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- The Voyages of Captain Scott - 6/60 -

As the month of December advanced the scene on the ship was a very busy one, but at last the day for sailing from Lyttelton arrived, though not for the final departure from civilization, because a short visit was to be paid to Port Chalmers in the south to complete the stock of coal. On Saturday, December 21, the ship lay alongside the wharf ready for sea and very deeply laden. 'One could reflect that it would have been impossible to have got more into her, and that all we had got seemed necessary for the voyage, for the rest we could only trust that Providence would vouch-safe to us fine weather and an easy passage to the south.'

New Zealand, to the last, was bent on showing its enthusiasm for the expedition. Two men-of-war steamed slowly out ahead of the Discovery, while no fewer than five steamers, crowded with passengers, and with bands playing and whistles hooting, also accompanied her, until the open sea was reached and the Discovery slowly steamed out between the war-ships that seemed to stand as sentinels to the bay. And then, before the cheers of thousands of friends were hardly out of the ears of those on board, a tragedy happened. Among the ship's company who had crowded into the rigging to wave their farewells was one young seaman, named Charles Bonner, who, more venturesome than the rest, had climbed above the crow's-nest to the top of the main-mast. There, seated on the truck, he had remained cheering, until in a moment of madness he raised himself into a standing position, and almost directly afterwards he fell and was instantaneously killed. On the Monday the ship arrived at Port Chalmers, and Bonner was buried with naval honors.

By noon on the following day the Discovery was clear of the harbor bar, and was soon bowling along under steam and sail towards the south. The last view of civilization, the last sight of fields and flowers had come and gone on Christmas Eve, 1901, and Christmas Day found the ship in the open expanse of the Southern Ocean, though after such a recent parting from so many kind friends no one felt inclined for the customary festivities.

In good sea trim the Discovery had little to fear from the worst gales, but at this time she was so heavily laden that had she encountered heavy seas the consequences must have been very unpleasant. Inevitably much of her large deck cargo must have been lost; the masses of wood on the superstructure would have been in great danger, while all the sheep and possibly many of the dogs would have been drowned. Fine weather, however, continued, and on January 3 Scott and his companions crossed the Antarctic Circle, little thinking how long a time would elapse before they would recross it. At length they had entered the Antarctic regions; before them lay the scene of their work, and all the trials of preparation, and the anxiety of delays, were forgotten in the fact that they had reached their goal in time to make use of the best part of the short open season in these icebound regions.

Soon the pack was on all sides of them, but as yet so loose that there were many large pools of open water. And then for several days the ship had really to fight her way, and Scott gave high praise to the way she behaved: 'The "Discovery" is a perfect gem in the pack. Her size and weight behind such a stem seem to give quite the best combination possible for such a purpose. We have certainly tried her thoroughly, for the pack which we have come through couldn't have been looked at by Ross even with a gale of wind behind him.'

Necessarily progress became slow, but life abounds in the pack, and the birds that came to visit the ship were a source of perpetual interest. The pleasantest and most constant of these visitors was the small snow petrel, with its dainty snow-white plumage relieved only by black beak and feet, and black, beady eye. These little birds abound in the pack-ice, but the blue-grey southern fulmar and the Antarctic petrel were also to be seen, and that unwholesome scavenger, the giant petrel, frequently lumbered by; while the skua gull, most pugnacious of bullies, occasionally flapped past, on his way to make some less formidable bird disgorge his hard-earned dinner.

The squeak of the penguin was constantly heard, at first afar and often long before the birds were seen. Curiosity drew them to the ship, and as she forced her way onward these little visitors would again and again leap into the water, and journey from floe to floe in their eagerness to discover what this strange apparition could be. Some of the sailors became very expert in imitating their calls, and could not only attract them from a long distance, but would visibly add to their astonishment when they approached. These were busy days for the penguins.

In all parts of the pack seals are plentiful and spend long hours asleep on the floes. The commonest kind is the crab-eater or white seal, but the Ross seal is not rare, and there and there is found the sea-leopard, ranging wide and preying on the penguins and even on the young of its less powerful brethren. It is curious to observe that both seals and penguins regard themselves as safe when out of the water. In the sea they are running risks all the time, and in that element Nature has made them swift to prey or to avoid being preyed upon. But once on ice or land they have known no enemy, and cannot therefore conceive one. The seal merely raises its head when anyone approaches, and then with but little fear; whereas it is often difficult to drive the penguin into the water, for he is firmly convinced that the sea is the sole source of danger. Several seals were killed for food, and from the first seal-meat was found palatable, if not altogether the form of diet to recommend to an epicure. The great drawback to the seal is that there is no fat except blubber, and blubber has a very strong taste and most penetrating smell. At this time blubber was an abomination to everyone both in taste and smell, and if the smallest scrap happened to have been cooked with the meat, dinner was a wasted meal. Later on, however, this smell lost most of its terrors, while seal-steaks and seal-liver and kidneys were treated almost as luxuries.

