Ciara, Katherine, Simon and Stu go south on Seal - February/March
Q: Did the children enjoy the voyage?
A: Helen and Anna had a fantastic time. This was their first trip to Antarctica, and they thought it was fabulous. They bundled up every day and jumped in the dinghy for their ride ashore. They are both great sailors, and they enjoy their time aboard SEAL. They listened to the latest Harry Potter book on tape and drew lots of lovely pictures for us. We have learned a lot about their favourite stuffed animals, Bella, Mooney and Golden. Helen is famous for wearing her shirts backwards, and Anna is a huge fan of wearing her pajamas during the day.
Q: What did you miss the most from home?
A: I have two answers to this question. First, I missed the run-up to the American baseball season. Spring training begins in Florida in February, and I have missed catching up with my team, the Boston Red Sox. The baseball season starts in April, and it lasts through October. The Red Sox have a new pitcher from Japan, and there is much excitement about his arrival. I'm sure I will catch up quickly with the news, so I probably haven't missed as much as I thought.
Second, my parents live in upstate New York in the US. We have a family tabby cat there named Lily who is 3-years old. Lily is quite frisky and independent. She lets herself into the garage through a pet door, where she has a daily supply of food and water. She likes to come in for a visit in the evenings but usually spends her days and nights outdoors, unless it is bitterly cold, which it can be at this time of year. I don't normally miss Lily, because I know she is well looked after and happy chasing squirrels and chipmunks. Lily went missing in a heavy snow storm just after we set sail, and we were all worried sick about her. My parents' neighbors helped look for Lily, and one of them finally phoned my father to say she was in their yard. Nine days had gone by, but Lily was fine, albeit skinnier. My parents sent me an email saying they were thrilled to have her home, and I used the satellite phone to call to say that I was thrilled too.
Q. Noel Perigoe is very interested in ice formations and wants to know if
we have seen any ice daisies or pancake ice.
A. We have been very interested in ice formations, too. First, I'll tell you about pancake ice, which is a form of sea ice, meaning it is made of salty sea water, not fresh water. Before there is pancake ice, there is grease ice. Grease ice sits atop the sea and is the first stage of freezing sea water. Grease ice looks as it sounds, greasy, like a film of petrol on a puddle, or a gravy that needs to be skimmed. Grease ice would be more matte than shiny. When grease ice bumps into more grease ice, it forms round, shiny patches of pancake ice.
Pancake ice is referred to as quite plasticky, meaning that it is flexible. Pancake ice can hold more weight than the same thickness/size piece of ice made from fresh water. Pancake ice crashes into pancake ice, and the edges around the circumference of each pancake form ridges taller than the centre, and the pancakes begin to strengthen.This phase can linger as autumn begins and changes into winter. As the cold closes in for good, pancake ice bonds with pancake ice and the new sea ice becomes cake ice, which is hardened and brittle.
The next phase sees cake ice joining cake ice to form ice floe, and the stage after that is when the ice floes converge to develop a proper ice field. We did not see any grease ice or pancake ice forming, or in existence, as our visit was during the Antarctic summer. We only saw one piece of sea ice on our voyage. Several seals were basking in the sun on that piece of sea ice.
Unfortunately, Noel, I cannot seem to locate any information on ice daisies. I cannot even confirm whether or not they exist. We do not have internet access, so I cannot perform a wider search; I'm limited to the resources we have on board. Interestingly, we did encounter quite a bit of fresh water brash ice. Brash ice consists of the remnants of broken up icebergs.
One encounter with dense brash ice comes to mind. When we attempted to navigate our way through the Lemaire Channel, we motored up to a veritable barrier of brash ice. SEAL had the capability to motor slowly through this channel, but it would have been time consuming. As we had put in quite a few miles that day already, we decided to go around Booth Island, avoiding Lemaire to reach our anchorage at Hovgaard Island. When we came back up north, we did come through the Lemaire Channel, because the brash ice had been moved on by wind or current, and our passage was clear.
Q. Rachel Foyle would like to know if there is a smell from the penguins.
A. I do not believe that penguins smell. I was close enough to them to see how clean most of them keep themselves. They are constantly preening as both juveniles and adults. The chicks quickly become juveniles. Juveniles have to shake off their protective downy feathers and molt before they can take their first swim then learn to feed for themselves. Adults preen. The downy fur at the base of their feathers creates a layer of insulating air over their blubber and skins.
However, what penguins excrete after they have eaten does smell, but that is perfectly normal. Penguin guano (poop) does have an odour. I would liken it to ammonia. Some penguin species maintain a close proximity to one another within their colony. More penguins in a concentrated area mean more guano. More guano equals more smell. The Gentoo penguins tend to spread themselves out across a rookery. Therefore, there is less concentrated guano and less smell. I found that upon approaching a rookery in the dinghy, I was quite aware of the concentration of guano. However, once I went ashore and began observing and enjoying their unique behaviour, the smell faded into the background, if not altogether. At the end of the day, we all encounter and live with animal smells, and it is a part of life.
Q. How many types of birds have you seen? Elizabeth Ryan.
A. We have seen at least 12 types of birds. In no particular order, we have seen: penguins, petrels, gulls, cormorants, snipes, ducks, albatrosses, prions, terns, shags, sheathbills and skuas.
