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- The Voyages of Captain Scott - 30/60 -
blizzard met them. In the morning watch of December 31, the wind and sea increased and the outlook was very distressing, but at 6 A.M. ice was sighted ahead. Under ordinary conditions the safe course would have been to go about and stand to the east, but on this occasion Scott was prepared to run the risk of trouble if he could get the ponies into smoother water. Soon they passed a stream of ice over which the sea was breaking heavily, and the danger of being among loose floes in such a sea was acutely realized. But presently they came to a more compact body of floes, and running behind this they were agreeably surprised to find themselves in comparatively smooth water. There they lay to in a sort of ice bay, and from a dangerous position had achieved one that was safe as long as their temporary shelter lasted.
As the day passed their protection, though still saving them from the heavy swell, gradually diminished, but 1910 did not mean to depart without giving them an Old Year's gift and surprise. 'At 10 P.M. to-night as the clouds lifted to the west a distant but splendid view of the great mountains was obtained. All were in sunshine; Sabine and Whewell were most conspicuous--the latter from this view is a beautiful sharp peak, as remarkable a landmark as Sabine itself. Mount Sabine was 110 miles away when we saw it. I believe we could have seen it at a distance of thirty or forty miles farther--such is the wonderful clearness of the atmosphere.'
The New Year brought better weather with it, and such good progress was made that by mid-day on Tuesday, January 3, the ship reached the Barrier five miles east of Cape Crozier. During the voyage they had often discussed the idea of making their winter station at this Cape, and the prospect had seemed to become increasingly fascinating the more they talked of it.
But a great disappointment awaited them, for after one of the whale boats had been lowered and Scott, Wilson, Griffith Taylor, Priestley, and E. R. Evans had been pulled towards the shore, they discovered that the swell made it impossible for them to land.
'No good!! Alas! Cape Crozier with all its attractions is denied us.'
On the top of a floe they could see an old Emperor penguin molting and a young one shedding its down. This was an age and stage of development of the Emperor chick of which they were ignorant, but fortune decreed that this chick should be undisturbed. Of this incident Wilson wrote in his Journal: 'A landing was out of the question.... But I assure you it was tantalizing to me, for there, about 6 feet above us on a small dirty piece of the old bay ice about ten feet square, one living Emperor penguin chick was standing disconsolately stranded, and close by stood one faithful old Emperor parent asleep. This young Emperor was still in the down, a most interesting fact in the bird's life history at which we had rightly guessed, but which no one had actually observed before.... This bird would have been a treasure to me, but we could not risk life for it, so it had to remain where it was.'
Sadly and reluctantly they had to give up hopes of making their station at Cape Crozier, and this was all the harder to bear because every detail of the shore promised well for a wintering party. There were comfortable quarters for the hut, ice for water snow for the animals, good slopes for skiing, proximity to the Barrier and to the rookeries of two types of penguins, good ground for biological work, a fairly easy approach to the Southern Road with no chance of being cut off, and so forth. 'It is a thousand pities to have to abandon such a spot.'
The Discovery's post-office was still standing as erect as when it had been planted, and comparisons between what was before their eyes and old photographs showed that no change at all seemed to have occurred anywhere--a result that in the case of the Barrier caused very great surprise.
In the meantime all hands were employed in making a running survey, the program of which was:
Bruce continually checking speed with hand log.
Bowers taking altitudes of objects as they come abeam. Nelson noting results.
Pennell taking verge plate bearings on bow and quarter. Cherry-Garrard noting results.
Evans taking verge plate bearings abeam. Atkinson noting results.
Campbell taking distances abeam with range finder. Wright noting results.
Rennick sounding with Thomson machine. Drake noting results.
We plotted the Barrier edge from the point at which we met it to the Crozier cliffs; to the eye it seems scarcely to have changed since Discovery days, and Wilson thinks it meets the cliff in the same place.'
Very early on Wednesday morning they rounded Cape Bird and came in sight of Mount Discovery and the Western Mountains. 'It was good to see them again, and perhaps after all we are better this side of the Island. It gives one a homely feeling to see such a familiar scene.' Scott's great wish now was to find a place for winter quarters that would not easily be cut off from the Barrier, and a cape, which in the, Discovery days had been called 'the Skuary,' was chosen. 'It was separated from old Discovery quarters by two deep bays on either side of the Glacier Tongue, and I thought that these bays would remain frozen until late in the season, and that when they froze over again the ice would soon become firm.'
