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Island-hopping RTW 2015 (16): Bouvetøya Atlantic Odyssey March 24-April 28, 2015

Posted by on May 7, 2015

Day 31-36 (April 23 – 28):  Crossing the Equator & End of  Atlantic Odyssey


Neptune arrives on Ortelius on April 24, 2015

Arriving at Cabo Verde April 28, 2015

Arriving at Cabo Verde April 28, 2015


Day 31 (April 23, Thursday): At sea – Noon GPS position: 05° 37’ S / 015° 20’ W; Weather: 32°C, sunshine; Wind SE5; Sea 4; 1 lecture

With the departure of 30 passengers especially a few with high-pitched voices and loud laughter, the ship suddenly seems quiet.  My energy level drops as the temperature rises. My bones and muscles are yearning for exercise! Am I getting tired of the sea? Or am I homesick?  I spend most of my time in the cabin working on my travel notes whenever I am not in the lecture room.

Adam gives a talk on ‘Birds – a Geological Perspective‘ highlighting the evolution of birds and how they adapt to different environment. The documentary ‘Coffee Trail‘ is essentially a story of Vietnam which has recovered from its violent past and emerged as one of the world’s largest lowland producers of coffee. I have already learnt about the rise of Vietnam as a coffee producer in Columbia last year. But it is sad to see how forests even land in national parks have been cleared by small farmers who are struggling for a substance living. Vietnam and the farmers should learn not to rely on a single cash crop. Also it would provide a better return by cultivating high quality plants.

Tonight, we have a comedy film ‘A Million Ways to Die in the Wild WestFunny and enjoyable! (L-Chili con carne; D-fish)

Day 32 (April 24, Friday): At sea – Noon GPS position: 01° 17’ S / 017° 03’ W; Weather 31°C, sunshine; Wind ESE5: Sea 4;  1 lecture

Victoria gives on interesting talk on ‘Charles Darwin & his Dangerous Idea’.  Darwin visited three of the places on our itinerary namely St Helena, Ascension Island and Cape Verde, on his famous voyage of the Beagle under Captain Fitzroy.  Although it was in the Galapagos Islands in particular that his thoughts on ‘natural selection’, the ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘evolution’ began (all entirely new concepts), he wrote some memorable descriptions of the places we have visited, especially in terms of landscape and geology. His achievements and legacy are well remembered today. Next time I am in London, I must go to Westminster Abbey where he was buried next to Newton.

After lunch and a siesta, I watch a documentary – ‘Polar Bear – Spy on the Ice’, a counterpart to the popular ‘Spy in the Huddle’. Three spy cameras follow a female bear and a cub and another with two cubs in Svalbard. The first is too late to get on ice floes and has a hard time to feed on land while the latter can hunt seals from ice. I have seen some two dozen of polar bears on three trips to the Arctic regions. They are awesome and the way to stalk seals is amazing!

Before crossing the Equator, we are expecting a visit from Neptune and his consort, but the timing of these things is never certain.  At around 5 pm, our visitors arrive and parade through the ship in an alarming show of power – his retinue consisting of a couple of pirates and a ferocious-looking mermaid.  His Royal Highness end up on the foredeck and we are summoned to gather to make sure we are allowed to cross the Equator. This is only permitted if all on board are pure of mind and body.  This means that all ‘pollywogs’ have to be cleansed by the Barber and the Doctor. 

 DSC_0527  DSC_0536
 DSC_0580  DSC_0548

First, our Captain welcomes Neptune and his wife.  Then, Jan tries to BRIBE Neptune with a bottle of bubbly to enable both trusty shellbacks and miserable pollywogs to pass without atoning for our crimes.  Neptune takes the bottle, but insists on holding his court session as well. Neither crew member nor passenger is spared the ordeal of trial and sentence (always ‘guilty’).  Dragged away by Neptune’s minions, they have to pay for their crimes (which are manifold and hilariously listed by Hotel Manager Robert)

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There are four stages to the punishment-

  • Barber Bob, who with manic smile on his face, and much wielding of enormous scissors, ends the treatment by liberally splashing a revolting chocolatey gunge all over the offending individual;
  • Doctor DJ (with stethoscope, face mask and HUGE KNIFE), from which the poor criminal emerges covered in blood (aka: berry sauce);
  • The guilty one is hurled into a shower and pummelled by Neptune’s fierce jets of seawater;
  • Emerging clean and wholesome and mighty confused, the miserable pollywog kisses a beautiful fish from Ascension Island proffered by Mermaid Victoria.

Stage 2

Stage 2

Stage 3

Stage 3

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DSC_0578With a sip of a poisonous-looking fluid, the ceremony is complete.   

The yells of hatred from the mob, the screams of the victims, the thundering voice of Neptune, the submissive silence of his queen, the brutality of the pirates – all of these are totally shocking.  But at last the deed is done – Ortelius has been cleansed and Neptune munificently grants us permission to pass through his dominion unscathed. 

It is my first crossing of the Equator on a ship. As a pollywog, I sign up and go through the brutal treatment. Robert announces my crime including harbouring a secret wish for poor weather at Bouvetøya and producing photos of whales using photo-shop! All are false allegations! It’s fun and I am cleansed and ready to cross the Equator.