Within those types of birds, we have seen over 20 distinct species. We have seen Magellanic, Gentoo, Adelie, and Chinstrap penguins; we also have seen Gentoo and Adelie penguin chicks. We have seen Wilson's Storm petrels, Giant petrels, Pintada petrels, Snow petrels and Blue petrels. We have seen Arctic and Antarctic terns; We have seen Black-Browed albatrosses, Grey-Faced albatrosses (new today!) and 1 Wandering Albatross. We have seen Chilean Skuas and members of the "Brown Skua" group - Subantarctic skuas and South Polar skuas. We have seen Blue-Eyed Shags, White sheathbills (also called Pale-Faced sheathbills), Magellanic cormorants, Common snipes, Dominical gulls, and (flightless) Steamer ducks. We also have seen Broad-Billed prions, and other species of prion difficult to distinguish. I am hopeful we will identify more types of birds during our time in Tierra del Fuego en route back to Puerto Williams.
Q. Lisa Cronin would like to know if you have seen a killer whale.
A. We spent a lot of time in the Gerlache Strait scanning the water for killer whales. They are generally quite plentiful off the Antarctic Peninsula. Our captain, Hamish, saw about 100 of them on his last trip down here 6-years ago. We did not see any in the large area where we were expecting them to be.
I was quite eager to see killer whales, as I have watched a documentary on Animal Planet about a French team of researchers who followed a pod for several seasons. Their family dynamics are fascinating, and they spend a great deal of time and care raising their calves. I was impressed to see the parents teach the juveniles the same lessons over and over again to ensure the juveniles' success in time of maturity.
I'm afraid our window of opportunity has closed and that we will not see killer whales at all. It is one tiny disappointment on a voyage of so many spectacular sights.
Q. Kieran McGuire loved looking at whale footprints. Have you seen any more
and would you be scared if they were near the yacht?
A. Whale footprints are amazing, I agree. They linger for quite a while on the water's surface. We have had great success in seeing Humpback and Minke whales. I believe we have seen Humpback whales every day except two so far. Most of them were close enough to the yacht for us to see them clearly, and others gave us a wide berth. We have also seen Humpbacks sleeping on the water's surface, usually in twos.
However, our most impressive encounter was with 3 Humpback whales some weeks ago. If you haven't read about it previously, let me remind you what occurred... (from a previous KO blog) "Enter: whales. Our practice is to turn off the yacht's engine when we detect whales in the area. This gives them a chance to observe us if they'd like; they usually do. Yesterday we hit the jackpot. Three Humpback whales took a shine to us and circled the yacht for almost two hours. They did what we refer to as "spy hopping", which is sticking their heads out of the water vertically to get their eyes closer to the surface. Hamish and I went down to the swim platform, which put us at water level. The enormous Humpbacks hovered gracefully in the water merely inches away from us. It was magical. We could clearly see their blow holes, and out of them came the most horrific, greasy fishy smell. We had to turn our lenses away to avoid being schmootzed. It's truly amazing that mammals so large subsist solely on a belly-full of krill. They certainly have the breath to prove it! The whales put on quite a show, blowing bubbles, waving their fins, splashing with their tails, surfacing in unison. When it was time for them to head off, they saluted us with tail flips. According to Hamish, a tail or fluke wave means "goodbye.""
Q. How do you get your food? Do you fish or did you bring your own food?
And if you took your own food what did you take and how much?
A. First, let me address fishing. We have not done any fishing, nor will we do any. In different locations around the globe, SEAL drags fishing lines and catches fish like Dorado and Tuna. Around Antarctica, the fishing industry had caused severe damage to the population of albatrosses over time. Albatrosses are being killed at an alarming rate - 100,000 per year - by being hooked on long line fishing lines. The long liners put out long lines with multiple hooks on them, and the lines remain on the surface of the ocean. The Albatrosses follow and get hooked and drown. When the long liners use weights to sink the loglines quickly, this does not happen. You can read more about this, and what you can do to help raise awareness of this issue at www.savethealbatross.net.
Next, is all about food. We have 1.5 tons of food on board. Where
would you like me to begin? First, we have everything we need on board to prepare three meals per day, bake just about anything sweet or savoury, make bread, snack heavily, entertain other voyagers, celebrate holidays (we baked a birthday cake last week), etc. We have an impressively wide variety of fresh produce and meat, including two whole lambs, which we have kept fresh by tying them onto the railings at the back of the yacht.
There are a few places to store food to keep it in optimal condition. The first is a small refrigerator. It would be about the same size as a large cooler you may take to a tail-gate party or the beach. The next best cool place, with lots of storage is under the floor boards in the cabins. These areas are called bilges, and they remain cool in almost any weather, because of their proximity to the water line. The sea temperature is hovering just above freezing.
We store vacuum-packed meat, fresh Argentine steaks, cheeses, salamis/chorizos, juice and wine in the bilges, as well as assorted canned fruits and vegetables and every other food item, ingredient, herb or spice you could possibly want. There is additional storage space in the forepeak, in front of the water-tight bulkhead door. The forepeak also remains quite chilled and is where we store soft fruits and vegetables, soda cases, eggs, oranges, lemons, plums, avocados and is where salad went until it ran out. For example last night Hamish ground some beef with a manual meat grinder and we had hamburgers, freshly made coleslaw and hand-cut french fries. Virtually everything that we eat is freshly prepared and is not riddled with additives, preservatives and salt. It is therefore quite healthy.
There is a room temperature walk-in larder with large plastic baskets on shelves from floor to ceiling. The baskets are labeled according to what they contain. For the most part, the larder is full of items we use regularly, and as such, are available for easy access. Our larder baskets contain the following: apples, dry goods, pasta, a bread machine, tupperware containers, grapefruit, carrots, oils, canned fruit, a Cuisenaire, a Yoghurt maker, a hand blender, canned meat/fish, hard vegetables, potatoes, oats, biscuits/bread, long-life milk, powdered milk, tea/coffee, nuts, orange juice, olives and dried fruit.
