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

Voyage News

Last News: 8th March - Islas Holger, off Isla Navarino 54 56S, 67 15W Simon, Kiki, Stu and Kate at Cape Horn


There has been no such thing as a bad day aboard Seal, but today
we are making our final passage towards Puerto Williams. We dropped the anchor at lunchtime in a small cove on the north coast of Isla Navarino, after sailing through the Holger Islands.

Tierra del Fuego has been the perfect place to relax for a few days following our sail back across the Drake Passage from Antarctica. We arrived at the Horn at 2pm on Sunday and celebrated with Champagne (perfectly chilled in the bilge in the Southern Ocean).

Isla Cabo Hornos is the Southernmost island in the Wollaston Archipeligo and we anchored by the next Island, Herschel in the late Cape Horn from Mt Herschel
afternoon. The landscape here is lush and green making quite a contrast after a month in Antarctica and we were greeted by the rich mossy aroma of the land well before we got ashore. There is no wonder it is green here and the phrase 'four seasons in one day' fits perfectly - we had glorious sunshine, glassy flat seas, squalls, rain, huge hailstones and snow all in the space of an hour.

On Monday we climbed Mount Herschal for a spectacular view of Cape Horn Island and the Southern Ocean. There was about 20-30 knots registering on the yacht's wind instruments, even in the protection of the anchorage, but the wind chill and wind speed at the top gave a true realisation of the ferocity of the weather.

As the wind built we sailed further in shore to Puerto Maxwell, just of Isla Hermite on Tuesday morning. It was a bumpy ride with winds gusting to over 50knots, but worth it as it was a much more protected anchorage for the Southeasterly winds. Again, we walked to the top of the cliffs, giving us perfect vantage point to appreciate the shelter of our bay. On one side, the Southern Ocean swell rolling in with huge breakers clashing against the rocks and on the other, our yacht safely anchored with lines running to the shore.

The terrain here is very like Ireland with rugged cliffs, peat bog, mossy Bucket of crabsand spongy underfoot with bogwater streams running down the hills. We had company in Gary and Kirsten and their yacht Wandering Albatross who we had also met in Hovgaard earlier in the trip. We dropped in for a warming Irish Coffee on the way back to the yacht after our walk and they later joined us for drinks and dinner and dancing which was great fun... not many people get to have a dinner party less than 10 miles off Cape Horn!

We sailed across the Bahia Nassau to Isla Navarino yesterday and anchored at Puerto Torro, the most Southerly Village in the World. After a superb day's sail in perfect conditions, it was strange to be back to civilisation, but it had its advantages... the fishing fleet were in and we were able to liberate a whole bucket of centollon (crab) in exchange for a litre of wine, a very good exchange rate! This evening we shall be back in Puerto Williams, where we joined Seal 33 days ago...

We have had a fabulous trip and have enjoyed all the messages, questions and support we have received, so thank you. (Posted by Kiki.)

5 March - Four Seasons in one day Summer in Tierra del Fuego


We're sitting in a blizzard at anchor in Cta Marciel - a small cove on the island of Hershel about 10 miles north of Cape Horn. Only 30 minutes ago, the sun was out and we sat out in a gentle breeze on deck - such is the variability of conditions here.

We sailed past Cape Horn yesterday after a really pleasant and easy crossing from Antarctica. The conditions were light, dull and drizzly but, with a southeast swell, we were not able to land on the island itself. We are hoping to have another try to land today, as the forecast is for better conditions, but at the moment there is no sign of any improvement in the swell direction and we may end up here for another night.

We've been ashore here, in the snow, and it's a real contrast to Antarctica. There are trees, albeit very stunted and wind beaten ones, and lots of lush vegetation. Mountain streams, brown in colour from the peat, rush down to the beaches. The smell is very 'green' something we didn't get in Antarctica. (Posted by Simon.)

2 March - Half way back across the Drake Passage


It's our second day at sea and we're making great progress towards Cape Horn.  The wind is blowing steadily from the southwest, increasing
occasionally under the snow squalls that push us along even faster.  Soon it will be rain and not snow when we cross the Antarctic Convergence into 'warmer' waters - one of us are looking forward to that!

