CHAPTER 13: The Ice Bank
During this navigating in the midst of the ice, Captain Nemo
often stayed on the platform. He observed these deserted
waterways carefully. I saw his calm eyes sometimes perk up.
In these polar seas forbidden to man, did he feel right at home,
the lord of these unreachable regions? Perhaps. But he didn't say.
He stood still, reviving only when his pilot's instincts took over.
Then, steering his Nautilus with consummate dexterity, he skillfully
dodged the masses of ice, some of which measured several miles
in length, their heights varying from seventy to eighty meters.
Often the horizon seemed completely closed off. Abreast of latitude
60 degrees, every passageway had disappeared. Searching with care,
Captain Nemo soon found a narrow opening into which he brazenly slipped,
well aware, however, that it would close behind him.
Guided by his skillful hands, the Nautilus passed by all these different
masses of ice, which are classified by size and shape with a precision
that enraptured Conseil: "icebergs," or mountains; "ice fields,"
or smooth, limitless tracts; "drift ice," or floating floes;
"packs," or broken tracts, called "patches" when they're circular
and "streams" when they form long strips.
The temperature was fairly low. Exposed to the outside air,
the thermometer marked -2 degrees to
-3 degrees centigrade. But we were warmly dressed in furs,
for which seals and aquatic bears had paid the price. Evenly heated
by all its electric equipment, the Nautilus's interior defied
the most intense cold. Moreover, to find a bearable temperature,
the ship had only to sink just a few meters beneath the waves.
Two months earlier we would have enjoyed perpetual daylight in
this latitude; but night already fell for three or four hours, and later
it would cast six months of shadow over these circumpolar regions.
On March 15 we passed beyond the latitude of the South Shetland and
South Orkney Islands. The captain told me that many tribes of seals
used to inhabit these shores; but English and American whalers,
in a frenzy of destruction, slaughtered all the adults,
including pregnant females, and where life and activity once existed,
those fishermen left behind only silence and death.