Tons of additional food spares and general merchandise items are stowed under the double bunks, and they are accessed by pulling the strop to lift the thin mattress. Wood beams separate different types of backup food, cleaning supplies, light bulbs and so on.
Kate Laird showed me her log of food stored on board, and I have selected some outtakes from it. The inventory of some random items as we set sail was the following: 7 kilograms of popcorn, 125 cans of tomatoes, 54 kilograms of fresh potatoes, 3 litres of dish liquid, 136 soup servings, 7 cases of fresh fruit, 19 kilograms of onions, 25 kilograms of rice, 58 litres of long-life milk and 272 eggs. Kate assured me that if they decided not to make any shopping trips in the foreseeable future, the four of them could subsist happily and healthily on board for months to come after we have gone home. Organized forward planning goes a long way!
Finally, all the food containers (tins, cartons, plastic wrap, etc.) which SEAL brings to the Antarctic also return back to the mainland. SEAL does not leave any trace of her voyage behind on the continent of Antarctica. There is one exception to the rule on the sail back to Chile. The contents of three medium-sized barrels of biodegradable waste accumulated on the trip will be turned into the deep and churning waters of the Drake Passage on our sail back to South America. The biodegradable material will quickly decay entirely and do no harm to the environment, although we'll likely attract a few birds. This is the way in which SEAL and her passengers manage to leave no human handprint on the Antarctic whatsoever.
Q. How do Anna and Helen get schooled?
A. Kate and Hamish Laird are Helen and Anna's parents. Kate is American, and Hamish is Scottish. Kate has taken on the primary role of home schooling the girls. As Anna is only 4-years old, she will not begin kindergarten until about one month from now. While we have been chartering the yacht, school has been in recess.
In the US, at 4-years old, Anna would be entering pre-kindergarten. However, Anna was able to be home schooled as a pre-kindergarten student last year on the Isle of Wight in the UK. The Laird's lived ashore there for about six months, and the school system required periodic inspections of the children being home schooled. Helen has been home schooled since she was 4-years old; she is now 6-years old and will be going into the 1st grade next month.
Kate uses the American Standard Syllabus as her guide. She buys text books from different grammar school book sellers across the US. Hamish has taken on the role of teaching the children Spanish already, which will prove to be quite useful for them in the months they will spend in Argentina and Chile in between charter trips.
Q. Cad e an rud is fearr leat ar an turas? (Ciara Ní Ghriofa)
Q. What is your favourite thing about the trip ?
A. The silence. There is virtually no man-made noise here. It is so peaceful. All the sounds of everyday life in a city are gone. The silence is actually bliss. I can almost hear myself think! When we aren't running the motor or generator, which is most of the time, all we can hear are natural sounds. As we are in the height of summer, almost autumn, really, there is usually the pleasant trickle of water running off glaciers and making its way back into the sea. The icebergs and growlers crackle like some morning cereals do. We can almost always hear penguins socializing and splashing around in the shallow water on the beach's edge. It is lovely to be without the constant distraction of telephones, cars, televisions, crowds.
Q. Cén fáth a bhfuil sibh ag dul i mbad seoil? (Doireann Ní Lionáird)
Q. Why are you travelling in a yacht?
A. Le blianta anuas, ta Stu, Kiki, Simon agus me fhein ag obair agus ag taisteal timpeall an domhan ar baid eagsula i rasai. Bimid ag caint go minic le badoiri eile i ngach ait ar domhan. Chonaic Simon SEAL i Sasana anuraidh and dinis se an sceal do Stu & Kiki. Chuala me faoin mbad o Stu and agus shocraiomar gur iontach an seans duinn ar laethanta saoire a chaiteamh ar bord SEAL. Agus taimid anseo imnniu!
A. Simon, Kiki, Stu and I all have backgrounds in around-the-world yacht racing. All of us have raced around the world on a yacht. We are networked quite closely (by email, telephone) with other sailors, yacht racers and people involved in organizing yacht races, charter voyages, yacht deliveries, etc. Simon met SEAL's owners and toured the yacht last summer in Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight in England. He contacted Stu and Kiki, and Stu told me. We agreed immediately that the charter trip on SEAL was what we wanted to do on our holiday. And here we are today! I would have been happy to arrive in Antarctica by plane. However, sailing is much more fun for me, and this trip is the perfect way to see the Antarctic Peninsula's western coastline and visit its many, many islands.
Q. An maith leat an Antarctic? (Andreas ó Scannell)
Q. Do you like the Antarctic?
A. Is ait iontach an tAntarach. Ta gach rud anseo aisteach. Gach la feicimid fiabheatha nua. Is e an tAntarach an fasach is mo ar domhan. Is rud an-taitneamhach bheith ag feachaint ar piongain beag an rith i ndiaidh a mhathair chun bia a fhail. Is deas bheith ag feachaint freisin ar cnoc oighir chomh mor le foirgneamh sa chathair ar snamh in aice an mbad. Ta me i ngra leis an tAntarach os rud e go bhfuil na milte rudai uamhula faoi. Is rud an speisialta e nach bhfuil na piongain, na ronta, na miola mora agus na hein eaglach nuair a thagann na daoine in aice leo. Is feidir linn taisteal in aice laithreach leo, ag feachaint orthu ina gnathog nadurtha.
