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Ciara, Katherine, Simon and Stu go south on Seal - February/March

KO's Blog

8 March - Tierra del Fuego At Cape Horn

 

We sailed right up to Cape Horn on a blustery Sunday afternoon. There was a bit of rain and fog, perfect for setting the mood. It was strange to see land so lush after our month in the Antarctic, where lichen is one of the only greens. We had a very benign crossing. The Drake Passage has two nicknames, the Drake Shake and the Drake Lake. Unfortunately, we happened upon the latter. The only lashing we got was from some snow and hail which persisted along with bouts of sunshine. There was one fantastic sunset where we experienced lingering sunlight on our port beam, moonlight on our starboard beam and twinkling stars overhead.

We have been hopping about the Islas de Cabos de Hornos, anchoring
along the way. We have been for some robust hikes, mostly in the rain. Kiki was quick to point out that the islands we were visiting looked like the west of Ireland. I concurred.

This morning we went ashore in the world's most southerly village, Puerto Toro. We were greeted by three friendly dogs and some crab fishermen. Last night we traded a box of wine for a bucket full of crabs, which we didn't hesitate to boil and devour. The crab season doesn't really kick in until July, but the fishermen had some small ones to spare for us, and we were very thankful for them. The village has a pier, a shop and a church, the 3rd most southerly church, that is. The 2nd most southerly one is on Cape Horn, and the winner is at the South Pole.

We added a bird to our list on the crossing from Antarctica. We were 3rd most southerly church
courted by White-Chinned petrels that I found quite enchanting. They are mostly brown with a white chin and a flesh coloured beak. Wandering Albatross stayed with us on the voyage, at times sitting in the water to watch us pass by. That's when I really got a sense of how large they are. Dolphins are all the rage in the waters of Tierra del Fuego. Yesterday a pod of them showed off for us, leaping out of the water repeatedly like pogo sticks. We are seeing our last Magellanic penguins today.

We had a beautiful sail yesterday with following wind. We poled out the Genoa and the breeze stayed with us until we were almost at anchor. We did well to avoid rafts of kelp which persist in the region. We have just stopped for lunch off an island in the Beagle Channel, our last hour of silence before we get back to Puerto Williams this afternoon. The rest of today will be filled with gathering our kit and trying to make it fit back into our bags. We have one more "most southerly" left in us, though. Tonight we'll raise a Pisco Sour in the most southerly, permanently manned bar in the world, Micalvi.

We'll be docked alongside, sharing our favourite moments of the trip. We've all agreed that our stay on Flounder Island and sunset dinghy tour of Fish Island Bay was a highlight of the trip of no lowlights. We have met some wonderful people and seen amazing wildlife, landscapes and ice. It has been the trip of a lifetime, and I can only hope the wind blows me back down to Antarctica again one day. I'd settle for seeing the King penguins of South Georgia, but once you've delved that far south, you might as well go the distance. I would do it all again tomorrow.

Thank you for taking the journey with us, and thank you for all your well wishes and enquiries. It has been a pleasure sharing our trip to the Antarctic with you. We'll report back on what we find in Santiago over the weekend, and we'll send more photos to the website once we get home.

March 1 - In Search of Hallowed GroundSailing out of Dorian Cove

 

Some days you have to start with the present and work backwards. Today is one of those days, because another chapter of our adventure has begun. You most likely don't know about this chapter, as we are only embracing it ourselves at this time.

We are under sail once again, en route, albeit early, to Cape Horn. I don't think any of us wanted to admit it, but we were always going to favour a good weather window for the trip back across the Southern Ocean. The weather faxes have been rolling into, and the last yachts and personnel have been rolling out of Antarctica.

Last night found us at Melchior Island, our last stop on the Peninsula. There were two other yachts in our spectacular anchorage. We were practically surrounded by 150-foot high rocks and ice walls. The climbing wasn't arduous on some of the nearby rocks, so we clambered up to the top for a look. I find it's always humbling before an ocean passage to find a vista point from which your yacht looks quite small. It somehow hones the senses. It woke me up to the fact that today wasn't a day sail; it was the beginning of our journey back to the mainland, back through some fabled water in search of hallowed ground.

