CHAPTER 14: The South Pole
I RUSHED UP onto the platform. Yes, open sea! Barely a few
sparse floes, some moving
icebergs; a sea stretching into the distance; hosts of birds
in the air and myriads of fish under the waters, which varied
from intense blue to olive green depending on the depth.
The thermometer marked 3 degrees centigrade. It was as if a
comparative springtime had been locked up behind that Ice Bank,
whose distant masses were outlined on the northern horizon.
"Are we at the pole?" I asked the captain, my heart pounding.
"I've no idea," he answered me. "At noon we'll fix our position."
"But will the sun show through this mist?" I said, staring at
the grayish sky.
"No matter how faintly it shines, it will be enough for me,"
the captain replied.
To the south, ten miles from the Nautilus, a solitary islet rose
to a height of 200 meters. We proceeded toward it, but cautiously,
because this sea could have been strewn with reefs.
In an hour we had reached the islet. Two hours later we had completed a
full circle around it. It measured four to five miles in circumference.
A narrow channel separated it from a considerable shore,
perhaps a continent whose limits we couldn't see. The existence
of this shore seemed to bear out Commander Maury's hypotheses.
In essence, this ingenious American has noted that between
the South Pole and the 60th parallel, the sea is covered
with floating ice of dimensions much greater than any found
in the north Atlantic. From this fact he drew the conclusion
that the Antarctic Circle must contain considerable shores,
since icebergs can't form on the high seas but only along coastlines.
According to his calculations, this frozen mass enclosing the southernmost
pole forms a vast ice cap whose width must reach 4,000 kilometers.
Meanwhile, to avoid running aground, the Nautilus halted three
cable lengths from a strand crowned by superb piles of rocks.
The skiff was launched to sea. Two crewmen carrying instruments,
the captain, Conseil, and I were on board. It was ten o'clock
in the morning. I hadn't seen Ned Land. No doubt, in the presence
of the South Pole, the Canadian hated having to eat his words.