For all participants the most important thing is a REAL shower before heading up to the bar for a celebratory drink. And shortly before 7 pm we gather at the open deck watching the crossing of the Equator at sunset. We hear three blasts from the ship’s horn, signifying that we have crossed the Equator.  Now we are back in the northern hemisphere!

Passing the Equator at sunset

Passing the Equator at sunset

Day 33 (April 25, Saturday): At sea – Noon GPS position 03° 22’ N / 018° 53’ W; Weather 35°C, sunshine & cloud; Wind S2/3: Sea 2/3;  1 lecture

Victoria gives a talk on A Miscellany of Mermaidswith a historical account of their origins, an examination of the evidence for their existence, their appearance in literature/art and some natural history to understand the legends about mermaids and various forms it takes through ages.

In the afternoon, I watch a documentary ‘The Origin of Water’, which seems most appropriate to our situation and an intriguing subject.  I join the Team Trivia as a free loader and win owing to my clever teammates! I get a key-ring as a prize at the recap. 

The film tonight is the award-winning Woody Allen film Blue Jasmine, which was gripping, but rather sad.  Though I have watched it once, I still enjoy it. Around midnight, all the lights go out. Then the engine stops. What happens? The blackout lasts for over half an hour. I am relieved when I hear theengine noise again – the ship is moving. I sleep soundly knowing that we shall be at Cape Verde sooner or later.

Day 34 (April 26, Sunday): At sea – Noon GPS position: 007° 33’ N / 020° 33’ W; Weather 29°C, sunshine & cloud; Wind N5; Sea 2/3; 1 lecture 

We are rolling a little bit more today, though nothing too difficult to bear.  In an excess of enthusiasm, Bob and Victoria take every book in the bar library off the shelves and re-catalogue it (thus making manoeuvring to and from the coffee machine something of a challenge for passengers).

Jan gives a talk on Aurora borealis/australis (Northern/Southern Lights) which are most captivating. I have gone to Yellowknife twice to watch northern lights. He gives a comprehensive lecture including the discovering of this phenomenon by Galileo and subsequent research by leading scientists on sun spots and coronal mass ejections which hit Earth’s magnetosphere. The solar storm of 1859, also known as the Carrington event, was a powerful geomagnetic solar storm during solar cycle 10. The solar storm of 2012 was of similar magnitude but it luckily passed Earth’s orbit without striking it.

With modern technology, scientists are now monitoring solar activities and can predict the storms and aurora activities. Good news for aurora fanatics! While having lunch, we have another brief black-out. We start to plan ahead in case the ship is late: a few passengers have to a flight to catch around noon     tomorrow. I remain calm as I have yet to buy a ticket to somewhere…….

In the afternoon, I watch the 3-hour epic ‘Interstellar‘ movie about travel to Mars and outer space searching for places for our future generations to flee one day! When the hero Cooper returns to earth, he is already 124 years old but looking like 30 something while his daughter is lying on her death bed at the age of over 80! Science fiction!? No movie tonight as I have already watch ‘The Family’ before.

Day 35 (April 27, Monday) At sea – Noon GPS position 11° 42’ N / 22° 12’ W; Weather 26°C, sunshine & cloud; Wind NE5; Sea 3; 2 lectures (GMT-1)

My sea journey from NZ to Cape Verde is coming to an end and I am preparing for landing tomorrow. We have to settle our bill and pack.

Bob gives a recitation of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, illustrated by Gustave Doré’s famous engravings. I can see many of members of the audience are captivated and enthralled by this strange, nightmarish account by a cursed mariner of one of the strangest voyages ever…The Ancient Mariner too sailed in both icy and tropical waters as we have done on this trip, which somehow made us feel drawn into – almost part of – Coleridge’s great poem.   

It is pizza again. As it is not my favourite, I have salad, cheese and biscuits. Jan puts on Part II of ‘Spy on the Ice’ which is entertaining and educational. Bears are inquisitive and clear strategist!

The last lecture is given by Adam who talks enthusiastically about ‘Meteorite impacting shaped the Earth’ – his field of research. I join the last recap to toast the trip and receive a certificate on crossing the equator.

As the wind is too strong for BBQ on open deck, we have to eat in the restaurant. I go the evening movie for the last time to watch ‘The Holiday” which I have seen once. Then I stop by the bar for the last time before going to looking at the dim and cloudy sky. I have a nice sleep in my cabin, my temporary home for the last 35 days.

Day 36 (April 28, Tuesday): Cape Verde 14° 55’ N / 023° 30’ W 

I have sailed 1440nm since leaving Ascension. This means I have travelled some 13,500 nm from Ushuaia to Cape Verde.

I get up at 6am anxious and ready to go. We expect the pilot to board the ship at 8am and get clearance from the immigration and custom services around 9-10am. But things do not work again:  our ship is told to come to the quay on its own after 10am. The officials take our passports away and do not return them to us till 12:30pm. What a messy way to end the voyage!