On the morning of January 8 a strong water sky could be seen, and soon afterwards the officer of the watch hailed from aloft the glad tidings of an open sea to the south. Presently the ship entered a belt where the ice lay in comparatively small pieces, and after pushing her way through this for over a mile, she reached the hard line where the ice abruptly ended, and to the south nothing but a clear sky could be seen. At 10.30 P.M. on the same evening the joy of being again in the open sea was intensified by a shout of 'Land in sight,' and all who were not on deck quickly gathered there to take their first look at the Antarctic Continent. The sun, near the southern horizon, still shone in a cloudless sky, and far away to the south-west the blue outline of the high mountain peaks of Victoria Land could be seen. The course was now directed for Robertson Bay, and after some difficulty, owing to the reappearance of loose streams of pack-ice, the ship was eventually steered into the open water within the bay.

Robertson Bay is formed by the long peninsula of Cape Adare, within which, standing but slightly above the level of the sea, is a curious triangular spit, probably the morainic remains of the vaster ice conditions of former ages. It was on this spit that the expedition sent forth by Sir George Newnes and commanded by Borchgrevink spent their winter in 1896, the first party to winter on the shores of the Antarctic Continent. Here Scott decided to land for a short time, and very soon Armitage, Bernacchi and Barne were at work among the thousands of penguins that abounded, while the naturalists wandered further afield in search of specimens. In the center of Cape Adare beach the hut used by the members of Borchgrevink's party was still found to be standing in very good condition, though at the best of times deserted dwellings are far from cheerful to contemplate. Bernacchi had been a member of this small party of eight, and on the spot he recalled the past, and told of the unhappy death of Hanson--one of his comrades.

Later on Bernacchi and some others landed again to visit Hanson's grave, and to see that all was well with it. They took a tin cylinder containing the latest report of the voyage with them, and were told to place it in some conspicuous part of the hut. In the following year this cylinder was found by the Morning, [Footnote: The relief ship.] and so the first information was given that the Discovery had succeeded in reaching these southern regions.

On January 10, when the weather was still calm and bright, the ship again stood out to sea, and was steered close around Cape Adare in the hope of finding a clear channel near at hand. Very soon, however, the tidal stream began to make from the south, and the whole aspect of the streams of heavy pack-ice rapidly changed. Almost immediately the pack was about the ship, and she was being rapidly borne along with it. Across the entrance to the bay was a chain of grounded icebergs, and it was in this direction that she was being carried. For the first time they faced the dangers of the pack, and realized its mighty powers. Little or nothing could be done, for the floes around them were heavier than anything they had yet encountered. Twist and turn as they would no appreciable advance could be made, and in front of one colossal floe the ship was brought to a standstill for nearly half an hour. But they still battled on; Armitage remained aloft, working the ship with admirable patience; the engine-room, as usual, answered nobly to the call for more steam, and the Discovery exerted all her powers in the struggle; but, in spite of these efforts, progress was so slow that it looked almost certain that she would be carried down among the bergs. 'It was one of those hours,' Scott says, 'which impress themselves for ever on the memory. Above us the sun shone in a cloudless sky, its rays were reflected from a myriad points of tire glistening pack; behind us lay the lofty snow-clad mountains, the brown sun-kissed cliffs of the Cape, and the placid glassy waters of the bay; the air about us was almost breathlessly still; crisp, clear and sun-lit, it seemed an atmosphere in which all Nature should rejoice; the silence was broken only by the deep panting of our engines and the slow, measured hush of the grinding floes; yet, beneath all, ran this mighty, relentless tide, bearing us on to possible destruction. It seemed desperately unreal that danger could exist in the midst of so fair a scene, and as one paced to and fro on the few feet of throbbing plank that constituted our bridge, it was difficult to persuade oneself that we were so completely impotent.'

With the exception of Scott himself only those who were actually on watch were on deck during this precarious time, for the hour was early, and the majority were asleep in their bunks below, happily oblivious of the possible dangers before them. And the fact that they were not aroused is a proof that a fuss was rarely made in the Discovery, if it could by any conceivable means be avoided.

At last, however, release came from this grave danger, and it came so gradually that it was difficult to say when it happened. Little by little the tidal stream slackened, the close-locked floes fell slightly apart, and under her full head of steam the

The Voyages of Captain Scott - 6/60

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