Yesterday, our last glimpse of Antarctica was the peaks of Smith and Anvers islands, illuminated pink by the setting sun - a very fitting way to leave this beautiful place.

All is well on board and it's great to be in a watch system. We are all
chatting on our watches together and reflecting on an unbelievable few weeks.
We are also looking forward to visiting Cape Horn if the weather is calm
enough for us to land.

On the wildlife front today we've seen several wondering albatross in the
last few hours. They're huge birds and incredible flyers, skimming the waves
and scanning our wake for fish and krill we have disturbed.  A minke whale
also joined us for 15 minutes - first surfing behind us, then coming
alongside, clearly watching us as is eye broke the surface.

So its steady, enjoyable progress as the miles slip under our keel. (Posted by Simon.)

28 February - Leopard seal 1 - Penguins 0 Leopard seal (head of) with penguin


It can be very exciting getting ashore in the dingy when there is Leopard seal about.

Here in Dorian cove, there is a particularly active seal who has been terrorising the penguin population over the last couple of days. We've seen him take at least three, each time playing with the injured bird much like a cat playing with a mouse. It's a bit tough on the poor penguins, who have struggled all season raising their chicks, but it is how the food chain works around here.

When the unlucky penguin gets attacked, the others all leap out of the water and get ashore. The most striking behaviour then is that they all seem to turn their backs on the gruesome scene.

As well as penguins, Leopard seals also have a taste for dinghies. We have heard reports throughout our time here of them biting rubber floats and as a result we always hoist the boat out of the water when we're not using it. Going ashore today, we had taken the outboard off so that we could carry the dingy up the beach so that the seal wouldn't bite it. This meant we were a bit slow and lumbering paddling ashore. Half way across a seal popped up behind us in our wake. The distinctive face is very menacing and our we certainly upped our paddling pace. It raised the heart rate I can tell you. (Posted by Simon.)

25 February - Turning north and studying whales

Spirit of Sydney

After three days at over 66 south we turned north yesterday, working our way back up the peninsular.

It was a wildlife rich day, with several groups of humpback whales. One pair, a mother and calf spent quite a bit of time with us playing with the yacht and generally being friendly. We also saw several leopard seals patrolling the shores of a penguin colony, clearly looking for breakfast. They are very impressing animals. We heard on the radio this morning that another yacht had their dingy eaten last night, even though it was hoisted three feet in the air!

We spent some time alongside the expedition yacht 'Spirit of Sydney' which is on a six week whale research project with an international group of five whale scientists. When we saw them, they were out in zodiacs looking for the humpback whales they were studying. They were tagging them with small GPS location transmitters which lasted 100 days before falling off, so that they could study the migration patterns from the signals they sent back.

They also took small biopsy samples of blubber, using a tiny barbless dart on a line fired from a cross bow from the boat. The whales didnt seem to mind! These samples would be DNA analysed to give family information about the whales they were studying. It was all faciniating stuff and great to hear about.

We also explored a couple of uncharted inlets. A couple of times the lifting keel and rudder had to be deployed as we touched rocks as we nudged our way in. The best apprach was to have someone up the mast looking down into the water - the shallower water usually looks lighter in colour. We 'named' the cove in the Dannebrog Islands we finally settled in for the night 'Birthday Cove' as it's Simons birthday today. (Posted by birthday boy.)


More on 23 Feb - An anchoring and rock stropping lesson!

You may wonder, with the whole Peninsula to explore, how Seal decides where to go and where to stay. Hamish has been visiting Antarctica since 1987 and so knows the area very well. Yachts visiting Antarctica often keep details of where they have anchored and explored, where's safe, where's beautiful, where the penguins are, where there's good climbing or walks ashore. The rock stropper

We stayed at Flounder Island on Wednesday evening, a place that a fellow yachtsman had anchored at and recommended. We were very protected from the South, but as the wind was due to fill in from the North today, we sailed just five miles across to another Fish Island, Mutton Cove, where the anchorage is protected from the North.

There are two potential problems with anchoring here. Firstly, most anchors find it easier to dig in into sand or mud and the sea bed around the Peninsula is very rocky making it  difficult to get the
anchor to hold. Secondly, winds and tides can bring bergs with them and an iceberg can sit on the anchor and damage it.