A. I think Antarctica is brilliant! Everything here is attractively strange and unusual. Each day we encounter new wildlife. Antarctica is the largest wilderness area on Earth. It has been a pleasure to witness penguin chicks chasing their mothers for food, whales playing around the yacht, Adelie penguins surfing down snow slopes on their bellies, albatrosses circling the Southern Ocean, and gawk at huge mountains rising out of the sea and icebergs bigger than city buildings drifting past the yacht. It's also neat to calculate how much time has passed since we have seen any people other than the 8 of us. During a stretch of last week, 96-hours (or 4 days) had passed since we had been in the company of any people not aboard SEAL. There are so many unique things about Antarctica which make me love it. Where we have travelled, on the Antarctic Peninsula, the wildlife is in abundance. The special thing is that penguins, seals, whales and other birds have not learned to be afraid of humans, so we have had the opportunity to see them up closely in their natural habitats. Antarctica is my kind of place!
Q. An bhfuil na leabai compordach? (Ciara Ní Ghriofa)
Q. Are the beds comfortable?
A. On yachts, beds are called bunks. I did a little etymological research into the origin of the word "bunk," just for fun. It comes from the Old Swedish word, bunke, meaning the planking of a ship, forming a shelter for merchandise. Well, we're not merchandise, but for as long as I've been sailing, where you sleep has always been referred to a bunk or a berth. Berth can sometimes mean something fancier than what we have, like an ocean view cabin on a cruise ship. Finally, to answer your question, the bunks are comfortable! They have a thin, but perfectly adequate mattress, and we were each given a pillow. We were instructed to bring our own sleeping bags, which we did. The bunk I sleep in is the top bunk in the forward cabin on the starboard (or right) side. The most concise way to say it is, "starboard forward upper." Kiki sleeps in bunk below me, starboard forward lower.
Q. An teann sibh ag iascaireacht?(Paul ó Cathasaigh)
Q. Have you done any fishing?
A. We have not done any fishing, nor will we do any. In different locations around the globe, SEAL drags fishing lines and catches fish like Dorado and Tuna. The fishing industry had caused severe damage to the population of albatrosses over time. Albatrosses are being killed at an alarming rate by being hooked on longline fishing lines. The Albatrosses are dying in this way at a rate of 100,000 per year. The longliners put out long lines with multiple hooks on them, and they remain on the surface of the ocean. The Albatrosses follow and get hooked and drown. When the longliners use weights to sink the longlines quickly, this does not happen. You can read more about this, and what you can do to help raise awareness of this issue at www.savethealbatross.net.
Q. Ar chonaic sibh aon bád eile ar an turas? (Ciara Ní Ghriofa)
Q. Have you seen any other boats on the trip?
A. We have seen several other boats on the trip. When we were in Puerto Williams, we met other voyagers on a yacht called Pelagic Australis. We set sail on different days. We met up with them at Vernadsky, the Ukranian research base. They anchored a few hundred metres away from us. We were invited over to have pancakes with them on Shrove Tuesday, and it was very fun. When we were moored outside Gonzales Videla, the Chilean air force base, there was another yacht, Spirit of Sydney, nearby. We met up with them again in Flounders Bay, while they were attempting to tag Humpback Whales for scientific research. We have seen at least 6 cruise ships, and last night we were invaded by passengers. Thirty-five people were offloaded from a cruise ship in our harbour at Dorian Cove with permits to camp ashore. We couldn't believe it. We also sailed past Paul Allen's superyacht, Octopus. Paul Allen made his fortune as Bill Gates' partner at Microsoft. Also, I saw one cargo ship in the Drake Passage on the way down from Chile.
Q. Ar thug an mbad seoil aon troibloid dibh? (Sharon Ní Shuibhne)
Q. Have you had any trouble with the yacht so far?
A. We have not had any trouble with the yacht at all. We have been in radio contact with other yachts who have experienced difficulties. Pelagic Australis' fresh water pump broke, and all the showering and washing up had to be done in salt water. On Sunday, a cruise ship had 5 dinghies ashore, and people were visiting a penguin rookery. All five dinghies were chewed and deflated by a Leopard seal.
Q. Cen fad a mbeidh sibh? (Doireann Ní Lionáird)
Q. How long will you be away on the trip?
A. From the day we left Edinburgh to the day we return, our trip will have lasted exactly five calendar weeks. We are on the yacht for 33 days in total.
Q. An chuireann an uisce isteach oraibh san oíche? (Hadassa Apraku)
Q. Does the water bother you at night?
A. I am extremely comfortable sleeping aboard a yacht, either at anchor or at sea. I find the natural motion of the swelling sea to be quite nice. The only night I heard anything was the night we were anchored in Mutton Cove and some growlers were being pushed past the yacht by the wind. They made a clinking sound on the aluminum hull. I made note of what was going on outside and was able to fall back asleep.
Q. Cen t-am a neíronn sibh ar maidin? (Ciara Ní Ghriofa)
Q. What time do you get up in the morning?
A. Most days we congregate for breakfast at 9 am. Sometimes it is earlier, and sometimes it is later. On a day when we have a lot of mileage to cover, we may all rise by 6am. Some people on board opt for a mid-afternoon nap, but I am too excited most of the time to turn down another hour of exciting scenery. That being said, I am usually the last person to get out of my bunk in the morning! When we are sailing back up through the Drake Passage, we will work in a watch system. We will work in shifts of 4-hours on watch, and 6-hours off watch. If you are on watch, it means you are on deck helming or adjusting the sails if need be. You would occasionally go below to check the course and charts or even to warm up. The off watch hours are spent eating, sleeping, blogging, sorting through photos, etc. The watch system runs 24-hours per day, so you don't necessarily do all your sleeping at night. You would most likely do some of it during daylight hours.