February 23 - Mutton Cove - Shelter from the Storm

Snow on deck

When I didn't hear the usual brouhaha of boots stomping and Gore-Tex crunching whilst in my bunk this morning, I turned over in the knowledge that we were most likely weathered into the cove for the day, as expected; our first "snow day," as such. 

It was like being a school child again.  I ignored the breakfast call, and an extra two hours' snooze was bliss.  I had "heard" the front coming in during the night in the form of football-sized bergy bits of ice dinging against the hull repeatedly next to my ear.  The northerly wind was forcing the bergy bits through a water flow gap in the otherwise secure cove barrier. 

I had been up late reading, as there is abundant, fascinating material on board.  I am currently reading three books; one about Antarctic wildlife, one about the sled dog era in the Antarctic (1944 - 1994), and one about a fussy British grammarian, for a slightly more real-world flavour to keep me sane.

We hopped over to the ice capped island adjacent to the yacht, and after aHelen and Anna's snowman
loose, rocky ascent, found 6 people-friendly Adelie penguins.  Helen and Anna built a snowman taller than they are with some help from Kiki.  Today has provided us with a proper coating of fresh, sticky snow.  It is still falling down.  We're battened down and looking forward to another Friday-night lamb curry.

Because I have had some time on my hands today, I have compiled a list of wildlife sightings to date.  If you can bear it, this is what we have
encountered, in no particular order:  Magellanic penguins, Gentoo penguins and Gentoo penguin chicks, Adelie penguins and Adelie penguin chicks, Chinstrap penguins; Crabeater seals, Leopard seals, Fur seals, 1 Weddell seal; Wilson's Storm petrels, Giant petrels, Pintada petrels, Blue petrels; Antarctic Minke whales, Humpback whales; Bottlenose dolphins; Blue-Eyed shags; White sheathbills; Dominican gulls; Magellanic Cormorant rock
colonies; Common snipes; (flightless) Steamer ducks; Black-Browed albatrosses, 1 Wandering albatross; Broad-Billed prions; Arctic and Antarctic terns; members of the "Brown Skua" group - Subantarctic skuas,
South Polar skuas; Chilean skuas; and on the South American mainland we encountered cats and kittens, dogs, horses and llamas.  Not bad for just over two weeks!

If fair winds prevail tomorrow as are forecast, we'll be on our way to Port Lockroy, on the north side of the Lemaire Channel.  We tried to sail through the Lemaire Channel on our way down here a few days ago.  We could havepassed through, given time.  However, the channel was filled-up with bergy bits and sea ice, so we opted for the clearer passage slightly further north through the Pleneau Strait. 

Tomorrow marks our upturn to the north, a sign that our seafaringvoyage is exactly half-way completed.  The first half has been a pleasurebeyond words.  I can only hope and pray the second portion of our expedition
is even partially as awesome as the first.

22 February - Fish Island Bay

 

How does it get more beautiful here each day? It's astounding.

We weaved past gargantuan icebergs to reach our Flounder Island inlet in Fish Island Bay. We rose early this morning to go across to Mackerel Island to visit another Adelie penguin rookery. When we landed at Mackerel Island, two Fur seals tried to brush us back, but then became more interested in their own squabbling to bother with us.

It was then that we were able to ascend the huge ice cap on top of the island for breathtaking views of Trout, Plaice, Salmon and Perch Islands in Fish Island Bay, which was littered with icebergs and sea ice varying from the tiny to the gigantic.

The Adelie penguins have other-worldly, mesmerizing blue eyes with aAdelie Penguins
beady, black centre. The colony exists on hard-packed ice with a crunchy snow crust for the most part, with the odd rock outcrop offering some shelter from the wind. We approached gingerly. They seemed taken aback at first, as they most likely do not see human beings very often.

This corridor is well-travelled by cruise ships. However, their time here is spent steaming along to cross the Antarctic Circle, presumably just to say they did. One such ship whizzed past us yesterday, and I couldn't help but be thankful for all the slowing, drifting along, stopping and rock hopping we do to appreciate the miracles of life down here in the forms of huddled masses of penguins, lichen, playful Humpback whales, pink and green algae, scampering Skua chicks.