Remarks (written in Santo Antáo, Cape Verde on May 11, 2015 while waiting ten hours for a boat)

I am lucky to have a rare opportunity to take two remarkable odysseys back to back travelling some 13,500nm from Bluff, New Zealand to Praia, Cape Verde. I have crossed the Southern and South Atlantic Oceans visiting some of the remotest places on earth. After an amazing and most unforgettable Ross Sea Antarctic Odyssey, I find the Atlantic Odyssey an anti-climax for several reasons. 

First, I feel like a passenger on a ship instead of a member of an expedition. We spent all the time at sea except some 30 hours on land during seven landings on six islands, including a touch-and-go one at Middle Island, Tristan da Cunha archipelago.

Second, we have simply been ‘unfortunate‘-

  • The stormy Atlantic seas delayed us for two days.
  • The bronchitis epidemic robbed us of the chance to visit Tristan da Cunha, the world’s most remote inhabited island. We could not land and explore Nightingale Island as it has a few resident scientists.
  • In St Helena, we wasted two hours waiting for clearance by immigration and customs officials as three ships (RMS St Helena, Plancius and Ortelius) all arrived at the same time.
  • Ortelius had problems with its engine and we were delayed by six hours when leaving from St Helena. I love to spend those hours on the island.
  • In Cape Verde, we were kept waiting for four hours before landing. Plancius arriving the following day was cleared by the authority in Praia by 9am.

Third, I am an ‘accidental passenger‘ on this voyage. My interest in the Atlantic Odyssey came from Lee and Yung whom I met on the voyage to North Pole last June. Their journey took 38 days on Plancius and they had a good time at Tristan da Cunha, Nightingale Island, St Helena and Ascension. As I travelled on board Ortelius for the Antarctica Odyssey, I just booked my next journey on the same ship without thorough examination of its itinerary. I only learnt about Bouvetøya when Frank and Babis told me about this special destination during the Antarctica Odyssey. 

As Ortelius had to cover a much longer journey in 36 days, it naturally spent less time in other islands. Since I am more interested in the history, the people, culture and wildlife and never care about Bouvetøya, I have not shared my fellow passengers’ passion nor enthusiasm for it.

Fourth, the Bouvetøya itinerary has attracted a very special group of travellers from travel clubs. I feel like an alien or idiot. Their obsession about Bouvetøya has created tremendous pressure on the expedition staff as well as other passengers. Their disappointment and frustration arising from failure to land at Bouvetøya are understandable. But having too many unhappy and dissatisfied passengers has an impact on the atmosphere of the ship; hence my experience as a whole.

As a professional tourist, I enjoy all my travel and would say this journey is unique but uneventfully (i.e. without many highlights and unforgettable moments). Fortunately, a few nice friends have cheered me up especially during the dull days at sea. Cathy, Bob and their group are kind and caring. Karin and Carin have taught me a lot especially about camel milk, butter coffee and detoxification. Harry and Thomas are passionate and enthusiastic organisers of TBT. I am particularly impressed by the two youngest travellers on the ship,  William and Luca. William who is only 22, has been to some 140 countries while I had only been to the UK at his age.

It is my first time to meet so many most and best travelled persons. Based on the small scale survey conducted, I have learnt something about them and their travel motivation.

  • 42 men (67.7%) / 35 women (37.3%) from 21 countries;
  • estimated average age – about 65: 35 working (52.2%) / 32 not working/retired (47.8%);
  • 63% belonging to one or more traveller clubs; 35% of the passengers have picked this trip solely or mainly because of Bouvetøya;
  • They are globetrotters: about a fifth – 150-189 countries / a third – over 190 UN countries; 80% have been to the Antarctica at least twice and the Arctic once.  
  • Most passengers travel for adventure, to see new places, culture and nature. But seven passengers (about 10%) travel because they have ‘nothing else to do in life’, want ‘something to do’ or ‘to be away’. Some are constantly on the road because they are ‘ competitive’,’extreme’, ‘advanced’ or ‘No 1’ travellers.

I have taken one of the most valuable lessons in life and as a traveller from this journey. My conversations with one passenger are most thought-provoking. He is rich and travels non-stop: he is the boss and does whatever he likes. He paid US$10,000 for a 45-minute flight to Lomantang in Mustang, Nepal. I proudly told him that I spent much less by hiking for a week fully enjoying the stunning landscape and the people. I am flabbergasted when he tells me there is nothing much to see on Thule Island and he has seen everything in St Helena after a few hours with a private guide in a taxi. He talks about himself, places he has been and where he is going next. He says he has been to everywhere. Yes physically but not with his soul! He never appreciates or understand what he has seen. Perhaps he is not an atypical modern day ‘touch-and-go’ tourist who calls himself/herself traveller or globetrotter!

I have never been with so many travellers who show little interest in places they visit except to feel ‘good’ by stepping ashore to tick it off their list.For me, there are always plenty of interesting and meaningful things to do within limited time and resources available. I love travel for self-development, new experience, fun and pleasure. Iappreciate every single chance to be in new places: this time I have accidentally arrived at Bouvetøyawhich I have gazed at for some ten hours. I am happy I have been there (though some bigoted purists might think otherwise!)

Long live Bouvetøya!


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