuild the aft cabin, we wrote two books about wintering over and completed post-production of a one-hour television program.
Before leaving Sweden in 2000, I saw some ceramic mugs I liked, and I bought a yellow one and an orange one, thinking it'd be nice to have a little color around as long as they lasted. In Norway, we found some china bowls with broad rims that were perfect for serving pea soup Swedish style, where you take a spoonful of soup and graze it through mustard that's been put on the rim. A Corelle bowl has no rim and "just simply does not work," as Rolf is fond of saying. The same store also sold glass bowls. Deeper than Corelle bowls, they were perfect for serving soup or cereal at sea and a nice alternative to the plastic doggie dishes many use in the rough waters of high latitudes.