A detour in Antarctica: What makes a team (Part I)

It’s almost a year since I started writing here about agile communication. When I set up the site I chose to go with images of penguins. And now I think it’s time to write something about my experiences in Antarctica.

On my first journey there in 2010 I traveled on board of the Plancius, a former ship for geographical expeditions. We started in Ushuaia and went to Falkland Islands, then sailed to South Georgia and ended up on the Antarctic Peninsula. In between Falkland Islands and South Georgia we got into a storm and the ship could barely move. When we finally arrived people were eager to get off the ship. But our first morning there the crew wouldn’t let us take a trip. They said it was too windy and the weather was unsteady so they couldn’t guarantee that everybody would make it back on board in time. So we had to wait.

The Disintegration

Some people got angry and suspected the guides to be overcautious. I actually never questioned their decisions. I felt very safe with them and I didn’t have any clue about the weather in antarctica. People on board were divided though. The angry ones tried to win the calm ones over to force the guides to let us go ashore. In the afternoon we at last could visit a king penguins colony. It was really fantastic.

The next morning we landed on Cooper Bay. As usual we went there by zodiacs, these black rubber boats. We encountered several seals at the shore and the guides tried to keep them in distance by waving with sticks and tripods. We went up the hill to see a Macaroni penguins colony and then returned to the shore. The second half of the group meanwhile had taken a trip in the zodiacs to watch a colony of Adélie penguins from the sea. We swapped positions and now it was our turn to have a zodiac cruise. While we were watching the birds some of the crew radioed that we had to go back immediately due to a change of weather.

The Reintegration

Our guide drove as fast as she could and told us to sit on the bottom of the zodiac so we wouldn’t fall into the water. We didn’t approach the ship, wind and waves were to strong and water kept splashing into the boat. Finally she decided to go back to the shore. The other boats had turned there also. We were stranded. Some of the people were wet from the waves. We couldn’t move on the island because of the seals. The guides animated us to do some exercises for not getting cold and after a while they gave out chocolate bars (although it was strongly forbidden to eat ashore). They said that under no circumstances we were allowed to get hungry, since it was so cold. We realized that our situation was exceptional.

Some of us were wet and the guides started to ask around for dry socks and other stuff. I was really amazed: Everyone started to pull out things of there backpacks and offering it to others in need. Since I was one of the wet people, they tucked me in an emergency tent with others. Through our breath we heated the air under the tarpaulin. Every now and then someone of the guides would stick their head through and ask if everybody was ok. They brought us more chocolate: People out there spared some for us, since we were cold.

After more than six hours the captain came up with a solution: He placed the ship on the other side of the island and the sailors brought us there with the zodiacs, driving a long detour. Everybody made it home safely and everybody now had a deeper understanding of the crew being careful planning the excursions. Weather in Antarctica really can change fast.

Why did I mention that here? From what I learned, people can pull themselves together and be one great team if they have to. In an emergency they most probably will help each other out (with dry socks, chocolate or by supporting others in any way needed).

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