CHAPTER 13: The Ice Bank
THE NAUTILUS resumed its unruffled southbound heading.
It went along the 50th meridian with considerable speed.
Would it go to the pole? I didn't think so, because every previous
attempt to reach this spot on the globe had failed. Besides, the season
was already quite advanced, since March 13 on Antarctic shores
corresponds with September 13 in the northernmost regions,
which marks the beginning of the equinoctial period.
On March 14 at latitude 55 degrees, I spotted floating ice,
plain pale bits of rubble twenty to twenty-five feet long,
which formed reefs over which the sea burst into foam. The Nautilus
stayed on the surface of the ocean. Having fished in the Arctic seas,
Ned Land was already familiar with the sight of icebergs.
Conseil and I were marveling at them for the first time.
In the sky toward the southern horizon, there stretched a dazzling
white band. English whalers have given this the name "ice blink."
No matter how heavy the clouds may be, they can't obscure
this phenomenon. It announces the presence of a pack, or shoal, of ice.
Indeed, larger blocks of ice soon appeared, their brilliance varying
at the whim of the mists. Some of these masses displayed green veins,
as if scrawled with undulating lines of copper sulfate. Others looked
like enormous amethysts, letting the light penetrate their insides.
The latter reflected the sun's rays from the thousand facets of
their crystals. The former, tinted with a bright limestone sheen,
would have supplied enough building material to make a whole marble town.
The farther down south we went, the more these floating islands grew
in numbers and prominence. Polar birds nested on them by the thousands.
These were petrels, cape pigeons, or puffins, and their calls
were deafening. Mistaking the Nautilus for the corpse of a whale,
some of them alighted on it and prodded its resonant sheet iron
with pecks of their beaks.