Our 33-day voyage is giving us enough time to see the pristine, un-trampled Antarctica. There is a quote from Apsley Cherry-Garrard, "An Antarctic expedition is the worst way to have the best time of your life. "If it weren't for our small, yet versatile vessel and manageable group size, we wouldn't have spent yesterday morning in the close company of a colony of the most well adapted creatures on earth. Thank you, SEAL!

In our cove this afternoon, we dined on deck in the midday sun. Afterwards, Hamish and Simon set up a civil engineering project to refill our water tanks with glacier water. They connected two hoses, shimmied up a few metres of ice cap, created a siphon and voila! The purest water on the planet flowed into our tanks, replacing the chlorine-laced marina water. Joy! Our glacier water use to date has been limited to a stockpot full of fresh ice with which to make morning tea and ice chips for cold drinks.

After a short motor-sail, we set four lines ashore in Mutton Cove to get ready for some breeze from the north. We also took advantage of the restocked water supply and celebrated with hot showers. We're supplied with water now to the end of our voyage. A family-game of Scrabble took us through the dinner hour, and it was a quiet night after that. Some Adelie penguins are just a 25-metre dinghy ride away, and we plan to visit them tomorrow.

 

21 February - Another million dollar dayKO, Kate and Ciara enjoying a civilised happy hour

 

The pancakes on Pelagic Australis were delicious. We had them
with Dulce de Leche and a sprinkling of fresh lemon juice. Pelagic has 11 people on board, all with interesting backgrounds. We all got along famously. The wine flowed until the Ukranians arrived, then we all sampled some orange flavoured vodka. Quite pleasant.

We went back to the yacht for dinner, and then motored over to the base for a delightful evening. Vernadsky came to life, quite unlike the previous night. Music was blaring, and an energetic Ukranian, Nicolai, played magic tricks on us and performed a native dance. Then we all danced. My Ukranian dance partner, Andrew, dazzled me with some fantastic ballroom moves. One o'clock came too soon, and we piled back into the dinghy and headed home.

Today was a million dollar day. The sky was cloudless. There was
virtually no wind, so the warmth of the sun had a pleasant effect. We couldn't cover the mileage under sail, so we motored. Fifty-five miles later, at the group of Fish Islands in a protective inlet of Flounder Island, we ran four shore lines and hauled up the anchor, lest the chain get run down by an iceberg moving in the night. The bergs here are humungous and plentiful, and we're sure to see some movement of them by the morning. Our bow is pointed to the north and we must depart before the wind clocks around to the north and the icebergs encroach on our territory.

We had a happy hour beer with olives and chorizo ashore with a bird's Adelie penguinseye view of an Adelie penguin colony. This is the first time we have seen the Adelies. Their white bellies glistened beautifully in the sunshine. We watched a fuzzy Skua chick scramble for cover off some exposed ice. Mom and Dad Skua were nowhere in sight, and even though we were tens of metres away, we were obviously scary to him. The trip down here was gorgeous. We all took hundreds of photos, keeping in mind that this could be our last day of sunshine. These days are precious, and we have to be vigilant about catching the light when it is good. We had a spectacular sighting of a Leopard seal resting on a flat iceberg with several Crabeater seals sleeping just yards away. We surmised he must not have been hungry, as Crabeaters are preyed upon by Leopard seals.

After dinner this evening, we went back out in the dinghy to capture sunset. We found another Adelie colony and a lone, show-off penguin on his own free-floating piece of ice. Kiki and Simon had hatched a plan well before the trip and packed black tie outfits. They went back to the yacht to don their eveningwear and backed surreptitiously into Adelie territory for a photo shoot. Kiki's flip flops were quickly exchanged for wellies, which were quite fetching with her little black dress and powder pink pashmina. We had a quiet night last night, and we all retired early. I tried to wait up for some stargazing, but as we are quite far south now (66 10S), the sun doesn't set until 21.30, and the lingering light lasts forever. I'll have to recalculate the hours of sunlight down here, as I've promised to do.

