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Erebus: The Story of a Ship by Michael Palin

Erebus: The Story of a Ship by Michael Palin

Author:Michael Palin [Palin, Michael]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: kindle, nonfiction, history
Publisher: Random House
Published: 2018-09-19T23:00:00+00:00


Three days later, as the ships edged slowly southwards, land was spotted for the first time. It was the northern end of the Antarctic Peninsula, a long, thin strip of land curving out from the continental mainland like an upraised scorpion’s claw.

Ross’s aim was to sail due south in the direction James Weddell had taken twenty years earlier, when he had reached latitude 74°S. The current and tide were against them, however, and an added hazard was the sudden appearance of a cluster of previously uncharted rocky outcrops, which Ross christened the Danger Islets. Not dangerous for penguins apparently. In 2016 it was announced that a super-colony of 1.5 million Adélie penguins had been found on one of them. I was a little intrigued as to why a colony of this size had taken everybody by surprise. How do you not notice one and a half million penguins?

I was lucky enough to explore this part of the peninsula in 2015, and one thing that struck me was how many of the names given to physical features mirrored the mental states of those who named them. Apart from Danger Islets, there is Cape Longing, Cape Disappointment, Delusion Point and Exasperation Bay, only slightly compensated for by Useful Island, on the other side of the peninsula. It’s a dramatic landscape that inspires strong emotions. Not only are there towering peaks on land, but there are equally impressive structures on the water. The narrow strait down which Ross sailed between Joinville Island and the tip of the peninsula is known as Iceberg Alley. One mega-slab of detached ice-shelf, known as B15-K, is 37 miles long and it took us two hours to pass it. In the summer of 2017 a trillion-ton iceberg the size of Delaware broke away from the Larsen Ice Shelf and drifted into the Weddell Sea. Rising 600 feet above the water and dropping 700 feet below, it was formed by ice-shelves cracking under pressure from their own weight.

It had been a while since the expedition had added to Britain’s colonial possessions, but this was rectified on 6 January 1843 when Ross and Crozier, followed by a party of officers, took boats across to a small rocky outcrop, which they named Pyramidal Island. During a short ceremony a Union Flag was raised and it was annexed in the name of the Crown. Dr McCormick pleaded to be one of the shore party, but Ross resolutely respected the rule by which no ship was allowed to be left without a medical officer on board, and it was Hooker’s turn to go ashore. A frustrated McCormick was left on the deck of the Erebus ‘to glean all I could through the medium of the telescope’. I rather wish that he had been allowed to participate, because his observations were always original. Only a day later his journal contained this description of a penguin, ‘walking away upright as a dart … looking like an old monk going to mass’.

By the beginning of February,



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