Antarctica Expedition (2) on the Bark Europa

A review by Katrina

February 13, 2019

“What was it like?” That is the question that faces each and every one of us at some point when we return.

“What was it like?”

And we’ll begin to pull out our phones, smiling but weary, exuberant but sad, we’ll explain a lot but somehow be at a loss for words. There are thousands of photos, hundreds of videos, a dozen logbook entries and a handful of blogs- but none could even come close to describing the feeling of the wheel under your palms as you sail at a breakneck pace through 50 knot winds, or what the sounds of cups clanking and crashing in galley is like, or the thunder of the towering glacier as it cracks open to release ice the size of houses into the seas. No photo could ever capture what it’s like to sail under the Milky Way under a clear black sky, the stars dizziying and countless, how shades of dismal gray, black and white are somehow all you need to color your world.

Words will fail us, and somehow every photo, no matter how well taken will seem bleak and lifeless.

Our last day, we arrived in Ushuaia- and we noticed just how noisy cars were, how even the backdrop of the towering Andes mountains seemed unimpressive. Julia, or my Russian mother as she became to known, looked at me our last day- a mixture of sadness and exhilaration dancing in her eyes, she squeezed my hand and said-

“No one knows but us.”

“What do you mean?” I replied back

“No one can understand- but us- we’ve all shared something incredible, something that can’t be explained- only known. I can’t describe it- It’s what bonds us.”

The first time I saw Antarctica…I cried. Most were silent, a few got out their cameras, others fixed their eyes upwards at the snow capped mountains and glaciers now looming over the ship on either side. Janke looked down at my tear stricken face, smiled and let out a small laugh and said “Awwwww- you’re crying!”

I nodded, trying to bite back the tears, as she opened her arms and hugged me as I sobbed into her shoulder.

It’s these little moments- these fragments of memories that stand out to me most…the moments I never captured on camera that have captured my soul.

It’s the smile the cook gives you as he cheerily wishes you a “good morning” as he does every morning, no matter how bad the weather, or how many times food has been sent flying across the galley. It’s the sound of contagious laughter from a young Czech girl, which once heard is hard not to smile in the presence of. It’s the sight of tilted bodies all walking down the corridors like something out of a horror movie, angling forward…chest pointed to the ground as they casually butter another piece of toast. It’s being on a zodiac cruise to see icebergs, and somehow getting a lesson in mead-making. It’s unexpected talks on a solitary beach in the middle of nowhere…it’s being lonely but never truly alone.

If you were to ask me if I would recommend the Europa to everyone I would swiftly say no. This is not a “vacation”. You will be cold and you will be hot, you will spend days without sleep- but there will be some nights you won’t want to, if you hit a rough Drake you will wish you’ve never been born, but when you see that ice for the first time you will be so glad you’re alive, you will feel fear, and you will also feel joy, you will feel alone, and you will also feel welcomed…and if you’re permanent crew you can expect to feel all of that but with longer hours and 100 times the work.

The voyage isn’t for everyone- but it was never meant to be. If you want to relax, stay home. But if the mention of standing outside for four hours in snow, freezing cold and rough seas somehow puts a smile on your face- then you’re one of us.

To every voyage crew passenger on board with me- thank you, I know the things you can never explain.

...and to the permanent crew of the Bark Europa…somehow a thank you will never be enough. You made it all possible, you put us all to shame, and you did it all with a smile…each and every one of you has inspired me to be more- to do more, and to never doubt your ability to do so.

So the next time someone asks me “What was it like?”

My only reply will be “Go find out.”

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