Q. Ce mheid oilean ar chonaic sibh? (Doireann Ní Lionáird)
Q. How many islands have you seen so far?
A. We have seen hundreds of islands. On our sail down the Beagle Channel we saw some of the myriad islands of Tierra del Fuego, which were stunning. The Antarctic Peninsula coastline is littered with thousands of islands. We have sailed approximately 500 miles so far along the Antarctic Peninsula, and islands great and small have never been out of our sight. All of our anchorages, except two, have been in the waters of protective inlets of islands and we have stepped foot on all of them, if not explored them properly. I had no idea at the outset that our trip would be so island-centric. I have stepped foot on the mainland of Antarctica exactly twice and am likely not to do so again. Most people on board have only stepped foot on the mainland once. I opted to motor over to the Chilean air force base on the mainland to photograph the Pale-faced sheathbills and the Gentoo penguin colony there.
Q. Ar chuir aon rud scanradh oraibh? (Hadassa Apraku)
Q. Have you been frightened by anything?
A. We had a good scare this afternoon in Dorian Cove. Since we heard about the Leopard seal who ate through five cruise ship dinghies, we have taken the motor off the back of ours and used oars to row ashore. Obviously that is slower, but when we get to the beach, we can hoist the dinghy out of the water and onto the beach, so the Leopard seal isn't tempted to chew on it. He has plenty of penguins to keep him occupied. We were rowing over this afternoon when a Leopard seal chased after us. We rowed double-time and managed to get ashore quickly. I leapt out of the dinghy in my snow boots which filled with icy water, but I was quite happy to get my feet wet to avoid getting a nasty Leopard seal bite.
Q. An bhfuil aon duine homesick? (Sharon Ní Shuibhne)
Q. Is anyone homesick?
A. I do not believe anyone is homesick. I certainly am not. This trip could last much longer, and I'd eventually, really miss my family and watching American baseball games, but I wouldn't soon leave here to return to normal life. Helen and Anna, the children on board, are not homesick. That is because SEAL is their home! February 25 was Simon's birthday, and we had a celebration for him. Back in England, Simon has a wife, Lou, and two children, Charlie, a 10-year old girl, and Jack, a 12-year old boy. Sometimes it is difficult to be away from home on your birthday. Simon put on a brave face becausing he is having a great time down here, but I'm sure he was a little bit homesick on the day to be with his family.
Q. An bhfuil se an-fhuar? (Doireann Ní Lionáird)
Q. Is it very cold?
A. It is very cold here. In the past few days, the temperature has dropped noticeably. It is almost always below freezing, and the yacht gets covered with frost every night. The coldest times are when the wind is blowing strongly. We have all put on extra layers of clothing recently, in response to the change in temperature.
Q. Cad a dheineann sibh in bhúr am spártha? (Sharon Ní Shuibhne)
Q. What do you do in your spare time?
A. We are quite busy in our spare time. We have all been taking a lot of digital photographs, to the tune of hundreds of pictures per person per day. It takes a while to download all the images to our laptop computers. Because we have limited disc space on our laptops, we have to review the photos and delete the ones that are rubbish. Rubbish ones are ones that are out of focus or otherwise crummy. We then digitally prepare the pictures for the website
(make them smaller) so that we can afford to send them to the mainland by email.
We also spend a lot of time blogging and sending updates to the website. I obviously take time to review and answer the "ask KO" questions, which helps me to learn as well as to help teach about the Antarctic. We love to go ashore and hike and look around at everything. That isn't necessarily always in our spare time, because we do a lot of that as part of our daily activities.
However, sometimes we go for an extra hike ashore before dinner, just for fun, or to take some extra pictures if the light is particularly beautiful at sunset. We all brought DVD movies to watch on our laptops, and we haven't resorted to that activity yet. I don't think we ever will. Because the saloon of the yacht is raised, when we are gathered here we can all see what is going on outside. As I sit here in Dorian Cove typing, I keep stopping to look up and monitor what is going on outside. We are 50-metres from a Gentoo penguin rookery and there are Weddell seals, Leopard seals, Fur seals and Elephant seals (new sighting today!) in the area. Antarctic terns swipe Antarctic herring and krill out of the cove. Even when we're on the yacht, we constantly have our eyes trained on the great outdoors so that we don't miss a sight. Today we saw a Leopard seal shake the life out of a Gentoo penguin. I can watch a movie anytime, but I can't see nature at work like this anywhere else. There is a Scrabble board game, and once in a while we play a game of it. Each night before we go to bed, most of us read in our bunks. I do.
Q. Cen sort eadai a chaitheann sibh? (Ciara Ní Ghriofa)
Q. What sort of clothes do you wear?
A. We bought most of our clothes over time at mountaineering and outdoors shops and from providers of specialized marine boots and clothing. One of the keys to staying warm on a yacht is to layer properly. Our base layer is light, merino wool thermal leggings and the same material long-sleeved shirt. Our second layer is a heavier merino wool layer of the same type of leggings and long-sleeved shirt. Then we make choices based on personal preference, the outside temperature and wind chill factor. I tend to wear a fleece on top of the two base layers. Then I put on foul weather gear: salopettes and jacket made of Gore-Tex. I also wear a neck warmer, hat, gloves or mittens and a brand of socks called SmartWool. On the yacht, I wear neoprene lined, knee-high sailing boots with rubber soles. When we go ashore, I change out of my foul weather gear and put on ski pants and a ski jacket and change into NorthFace outdoor snow boots. I layer down when I come in from a spell outside, because the temperature aboard is quite comfortable.
