Spencer Smirl, Engineer
“We set sail at 08:00 Monday the 7th of January 2013. It was the most publicity we had seen to date in Cape Town. There was a thousand people lining the banks of the East Pier. There was a nine piece Dixie Jazz Band playing in the background, they even had a tuba grunting along. As we sailed out past the Pier, there was a cannon with blanks loaded that rung several deafening blows across our stern as we passed. Two helicopters followed us out, filming from above as we left the harbour gliding out to sea. It was all very impressive.
We all stayed up on the upper deck above the bridge and watched as Cape Town disappeared into the distance. We talked about the send-off and the morning events as we listened to the ocean waves crash upon the bow. It was calm but it wasn’t dead flat. I had popped a sea sickness tablet before bed and again in the morning but I could feel things starting to take a turn. The swell was a little over a metre, more than enough to make a full time land lubber forget how to walk down stairs. As I stumbled into my cabin, I found my tablets on my desk, popped one and climbed straight into bed. It was around 10:30 when I dozed off.
After a little more than an hour I awoke to an awful mechanical grinding, screeching noise. It was very difficult to tell what it was. I looked out the window and noticed we had stopped moving. We just sat there bobbing in the sea like a piece of drift wood. It was near lunch time so I went to the galley to see if anyone was there. The team was there waiting for lunch. Nobody knew what had happened yet but the food smelled good so I stuck around. After lunch the captain came and told us there was a slight problem with one of the engines. They still had one running and we would stay on course as mechanics assessed the repair. There was no point in turning around if they could get it fixed at sea. However, we were barely moving, only about 3knots. A long way from her top speed of 12knots. At this rate we would take 25 days to reach the ice when it should only be 10 in good seas.
I went back to bed as I still wasn’t feeling very well. Again, after only a little more than an hour of sleep, I woke to a crackly voice explaining there would be an evacuation of the ship and the alarm would sound shortly, and to proceed to the muster location. I climbed out of bed, almost in a state of panic. At this moment, I wasn’t sure if we were just practicing. Richmond and I donned our life jackets, grabbed our survival packs and began to make our way back to the helipad. To my relief, soon after arriving at the muster point, the rest of the evacuees assured me it was only a drill. As we made our way along the Port side to our life boat, I noticed we still were not moving very fast.
I asked if we were still headed south. Luckily the answer was yes. Strange we were still only running one engine though. I couldn’t be too worried. I was hungry and it was quite close to dinner. One great thing about being at sea I had noticed thus far, was that the food was surprisingly good. Our first supper was hot and sweet spare ribs on rice with a very nice salad. I expected good food after the sampling I had when she was docked in London. If it keeps up to this standard though, I’ll come home bigger than when I left. A rarity in exploration.
I made my way back to my cabin and flopped into bed to watch a movie. I was working my way through the Bourne series again. If there is one thing we brought too much of, its movies. We would have to be in Antarctica for a year and a half and watch non-stop to get through all the movies we brought. It doesn’t hurt to have selection though. Around 9pm, after three hours of Jason Bourne, I heard the engine stop. We were dead in the water. Again.”
Pic: Geoff Long