We have moored in most places using a combination of anchor and lines ashore or just lines to the shore although at Enterprise Island there was a wrecked whaling ship for us to moor up alongside.

Last night we secured the yacht using lines ashore. The deck is fitted with four large drums with 200m of mooring lines on each. When we arrived in the cove, we lowered the dinghy over the side and went to explore the surrounding rocks, looking for the best boulders or rocks with undercuts to tie up to.

We have a bit of a routine: Simon drives the dinghy and I bring the Looooong mooring linesrock strops ashore - large steel strops for placing around these boulders, with islets for tying the mooring lines to. For very large boulders or lines that are passing over rocks closer to the shore, I shackle two strops together so the mooring lines are not at risk of
chafe from rocks. It means I'm the first person ashore in each place we visit although it does have some disadvantages... I leapt out of the dinghy and onto the rocks yesterday, mistimed it and got a boot full of icy water. (I blame the driver!)

The new weather front filled in during the night. It's windy and sleeting now, but we are secure in our little cove. (Posted by Ciara.)


23 February - Topping up the tanksFirst - dig your hole


You can't just plug a hose pipe in to top up the water when you are in
the wilderness, but with a little ingenuity you can get fresh water.

We've been on a low water use regime since we left Chile - that is washing up in sea water and taking 'navy' showers (turning the water off to soap up, then using a bit more water to rinse) so we actually have lots of water. But it's still nice to top up if you have the chance.

To do this we found a suitable glacier that came to the water's edge in the anchorage. We then winched the yacht close enough for our hoses to reach. It's then a matter of some civil engineering.

First we identified a melt water stream within the glacier. Then we dug
down with a shovel to create a pool of melt water about 5m above sea level. The height is important as we have no pumps to move the water. As we did this, several inquisitive penguin looked on.

With several hoses linked together to reach the yacht, we primed the system by pouring water down the tube to create a siphon then plunged the end into the pool. The flow was really good and the whole exercise took a couple of hours. The water tastes fantastic and we've all had a fresh water shower.

We should have more than enough to get back to Chile, even with a bit more washing. So there you have it - 'free' super fresh water. Now, all we need to do is something to stock up our red wine supplies... (Posted by Simon.)






22 February - Adelie penguins

Adelie penguin

We were sent scurrying to Vernadsky base by the threat of South Westerly gales. The reality - calms - serves to highlight the vaguries of the weather in this part of the world and the difficulty of trying to predict future weather patterns. As it happened, everyone was ready for a down day and we variously busied ourselves exploring and relaxing.

After two nights and warm hospitality from our Ukranian hosts, and with forecast of light Northerly winds, we set off into a light Southerly and headed further South, motor sailing on another glorious day. So sunny was the weather, in fact, that one intrepid crew member even managed to wear shorts, although the cold Southerly resulted in some chilly knees!

As we ambled South, we encountered the ubiquetous humpback whales, although this time they were busy going about their business so we carried on our way, but not before they flicked their tails gracefully in the air as if to wave goodbye. More souper soup was dished up for lunch as we continued on our way. The afternoon saw an increase in the amount of icebergs and bergy bits in the water so we didn't arrive at our planned destination until 6pm.

After securing the boat, everyone came ashore and we sat in the warm evening sun, watching the sun dip in the sky. The fading of the sun brought a rapid chill to the air and sent us scurrying back to the boat for a pile of stir fry vegetables and rice. A brief dinghy ride to watch the setting sun brought another filled day to an end.

As I write this update, we are sat in our idyllic anchorage in the Fish
Islands, just South of 66 degrees. Our immediate neighbours are Adelie penguins, a family of skuas, fur seals and antarctic turns. We ventured up
to meet the Adelies this morning: This afternoon, we must find a new
anchorage as the fickle forecast suggests an unfavourable wind tonight that
may bring ice in to disturb our peace. All in all, life is good in the far
south and all are well on board. (Posted by Stu.)