There Scott, Wilson, and E. R. Evans landed, and at a glance saw, as they expected, that the place was ideal for their wintering station. A spot for the hut was chosen on a beach facing northwest and well protected behind by numerous small hills; but the most favorable circumstance of all in connection with this cape, which was re-christened Cape Evans, was the strong chance of communication being established at an early date with Cape Armitage. [Footnote: The extreme south point of the Island, 12 miles further, on one of whose minor headlands, Hut Point, stood the Discovery hut.]
Not a moment was wasted, and while Scott was on shore Campbell took the first steps towards landing the stores.
Fortunately the weather was gloriously calm and fine, and the landing began under the happiest conditions. Two of the motors were soon hoisted out, and in spite of all the bad weather and the tons of sea-water that had washed over them the sledges and all the accessories appeared to be in perfect condition. Then came the turn of the ponies, and although it was difficult to make some of them enter the horse box, Oates rose to the occasion and got most of them in by persuasion, while the ones which refused to be persuaded were simply lifted in by the sailors. 'Though all are thin and some few looked pulled down I was agreeably surprised at the evident vitality which they still possessed--some were even skittish. I cannot express the relief when the whole seventeen were safely picketed on the floe.'
Meares and the dogs were out early on the Wednesday morning, and ran to and fro during most of the day with light loads. The chief trouble with the dogs was due to the fatuous conduct of the penguins, the latter showing a devouring curiosity in the proceedings and a total disregard for their own safety, with the result that a number of them were killed in spite of innumerable efforts to teach the penguins to keep out of reach, they only squawked and ducked as much as to say, 'What's it got to do with you, you silly ass? Let us alone.' These incidents naturally demoralized the dogs and annoyed Meares, who while trying to stop one sledge, fell into the middle of the dogs and was carried along until they reached the penguins of their desire.
The motor sledges were running by the afternoon, Day managing one and Nelson the other. 'It is early to call them a success, but they are certainly extremely promising.' Before night the site for the hut was leveled, and the erecting party was encamped on shore in a large tent with a supply of food for eight days. Nearly all the timber, &c., for the hut and a supply of food for both ponies and dogs had also been landed.
Despite this most strenuous day's labor, all hands were up again at 5 A.M. on Thursday.
'Words cannot express the splendid way in which everyone works and gradually the work gets organized. I was a little late on the scene this morning, and thereby witnessed a most extraordinary scene. Some six or seven killer whales, old and young, were skirting the fast floe edge ahead of the ship; they seemed excited and dived rapidly, almost touching the floe. As we watched, they suddenly appeared astern, raising their snouts out of water. I had heard weird stories of these beasts, but had never associated serious danger with them. Close to the water's edge lay the wire stern rope of the ship, and our two Esquimaux dogs were tethered to this. I did not think of connecting the movements of the whales with this fact, and seeing them so close I shouted to Ponting, who was standing abreast of the ship. He seized his camera and ran towards the floe edge to get a close picture of the beasts, which had momentarily disappeared. The next moment the whole floe under him and the dogs heaved up and split into fragments. One could hear the "booming" noise as the whales rose under the ice and struck it with their backs. Whale after whale rose under the ice, setting it rocking fiercely; luckily Ponting kept his feet and was able to fly to security; by an extraordinary chance also, the splits had been made around and between the dogs, so that neither of them fell into the water. Then it was clear that the whales shared our astonishment, for one after another their huge hideous heads shot vertically into the air through the cracks which they had made... There cannot be a doubt that they looked up to see what had happened to Ponting and the dogs....
'Of course, we have known well that killer whales continually skirt the edge of the floes and that they would undoubtedly snap up anyone who was unfortunate enough to fall into the water; but the facts that they could display such deliberate cunning, that they were able to break ice of such thickness (at least 2-1/2 feet), and that they could act in unison, were a revelation to us. It is clear that they are endowed with singular intelligence, and in future we shall treat that intelligence with every respect.'
On Thursday the motor sledges did good work, and hopes that they might prove to be reliable began to increase. Infinite trouble
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