Today we are moving down to an island called Mutton, which is adjadent to Beer Island. I believe the British are responsible for these names. Yesterday we sailed past Dog Island and Cat Island. I think the names were much more imaginative up north (Deception, Trinity, etc.), but it seems as though excitement was waning and clever names were an afterthought. No bother. The scenery is phenomenal, and the names of the islands don't matter a bit. More from Mutton later this afternoon! I will let you know what we see along the way.

20 February - Hospitality, Ukraine-Style Kate with Andrea and Eugene

 

We've tucked into a safe inlet just around the bend from the
Research Centre, Vernadsky. Hamish paid the base a visit in the afternoon, and we were invited to come around as a group from nine to midnight. BYOB.

Kiev native, Eugene, met us in the coat room and took us on a guided tour of the ground floor. He pointed to a gap in the ceiling showing a laboratory door emblazoned with a sign reading, "OZONE." This very lab is where the British, who ran the base at the time when it was called Faraday, discovered the hole in the ozone layer. It was 1985. It was then that I became obsessed with the elimination of chlorofluoro-
carbons and practically allergic to styrofoam. Now that there are biggerThe 'Ozone' laboratory
issues to concern ourselves with, like terrorism and AIDS, I don't go quite as ballistic when I see a styrofoam cup these days.

Anyway, I digress. We met a bright and friendly cross section of the staff at the base. The language barrier unfortunately stopped us from conversing with all of them. They teach English quite well in the Ukraine, and our second envoy, Andrew, was as fluent as Eugene.

After an interesting tour, we were ushered to the second floor which housed a spectacular wooden bar. Allegedly, a crew of British construction workers wintered at the base and the fruit of their labour was this spectacularly crafted pub. Also, allegedly, they were sacked. In one small corner of the rec room there is a shop sign-posted, "The World's Most Southerly Souvenir Shop." I was thrilled that I had slung Souvenir shop
some greenbacks into my pocket on a whim and felt compelled to spend them on hand-crafted goods. We were offered shots of vodka and everyone partook. We shared our wine.

Vernadsky has been under Ukraine management since 1996. Both of our ambassadors' tours of duty cease mid-month next month. They are unsure if they will ever return. We didn't overstay our welcome and made it back to the yacht before Midnight. As such, we were invited back again this evening, but first, we will liaise with other expedition tourists on another yacht, Pelagic Australis. They are the same people we had a convivial time with in Puerto Williams. They dropped anchor here this morning and invited us around for pancakes this afternoon. It's Shrove Tuesday, and pancakes are the fare. Sounds good to me!

17 February - Gentoo Penguins Abound!!

Kate with the humpbacks
Yesterday, collectively, we took almost 2000 photos.  We have been snapping like mad for the past few days and haven't taken any time to look at our work.  The weather has been phenomenal, and we only step foot below deck when it's finally time for bed.  We took some time on deck last night to orient ourselves astrologically.  We spotted Sirius, the brightest star, an upside down Orion's belt and the planets Saturn and Jupiter.  We are now well below 64 degrees south.

Last night we anchored just off a Gentoo penguin rookery on the island of Cuverville.  Hamish positioned the yacht behind a natural underwater breakwater that would protect the yacht from drifting icebergs.  It worked a treat.  By daybreak, a number of imposing icebergs had attempted to move into our channel but were blocked by the rocks.

This morning, we took the dinghy to the north side of Cuverville Island, Mumble's Gentoo cousin
where the Gentoo rookery is.  The south and east sides are legally
inaccessible in order to give the penguins free access to the sea.  We were briefed on how to behave on the rookery, and it all went to plan.  We scattered ourselves across the beach and waited for the Gentoos to come to us.  Voila!  The penguins traipsed from north to south and back again and in and out of the sea, passing us by just a few feet along the way.  Some stopped for a closer inspection; others were on a mission and couldn't spare the time.  Molting chicks chased their mothers, squawking for food.  The odd penguin tripped; others hopped.  They flung their white bellies out of the sea and onto the rocky beach.  This was another day in penguin life, and they were blissfully unaware of our cameras and our joy.  I caught a picture
of a cresh of chicks taking a mid-morning nap.  The chicks are a good size now and are far beyond the reach of a hungry Skua, although the scavengers
still hover overhead.