21 February - Wordie House

We visited the former British Antarctic Survey hut Wordie House Inside Wordie House
yesterday only a few hundred meters from the Vernadsky base. It's now a emergency refuge and museum, left as it was with original food supplies and equipment. Its a very simple structure of wood and corrugated iron, with wood burning stoves from heat. It must have been a cramped and lonely place to spend any length of time.

For entertainment there are 78 records, cards, scrabble and few book. In the galley there is a range for cooking and a simple stone sink. It's all very basic. Outside there is a sign saying 'British Crown Land' - all very imperial.

Many of the logs and journals are still in the hut and they make fascinating reading. One entry from Christmas 1958 said "Christmas dinner, roast Penguin"- clearly in the days pre Antarctic Treaty. It really gives you a glimpse of life there.

There are many other hints of the mindset of the teams who founded the place - the place names for one. We climbed Woozil Hill yesterday and looked over the 'Three Little Pigs' islands.

Today we are off south heading through occasional thick bands of ice for Fish Island. The blow of yesterday largely missed us, but has thrown up a considerable swell so we are rolling. (Posted by Simon.)

20 February - Hiding from the approaching storm at Ukrainian base Vernadsky

We are at the Ukrainian-run Wednesday (Vernadsky) base on the
Argentine Islands in a creek, nestled between the islands, sitting out
the expected bad weather.  It has been snowing  on and off for the
last 24hrs and a thin layer of snow covers the decks.

The base, which was run by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and known
as Faraday until 1996, is a complex of well-maintained  rey huts and
buildings together with a plethora of antenna and equipment nearby. 
Inside it reminds you of a well-run ship - very clean and tidy,
everything in its place.  One striking feature is the extensive fire precautions - the base burning down and leaving the team exposed on the ice mid-winter is a real danger.

It is manned all year round by scientists and expedition staff.  We visited The bar's 'memorabilia'
the base and were shown round by two hugely passionate researchers, Eugene and Andrea.  Eugene is a seismologist, studying earth movements as well as the effect of major ice falls. We compared notes on the recent report of a 'tsunami'  less than 60 miles from here experienced by the yacht 'Albatross'. Looking at the data recorded at the base, our results were inconclusive, but it was fascinating to discover more about what they were doing in the process.

We also saw the 'lab' (well, really a loft space in one of the huts) where
the ozone layer was first identified and bought to world attention when the base was run by BAS.

On the social side, we spent the evening in the base bar drinking Ukrainian vodka and Chilean wine.  The bar was a project of an overwintering British crew. It has the old English pub feel complete with mock Tudor beams! They also seem to have an extensive collection of bras behind the bar.

We returned in the snow after a very sociable evening.

(Posted by Simon.)

19 February - There's a storm coming Chilean base in Paradise Harbour


We spent the night moored just off the Chilean base at Waterboat point in Paradise Harbour - a ramshackle collection of buildings and radio masts painted bright orange, right in the middle of a gentoo penguin colony.  As a consequence, it's a noisy place with penguin calls and generators compared to the silence and ice noises of everywhere else. At the base, 16 men live there over the summer months, mainly  to provide a presence to support Chile's claim to this sector of Antarctica.  They look across Paradise bay directly at the Argentinean base who are doing exactly the same thing for their government.

Quote of the day today -  "Who has better wine on board?".  We were Unna's erm... Reno Tower rockface
looking at the weather forecast and choosing somewhere to sit out an expected gale in a couple of days.  As well as the quality of the shelter, we checked out the plans of other expedition yachts - if you are going to be storm bound, you may as well be sociable.

We motored through Paradise Harbour - past the Argentinean base and red research ship, a ring of  steep mountains and glaciers - and
came close to Reno Tower Rock face - a sheer 1000m cliff which towers
straight out  of the sea.  Hamish has been involved in several expeditions to climb the tower.  We could see old bits of rope which had to be abandoned.

In fact the tower is one of two conical peaks, each with a cap of snow. Too much ice...
They are known informally as Unna's Tits after a lady who worked on the British Antarctic Survey supply ship.

The plan was to pass through the Lemair Channel but when we got to the approaches there was too much ice.  We started pushing through, climbing the rigging to get a vantage point to look for a clear passage.  It was probably passable, given enough time, but we decided to go around to the west.  This required some deft pilotage through many islands and rocks as well as the ice.

