The ice quickly surged around the whaler with such force as to shove her relentlessly toward the land as if caught in a giant fist. The clear water near the land was quickly filling with a sheet of ice. Mender and his crew desperately labored and finally succeeded in getting the Paloverde's anchors to hold in six fathoms less than two miles from shore. But within hours, the ship was jammed tightly in the ice that continued to thicken, and soon all signs of water were replaced by a white shroud. The Antarctic winter was upon them, and the days began to shrink. There was no hope of escaping, and mild weather with warmer temperatures was a good seven months away.
The sails were dried, rolled up, and stowed away, to be raised again in the spring, if divine providence allowed for warmer weather and permitted the ship to float free. Now, in anticipation of a long imprisonment, all food was carefully inventoried and rationed for the long months of winter. Whether the victuals stored aboard the ship could be stretched until the ice began to melt in the spring was anybody's guess. But dropping lines and hooks through holes in the ice had produced better-than-hoped-for results and a nice assortment of Antarctic fish were soon frozen in a deck larder. And then there were the comical penguins on the shore. There appeared to be millions of them. The only dilemma was that no matter how the ship's cook prepared their meat, it tasted most unpleasant.
The principal threats facing the crew of the whaler were the terrible cold and any sudden movement of the ice floe. The danger of freezing was greatly reduced by burning the oil from the whales they had harpooned before becoming locked in the ice. The hold still held more than a hundred barrels, easily enough to keep the stoves burning through the worst of the Antarctic winter.
Until now, the floe had been relatively undisturbed. But Mender knew that it was only a matter of time before the ice would buckle and shift. Then the Paloverde could easily find her hull crushed to splinters, her stout timbers flattened as if they were paper, by a massive migrating iceberg. He did not relish the thought of his wife and baby trying to survive on land until another ship was sighted in the summer. And the odds of that happening were a thousand to one at best.
There was also the deadly menace of disease. Seven of the men were showing signs of scurvy. The only bright area was that the vermin and rats had long before succumbed to the awful cold. The long Antarctic nights, the isolation and freezing wind, nurtured the gloom of apathy. Mender combated the restless boredom by keeping his men busy on chores, endless jobs to keep their minds and bodies active.
Mender had sat in his cabin at his desk and recalculated their odds of survival a hundred times. But no matter how he twisted the options and possibilities, the eventuality always remained the same. Their chances of floating undamaged and intact come spring were bleak indeed.
The icy windstorm had ended as abruptly as it had arrived, and the sun returned. Peering through squinting eyes over the dazzling sparkle of the ice pack, Roxanna saw her shadow. How joyous to see her shadow again despite the endless emptiness around her. But then her heart surged as she scanned the horizon and spotted the Paloverde a good mile and a half away. The black hull was nearly hidden by the ice, but she could see the huge American flag flapping in the dying breeze and realized that her worried husband had hung it high in the rigging of the mainmast as a beacon. She found it hard to believe that she had strayed so far. In her numbed mind, she thought that she had remained reasonably close to the ship while wandering in circles.
The ice pack was not all empty isolation. Roxanna could see tiny specks moving across its surface, and she realized that it was her husband and his crew searching for her. She was about to stand up and wave, when suddenly she caught sight of something most unexpected-the masts of another ship looming between two giant floebergs, hummocks frozen together and grounded on the shore.
From Atlantis Found by Clive Cussler. (c) October, 1999
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