Hills, glaciers and rain

During the dark hours of 7 March we rounded the corner from the Pacific into the Beagle Channel, and had our first 15 minutes of ocean swell. My notes from the day record all the voyage crew were nervous of seasickness at this early stage: it wasn't only me. Very quickly though, we were back in calmer waters. The landscape around us was enormous: hills stretching way in the grey, mysterious distance. At any time, expect horns and eagles flying, maybe even a were-dragon. Here be monsters.

Yet this is the Beagle Channel.  Commerson came through here, as King's Naturalist in Bougainville's circumnavigation. He found many new species, not least the dolphin he named after himself. (Sadly there were none to be seen.) With him came his young valet, known on the Etoile as Jean Baret, a hardworking manager of the biological collection. More M Baret later. The mountains themselves take one of the great names of science, being the Darwin Cordillera, and the waters are named after the ship in which he came here and began to formulate the theories which changed the world. Despite its lowering air, where dwarfs might appear at any moment clashing their shields, this is a place for science, a great home of the Enlightenment.

It rained nearly all day. (Many of my pictures have raindrops on the lens.) We began to get to know each other, work out who was in our watch, how we would occupy the cabins together, understand the crew's expectations. From these early days, they wanted our help with maintenance and set us to making grommets - those endless spliced loops of line which come in useful for everything on a ship like Europa. Some us were much better at this than others. I should confess immediately that I am rubbish at it.

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