Ciara, Katherine, Simon and Stu go south on Seal - February/March
Well thats the end of my adventure - and I guess the start of the next one as I head home to 'real' life. I so looking forward to seeing Lou Jack and Charlie. I hope to return with them one day.
It's been an amazing time, and totally exceeded my expections on so many levels. I must thanks Hamish, Kate, Helen and Anna for sharing their beautiful home 'Seal' with us for 5 weeks and for being such great guides, hosts and friends. Also Kiki, Stu and KO for being fabulous crew mates - we will have memories and stories to share together for many years to come.
So what are my final thoughts and conclusions? Antarctica is an amazing place - a pristine, wild, beautiful and delicate place. But we can, and are messing it up just like the the rest of the planet. I've seen with my own eyes where the ice has retreated in the last 6 years. I know how delicate the eco system is and what a loss it would be to the magic of the world if it is distroyed.
So do visit yourself if you can - but be sure to come with a responsible group, fully compliant with the Antarctic treaty. Use an IAATO member if you can.
Watch the Al Gore film 'An Inconvienient Truth' - he's right - we do need to do some thing about climate change. Now.
Switch off the lights you don't need.
And don't eat farmed salmon (they are fed on krill harvested by increasing numbers of factory ships) In Antarctica, no krill means no life. Literally.
Until next time. Simon
Another beautiful morning sitting in Dorian Cove as the sun comes up and lights up Anvers island behind us. We will be moving shortly for our last anchorage before leaving Antarctica.
It's with mixed feelings that this part of the trip is coming to an end - on the one hand the change of an ocean passage is exciting - the weather window looks good with a building SW breeze forecast. But then we will be leaving this white and genuinely pristine place (I have not seen any man made objects washed up on any beach - nothing). I'm sure I will be back.
Robert Swan came over for a cuppa yesterday. He was leading a small expedition of teachers and business people on a environmental awareness programme - they were camping ashore right next to us (as I write they are playing cricket on the glacier....). Robert is a very entertaining character and we all knew a lot of people in common and it was a very sociable time.
Breakfast is ready (porridge) and we'll be kitting up to go - will be fun avoiding the leopard seal in the dingy!!
What a great way to spend your birthday! We sailed (as opposed to motored) yesterday as much as we could - at one point we launched the dingy so Stu and Hamish could get photos of us sailing between the ice bergs.
I opened some pressies and cards brought from home and was treated to a yacht-baked carrot cake, complete with candles. After passing some stunning mountains and glaciers we ended up in Port Lockroy. This collection of huts is now a historic monument looked after by a UK trust, but until 1962, it was the British Antarctic Surveys 'Base A'. The relavivlt level ice ridge once served as a runway for twin otter aircraft - looking at the crevasses on either side it must have made for interesting landings.
The custodians spend the summer here maintaining the structures and generally restoring the place. Rick, a long time friend of Kate and Hamish, and his team showed us round. In the bay, there was some spectacular ice cliff calving - it went on for ages, throwing up waves and huge quantities of broken ice.
It may have been the pisco sours mixed in hounour of my birthday, or the odd bottle of wine we had afterwards, but we settled into a very nice evening and rather forgot about the ice now drifting towards us...
....until 6 in the morning when, in a less than fresh state, we realised that all the ice from the glacier had blown into our rcove and had completely packed around us. More was blowing in in the increasing wind and snow, so we had to shift. First problem was getting to the rock strops ashore - the dingy virtually sat on top of the ice, rather than floating clear and we had to pull ourselves along the bow line to the small island to get into clear water. From there, Hamish got to clearer water and managed to get me ashore so I could walk round and untie the stern lines so Kiki and Stu could recover them. Kate could then haul on the anchor to pull us out of the thicker ice into broken water.
It was all rather fun and a hell of a way to wake up. We motored round to Dorian Cove a couple of miles away, anchored and set 4 shore lines - all before breakfast! It will be a day or writing, showering and probably snoozing!
A couple of pics sent by Ciara and posted by me (Lou). I'm sure there'll be a blog from him later - if he survived Hamish's pisco sours!
Heading north now having stayed put yesterday due to heavy snow and wind from the north. I enjoyed being snugged down in a secure anchorage wacthing the snow build up and whiten the landscape even more. Everything is covered in snow and the wind instruments have frozen up. It was a chilly and slippery dingy session this morning recovering the lines.