We anchored on Hovgaard Island and put long lines ashore - we're now at  65 06.4S 64 04.7W. We took a long walk ashore as there is little Ciara up the mast looking for a way through the icesnow cover and no crevasses.  Stu held various master classes as to the formation and variety of the geology.  One feature was the incredible force of the freeze-thaw process in cracking the rocks - huge boulders had shattered, but with each section of the still rock in position - a bit like a giant Terry's chocolate orange.

Finally we had a visit from the crew of another yacht "Wondering
Albatross". It's great to swap stories and ideas over a drink in the warmth of the yacht. (Posted by Simon.)

16th February - A 'one in a hundred' dayPerfect visibility and still water

When Hamish gets his camera out and gets excited, you know you are
on to something special.  Yesterday he took lots of pictures and was
very excited pretty much all day as the weather was simply perfect. 
Clear, sunny and calm with amazing visibility as we motored from our
cove to Enterprise Island - at one point we could see Mt Francais on
Anvers island over 90 miles away.

Everywhere we looked, we passed dramatic mountains and glaciers on
the mainland and islands.  We passed through the Graham Passage, a half mile lead between an island and the peninsular filled with brash ice and small bergs. We stopped and drifted for lunch Seal - before she was tipped into the water by another seal!as along side a
crabeater seal sunned herself on a small berg.  First she was visited by a leopard seal who fortunately for the seal left and swam on, then
another crabeater who comically spied his colleague, then swam under the berg and tipped her into the water.

The sounds made by the glaciers in the stillness are amazing - groans, bangs and deep booms reverberate around on a regular basis.  On several occasions we saw carving of large chunks which fell off the cliffs, each revealing a telltale blue patch of fresh ice which had probably not seen daylight for thousands of years.

We passed close by several large bergs, each sculptured by wind and sea.  On one, about 12 penguins rested and digested their recent feed, enabling us to take the classic 'penguin standing on berg' Moored alongside the wreckpicture.
Again we stopped and drifted alongside. In fact we stopped so
often that in all our 40 mile passage took over 10 hours - a truly
magical day.

We are now tied to an old sunken whaler, which was scuttled in this tiny bay when the ship caught fire.  In now makes a hand 'quay' for visiting yachts with lots of whaling history - in the broken holds at low water  you can even see the old harpoon heads. (Posted by Simon.)

13 February - First footsteps in Antarctica!

We've arrived in the South Shetland Islands.  We're in Whale Harbour at Deception Island, the world's only active volcanic caldera into which you can sail!! 

We arrived early this morning after being hove to in a controlled drift last Volcano'd whaling hutnight waiting on daylight.  Deception Island is the shape of the letter "c", and we entered the harbour through the only narrow opening which is called Neptune's Bellows. 

We anchored in the harbour and took the dinghy ashore to the black
sand beach which once housed a great whaling station.  The volcano here is dormant, but not extinct, and an eruption in 1969 damaged the British station on this beach and further explosions occured in 1970.  As such, the beach is littered with abandoned buildings, none of which are meant to be removed.  That is because the mudflow as a result of the eruptions has been "regarded as of being of international geological importance."  Also, the whaling station, under the Antarctic Treaty, has been designated as an Historic Site.

We hit the beach, our first foot on land since the islands of Tierra del
Fuego, eager to photograph everything that did and did not move.  Stu Stu's savage furseal

set his sights on a fur seal we came upon quickly. He set up his
monopod and we left him behind to scout the rest of the beach.  Shortly
thereafter, he was seen running for his life!  Fur seals' teeth will incur
deep wounds, which often go sceptic. 

Kiki stripped off her hiking boots and socks, determined
to see whether the steam coming off the shore was a result of
geothermal activity.

Once we returned to the yacht, we were treated to a heated supply
of fresh water and we all showered to our heart's content.  We are no
longer grubby. (Posted by KO.)

12 February (62 21S 062 21W) - Wildlife?

Having crossed the Antarctic Convergence, now is the time to see some more wildlife.   To be honest there has not been much to date and the highlight has been some whale 'footprints' [pictured below], regular up welling of water which breaksWhale 'footprint' the surface in 2m wide 'dishes' which are caused by the (unseen) whale's tail as it swims just below the surface.  We saw this this morning along side and can't wait to see the actual whales!