We are en route to Leith Cove in Paradise Harbour, a mere 15 miles from last night's anchorage.  We are due to pass the Chilean and Argentine Bases on the way.  Rumour has it there are more penguins in our future and perhaps a Weddell seal or two.  I can't wait.

February 16 - A Whale of a Time

The last 72-hours have been incredible.  We've had some emails Crabeater seal sitting on a bergy bit
asking if our radio silence was due to poor conditions.  On the contrary.  We have had glorious sunshine and blue, cloudless skies.  The weather has been a gift, and with it has come every conceivable bit of wildlife.  I hardly know where to begin.  First, on Valentine's Day, we dropped anchor in a protected cove and took the dinghy to the mainland where we stepped foot on the Antarctic mainland for the first time.  The feeling was sensational.  Whilst there, we collected some fresh water ice with which to make a tasty, celebratory gin and tonic.

Our sail to the first cove was peppered with small icebergs, the first we
had seen.  By the time we lifted anchor and set sail on Thursday, the
icebergs had increased in size and were magnificent, towering structures. We sailed down the Gerlache Strait, where the visibility was unimpeded by pollution.  We could see mountains perfectly Brash ice
over 100-miles away.   Nature played in our favour.  While we sat eating lunch on deck, a Crabeater seal sunned himself on a flat, floating iceberg.  A Leopard seal had other plans for him.  He snuck up on him and flipped his icy resting place.  Then we came upon our first penguin rookery on a dome-shaped island.  In an inlet with pristene, white snow and blue ice sat this dirty, sooty mound of rock, ice, slush and guano.  It's home to a Gentoo penguin colony.  We motored up alongside and were close enough to smell their home.  The overwhelming odor was of ammonia.

Paul Allen, of Microsoft fame, cruised around nearby in his superyacht,
Octopus.  We couldn't help but note that we were getting a better view of
animal life because we were able to turn off our engine and float up to
wildlife inconspicuously due to our relative size.  All the money in the
world can't buy you the best vantage point!  We were mildly green with envy
when we saw his dual helicopters fly off the upper deck.  However, we were
quite satisfied when we realized that we were small enough to drift silently
past a penguin rookery and capture priceless photos without disrupting life
in the colony.

The day went from great to fantastic.  We tied up next to a half-sunk, Tied up alongside the scuttled wreck
100-year old whaling wreck in Enterprise Island Harbour.  Because the world is a small enough place, a French schooner tied up next to us.  We took the dinghy to some nearby islands.  On the first, we climed a slippery snow hill to stand at the precipice of a sheer drop at the top.  I posed for photos with a giant whale rib bone.  We saw Skuas nesting in the rocks at the summit and were brushed back by their persistent squawks.  We happened upon some heavily-weathered whaling boats and dismantled wooden barrels and thought how sad it is that some nations still hunt whales.  Apparently the Japanese feed whale meat to their dogs.

Friday's weather was stunning once again.  We donned sun cream and motored three miles to a lunch spot called Cafe Point.  We saw our first Minke whales.  While we ate our delicious soup, huge slabs of ice calved
thunderously into the sea.  Small avalanches sent plumes of snow into the
sky.  A Leopard seal surfaced with another seal carcass, enough food for a
good few days, I'd guess.  There was so much to see that I felt a bit
melancholy when we moved on.  However, the day just got better by the hour.


Enter: whales.  Our practice is to turn off the yacht's engine when we Spyhopping whale
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."

Our Friday night ended with a lamb curry over rice, saag paneer and freshly-made creme brulee.  Hamish produced a blow torch to crisp up the sugar on top.  I can't imagine how we'll top a day like this, but I'm willing to give it a try tomorrow as we delve yet further south.

February 13 - The Antarctic Convergence?Kate (yellow jacket), Ciara and Stu having a hot choc break

We plodded along on Monday, having crossed the Antarctic Convergence.  What
is that, you ask?  Well, I didn't really know until recently either.  To
borrow from the Lonely Planet, "The Antarctic Convergence is a temperature and salinity boundary of the Southern Ocean."  The Convergence, or Polar Front as it is also known, moves latitudes slightly from year to year, but can be generally found around 60 degrees south.  Our basic research on the meeting of the warmer, northern sea water and the frigid, southern sea water told us that the clash would provide an upwelling of nutrients to the surface.  With nutrients come the birds to feed, allegedly by the tens of tens. 