It's very remote here. There has been no sign of any human activity around us for over 72 hours - no other people, boats, planes - nothing. There are not many places on earth you can do that.
As I write, Stu is helming - piloting the yacht between the icebergs and islands. The wind yesterday has cleared much of the brash ice which makes things a bit easier and we are making good progress. Think it's time to put the kettle on!
The last few days has had a very relaxed atmosphere. We are now further south at 66 degrees - it feels much more remote and less discovered. This year is particularly free of sea ice so we can get to places easier, although there are plenty of bergs and brash ice to pilot around.
The landscape has also changed. We still have magnificent ice and snow-covered peaks, but they now jut out of lower, more undulating ice caps - somehow they look more impressive that way.
Weather-wise we have been so lucky. We are now into yet another clear and sunny day, with little wind and great photography. It's only when you stop and objectively look at what you have taken do you appreciate what we have seen.
And there are very special moments. Like happy hour last night in the warm sun on a small rocky outcrop by the yacht. Along side us a small colony of Adelie penguins were sunning themselves and we looked over a vista of small islands and majestic icebergs. It was so good we had to go back to the boat for more beer.
We have just come in from a dingy explore. We landed on the island next to us and climbed to the top past some sun bathing Adelie penguins. KO did her 'bird woman' impression: she just sat down to photograph them and within minutes was surrounded! She sat amongst them for 30 mins while we took great photographs. Nearby, a couple
of fur seals looked on.
At the top we heard a huge avalanche or ice fall. We couldn't see where it was but the sound reverberated around the bays for several minutes. Just back now for a cuppa and muffin before getting ready to move on to another lovely place!. It's tough!
It's incredible here.
The only thing missing yesterday was Lou, Jack and Charlie being there to share a perfect day with me
It was even clearer and sunnier than the day before, but with more wildlife to see. In terms of mood and atmosphere, the closest comparison I can think of is being magically transported to a mountain top in the Alps on a perfect still and sunny day after a fresh snow fall, but now at sea level with amazing wildlife all around and the sounds of ice, the sea and of the animals that live here.
I took over 600 photographs and an hour of video - between us we
probably took 3 or 4 thousand. It was that kind of day. The photographs can only capture 5% of what it is really like here. Now I know why people are so spellbound by this place. Like I said, it's incredible.
So. The difficult job of selecting some highlights:
I sat at the bow in the morning drifting in the sunshine and no breeze with a cup of tea and a freshly baked scones (with cream and jam, we have to maintain standards).
We piloted through the brash ice and watched avalanches and ice falls which created splash waves in the bay. The waves made all the ice around us, which was quitely cracking and popping, burst into life as it
all started to bump and crunch into itself.
Over lunch we drifted in dense brash ice and bergs and watched a leopard seal swim with a fresh kill in his mouth. It looked like a seal carcass at least the same size as him. He released the carcass and then circled an iceberg along side us for half and hour. Leopard seals have big nostrils and almost 'orc' like faces - very mean looking.
Time is irrelevant when something special is going on. The something
special yesterday was when one, two, then three humpbacks came to us - showing their incredible skill in manoeuvring right up to the boat,
hovering inches away. Words can't really describe it. They were there for one and a half hours but it seemed like twenty minutes. Or was it 3 hours?
Then they would dive, show of some more fancy swimming and come back again. The noise they made as they breathed in and out is fantastic - they 'blew' smelly, oily, fishy spray and whale breath at us. This led to the quote of the day from Hamish this morning, "Look at the whale snot on the windows!"
And it is just incredible here.
There is so much stuff, that finding time to write it down is a problem - we are on long days 6am till late - we had supper in the anchorage at 1030pm last night.
And then it was fresh lamb curry with all the trimmings for supper: like I
said, it was near perfect day.
Yesterday was amazing. In fact there were too many highlights.To even choose
some would be difficult. Kate and Hamish are so relaxed still,
with a "you ain't seen nothing yet" attitude which hints of much more to
If I have to pick some memorable moments then the humpbacks (so, so common - we saw a pair every 20 mins of our 10 hour passage) playing with us and one was 'skyhopping' right along side us [pictured, right]. He (or she) dived under the boat and showed its white belly clearly through the clear water. And then there were icebergs - first in the distance, then all around us. Sailing between a pair, perhaps 100m either side was cool. All around us the scenery is wonderful, high mountains, glaciers rumbling into the sea and huge snow
And I stepped foot on Antarctica proper - the big bit you can walk to the
pole if you were that way inclined. We were landing long lines ashore to moor and I had to time my step ashore gingerly as we surged up in the swell in the dingy - but as I stepped and crunched through the snow on the rocks, I did quickly pause to reflect on 20+ years of day dreaming becoming reality. It was a great moment.
