Weeks 4,5,6, 1999

Location: Antarctica

What's happening...

Well, I should start with the preparations we took to go down to the "sub-continent."  You have to have a few things you wouldn't normally take sailing.  As Skip Novak says, "When you leave Ushuaia, you've left the last safe anchorage until you return."  We equipped the boat with 400 meters of 18mm floating polypropylene line, 3 - 1 meter ice stakes, 3 - 7mmx10m lengths of wire rope, (cable), food for 2 months, 3 tanks of propane for cooking, all the storm sails stored on top for easy access and chemical hand warmers bought in the U.S.  The polypro rope is used to tie lines ashore instead of just swinging on the hook.   Normally, it shoals at a very steep angle near the shores so standard procedure is to drop the hook and go "stern to" the shore with lines.  The cable is used to go around rocks ashore.  The chemical hand warmers turned into the best thing we took down there, oh cold fingers...

1/21/99:  We left Ushuaia at 0500 to get to Porto Williams in time to clear in and out the same day.  We have received some professional weather forecasts and must not delay our departure.  The weather window is very small to make a safe passage down so time is critical.  We're out of Porto Williams at 1100 and cruise down the Beagle Channel 70nm towards Cape Horn.  Zetty and I fly the asymmetric kite past the group of Islands to which Cabo de Hornos belongs just because I've always wanted to do the "Whitbread thing."   The wind is perfect for it NNE 18-24kts.  We cross the starting line just after midnight on the 22nd.

1/22/99:  Light wind this morning found us motoring for a couple of hours until it filled in from the NNE at 15kts.  We decide to go "wing and wing" as the Cape Horn rollers provide a little too much rolling for the kite.

1/23/99:  Just sailing along in light NNW breeze 15-20kts.  We're trying to be below 60S today as a low pressure system passes hopefully to the North of us.

1/24/99:  The morning finds us with little wind and time slipping away as far as the weather is concerned.  We motor sail our way towards Deception Island and finally see the bottom 20m of it.  Tom cry of "Whales!" bring us all to the deck to find three large Humpback's swimming along feeding.  It provides a good first sighting in Antarctica.  We get our first good smell of Antarctica when we get to the entrance of Deception's harbor Port Foster, penguin guano.  A little like Iowa...   Anchoring in Telefone Bay gives us our first and only gear failure of the trip, a run away windlass.  It seems the relay contacts in the up/down control box welded themselves together enabling only full speed down!  A quick fix by reversing the leads on the motor a least gave us full up instead, much easier to live with.

1/25/99:  We get the dinghy pumped up and go ashore, ANTARCTICA at last!   It's quite a place.  We see penguins along the beach, fur seals snoozing away and a big 'ol Weddell seal making his way down the beach.  This island is very volcanic and lunar like, it reminds me of Lanzarote in the Canaries a little colder though!.

1/26/99:  We have a good American breakfast of pancakes and maple syrup before heading across the harbor to Pendulum Cove.  The Cove was a British Research site, carrying out magnetic and pendulum experiments in the early 19th century.  You can still see some of the remains although mud slides from the volcanoes have buried most of it.  The vents from the volcano heat the water along the beach here making a little hot tub out of the bay!  We all have a swim but its tough because its either really hot or really cold but what the heck.  In the afternoon we moved 3nm down to Whaler's Bay, the home of the whaling station from 1906 to 1931.  The British also occupied the site during W.W.I.I.  Many of the buildings have original equipment in them, very well preserved.  In the year the base closed 1931, they made over 3,100,00 barrels of whale oil here.  Factory ships made the land based station obsolete.  The volcano that formed the island is still active burying the stations cemetery in 1992.   During an eruption in 1920 the water in the harbor boiled, stripping the paint off the ships!  We decide to stay here for the night as its not the best weather for seeing the station and it is one of the best sites down here.

1/27/99:  We leave after visiting the whaling station we leave for Trinity Island at 1100.  Upon leaving Deception we get into our first real ice, little growlers and bergy bits.  As P.J. Friend puts it, "This is just like a slalom course!"   Anchoring here was the worst we experienced.  We received exact G.P.S. coordinates from Jimmy Cornell who'd been there a day earlier.  The anchorage is a pinhead 100m in diameter in the middle of a 3/4 mile round bay, with rocks on all sides except for the small channel in.  Finding the sweet spot proved difficult and as I was on the helm, got me in quite a foul mood in a hurry.  I feel bad for the rest of the crew.  We spend the night here but I can't wait to get out, its way to exposed for me.

1/28/99:  Its a bad morning, cold and snowing but we can't stay here, bad anchorage for this wind direction.  We set sail for Challenger Island in 20kts of breeze, two reefs in the main reduces our speed so we can dodge icebergs.  We're there in no time and almost miss the entrance to the channel around the back.  We anchor in a great spot, glaciers surrounding us on all sides.  The thundering noise of them "calving" scares us a little at first but then get used to it. 