We were all wide-eyed on Sunday afternoon when we crossed 60 degrees south...  and we waited.  Day turned into night.  Monday morning a lone Wilson's storm petrol appeared.  Shortly thereafter, he had a friend - then
another.  We attempted to celebrate.  It was a tad premature.  By lunch time, we were being buzzed by innumberable Pintado (painted) petrels.  Their wings look like army camouflage, only in brown and white.  They were too quick for me to photograph, but I promise you they were there.  It made for a lovely welcoming committee.  I finally felt like we were getting somewhere.

As it turns out, we were on a roll.  Although our visibility was poor, our miles were clocking up, and finally we could see a rock, Castle Rock, a sign that we were on final approach to the South Shetland Islands, a place I
hadn't realized we were going.  We were all squinting through the murk, trying to see the rock, when Hamish pointed out an area of the sky which was almost iradescent.  It was the daylight shining off the ice and reflecting back into the sky.  The term for it is "Ice Blink."  It's beautiful.


7 February - Rain and snow in Tierra del Fuego
At anchor in Caleta Banner

Departure day has finally arrived.  We had an impromptu party last night when PELAGIC AUSTRALIS came alongside us and brought over some beer and wine like good neighbors do!  We said farewell to Puerto Williams mid-afternoon and set off on a 20-mile sail down the Beagle Channel in search of an anchorage in a lovely natural harbour opening on the north side of Isla Picton. 

We set off in 30+ knots of wind with 3 reefs in the mainsail and a following sea.  Our tour of Tierra del Fuego began with stunning views of the landscape (often obscured by clouds) and glimpses of native wildlife. We collectively spotted our first penguin in the wild, floating around idly. He quickly ducked below sea level and swam away as we approached.  Tiny outcrop islands were covered in cormorants down from the skies to rest or sleep.

As the yacht left the safe haven of Puerto Williams, the crew went to work in unison.  Before we had convened to agree on hand signals and safe practices, we had already performed several sail-reducing manoeuvres and
line tidy-ups in the increasing breeze.  It wasn't until half-way through the short voyage that Hamish and Kate brought us up to speed on their exact practices and told us about their pet peeves.  It was good to shake off the cobwebs and get into the rhythm of how SEAL operates.  Each yacht isat least a tiny bit different.

Our sail consisted of rain and snow, reefs in and out and a gybe or two.  We poled out the headsail and punched the tide through Paso Mackinlay, the place where the tidal flow of the Pacific Ocean meets directly against the tidal flow of the Atlantic Ocean in a fairly civilized inshore setting. Only time will tell what mood the Pacific/Atlantic convergence will have when we cross the two great oceans meeting  just south of  Cape Horn in a few days' time.

After an easy anchorage in Caleta Banner, we dropped the dinghy off the foredeck into the harbour.  The plan was to have a beach barbeque. However the rain persisted, and we agreed to go ashore for a quick scout around rather than the planned hike/dinner.  Two small, abandoned buildings ashore once housed a control station for the Chilean navy.  The island was once
highly sought after by both Chile and Argentina, and history has it that landmines still dot the soft, grassy rim of the island.  We were quick to look around in the lashing rain and promptly drove the dinghy back to SEAL
for a fantastic dinner of Argentine sausages and a cumin flavoured vegetable medley.  We're under way, which is tremendously exciting.  Our new kit got its first test, and it all works brilliantly.  For now, we're letting the
Drake Passage sort out its angry seas before me make an appearance there on Saturday.  With a shift in wind, we will hopefully begin our crossing to the Antarctic Peninsula early this weekend.

3rd February - Chile is not Chilly!!