Q. Were you scared going past Cape Horn? It looks pretty horrible from the
pictures on the website!
A. If the weather had been fairer, we actually would have stopped on the
island of Cape Horn. But it was stormy, so we sailed right on past it in
the rain. I don't think any of us were scared, because we've all
experienced stormy sailing conditions before this trip. There were a few waves that broke over the side of the boat that were large enough to be scary, but they did not hurt anyone. On the way back up to Chile, we will try to land on Cape Horn if the weather cooperates.
Q. How are you ajusting to the cold weather?
A. I cannot believe I have to admit to this, but it's not as cold here as
it could be at this time of year. The more photos we post on the website, the more you will see us stomping around on deck and ashore without our jackets on. We have to tough out using our cameras without mittens on, which can get quite chilly, but other than that, we are quite comfortable.
Q. What has been the coldest day/night so far?
A. The temperature has been in and around freezing at night, but the
daytime temperatures have risen into the 40's, especially when the sun
Q. Is your food supply still very poor?
A. Actually, our food supply is superb. We are eating like kings. We have three freshly prepared meals per day. Breakfast is usually porridge or yoghurt and granola. Lunch is normally a hearty soup with some brown bread and butter. Dinner varies, but can be stew or pasta with a chunky sauce or a savoury rice dish. We have had Argentine steaks twice already, which are terrific. Last night's dinner was a tasty lamb curry. Sometimes I don't eat this well at home!
Q. We are wondering if we are allowed to insert some of your photograps on
A. Please feel free to use our photographs on your page. Pictures help tell the story.
Q. Is there anywhere you can stay if anything happens to the boat?
A. What a fantastic question! One thing you may not know is that there are a number of large cruise ships and private superyachts touring the Antarctic Peninsula, with virtually hundreds of passengers on board. If our yacht were in trouble, we would immediately make a call for assistance either over our VHF radio or our Iridium satellite telephone. If one of us were injured or became terribly ill, the best place to seek medical care would be on one of the bigger cruise ships.
We have two ways of abandoning SEAL should the need arise. One is a
liferaft which would fit all of us on board along with a survival kit packed
with a radio, freeze-dried food, survival suits, aluminum blankets, a
flashlight, a knife and a few other useful bits and bobs. Option number two
is the dinghy, which is stored on the foredeck whilst we are sailing or
motoring along the peninsula. We could use a spinnaker halyard to lower it
into the water and be launched away in a jiffy.
We have a variety of safety equipment on board to try to keep the yacht out
of trouble. We have several fire extinguishers, water-tight bulkheads for
isolating flooding, bilge pumps for removing water, flares for attracting
attention, a lifting keel and lifting rudder for close access to the shore,
or beaching the yacht ashore altogether in a dangerous situation. The
forward bulkhead contains multiple spares and tools with which to fix
anything that gets broken.
Some of the time when we are sailing, we are within reach of one of the
international research bases. If we were in trouble, I suspect that the
staff at any of the bases would help accommodate us as best they could. Right now, we are sitting at anchor at Water Boat Point in Paradise Bay, about 100 metres from the Chilean Base, Gonzalez Videla. Also, on Antarctica, there are unmanned emergency huts peppered around the more desolate places, which are stocked with food and survival supplies.
Q. Do any of you get sea sick?
A. I am lucky, and I do not get sea sick. Two people on board suffered
slightly from sea sickness while in the Drake Passage. Kiki was unwell, and young Anna was sick, too, but they have recovered now and are feeling great.
Q. Are you afraid of anything?
A. Ha! How much time have you got? I am afraid of heights, specifically edges without barriers like guard rails or walls. My fear doesn't stop me from climbing, but I am quite nervous when I do.
Q. Were you surpised when you found the sand was hot? Why is the sand black?
A. The sand on Deception Island was hot, because Deception Island is an active volcano, producing geothermal activity. It was certainly a surprise to find that the beach ws almost too hot to touch. The minerals that make
up the beach are black. The minerals have eroded from the black volcanic
rocks. This is a common feature of beaches on volcanic islands. Other
places I have visited which have black beaches are the Hawaiian Islands and
I passed on your greetings to Helen and Anna. They were pleased to hear
that you love Harry Potter too. Everyone on board can't wait until the next
book is released in July!
Q. Have you seen any effects of global warming so far in your expedition?
A. It is difficult to assess whether we are seeing global warming as this
is our first visit. However, talking to the skipper, there is a lot less ice
than when he was last in Antactica, 6 years ago. I think it is something we all need to understand carefully and think about what we can do to help reduce the effects of global warming.
Q. Will you see the South Pole? (Gino Forte)
A. We will not see the South Pole. Our expedition is limited to the
Antarctic peninsula and the surrounding islands. The South Pole is inland and is 1510 miles from where we are now at 64 degrees south, 63 degrees west.
Q. Will the magnetic field affect the instruments on board SEAL? (Julianne
A. SEAL carries two compasses, one for the northern hemisphere and one for
the southern hemisphere. We are currently using the southern hemisphere
compass. The magnetic field is different this far South compared to the
magnetic field in the North. As a result, we use a compass specially set up
to work best near to Antarctica.
Q. How do your computers and internet work when you are so far away? Also
do you have phones that work?
A. We run the engine every day which charges up the batteries on board. We can also charge the batteries by running the generator. The batteries provide us with electricity. We then use the electricity to power our computers (and lights, etc). We do not have internet access on board. We have a hand-held Iridium telephone, which we use to send and receive our emails. The Iridium telephone connects to a satellite and then down to a shore-based service provider, Telaurus, who let us send and receive our emails for a fee based on the size of the messages. A short text message like this will cost less than one Euro.