As I write this, the sun is out and an early photo party has gone out in the dingy to make the most of the low morning light. There is ice all around us in the water - small bits like the 'slush' drink, as well a bergy bit the size of a car bobbing along side. Just out in the bay a large berg has grounded.
Visibility is fantastic today - we are sailing another 40 miles south. I'm
sure there will be some more photos to come in the next 24hrs. Watch this
Just up early this morning. We have upped anchor and are leaving Deception
Island. There is not a breath of wind and the beach is steaming for the geo thermal activity in this active volcano. It's bright and almost sunny and there is a family of humpback whales in the bay. Its a very peaceful place today.
Deception was interesting - lots of history with the whaling, ex-research
base and the various eruptions which has caused it to be abandoned. It's not really Antarctica though, rather a unique curiosity which you have to see, but not linger. It's very barren with no snow or white ice due to the heat and the few areas of ice high up on the hills are 'dirty' with volcanic ash. I'm really pleased to have been here, but I'm glad we are now off to see the 'white' Antarctica. Deception is also the most visited place down here. We have seen a few icebreaker cruise ships, complete with Japanese tourists - one boat load even came out to take pictures of us...
Another good reason to head south!
Our intention is to sail about 60 miles south west today, to somewhere that Kate and Hamish have not even been too. The area should be much snowier - it's fascinating to see the 'ice blink', light patches in the sky where unseen snow and ice is reflecting light back up to the underside of the clouds indicating a much whiter views to come. I love learning about the tools and ideas you need to sail down here.
Yesterday one of the highlights was seeing two pods of humpback on the approaches to the island, I'm sure we will see many more but we all got very excited and took lots of picture of the sea where a whale 'was'! - I'm sure we will see many more.
I'm really enjoying being at sea, in a watch gently going somewhere. Yesterday was very familiar Southern Ocean rough stuff with really big rolling seas and lots of wind - we ended up with 4 reefs in the main and the smallest staysail. It was all very under control and civilised however. We had a couple of big dumps of water on deck as we came across a breaking wave top - one was big enough to set off KO's life jacket which is set to automatically inflate when full immersed in water - nice to know they work.
This morning there is a gentle breeze and we are pootling along quite nicely. We are only 40 miles from 60deg south - that is pretty much the furthest south I have sailed before. At any time we expect to cross the 'Antarctic convergence'. This is where the cold water of the Antarctic meets the warm (!!) water of the Atlantic. As we cross it we'll notice a big drop in temperature of the air as well.
We are only 230 miles from the Boyd Strait in Antarctica, plus another 30-40 or so to our intended destination of Deception Island. All being well that means arrival on Monday evening or Tuesday morning. The weather then looks like it will be a gentle northerly - ideal for making land fall.
Everybody's getting on well - we are on a rolling watch of 4 hours on, 6 hours off. I have Kiki for 2 hours then Stu for 2 hours. Then it's KO and Hamish. Kate 'floats' and helps out with sail changes as well as keeping the boat going and keeping Helen and Anna in check. The girls (although we are not allowed to call them that, they tell me) are great and very relaxed playing together and listening to Harry P when outside it is literally blowing a
The lambs are looking 'well seasoned' with plenty of brine rinses. The odd thing is the occasional smell of fresh meat in the cockpit - it's very odd to get the whiff of butchers shop when out at sea. Lamb is on the menu as soon as we get in I feel!
We are waiting for the weather to improve in Banner Bay on Picton Island today - the plan is to prepare for sea tomorrow morning, then set out once the breeze shifts to the NW and drops during the day. We expect it to fill in again strongly from the west over the next few days so it will be a lively, but hopefully fast reach across the Drake passage.
The wind has been up and down all day with some big squalls of 30-40 knots with heavy rain or hail coming through even in this incredibly sheltered anchorage. Out in the channel,the white horses looked very impressive. All around the hills there is lots of new snow which we occasionally see when the visibility lifts. Every now and again we get beautiful spells of blue sky and you really appreciate the beauty of this place.
