Alex on the Astrolabe

Getting some air

Six days at sea and two crew members came forward to explain they had sore throats (URTI) and fevers, though this wasn’t the kind of Cabin Fever I was thinking of.  As I closed the door to my cabin (the hospital), I remembered what someone at the British Antarctic Survey told me…. The commonest reason for illness down south is Sexually related.  I thought it best not to approach this subject with these two burly (male) patients.

6 days at sea feels like a lifetime.  I try to guess the time judged first on my feeling, before looking at my watch.  Interestingly, I am always 4 hours out and sometimes even 8-10 hours. You loose all track of time.


You grow used to being thrown from wall to wall as you make your way along through the corridors, your drink gliding away from you at the dinner table and the feel of fairground-ride-G-force each time the boat rears up and out of the water and then falls back down with a crash.  Although lying flat in bed seems to make things more manageable, loose objects migrate around the room- among them- my toothpaste, headphones, an apple, papers, books and the chair for the desk has even mbeen turned over several times.  My jacket hung on a hook on the wall sways with each turn in gravity.  My stomach turns.  I sigh.  Diagnosis: seasickness or boredom.  Its hard to tell.

The constant drone of the engine accompanied by the occasional engine alarm wakes you up in the middle of the night.  Probably a warning that she was struggling and in need of attention – a ringing bell reminiscent of the fire alarm during my school days.

Earlier, I went outside in high winds to do my Michael Jackson smooth criminal moves – leaning with all my weight into the head wind – being propped upright at 45 degrees by the wind.  Cool.  Smooth.  I haven’t done that since climbing in the Shetland Islands a few years back.

The captain came and found me.  He had trapped his finger in a metal door.

Black and blue but fortunately with only a small laceraton.  I dressed it advising that he would probably loose the nail and further advise no manicures for 4 weeks.

The food onboard Astrolabe is excellent – 3 courses, fresh fruit, and more

– which really makes all the vomiting among my colleagues more worthwhile.

Of course, each meal is followed with red wine and cheese.

I am looking forward to the cooking that will be done by our overwinter Italian chef, Georgio.  Concordia hails a reputation over all the other bases in Antarctica – being an Italian-French station – holds the BEST food of any Antarctic base.  I would argue it has the best Chef as well (having sampled his cooking in Paris back in October).  Georgio has worked all over the world – including the UK – and is overwintering for the third time.  He is well known even to the Twin Otter pilots who fly across Antarctica and instead of stopping into nearby ‘Vostok’ a bland Russian station some 800km away, use Concordia as a Cordon Bleu service station.

‘Concordia: the last outpost Little Chef for some miles’… turn in now or starve to death.

I forage through the onboard library in the bar and soak up some last minute stories.  Someone gives me Hurley’s footage of Mawson’s blizzard.

Mawsons Blizzard

Mawsons Blizzard

It’s a silent movie, conjuring a deathly silence.  Dickens half said it best, ‘it was the worst of times’ (it definitely wasn’t the best of times).

I go to find Frenchie.  He’s quiet- must have something good going on.  I find him in his bunk, with the warm glow of a laptop in front of him.

He’s reading about different Whiskey’s – the process, taste and quality.

In-between ‘power naps’ throughout the day, there is time to read, play with my new camera and make contact with the outside world.

Even on board here there is an element of sensory deprivation.  In these power naps I have had some odd dreams – of completely forgotten times in my life – a person I haven’t seen for years and years, a place I only visited once and forgotten, yet all presented crystal clear.  I wonder whether the dredging of my mind has began?  Joseph Conrad pops up, ‘we live as we dream, alone.’

Thanks to Iridium, despite being in the middle of the Southern Ocean, I can use their satellite phone network to phone a friend.  Naturally, I dial… my mummy, then Kathy.  I’m not going to phone anyone else e.g. the ex french prime minister.  Because he is here on board.  News from home.

Apparently Mishi has grown- probably as the result of spending days of gorging herself on vietnamese delicacies kindly provided by Kathys parents.  Technology is fantastic.

Someone on board sets up my laptop to enable satellite email via SkyFile.

Without noticing I have just rejoined the 21st Centrury.  But to be honest, I did enjoy living in the relatively stress free ‘dark ages’ over the past week.

I suppose I could do some medical revision – you never can know enough – I put on the first episode of House.  Let the learning begin.

Neurocystercercosis from Pork – nasties which burrow their way from the intestine via the bloodstream into the brain and cause havoc.  Of course.



That one is in the bag.  Saw loads in Nepal and a few cases whilst at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London.  Next… eerily there is a knock at my door.  Could the knock at the door be the first case and resurgence in many years of Kuru paralysis, resulting from Cannibalism in Papua New Guinea?  Sadly not, just another URTI – Tx Rest and mouthwash.  No antibiotics as the doctor doesnt want to be made to look a fool when you come back with a florid rash all over your body because the diagnosis was EBV and that rash/ reaction can be caused by giving certain Antibiotiocs in such cases.



I go out on deck to try to be the first to spot an iceberg… I spy with my little eye something beginning with… N…?  Answer: Nothing.  Not a single vowel.  The game was over before it even began.