Shackleton Centenary Expedition

Icebergs July 02 2007

I saw my first iceberg en route to South Georgia and despite always having been in awe of their sheer size and majesty captured on film or in pictures it is quite a different thing to witness something the size of St Paul's cathedral towering over the starboard side of a small ship of the Royal Navy.

Much more dangerous to shipping than the Titanicesque bergs are the much smaller chunks of ice bobbing in the water that could easily damage the outer skin of even the toughest vessel: especially difficult to see at night. Growlers and Bergy Bits are the menace in this category and I remember sailors mounting a 24 hour watch on the bow of the ship once we crossed the Antarctic Convergence Zone and entered the fog and flat, grey light of the colder Antarctic waters. Shown below is the recognised categorisation of icebergs.

Size Category Height Length
Growler Less than 1 meter (3 feet) Less than 5 meters (16 feet)
Bergy Bit 1-4 meters (3-13 feet) 5-14 meters (15-46 feet)
Small 5-15 meters (14-50 feet) 15-60 meters (47-200 feet)
Medium 16-45 meters (51-150 feet) 61-122 meters (201-400 feet)
Large 46-75 meters (151-240 feet) 123-213 meters (401-670 feet)
Very Large Over 75 meters (240 feet) Over 213 meters (670 feet)

This is the most intriguing and mysterious account related to icebergs that I have come across. It is taken from 'First Voyage', p132 - written by Frank Worsley in 1938.

"The famous Black Ball ship, Marco Polo, discovered one of the most extraordinary tragedies of the sea ever recorded. In March, 1861, on the passage from Australia to England, she collided with an iceberg west of Cape Horn. She sustained so much damage that she was afterwards forced to run to Valparaiso for repairs. On top of the berg she collided with was seen the body of a man lying down, with one arm folded under his head. He was clothed like a 'better-class seaman' with a rough blue pilot-cloth coat. He was hatless. Alongside of him was a boathook with a piece of red stuff fastened to it, showing that the poor fellow had tried, in vain, to signal some passing ship, before he lay down to die. The Marco Polo lay hove-to, but before she drifted away from the berg those on board could actually distinguish through the telescope the features of the man, and his iron-grey hair was seen to move with the wind. The bitter end of this tragic castaway does not bear dwelling on."

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