The hand-held Iridium telephone can also be used as a regular telephone. As you can imagine, it is quite expensive to use, because it harnesses satellite technology. I have made one telephone call so far, and that was to my mother. It was right after we stepped foot on the Antarctic mainland for the first time, and I was excited to share the news.
We will be motor sailing for a few hours this afternoon. When we have
reached our next anchorage, the Verdansky Base (Ukraine), I will send a picture to the website of our communication system so you can see it for yourselves.
Q. What was your favourite part of the journey so far?
A. I truly enjoyed seeing the Humpback whales up close, like we did three days ago. You can read about the experience in my blog from February 16.
Q. Have you seen any huge icebergs yet?
A. We have been in the midst of icebergs since February 13, the day we made landfall on Deception Island. At first the icebergs were relatively small, but as we have travelled further south, they have become positively monstrous. The part of the iceberg which is visible above the water is only one-fifth of its entire size. Put another way, 80% of an iceberg is actually under water, which is one of the things that makes them so dangerous to ships. Yesterday we sailed down a channel known as "iceberg graveyard", and there were innumerable icebergs there.
Q. Have you seen any penguins yet?
A. We have seen three species of penguin so far. On our sail down the Beagle Channel we saw Magellanic penguins swimming and leaping
into and out of the water. We knew our penguin-seeing track record would improve as we moved further south.
On Deception Island, we saw one Gentoo penguin, trodding along the beach. We have seen innumerable penguins swimming gracefully in and around the Antarctic coast and islands. A few days ago, we turned the yacht engine off and drifted past a Gentoo penguin rookery island. There were hundreds of penguins there. This morning, we landed the dinghy on a Gentoo penguin rookery, which was a rocky beach packed with adults and nearly fully-grown chicks.
We sailed past a coastal Chinstrap
penguin colony this afternoon.
This evening we are anchored in a "u" shaped harbour, with a few feet of pebbled beach in the lead up to a sheer ice face. There are hundreds of Gentoo penguins here, too. The penguins we visited this morning were not afraid of us, and several of them walked within just a few feet of us on their way to or from the water's edge.
Previously, I stated with certainty that we would see Emperor penguins like the ones in "March of the Penguins." I was incorrect, and I apologize for my error. We will not be travelling far enough south to reach their habitat, which is a great shame. I do hope to come back one day to see the Emperors penguins. Their ability to survive against tremendous adversity fascinates me.
Q. Did you see any wildlife on Deception Island?
A. We did see wildlife on Deception Island. In the harbour, we saw Humpback Whales. While we were walking on the beach, we saw Gentoo pengins, aggressive Fur seals, Skuas (birds) and gulls. We also saw whale bones on the beach.
Q. What is on the top of the food chain?
A. Leopard seals are top predators. They eat almost everything in the food chain: krill, fish, squid, penguins, other seals. Killer whales, however, eat Leopard seals. The rest of the whales around Antarctica live solely on krill, and krill feed on plankton.
Q. Do you start your engines every day to see if they have frozen?
A. We keep the boat above freezing with a deisel heater, so the engine
never freezes. Having said that, we run the engine most days to charge the
batteries which provide us with electricity on board.
Hello to everyone who's sent in questions (and there are quite a lot of you!).
KO is going to answer all your questions very soon - she hasn't forgotten you! But - as you'll see from her blog - and everyone else's - there has been SO much happening and so much to see that everyone's been transfixed on deck watching all the activity. They're finding it very hard to go below and even look at their computer!
Meanwhile, we've added a few pictures on this page to keep you going.
Q. Are there any children on board?
A. Yes. The owners of the yacht have two young children, Helen, aged 6, and Anna, aged 4. The girls travel on SEAL for most expeditions (charters). When they are not on a charter like they are now, their parents home-school them. Last winter they were off board and living on the Isle of Wight in England, and they attended school there for the year.
Q. What are the children doing on board?
A. As the children are on holiday for the remainder of the charter, they are enjoying themselves. They are very inquisitive and bright, and they are constantly reading. One of their favourite things to do is to listen to Harry Potter audio tapes. They are curently listening to the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Helen and Anna are experts on Arctic wildlife, and they can spot a Painted petrol metres and metres before I can ascertain that it's a petrol at all. Like most children, they have an impressive collection of stuffed animals and fleecy blankets, which make their bunk beds kid-friendly places to sleep. They have their own sets of foul weather gear and wellington boots, so they are appropriately dressed when they go ashore to play. SEAL has spent a lot of time in Greenland where there are icebergs and arctic critters, however this is their first trip to Antarctica, and they are looking forward to seeing Emperor penguins very much. Helen and Anna are a joy to have along on our expedition.
Q. What aninmals are you hoping to see? (Karin Mackey)
A. First, we are hoping to see penguins. Penguins, of course, are
flightless birds whom early explorers easily mistook for fish. They are
tremendous swimmers, hoppers and walkers, and we hope to see them going about their daily business and raising their young. The area of Antarctica we will be visiting, the Antarctic Peninsula, has at least three
species of penguins we should see for sure: the Emperor, Gentoo
and Adelie penguins. There are 17-18 species of penguin (scientists differ) on Antarctica. If we are lucky, we may see Chinstrap, Macaroni and Rockhopper penguins, too. We will tell you about the differences in appearance and size of species as we see them for ourselves. No use
counting on a field guide when we are going to be in the field ourselves!