1/28/99:  The anchorage here at Challenger is so cool that we decide to have a lazy day here, going out to explore the glaciers with the dinghy.  The dinghy is stocked with a dry box containing an extra V.H.F. handheld radio, energy bars, flares and space blankets just in case we get stuck somewhere.  Zetty almost steps on a seal during our excursion, scarring the heck out of me to her delight.  She takes pictures from 1 meter away of the big fat Weddell seal.

1/29/99:  1100 finds leaving for Reclus Peninsula to a great anchorage.  Ice along the route makes us motor the entire 10nm.  Once we get all anchored up, we go ashore and climb all over the rocks in the bay, exposed because of the low tide.   Zetty and I build a snowman, if it stays cold maybe it'll be here in 10,000 years!   I think I see PJ. on top of a hill and radio the boat to check.  They assure me its not and lo and behold we sighted our first human in Antarctica.  The guy turns out to be one of two climbers from Australia, Duncan and Dave, who have been down here for eight weeks climbing.  We invite them over for dinner and drinks.

1/30/99:  Duncan and Dave have invited us to go climbing with them this morning so Zetty, PJ. and I go over to their camp site, across the bay.  We arrive dodging the skuas, a gull type bird, very protective of their nests.  They'll fly right at you if you get to close.  As we're getting ready to go hiking, Duncan spots three Humpback whales in the bay.  We decide to scrap the climbing, throw their dinghy in the water and head out to the whales.  When they're feeding, whales don't move very fast and we easily zoom right up to them.  It turns out to be one most exciting things I've ever done.  Duncan is also a guide on a cruise ship down here and knows how to get right up to the whales.  They seem to be attracted to the engine running so the whales are less than 3 meters away.  One seems to like swimming under the dinghy, I hope the whale doesn't get mad and give us a swat with his tail.  Futuro, another boat from the M.O. Rally turns up and we give them a hand anchoring.

1/31/99:  In the morning we get a call on the V.H.F. to come over to Futuro to check something out.  It turns out that the boys from Futuro forgot to take their dinghy out of the water last night and a Leopard Seal ate it!  This comes as a big laugh for us as we told them about the Leopard Seal, they saw the seal and we showed them a video the night before of the seal trying to get our dinghy!!  We have a good laugh but now have to share our dinghy with them until they can rendezvous with another boat in our Rally that has an extra dinghy.

2/1/99:  We up anchor and then help Futuro with their shore lines and anchor.   An iceberg has lodge itself right over the top of their hook and as they wind the chain, the iceberg calves in half creating quite a sight!  We're off to Cuverville Island about 10nm away.  The anchorage is almost completely blocked by icebergs but we make our way in.  The anchorage turns out to be swamped with bergy bits and little growlers, we push them out of the way with the boat hook but after some time we decide to cast off the shore line and just swing on the pick.  The icebergs have a smaller target with the boat head on. 

2/2/99:  The penguin rookery here is teaming with Gentoos.  Zetty and I head into the guano mess, the boots sticking and sloshing in the stuff.  The baby penguins are just days old here and we have a good time just watching them.  We weigh anchor and head for Danco Is. for lunch.  The weather turns ugly and we decide not to stop and keep going towards Paradise Bay.  As we were entering the Bay, the Chilean base "Gonzales Videla" hailed us on the V.H.F. and invited us to stop and visit the base.  We accept and anchor on the south side of the base.  We have coffee and pisco, a local Chilean liquor.  We invite the base officers on board after dinner for a tour and drinks.  It turns into a big party on Futuro, lasting until 2AM.

2/3/99:  The weather is bad today.  We won't move today as visibility is very low and there is a lot of ice in the channel.  We spend most of the day watching movies and playing cards.  I am writing some software for work upon my return, so this occupies most of my day.

2/4/99:  Heading for the Lemaire Channel early today as we've heard it will take us some time to get through the ice.  As we approach the sight is breath taking.   The mountains are not that tall, 4000-5000 meters but they rise to this height right in front of you.  The tour guides call the channel, "The Kodak Crack," as most tour ships travel through here.  We were followed by whales, dolphin and seals all the way through the channel.  Once through we stop and help Futuro take some pictures with their kite up.  Two Minke whales perform for us getting as close as 1 meter from the boat.  When the whales get this close you can smell the bad breath they exhale.  If someone tells you, "You have whale breath," you better get some gum quick.  We head for the Ukrainian base Vernadsky for the night.  It turns out to be a very safe place and we're very happy about that, we've seen a lot of big icebergs during the day today.

2/5/99:  We had quite a night last night, the Vernadsky scientists throw one heck of a party.  The base was originally the British Faraday base, complete with a little English Pub.  It's technically the southern most pub in the world but I'm sure anyone at Mac Town will dispute this.  Zetty and I hike all over the main islands around here and visit the little museum the British have here.  It's a beautiful little place with most of the original equipment still there.  The coal is in the storage bin, the extra food stores still in the pantry, games in the cupboards.  The British sent a team down a few years ago to restore the place and did a wonderful job.  We spend the night here again as its so safe.

