Most could not climb a rope ladder, so the Nordnorge lowered one of its big, sturdy lifeboats, and the Zodiacs maneuvered each of the Explorer’s lifeboats alongside. Some of the rescued were able to move on their own into the larger lifeboat, crawling or jumping, while others needed help. “Don’t drop me, don’t drop me,” one woman cried as her boots fell into the ocean. Finally, the able sea crew managed to wrestle all the passengers into the Nordnorge lifeboat, which was then lifted to an upper deck. In the last moments of the rescue, the cell phone in Andy’s pocket beeped; it was a message from his dentist’s office, reminding him about a checkup.
All 154 Explorer travelers and crew members were shepherded into a lounge and given blankets and warm drinks. Passengers on the Nordnorge had donated piles of clothing—underwear and shoes and shirts. The stunned and weary newcomers sank into the chairs, faces wan and strained, on the edge of shock.
Some crowded around the window to look down on the M.S. Explorer in her death throes. She was moving toward pack ice; soon she would be locked in its embrace, and a few hours later would slip under the sea. Some wept openly; each was trying to grasp how they had survived in such an unforgiving place. Andy credited the Explorer’s Captain Wiman and a crew that had performed superbly, but the weather gods played an important role by providing a period of calm in a sea passage known for its tempests: “A few hours before the shipwreck,” Andy would later write, “it was blowing 40 knots [46 miles per hour] of wind and a few hours after, it was blowing 40 knots. We were in a part of the planet where the strongest winds on earth blow and the roughest seas rage. For a short time the seas were calm and the winds light. And into that weather window sailed a Viking rescue ship.”
The bad weather would come: it delayed the travelers’ transfer to Chile’s Eduardo Frei Montalva Air Force Base on King George Island. It would be yet another day before it was clear enough for the big transport planes to fly in to carry them to Punta Arenas in Chile, where they were met by consular representatives from their various countries, who would smooth the way with necessary travel documents. The G.A.P. Adventures representative was there to supply cash and emergency clothing, and to assist in arranging flights home. Each would be reimbursed for a cruise that had proved altogether too adventurous.
On their last morning on King George, Andy, Lee, and Kay sat together at breakfast. Andy mentioned that in times of trouble, birds had always been a symbol of hope to him, and he told them about seeing a snow petrel—the Angel of Antarctica. Kay answered, “It’s always been rainbows for me. I can tell you, sometime in the next few days there’ll be a rainbow.”