Most of us went ashore today and walked up the river at the head of the bay as far as we could. We had to turn back after 20 mines due to the extensive mine field on the island - these are remnants of tensions between Argentina and Chile in 1977 and they blight many of the islands around here. We are completely alone here but there are two disused huts here, where people have made stoves from old oils drums. On the door there is a notice which in Spanish says "Please don't vandalise, but use as necessary".
We came across a number of beavers lodges up the river and what we think is a skull from a small one - it certainly has beaver looking front teeth. No live beavers spotted.
Hamish hung up our two lamb carcases on the 'goal posts' at the back of the
boat as the most practical way of stowing them - we'll hack bits off through
out the trip. One skill I wasn't expecting to pick up was butchery!
We have had a second night in Puerto Williams getting sorted out for the trip - its all very chilled and relaxed. The weather looks lively for the next few days with solid south west 30 to 40+ knots expected, so the plan is to hop down the lee of the islands to the north east of Cape Horn for a couple of days. We are aiming for what looks like a great weather window to strike south on Friday/Saturday when we hope to have West or North West breeze for the trip - pretty breezy for a day of two, but a fast and comfortable direction to get south.
We are now berthed alongside Pelagic Australis, Skip Novak's 'big' expedition yacht - as the crew are all ex-Challenge guys we had a good 'so you must know' catch up last night. It actually became a very social evening, first on Seal, then the sunken ship the 'Micalvi' which acts as the dock, bar and 'yacht club'
(they claim to be the most southerly bar in the world). Finally we went on Pelagic for a night cap. It was a very late one. We plan to RV with them in Antarctica at some point on the trip for a re-match!
The poison of choice here is great Chilean red wine, but also 'Pisco Sours' a Chilean cocktail which is sweet, limey and very potent - a sort of alcopop capirinha. Nice in small quantities but deadly otherwise.
Another yacht came in yesterday which was very overdue. They'd had a hell of a time crossing back from Antarctica and a new crew has been waiting for them ashore for 3 days with no word. It included the climber Simon Yates of 'Touching the Void' fame. It does seem to be a very small world down here.
Off to Picton Island this afternoon and it will be great to get out to sea even if only fro a few hours. We have left the dock once already, but only to re-tie up when Pelagic came in last night. More soon.
I started writing this at Santiago airport waiting for my flight to Punta Arenas. It was a glorious, bright sunny day - it is clearly summer in the southern hemisphere.
As we landed in Santiago, the Andes were clearly visible to the east as we flew down the Pacific coast, silhouetted by the sunrise - they looked incredible.
In the many waits in queues on this trip so far, I've met a few other people heading down this way - an American school teacher who is joining in a research ship studying the sea bed in the crinkly bits of Patagonia and two Canadian climbers who are walking and climbing in the mountains in the far south of Chile.
The flight down to Punta Arenas took us across the Southern ice fields in the mountains. I could see icebergs that had carved off the glaciers floating in the giant mountain lakes. Then the landscape flattened out as we got closer to Punta Arenas.
PA itself has a bit of a frontier town feel. The outskirts are made up of tin roofed buildings while the centre is an odd mix of the older grand buildings (banks, town halls etc), modern concrete buildings and the odd tin shack. The country side around the town is green/brown and quite barren - the few trees there are are all angled by the wind. It's rather like the Shetlands! It's also cool and drizzling.
One week to go and are we ready? Well no, not completely – but we are making progress. Last minute shopping this morning – socks, water proof jacket and trousers for ashore (so as not to get penguin poo on our foul weather gear!) and a few more thermals. In my heart of hearts I know I won’t need so much gear, but then again, if I’m wrong, you can’t, just pop down the shops can you? Once I’m there, I’ll be content with what I’ve got, but now I still have the opportunity to get extra bits, there is always that nagging thought.
I bought specialist evacuation insurance this week which covers Antarctica and Ocean sailing, but apparently not Iraq and Afghanistan, so we can’t pop over there on the way home.
Just showing Lou how to post updates to the site using Dreamweaver and Filezilla – hopefully we will have something to send her.
