Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
The Ice Bank
THE NAUTILUS resumed its unruffled southbound heading. It went along the 50th
meridian with considerable speed. Would it go to the pole? I didn't think so, because
every previous attempt to reach this spot on the globe had failed. Besides, the season was
already quite advanced, since March 13 on Antarctic shores corresponds with September
13 in the northernmost regions, which marks the beginning of the equinoctial period.
On March 14 at latitude 55 degrees, I spotted floating ice, plain pale bits of rubble twenty
to twenty-five feet long, which formed reefs over which the sea burst into foam. The
Nautilus stayed on the surface of the ocean. Having fished in the Arctic seas, Ned Land
was already familiar with the sight of icebergs. Conseil and I were marveling at them for
the first time.
In the sky toward the southern horizon, there stretched a dazzling white band. English
whalers have given this the name "ice blink." No matter how heavy the clouds may be,
they can't obscure this phenomenon. It announces the presence of a pack, or shoal, of ice.
Indeed, larger blocks of ice soon appeared, their brilliance varying at the whim of the
mists. Some of these masses displayed green veins, as if scrawled with undulating lines
of copper sulfate. Others looked like enormous amethysts, letting the light penetrate their
insides. The latter reflected the sun's rays from the thousand facets of their crystals. The
former, tinted with a bright limestone sheen, would have supplied enough building
material to make a whole marble town.
The farther down south we went, the more these floating islands grew in numbers and
prominence. Polar birds nested on them by the thousands. These were petrels, cape
pigeons, or puffins, and their calls were deafening. Mistaking the Nautilus for the corpse
of a whale, some of them alighted on it and prodded its resonant sheet iron with pecks of
During this navigating in the midst of the ice, Captain Nemo often stayed on the
platform. He observed these deserted waterways carefully. I saw his calm eyes sometimes
perk up. In these polar seas forbidden to man, did he feel right at home, the lord of these
unreachable regions? Perhaps. But he didn't say. He stood still, reviving only when his
pilot's instincts took over. Then, steering his Nautilus with consummate dexterity, he
skillfully dodged the masses of ice, some of which measured several miles in length, their
heights varying from seventy to eighty meters. Often the horizon seemed completely
closed off. Abreast of latitude 60 degrees, every passageway had disappeared. Searching
with care, Captain Nemo soon found a narrow opening into which he brazenly slipped,
well aware, however, that it would close behind him.
Guided by his skillful hands, the Nautilus passed by all these different masses of ice,
which are classified by size and shape with a precision that enraptured Conseil:
"icebergs," or mountains; "ice fields," or smooth, limitless tracts; "drift ice," or floating