Although inhospitable, the island that awaited us was endowed with wild, awe-inspiring beauty. Rugged mountains, some of them attaining a height of three thousand feet or more, were partly covered with eternal snow and had grayish-white glaciers inching down their flanks toward the sea. Low-hanging clouds drifted along the mountainsides, only to disperse like magic when scattered by a gust of wind.
The Ramsgate reduced speed until her engines were only just holding their own against the current.
At one point on the coast, the landing was feasible on a flat beach some half a mile in extent. The ship would inevitably run aground if she ventured any nearer, so we would have to go ashore by dinghy. The waters off Prins Karls Forland were reputed to be treacherous, liberally dotted with reefs that could easily rip open a ship’s hull.
Although my colleagues and I were standing up on the forecastle, no evidence of the research station could be seen. It was not until Professor Kinnock handed me his binoculars and pointed to the northern extremity of the rocky shore that I spotted several squat buildings situated at the foot of a slope.
There was no sign of life. The four-man emergency team should by rights have noticed the ship’s approach. Visibility was quite good, and the Ramsgate was far from being a little cockleshell.
Our luggage and equipment had already been loaded into a dinghy when First Officer Broke came up and asked if we were ready to go ashore. “With the greatest pleasure,” I replied. Truth be told, I realized that I was feeling more and more apprehensive. Professor Kinnock, on the other hand, was in high spirits. “It’s a geologist’s paradise!” he exclaimed, flinging out his arms as if to embrace the whole island.
Two dinghies made the trip ashore. The first to set off contained-apart from our equipment-two seamen accompanied by the civil servants, McCafferty and Sheridan. The second boat, in which my companions and I had taken our places, was steered by First Officer Broke.
To my surprise, the dinghies were fitted with extremely powerful outboard engines. Being not uninterested in technological innovations, I discovered from Colin Broke that they were brand-new developments based on early models designed by the Norwegian inventor Ole Evinrude.
Circling us were a dozen inquisitive seabirds, some of which flew straight toward the boat and did not turn away until they were immediately above our heads.
The dinghies grounded just short of the beach, so we had to wade through ankle-deep water for the last few yards. Fortunately, we were equipped with suitable footwear.
I guessed that the air temperature was below freezing, but it would rise a little in the day.
The seamen stacked our boxes and barrels nearby, ready for subsequent transfer to the research station. Although the huts were less than a hundred yards away, there was still no sign of life.
Colin Broke seemed as surprised by this as I was. “I’ll go and take a look,” he said. “Please wait here.”
“I’d like to come with you, if you’ve no objection,” I told him. “After all, my investigations begin as of now.”
Broke thought for a moment, then nodded.
“Hang on!” called McCafferty. “Sheridan and I are coming too!”