“The body of a weak and feeble woman, but the heart of a king…”

Published on 23.03.2009 - Catlin Arctic Survey

A dispatch in which we speak of the Invincible Armada of Philip II of Spain, of a rousing speech delivered by Elizabeth I of England, of malfunctioning camera buttons and frozen muscles.

But why not delve first into a little history, because in writing this sentence in her update on 20th March ("I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king "), Ann Daniels invites us to do just that. These famous words were uttered in 1588 by Elizabeth I of England as she visited her troops on the eve of the famous battle of Gravelines (8th August 1588), when the king of Spain, Philip II, decided to dispatch his invincible armada to conquer England.

But let us for the time being return to our team of three, which was very happy to receive fresh supplies after waiting for five days. In actual fact, they had to get their HQ to call on Radarsat 2 and the miracle of satellite imaging to find somewhere suitable for Ken Borek's Twin Otter to land safely. And just to stress the importance of the satellite's assistance, the pilots told the trio once they had landed that the strip of flat ice on which they had just touched down was the only piece of flat ice they had seen during the final two hours of their flight! All of which sounds as though it is going to be very tricky to provide the expedition with new supplies in the future.

In our previous report, we said that Pen Hadow was taking advantage of his daily report back to his London HQ to explain about some of the lesser known aspects of a polar expedition. Which is why we believe that this year is a particularly interesting and even exciting one for keeping a close eye on the season of Arctic expeditions.

An example of these 'asides': on 20th March, the chief cameraman at Snowline Productions (Al Boardman) wrote to explain about the difficulties of filming an expedition as it moves slowly across the sea ice. Of course, we all understand that it can't be easy filming every day and that although modern filming equipment may be digital, it can still encounter problems with the intense cold. Well, we have now found out that it's only once the mercury falls below minus 30°C that things really start to get complicated. Because the colder it gets, the faster the batteries run down (even lithium batteries) and the more the tiny control buttons that festoon today's sophisticated cameras get stuck or simply won't work. And when we realise that to access these fiddly controls, the cameraman has to take off his first layer of gloves, otherwise he can't see which button he is pushing, even though he knows the camera inside out. Meanwhile, outside, it's minus 40°C ...

Then the following day, 21st March, Craig McLean informed us that when you stay still for a certain period of time in such cold temperatures (the trio had to wait five days for their supplies, during which time they had to stay in their tent!), your muscles lose their strength and control, coordination becomes more difficult and gradually your nerves stop responding properly to the messages your brain is trying to send them. And it appears that these effects stay with you for a week after you get back on the move again. But for the time being, it was another pain that was worrying Martin Hartley: terrible pain in his lower back, to be precise. After asking Pen Hadow take a look to see what the problem was, Pen discovered that the cause of the pain was none other than a needle sticking through the lining of Martin's parka in an unfortunate place! Once removed, the photographer is feeling an awful lot better again.

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