Other wildlife includes several wandering albatross - apparently greatly
diminished in numbers due to the continued industrial fishing in these
waters which still used lures on long lines which the birds feed on and
die.  These huge birds are incredible flyers, soaring on the lift created
by the ridge of the waves.  They follow us for many miles looking for  food that has been disturbed by our wake.

Other birds in abundance are Pintado Petrels - I guess these are very common as their other name is cape pigeon - far less glamorous!

As we write we are 32 miles from the Boyd Strait. With this increasing
easterly wind there is a very real chance that we will not be able to make directly for Deception Island.  The current plan is to see what happens as we get closer - we are not keen on beating 35 miles to get to Deception and we cannot sail in rough conditions in the dark when there is ice about - you simply can not see the ice from the white caps.  In these conditions, we will hove to (stop and drift under control) and wait for daylight.  Being so
far south - night is very short so we should only have to wait a few hours. (Posted by Simon.)

11 February - Half way there!
A tough day at the office

We are now over half way across the Drake Passage with just over 200 miles to go to Deception Island, Antarctica. Although we've all "done" the Southern Ocean before, this passage has been a rude reminder of all the Southern Ocean has to offer.

We've been doing watches of 4 hours on, 6 off, rotating through the
team. This being the Southern Ocean, we've seen some big weather and it's been a fast learning curve settling into the routine and the conditions, learning to helm again in southern ocean rollers, navigating your way around the waves and spume. There's no problem staying awake... every so often a wave rises up and smacks you across the face with icey spume.

We've all found different way's to stay warm on deck; Hamish  rolls his shoulders, Kiks taps her feet; it beats standing like a penguin and just taking it! We were taking 30 minute stints helming during the night as it was a bit of a knuckle freezer and it was quite funny to come down off the deck, soaking and trying to warm up to find Helen and Anna playing happily in the saloon in their pyjamas!

Today's the first time we've been able to go on deck without storm hoods up and harnesses on and the sea state has eased considerably. Kate has just cooked up a super lunch and the computer is out again..., Simon got the 6 nations results through though so things are looking up. Helen and Anna are settling in to an afternoon listening to Harry Potter and I'm off back on deck! (Posted by Ciara/Kiki.)

10 February - Day one in the Drake Passage

It's a surreal experience listening to Harry Potter with Helen and Anna, Day one in Southern Ocean
sitting in my t-shirt in a warm and comfortable saloon looking at a white streaked grey Southern Ocean, while outside there is 40 knots of breeze piling up the waves.  The motion of the yacht is very gentle - we are beam reaching with only a staysail and fourth reef set.  Only the occasional rogue wave breaking over the yacht reminds you where we really are.

On deck it's great.  The streaks of foam stretch out from side to side, a full southern ocean landscape.

Last night things were much quieter, in fact we motored for a few hours.

We are making good progress and all is well on board. (Posted by Simon.)

9 February - Preparing for sea

Fitting storm covers
Today's the day, so we are spending the day preparing for sea.  We are all very settled and at home with the boat's routine so, living-wise, getting to sea should now be easier than going straight out into a blow.

We have already bolted additional plastic covers over the saloon window to protect them from the odd rogue wave.  Other jobs completed include flaking the anchor chain so that is doesn't get completely knotted as it bounces around in its locker in rough weather, all loose gear is being stowed and shore gear such as walking boots put away. All good seamanship.

There's one last trip ashore before we put the dingy and outboard away. We may as well make the most of stretching your legs before we go to sea.

The boat gets its weather information daily, in the form of electronic 'GRIB' files that give a forecast for the next few days - a wider area over view and a more detailed, local forecast for the particular area we are in. Like any forecasts they have their limits, but they do seem pretty good.

The departure window is expected this evening with a forecast west north west 20 knots.  As it has been blowing hard for the last few days there will be a large south-westerly swell to deal with. Hamish plans to get off the
continental shelf into deep water and therefore less steep seas as fast as possible - sounds like a smart move.

