What is the most amazing place you have ever been? This is one of those questions that I am asked a lot. Or if you could recommend anywhere where would you recommend? The thing is there are so many beautiful places in the world; however, one particular area has inspired me beyond reason and that is Antarctica. It might be that I spent two months working on an icebreaker down there. That ship certainly suffered a proper battering and it made a life-changing decision for me when it collided with a submerged rock.
On that collision-filled day I was working as an expedition leader, wearing an orange survival suit that would enable me around 48 hours survival if I fell in the water. Anyway on my return to the ship, the sea conditions changed. The result was the ship was lifted and smashed onto a submerged rock. Since we were travelling on a double-hulled icebreaker, the rock penetrated the first hull and pierced the second. That was when all the action began.
The crew alert sounded and we went to our muster stations. This is where we gather, when we prepare to abandon ship. The guests heard the alarm but weren’t terribly concerned. On the way to my muster station I passed the Staff Captain who advised me to not look obvious; he then handed me a newspaper. So there I am, standing in a casino with alarms going off. I am wearing a bright orange survival suit, dark glasses, a woolly hat and a pair of wellington boots caked in penguin shit (sorry to swear). To avoid looking obvious I read the newspaper. It is at times like these you wonder whether the universe is having a bit of a laugh.
Now imagine this clearly in your head: the ship has water leaking through the pierced second hull and the water-tight doors have closed off the front section of the ship. There could be an alarm sounded at any time signalling for the whole ship to abandon ship. It is then that there is an announcement across the ship ‘ we are delighted to announce there is a buffet on the back deck.’ Honestly! We continued as though everything was normal to stop any sort of panic. So there we are, a stampede of cruise ship passengers hurtling to the buffet. Did anyone ask me anything important? Nope – the only thing I was asked was ‘where was the buffet.’ Yep. I am standing reading a newspaper, not being obvious and they ask me where the buffet is. It did not seem to occur to them that I may have penguin shit on my boots.
So the question that I hear you all ask is… Where was the buffet? Nope. Did the ship sink? Nope. The crew, who had cabins in that section of the ship, shared cabins with those in the other sections. We then hit a two day storm on the Drake Passage which was horrific. You could count slowly to 16 to reach the rise of the wave. The ship would tip and race down the other side. At the same time bear in mind that the crew knew there was a wall of freezing water being held by one metal water-tight door. If something went wrong then a wall of freezing water could wash through the crew area and potentially drown us all. For two days we were shaken tipped and sleep deprived. We all maintained our smiles and continued service as normal. We were briefed about what we should say if questioned. It was during this event, that I made the decision to return to land. That year I had been in Mombasa when there was a bombing, in Windhoek when there was a shoot-out, the ship had run aground and… the list goes on. There are only so many incidents that a person can endure in the name of adventure. I even ran through a gauntlet of angry elephant seals by mistake. So that was it. I wanted to return to land and write some nice books and avoid danger.
You may wonder why I wrote this, well I was recently interviewed because I wrote an adventure book called Wyld – One Mammoth Adventure. I was asked what kind of adventures I had experienced to be able to write such a book. When I responded with the above story, there were quite a few stunned expressions on the interviewers’ faces. To me this is life experience and relatively normal because I spent a lot of years travelling and working on ships. To others, who have chosen different life paths, it is not. Maybe that is why I like writing adventurous stories. Reality has always been just as exciting as my fantasy stories. So, in answer to the original question: where would you recommend? If you ever have the change to go to Antarctica take it. The place blows me away and in terms of nature, it is a place where I have felt truly humbled.