 

Fifteen hours did not pass quickly on the leg from Paris to Santiago. The temperature on the plane was stifling and I couldn't sleep, so I watched five movies in succession (a personal best or worst, depending upon how you look at it!). I had an interior seat on the plane and my external view was limited, but from what I could see as the sky lightened was our passage across the Andes, and it was breathtaking. We flew at 38,000 feet, and it looked as if I could reach out and touch the jagged tops of the snow capped mountains.  Stunning!  The scenery reminded me that Chile has it all: world class skiing, a vast desert, coastline, four seasons, vineyards, tundra, etc.  There is so much to do in Chile it's ridiculous, and we're just passing through in a flash.

Stu and I were the last two passengers to proceed through customs and immigration; some days are just like that.  My recently renewed Irish passport was christened with its first stamp: Chile. Terrific, we're finally here. I haggled for a taxi in my best Spanish and we were delivered, without delay, to the Crowne Plaza hotel, just a few blocks from the centre of Santiago. Our taxi driver was as I remember South Americans: welcoming, eager to chat and point out sights and areas of interest and incredibly proud of his country.  A perfect ambassador.

Changing into shorts and flip flops was liberating. It was 30 degrees centigrade, and I was eager to get outside.  We binned the idea of napping in favour of an authentic Chilean grilled lunch al fresco accompanied by a massive salad brimming with ripe avocado, fresh tomatoes, beetroot, corn and hearts of palm.  We tried a local beer, Falshtop, which was as refreshing as I find a shandy to be on a warm day. Our lunch spot was just outside the entrance to the zoo where there were vendors selling everything from colourful ponchos to a photo opportunity with a llama. 

After a walk around our bustling neighborhood, we retreated to the hotel for some late-afternoon lounging around the roof top pool.  The weather was idyllic.  There was a light, steady breeze to keep the sun's rays from bearing down on us uncomfortably. Dips in and out of the pool washed away my jet lag, and the day ended on a high note. Tomorrow we fly 2000 miles further south where it will be cooler, chilly perhaps, and quite possibly raining. No bother. Santiago has treated us to a perfectly lovely day today, a memory that will be fond to conjure up on many an occasion when we can't feel our toes, noses or fingertips on The Ice.  Thank you, Santiago!

January 29, 2007: Holy kit explosion!

Today marks five days to go on Voyage Antarctica 2007. I would like to tell you I am placid and organized; I am not. 

One of the issues nagging at me is the weight of the two bags I am packing. We travel from Edinburgh to Paris to Santiago to Punta Arenas to Puerto William. Our planes get successively smaller as we hop from airport to airfield to airstrip, finally arriving on what is nothing larger than a glorified mosquito-sized propeller jet.  Our weight limit is 25 kilos, full stop.  There is no bribing the pilot.  We've already done the legal equivalent of that by buying 5 seats for only 4 passengers to account for necessary weight excesses.

You wouldn't take 25 kilos of luggage on a normal holiday, but there is nothing normal about summering in Antarctica!  We need it all... from shorts and visors to foul weather gear and woolly hats.  It's going to be what my mother would call a "low budget film."  We'll ostensibly have one outfit for the yacht and one for exploring ashore with some layering options for both.  You'll see photos of us clambering around, thereby covering ourselves in guano (penguin poop).  I hope that made you all giggle.  It makes me giggle to think that in fivedays' time I'll be en route to a place that has held so much mystery for me over the years.  I look forward to sharing the experience with you.

4th January 2007

"If you don't do it this year, you'll be one year older when you do" - Warren Miller

3rd January 2007

I’ve always wanted to go to The Ice. The fact that we are sailing there from Chile is almost too exciting to put into words. There’s a whole journey to be had before our voyage begins, seeing the sites, albeit quickly, in Santiago and Punta Arenas. Then we are one short flight away from Puerto William in the Beagle Channel, where we meet up with the crew and join SEAL, our home for almost five weeks.

My previous Southern Ocean sailing has taken me deep into the Furious Fifties, and that felt like the bottom of the world, as we were racing past monstrous icebergs. This time we will be crossing into the Screaming Sixties and we really will be at the bottom of the world. These latitudes are often lashed by gales and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope to get a large dose of weather!

Most of all, I am looking forward to the spectacular wilderness and all the wildlife there. I cannot wait to see penguins, albatrosses, seals, whale and report back on what else turns up in our path.

 

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