The boat should be able to average about 150 to 175 miles a day so the passage to the peninsular should take about 3 to 4 days and we are aiming for the Bransfeld Strait and Deception Island as our first stop. The
forecast for the arrival window  also looks good, with modest breeze from the  north west - ideal for  making landfall.

We had our first communications worry today - the connection to the 'car' antenna we are using is suspect.   Simon has repaired it but the signal strength seems low and intermittent so we have reverted to using the one on the top on the phone. Remarkably the signal is great with it sitting next to the window in the saloon,  another advantage of having large windows.  If the worst comes to the worst we can use the boat's systems to get stuff ashore, but not so often.

Once we are out into the Southern Ocean we'll send back a report and images. (Posted by Simon.)

6th February - We're here!

After three or four flights and some 7000 miles, we have all arrived in Puerto Williams or roughly 55 South, 67 North if you think that way.

We have spent the first day settling into the boat, un-packing kit, familiarising ourselves with the systems on the boat and taking a quick stroll around town.

Puerto Williams is billed as the most southerly, permanently inhabited
settlement on the planet. The historians amongst you may know it as the home port of the Chilean naval vessel, "Yelcho," that rescued Sir Earnest Shackleton in 1916. (In fact the bow of the vessel is preserved in the town as a monument to the feat). The settlement has a bleak outlook, a true frontier town. There is no question that life here must be hard but the harshness also has a coarse beauty, and we feel privileged to have been afforded a brief glimpse.

The weather is frequent. It swings from sunshine to rain to snowy showers to hail, and the wind is up and down and round and round. The forecast for the next few days not particularly conducive to going many places at all, least of all Antarctica. The plan is to gently island-hop southwards as the weather allows, with a view to heading out across the Drake Passage around Saturday. The reality is that a few days to get used to the boat before we head out into the Southern Ocean is a welcome thing. (Posted by Stu.)

4th February 2007: Communications - at last!

With just hours to spare - we finally got the communications set up to enable us to send stuff back to the site. We are connecting to an Iridium mobile phone, using the Telaurus system.

When up and running, this is a great system, which we have used on the Global Challenge and other projects. However on other occasions we have used professionally-installed yacht based units, not a DIY set up!

We wanted a completely independent, totally portable system, so we begged and borrowed a portable sat phone and attempted to connect it all up. I was told at the outset that the portable Iridiums are 'tricky' - I can now confirm that is an understatement!

We've been trying to get the system working for most of January. We've tried two different phones and literally hours of configuration. Throughout all of this Ewan Robinson of ANSM in Greece has been our guru. Ewan knows these systems inside out, and that combined with his incredible work ethic and 'never give up attitude' is the only reason you are reading this now. Thanks Ewan.

Although thoroughly frustrating, I must admit to moments when I got a real buzz when we made progress – no doubt remnants of my techy past. We finally got it working when it was near dark on Friday night, with the lap top and sat phone sitting on the bonnet of my car parked in our driveway, so we could get a clear view of the satellite.

We’ll do one more ‘live’ test before we fly down to the yacht tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed!


27th January 2007 - Will it all fit in the bag?

It’s packing weekend and we’re all scratching our heads working out how to get all the kit into our bags. As well as all our sailing gear – off shore foulweather suit, boots, gloves etc, there is lots of cold weather shore stuff – boots and gaiters, serious thermals and the like. Add to that the cameras, computers and satphone, it’s a lot of stuff!

And of course there are the bits and pieces – such as five week's worth of toiletries and all the just-in-case stuff – cold remedies, plasters etc.

And with only one week to go before we join the yacht – the level of communication between us has increased with last minute checks. We are getting over 300 visitors a day to the site, which is amazing since it is only our friends and family that have the details. Knowing that so many people are checking in makes us more motivated to update things more readily.

We’ve also added a ‘AskKO’ section to the blogs so that the children following KO’s progress can get answers to their questions posted on the site.

27th January 2007 - Blog update from Simon

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15th January 2007 - Boat Show kit-fest - well almost...

We had a great trip to the Boat Show this weekend and saw lots of friends, drank a few pints of Guinness and totally failed in our mission to buy needed extra gear! Well, we had a good look at the stuff, so we’re better informed… ahem.