The main stress is we are still struggling to get the sat phone email connected. If we don’t then this site will be a bit thinner than we hoped – although we will be able to send stuff through the boat’s system – but no photos, which rather limits things. We have a ‘b’ plan, but we won’t know if that works until the day before I fly – keep your fingers crossed!
The task tonight is to try to pack the stuff in a bag I can actually carry – Kate and Hamish are lending me some foulweather gear so long as I act as a test dummy and get some pictures for ‘Sail’ magazine in the Southern Ocean – that’s certainly saving some space and weight. Did a dress rehearsal this afternoon wearing all the kit – yep, it’s certainly warm!
I had a great time at the Boat Show (see the news story) but didn’t really get any further gear. Somehow it was far more fun talking about the trip than trying on supposedly cheaper gear. It’s only money after all. Kiki bought some rather funky bright yellow binoculars mind you – I’m sure another pair will come in handy.
If we bumped into you, it was great to see you!
On Sunday, we plotted and planned, and looked through the kit list, marvelled as to how we were going to get it all in one bag and read books and others accounts – it’s much better doing all this with someone else who’s also on the trip – stops me being and Antarctica bore too early on – I ’ll save that for when we are back…
The biggest frustration at the moment is waiting for DHL to deliver the SIM card for the iridium phone. We need this so that we can set up the email system and test it. Ewan and Popi have done a great job rushing the application through, but DHL seem to have lost it ( temporarily, I hope) and with three weeks to go, it seems like a no time at all left to sort this part of the cunning plan out. This could be a very quiet website without it!
Getting the message from Hamish this week about the weather as Cape Horn (see news) really helped bring it home that we will be in a wild and woolly place in less than one month’s time. The weather here has been wild as well, so I’ve closed my eyes a few times in a blustery fields and visioned being down there. OK, so it smells of damp Hampshire here, not the sea, but it still gets heart rate up.
I’ve now started pulling all the kit together in one place – it looks and feels an awful lot, and I’ve still got stuff to get. I got hold of the Iridium phone we are going to use to send stuff back to the site this week (thanks David) – all I need now is the sim card and we can test it out, that will be fun for a frustrated ex-techy like me.
What’s also great is the number of emails I’ve had from friends and contacts since we put the site up. If all the offers of lunch after I get back are fulfilled, I’ll be a very porky boy by mid summer. Thanks to everyone for showing such interest.
It’s amazing what putting this site up has done for my enthusiasm for the trip – somehow it’s suddenly seems real and scarily close. In the next few weeks we really do have to dot the ‘I’s and cross the ‘t’s on so many details.
The main challenge at the moment seems to be kit.
I’ve been looking at the kit list that Kate and Hamish have sent over– it seems pretty long – really I can’t remember using half this much gear the last couple of times I crossed the southern ocean. Then again, we only spent a small amount of time at 60 south, we were racing and saving weight – and, to be honest, we all stank! I guess this time we can be civilised and have plenty of changes.
Christmas is a good time for acquiring kit. My list to Santa had lots of socks, gloves, hats etc – my office team were brilliant and bought all the possible glove combinations I could possibly want.
And I’ve, a hem, got my sailing kit out of the loft, complete with mouse damage from the loft mouse (how sad is that?) – I think a few upgrades may well be required. I hope to do a Guinness fuelled London Boat show trip in the next couple of weeks to top up on gear, can there be a better excuse?
So why am I doing this? well I’ve got a bookshelf full of Antarctica books – and a chart on the study wall centred on the South pole. I’ve talked about doing a trip like this for years, but like any endeavour, as well as a clear intent, you need to take a first step. Meeting up with Kate and Hamish in the spring and visiting the yacht got me thinking, and then seeing our friend Mark’s photos of his trip last season tipped me over the edge. I can finally find out what all the fuss is about!
I’m looking forward to the simple clarity of purpose being at sea and relying on out own resources. It seems all too rare in modern life and I miss it. I’m also really looking forward to learning things from Kate and Hamish. Visiting ‘Seal’ in the spring of 2006 gave me a glimpse into the depth of knowledge and seamanship they both have – I can’t wait to spend some time with them both.
On the down side, being away from home for 5 weeks will no doubt be tough. On the big trips I’ve been on in the past, it was the day job at the time that paid the mortgage – somehow it’s easier to be away from the family when you can justify it in those terms.
I think I’ll come back refreshed, enthused and with another valuable perspective – It’s a great way to kick off 2007!