Cadets recount Antarctic adventure

Still bubbling with enthusiasm after the trip of a lifetime to a land where the sun never sets in summer, 20 seafarer cadets returned to South Africa recently after spending three months of continuous training aboard the SA Agulhas, the country’s dedicated training vessel.

The group, including a number of young women, embarked on the voyage with 40 scientists conducting research for the Indian National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research.

The SA Agulhas, South Africa’s original polar research and supply vessel, is now owned by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA). It operates as a training vessel, with charters such as this one to the Indian government providing training berths for students in the National Cadet Programme managed by SAIMI.

The cadets are students at the Durban University of Technology, Cape Peninsula University of Technology and the Sea Safety Training Group (SSTG) who have been placed in the National Cadet Programme for the practical training and sea-time component of their qualification to work at sea.

For most, it was the first time they had left South African shores.

“I had never travelled before,” explains one of the cadets, Siphesihle Mkhize.

“First, I got to go to Cape Town, where the weather was fantastic and then we set sail for Mauritius, where we were joined by the scientists.”

From the tropical heat of Mauritius, the Agulhas set sail for decidedly chillier climes – but it wasn’t the weather that Siphesihle found challenging – it was the 40-degree roll of the ship which he describes as “hectic”.

Fellow cadet, Clementine Dlamini, concurs.

“It was a unique experience and one that I will carry with me throughout my career,” she says.

“It took some getting used to, but I would not change any of the trip for anything in the world.”

Both cadets also agreed that getting to spend Christmas and New Year at sea was also very special.

“Up until Christmas Day itself, the scientists had kept to themselves, but they opened up over Christmas dinner,” says Siphesihle.

“We shared our backgrounds and got a very special chance to enjoy a multi-cultural, multi-racial day with a complete difference.”

Another memory that both Siphesihle and Clementine will long cherish was getting to steer the ship.

“Of course, we were watched, but how many 23-year-olds get an opportunity like that?” Siphesihle asks.

While for both cadets the trip had many highlights, Clementine, who has never let her gender stand in the way of achieving her goals, says she will never forget facing the ice – and learning to deal with the fact that it never got dark.

“It was cold – very cold – but we had ample warm clothing. The ice, and the never-setting sun, made for a really special experience that I simply cannot put into words,” she says.

SAMSA’s Captain Merwyn Pieters, one of the onboard training officers overseeing the cadets, said a training trip of this nature was the opportunity of a lifetime for these young people to learn – under some very trying conditions.

“It takes guts of steel to be away from your family and loved ones. For this group, this journey comes with many new experiences, including building team spirit,” he says.

On-board training is compulsory for any cadet before they can qualify as deck and engineering officers.


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