We also hope to see albatrosses, the greatest birds of flight. They spend
most of their lives in the air, however they return to land to breed and
take turns raising their chicks, so we are hoping to see some of this
summer's youngsters. In fact, we are looking forward to seeing many
species of several types of birds of flight: petrels, fulmars, prion, skua
and tern, to name a few.
We are also hoping to see many species of seal, whale, some
dolphins and various fish through the clear, unpolluted Antarctic water.
Whatever we see, you can be sure that we will tell you about it!
Q. How many hours of sunlight are there in a day? (Alison Brett)
A. Where we are right now, at Isla Picton, at 55 01S and 66 55W, the sun
rises at 06:05 and sets at 21:18. That gives us over 15-hours of sunlight
right now. As we sail further south, the sunlight hours will increase, and
we may only experience minimal darkness. I will report back on our most
southerly position later in the trip and the amount of sunlight visible
Q. Have you seen any whales yet? (Corey Paget Trudgill)
A. We have not seen any whales yet, however we had 3 Bottlenose dolphins
swimming around the yacht the other day. They were very playful with one
another. During my night watch the other night, I saw a lone dolphin
leaping out of the water on the port side (left side) of the yacht. It was
dark, and I couldn't tell what type he was, and he disappeared almost as
quickly as he appeared.
Q. What kind of food will you eat that will help to keep you warm? (Finbar
A. As we are spending a lot of time outside in freezing temperatures, eating
properly is very important. Most mornings we have porridge for breakfast
topped with brown sugar and milk. Lunch usually consists of a hearty soup
filled with vegetables and pasta and a few slices of home made bread. We
have a bread machine on board to bake bread for us so that we have more time
to spend on deck and ashore. Dinner can be anything like rice with
vegetables and sausage, steaks with potatoes and cheese sauce or spaghetti
with tomatoes and olives. We take yesterday's leftovers, if there are any,
and work them into today's new meals. Everything is delicious. Several
times per day we have snacks. We have been munching on fresh plums and
bananas and will keep the apples (as they store for longer) until later in
the expedition. Most afternoons we make popcorn and sit around a large bowl
of it having a chat. We have one extremely special treat on board. We have
two whole lambs, which were purchased at the butcher's in Chile, so we will
have racks of lamb and meat for stews for meals to come.
Q. What type of land vehicles will you travel in? (Danny Freeman)
A. We do not have any land vehicles. Our principle mode of transportation
to the Antarctic, of course, is the yacht. It is 17 metres long and holds
everything we require to explore the Antarctic. Below the deck of the yacht
is stored a dinghy, or a motorized raft. We have a pump to put air into the
dinghy, and it takes many hands to attach the engine to the back. Then we
lower the dinghy into the water. When we are at anchor, we use the dinghy
to go ashore. Once ashore it's up to us to walk or hike as far as we'd like
to see the landscape and wildlife. We all have walking gear that is a
little different. I have some crampons to strap to the bottom of my snow
boots, which should give me traction in the slippery snow and ice. Kiki
brought walking sticks for use with her hiking boots, and I don't know what
everyone else has. Once we're there, we'll find out what works best.
One interesting note is that from 1944 to 1994, sled dogs (huskies) were of
vital importance to Antarctic explorers. They have all since been removed
and replaced with motorized vehicles. It is a topic of debate as to whether
or not the dogs will return, to act as a more environmentally-friendly mode
of transport. I suspect the dogs' companionship, at minimum, is a loss to
many who still spend extended periods of time there.
Q. Are you going to visit any scientific research centres? (Marie Lyons)
A. This is the long road to a short answer. As you probably already know,
we are tourists, and not researchers or scientists. Many years ago, when
few tourists visited the Antarctic, they were openly welcome into most
scientific research centres. The people who lived there seasonally or year
round were quite keen for visitors. Nowadays, the number of tourists is too
overwhelming for the scientists to make time for each and every one of them.
Therefore it is necessary to apply for a visitor's permit at, say, the
American Palmer Station, which is at the bottom of the Antarctic Peninsula,
however we did not do so.
HOWEVER, Marie, I have a much more exciting answer for you. Because the
skipper we are travelling with has spent so much time in Antarctica, he
knows most of the locals. The British Antarctic Survey Base, Farraday, was
decommissioned some time ago. From what I understand of the International
treaty governing Antarctica, the UK would have been required to remove every
last speck of the base so as not to leave any decaying property or rubbish.
As that was cost prohibitive, the UK sold the base to the Ukraine for a very
nominal fee. The Ukranians have renamed the base "Vernansky" after a famous
atmospheric scientist, one of their own. Vernansky is in the middle of the
Antarctic Peninsula, and we plan to pay a visit there, perhaps bringing some
wine as a gift for any hospitality they may extend. Our skipper has visited
there before, and seems to think that a post-work day stop in would be more
than welcome. I will certainly let you know if/when we make it there and
what we find going on at such an interesting place.
Q. What is the coldest temperature so far? (Paul Gayson)
A. We have gotten away lightly so far, with temperatures at or around
freezing. By Sunday evening we should cross into the Antaractic Convergence
Zone, where the air and sea temperatures will undoubtedly drop dramatically.
I will keep you updated on actual temperatures and wind chill factors as we
Thank you for your questions! KO
Thank you to Mrs. Burke's students for their kind well wishes. I spent the millennium new year celebrating in Co. Tipperary, and I have fond memories of my time there. My cousin and his lovely wife and children live in Templemore, and I am due for a visit there later this year.
We're in Punta Arenas now, awaiting our flight to Puerto Williams, the last civilization we will experience for over four weeks. Thanks for your interest in our expedition!