2/6/99:  Heading for the American base, Palmer Station today. We're hoping we can get a quick tour but we've been told that we should have given them six months notice.   As we get closer and hail them on V.H.F. as to our approach, we find that we will be indeed be invited as we're the first American yacht to visit in at least two years.   (Most of the boats on charter down here are French.)  We'll be given a tour by a Wisconsinite and former Badger, my Alma mater.  At 9PM we head in for a tour arranged by Ron, the base commander, given by John, an E-Scow sailor from Mendota, of all people!  Palmer Station is very modern compared with the other bases.  They do all research here, there is no military presence at all.  After the tour we were invited to join the Saturday night party just getting into swing.  We had to cut the night a little short, the wind came up and threatened to strand us on shore, the boat being a 10 minute dinghy ride away.

2/7/99:  We go along side the stations dock because we've invited the people from the station to visit the boat today.  Futuro has also been grant a tour and moors along outside us.  We spend a lovely day entertaining and making friends with the station's personal.  We take off after exchanging gifts to Port Lockroy, a British Historical Site manned by David and Nigel.  Futuro has more gearbox problems on the way, a terrible place for this to happen.  It seems its overheating and they sail up to Port Lockroy, hours after we arrive.  The holding here is not great and I spend a sleepless night listening to the wind, the glaciers calving and the boat swing around.

2/8/99:  I spend the day aboard as I'm not feeling quite up to snuff.  The crew spends most of the day ashore walking on the glaciers and checking out the penguins.   The penguins here are very use to people, many cruiseships stop here, so you can get really close.  Zetty shoots the last of her film at 6PM.

2/9/99:  Leaving for the Melchior Island to the North today to get ready for the passage back to Porto Williams.  Aventura has left yesterday, we'll wait a little longer as our weather forecast doesn't look quite as good.  We meet Vegewind and Futuro there, we're all waiting for a little better weather.

2/10/99:  We receive another bad weather forecast this morning advising us not to leave until the beginning of next week.  This is a little disappointing as both the other boats have decided to go.  This leaves us here all alone waiting it out.   The boats are reporting North to Northwest winds, slugging it out to weather and trying to get west.  We'd also leave but it sounds pretty bad.  An interesting situation develops as we get an email message from Kelly that the US Coast Guard has informed her that our EPIRB has gone off.  She's very worried and the USCG is about to start search and rescue procedures if they can't verify that its not an emergency.   We quickly send an email back via Inmarsat Standard-C stating that we're fine and it must be an equipment malfunction.  I also try to raising the USCG on the SSB H.F. radio without any luck.  I also try WLO, a H.F. telephone company in the US.  No luck there either.  We try and get Palmer Station via V.H.F. but no luck.  We wait to see if Kelly emails us back.  Finally she does and we, she and the USCG sleep a little better!

2/11/99:  We get the weather report and although it doesn't look good, its not going to get any better for another seven days.  All hands on deck, we're out here!   The weather forecast calls for 25-35kts today, 30-35kts tomorrow and 30-40kts the next day.  Seas should be in the 12-20 foot range.  We cross the starting line in 25kts of breeze from the east.  The wind direction tells us that the low pressure system we're watching is getting very close.  As the day progresses the wind increases to 40kts and I reef all the sails down to their smallest shapes.  Risque is still going 10kts over the ground and we're making great, lumpy progress to the northwest.   My late evening watch see the wind go dead as we enter the center of the low pressure system.  Twenty minutes of motoring bring us to southwest breeze at 15kts.   This gets stronger during the night until it gets to a steady 35kts, gusting to 45kts.  Because of the broad reach course we're on, the 15 foot rollers don't seem that bad.  We know it will get worse as these winds build the seas the farther north we go.

2/12/99:  Southwest breeze today at the same speeds of 30-40kts.  The seas as predicted are getting larger with an occasional 20 footer breaking over the stern drenching the cockpit.  I feel safe in the boat, we've checked and re-check the equipment for this trip, it seems to be paying off.  Some of the other crew members aren't feeling so well, seasickness has set in with the bigger waves.  The saloon is often empty when I get off my watch.  The squalls have been increasingly windy but not long lived, 1 or 2 hours at most.

2/13/99:  Still southwest breeze but the waves have increased to 15-25 feet, the wind gusting to 50kts.   The ride is getting a little hairy when the big ones break but we're making great time, easily catching up to within 12 hours of the boats that left 36 hours in front of us.  The day wears on and by the end of the day we can start changing course to more North.  This makes the ride a little more bearable.  Big Lou and Drew have a snow squall that leaves 2 inches of granular snow in the cockpit.  We should make Cape Horn by 6AM tomorrow.

2/14/99:  Cape Horn in site.  We have 20nm to go and the wind has shifted into the northwest so we're just going to make it.  As we cross the finish line, I feel a great relief as the most dangerous part of our 'round the worlder is behind us.   We sail around Cape Horn and try and go ashore but the wind is not right and we can't anchor.  C'est la vie.  Big Lou got out the ear piercing gun that Tom Meyers has lent him and opens shop.  One by one, we each have our left ears pierced.   No pain but a weird feeling.  We motorsail upwind to Porto Williams for a deep, deep sleep....

To be continued...

Photos of our Antarctic journey...