Montevideo, Uruguay

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Marjory Stoneman Douglas said for many years that she wanted to write a biography of William Henry Hudson, a naturalist and ornithologist as well as a writer. Hudson spent a long time in Patagonia, that southernmost part of South America shared by Argentina and Chile. I am on my way to Patagonia, W. H. Hudson's "Idle Days in Patagonia" in hand.

Hurricane force winds in the southern Atlantic meant we had to be tied to the dock here for two days. This morning we were released as the port of Montevideo reopened. And we still are in the Rio Plata the widest river in the world.

Captain Jim Lovell

Capt. Jim Lovell is aboard with us, and his was the first lecture of the morning. Capt. Lovell kept us all spellbound with his story of Apollo 13--"Houston, we have a problem."

"I know you we're expecting Tom Hanks," he said, "but you will have to put up with the real thing."

Launched in 1970, with Lovell in command, everything that could go wrong did. First, it was the shut down of the second engine meaning there was not enough fuel to proceed with landings the moon. So another course was chosen to take the mission around the moon and back into Earth's orbit. But Mission Control sent them to the moon anyway, after setting up live television broadcasts for the home audience.

When an oxygen tank exploded, the electrical system went out, some 200,000 miles from Earth.

"The command ship was dying," Lovell said. The ship was going in the wrong direction. Plus, only a 2 1/2 degree window in the Earth's atmosphere was available for reentry or the craft would either burn up or be deflected back into space to be lost forever.

"We had to manhandle the ship around."

Of course they made it and Tom Hanks played the commander in the movie.

Capt. Lovell is a wonderful story teller, with a down-to-Earth sense of humor, and his hold on us was magnetic. It is an honor to be in his company all these years later.

Now in the Atlantic, it is time to concentrate on Hudson and his Patagonia.