A highlight of the show was seeing the RNLI life boat ‘Toshiba Wave Warrior’ – this was the inshore boat that Toshiba and the Toshiba Wave Warrior crew in the BT Global Challenge raised money to purchase and Simon Ange Morris, Simon and Kiki (c) Guy Bell named at the Boat Show nine years ago. It was amazing to see the very same boat and great to hear that even though it was a training boat it had saved 19 lives (as well as trained 300 crew). Thanks Guy for taking the photos, and great too to see Ange, who was manning the offshore Lifeboat at the show. Ange was Toshiba’s ‘MegaLegger’ who got her place be being an active RNLI volunteer.

We also had a pint with Stephen Wilkins – Steve was skipper of ‘Spirit of Hong Kong’ in the BT Global Challenge and until recently was skipper of Skip Novak’s ‘Pelagic’, leading many trips to Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands. He was in the UK buying an ex-Challenge yacht to take down to Antarctica on sailing expeditions. As he is an ‘old hand’ in the region, he had lots of things to tell us and helped paint a more vivid picture of what we are to expect. Great stuff.

13th January 2007 - Blog update from Stu

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7th January 2007 - Links page added

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7rd January 2007 - Blog update from Simon

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4th January 2007 - Wild Weather at the Horn

It may be mid summer in the South but the sheer variability of the Southern Ocean weather at any time of year makes sailing there a real challenge.

I was once told by a man with a high forehead at the UK Met Office in Bracknell that the average wind speed between 40 and 60 South was only 17 knots. But as we all found out when we sailed there, that average was made up of ‘not a lot’ and ‘an awful lot’, often in very quick succession.

There was a real reminder of that this week as an intense low tracked over Cape Horn. “It’s blowing like hell today with a real Cape Horn storm out in the Drake Passage and supposedly 90 kts at the Horn itself. Snow on the hills this morning as the cold front passes,” Hamish said in his note from the yacht last night. Look at the ‘bullseye’ on Wednesday’s weather chart to see what we mean.

Getting reports like this creates a real surge of an odd mix of adrenaline, nostalgia and, to be honest, a certain amount of trepidation. From a seamanship point of view, big blows are pretty simple – you have two ideals, either being well at sea, with loads of sea-room or really secure and snugged down in a safe mooring. It’s the bit in between these two states that can get a bit exciting…

And then there is sea sickness. Between us, we’ve sailed hundreds of thousands of miles, but that was a while ago. It’s certainly true that the more you sail, the less affected you become, but equally if you don’t sail that much you lose your that resistance. Will we have second portions of supper as we sail across the Drake Passage? Will we even hold down a cup of tea? We’ll let you know!

4th January 2007 - Blog update and profile from Katherine

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3rd January 2007 - Blog update from Stu

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2nd January 2007 - Blog update from Ciara

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1st January 2007- launches

The Christmas break has finally allowed us to invest some energy in sharing our upcoming trip and we have launched the website.

We hope to bring you updates of our preparations and share experiences of the trip with you in the next couple of months. We will send back reports and photos via Iridium mobile phone.

The site is a bit of a team effort. Simon designed and set it up and pursuaded Kerry Dye who ran the great websites for the Challenge events to tidy up the layout and create workable templates.

Lamorna Trahair (who updated both the last Global Challenge and Volvo Ocean Race websites) has 'volunteered' to update the site from emails we send back.

The rest of the content comes from Stu, Kate and Kiki, together with stuff borrowed from Kate and Hamish's website Thank you guys for letting us pilfer the odd photo and share the trip with our friends and contacts.

31st December 2006 - There will be more stories here... honest!

As we are sitting in the UK, eating and drinking ourselves silly, there isn't much to report! We will get our acts together and share what we are up to as we make our final plans in January. We promise!


Ciara's Blog

KO's Blog

Simon's Blog

Stu's Blog

Ask KO

Kerry D for sorting out the layout of this site

Kate and Hamish for letting us use content from their website

David B for lending me his Iridium phone

Lou for updating the site when we are in Antarctica

Our employers for letting us escape for 5 weeks

Ewan for setting up the Iridium airtime and connection to the telaurus email service

See his site for info

More Antarctica links