Clear skies. Temperatures hovering around freezing. We gather in a crowd on Palmer Station's small cloverleaf pier. Cameras are poised. And then, one by one, we plunge off the edge of the dock into icy Antarctic waters.
Let's back up. My family is from Alabama, and where we come from ice water is for drinking, not swimming. Invite me for a dip in the bathlike waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and I'll gladly take you up on it. Water colder than 70 degrees? No, thank you. I've never understood the appeal of a New Year's Day swim in a frozen ocean.
At least, not until now.
It's impossible not to marvel at Antarctica's water and its many incarnations. Luminous icebergs in shades of eggshell, aquamarine and turquoise carved into elegant patterns and shapes. Massive glaciers boom and crack as chunks calve off into the waters below. Snow paints an oily sheen on the ocean's surface when it falls, occasionally gathering into a blanket of frosty lily pads called "pancake ice." In winter, the sea turns to ice so thick you can drive a truck across it.