Expedition Sail Blog
I am in the process of changing our blogs of completed journeys into logs, so they read in chronological order -- Kate
On board are Kate, Hamish, Tony, Coryn, Pam, Ron, Sheila, and Roger
1 March 2008 -- Lagoon Island
We have entered another world, or so it seems, we are through the Gullet and into Marguerite Bay. What an incongruous name: Lagoon Island. This place is perfect shelter, but nothing like the image of a Pacific lagoon. The colors are shades of gray, dark rock, pale whites of the snow slopes and glaciers, slate green water, and onshore, an abundance of wildlife......junior fur seals, teenage male elephant seals, Skuas and Dominican gulls in the sky, and a sprinkling of Adelie penguins over the snow slopes.
Last night was quite an Antarctic experience, lying ahull, waiting out the night in thankfully calm seas and winds in a three-mile wide circle of water in the lee of Adelaide Island. The night was punctured by the booming of calving of glaciers and the sucking, sighing, swish from waves compressing under nearby growlers that appeared threateningly out of the murk. Drifting rain turned to sleet and by morning the boat was slick with a coating of wet rapidly freezing snow.
The gods were kind. Huey allowed us passage of the Gullet, a narrow, winding, 18 mile passage between Adelaide Island and the mainland peninsula. At times the thick ice looked impossible, but there was always a way through. The wind stayed northeast and for a while we had a fast 8 knot sail with only a genoa pulling us along on a broad reach.
At the end of a long cold day, we sailed past the unseen BAS (British Antarctic Survey) base at Rothera and onto a 360 degree shelter amongst of a group of islands 3 miles to the southwest. As we bumped our way through the shallow entrance, the lifting keel cable snapped. In record-breaking time, lines were run ashore to stabilize the situation and a new cable was run and secured. With the keel halfway up, we moved into the lagoon, repositioned the lines, and were safe and snug for the night. After a walk ashore, we are having another great dinner with plenty of wonderful Argentinian cabernet sauvignon, while the "smelly-ellies" snort and burp and the fur seals whimper onshore. It's after nine pm, but it is still light and around our Eden, our little oasis, the mountains of Adelaide Island merge into the pale white sky and are defined only by glimpses of rock face and cliffs.
2 March 2008 -- Blaiklock Island
We lie quietly in Bigoudan Fjord, triangulated with anchor at bow and two long lines astern, attached to rocks on Blaiklock Island, half a day's motoring directly into a headwind from our last stop off Adelaide island. There is some controversy about wind speed: 20 knots or somewhat less. The anemometer seen from the wheel outside shows a few knots more than the one inside the cabin. Our skipper says this is to keep those outside happy and feeling adventurous.
The wind has cleared most ice from the sea today. Floating ice comes in categories: icebergs, bergy bits, growlers, and brash. It is all pure white except occasionally we see imbedded black rocks or solidly transparent "diamond ice" compressed by immense glacial pressure. The shore is more or less continuously lined with ice cliffs, either the calving ends of glaciers or between them the snow skirts of steep mountain faces. Either way it comes in compressed layers showing thousands of years of snowfall history.
But here the beach and much of the land is clear of snow. We all go ashore and climb around to photograph adelie penguins and weddell seals. The penguins are young, almost adults, hanging around waiting to mould away their fluffy juvenile feathers so they can set out to sea in their swimming suits. We can - and do - watch them four hours on end while they stand on pink feet, preen and waddle about, sometimes setting off in single file procession to a new spot.
Skuas dive bomb other skuas' chicks, now as large as the adults (but flightless). Apparently they are cannibalistic when they get the chance.
The day started overcast, gradually cleared, and ends with a spectacular sunset over distant white mountains framed on either side by closer ones.
3 March 2008 -- Jones Channel
We motored through the Jones Channel today. In 1992 when Hamish was last here, it was called the Jones Iceshelf - a floating glacier, the work of hundreds of thousands of years, firmly anchored between the mainland and Blaiklock Island. He never dreamed that we would motor through it 16 years later.
We searched the mountainscape hard for the site of Giles Kershaw's grave, but couldn't see it. The legendary Antarctic pilot died here on the iceshelf in 1991 - flying a gyrocopter on a National Geographic film project. We did see the slope Hamish had skied down when he went to visit the grave (he'd been on boat-watch during the funeral). The slope is now bare rock.
It's possible we simply couldn't see the site, because we were now at sea level, not approaching from the surface of the ice shelf as they had done in 1991.
3 March 2008 -- Horseshoe Island
We are secured, four lines ashore, in an eighty foot wide channel, between a long thin slice of rock and a cliff on the main part of Horseshoe Island. The wind is gusting thirty plus, the rain and sleet horizontal. The bigger growlers and bergs are trapped outside in the shallow water at the channel's entrance.
Today we explored the north east corner of Marguerite Bay, following the Bigoudan Fjord between the mountains passing north of Pourquoi Pas? Island and Blaiklock Island back Southwest to Horseshoe Island. It was as if we were high in the Alps amongst the glaciers and mountain tops on a bright sunny day. Most of the passage was under motor, sometimes against cold thirty plus knot katabatic winds pouring down from the mainland glaciers. Turning southwest, gave us a downwind sail in a dying wind as we approached Horseshoe.
We could not have made this passage in the early 1990s as the waters to the northeast of Blaiklock Island were then part of the Jones Ice shelf that is now gone forever. The impact of global warming in this part of Antarctica is plain to see, retreating glaciers, shrinking snow fields. Hamish, SEAL's skipper, recalls in 1989 climbing up and skiing down the 2100 foot Mount Searle we can see from this anchorage. Then it was snow fields and glacier; today it is bare rock from sea level to the top.
Horseshoe Island is the site of one of the BAS huts that served as a base for geological and metrological surveys from 1950-1960. The hut is kept in good condition and well stocked with food packets (most from the 1950s) and fuel and is still used as a refuge by winter sledging parties out of the British Base at Rothera 30 miles to the northwest.
4 March 2008 - Stonington Base - 68 11 South
Tonight we are probably at the southernmost point of our journey. We are also closer to the mainland than we have yet been, separated from much of it by a vast ice shelf. We came in on a rough choppy sea with gusts up to 49 knots (strong gale force). It feels somewhat desolate and very remote here. And of course it is wonderfully remote. We haven't seen another vessel or person in six days. As far as we know there are no yachts and no cruise ships this far south.
The base outside, now abandoned and suffering the ravages of the weather, was occupied in the fifties by the British in one part and Americans (for a year) nearby. The buildings seem to be semi prefab, cable stayed and timber-clad, finished with tar paper and canvas, the later all but ripped off completely by the wind. We go inside. Like others we have entered, a lot of the stuff is left inside, tools, beds, chairs, stoves, food tins, books.
It's interesting that in all this time we have not set foot on the peninsula proper. This is because its mountains and glaciers come straight down to the sea and there is no shelter. We have anchored in low island groups which breaks the sea swell and the winds from several sides. Time ashore has therefore been on small rock-strewn islands, invariably occupied by makeshift base buildings, usually now deserted as this one is.
The topography here also dictates that anchorages are rare often a day's sail apart so mariners call in at much the same spots.
Sailing these seas requires an inordinate amount of clothes change. On and off with storm weather gear, rearranging layers to accommodate changes in temperature, wind speed, level of activity, and precipitation. Canadians will know the syndrome: it's like herding six year olds in and out in winter. We always dress in layers: always in long johns because the temperatures in the cabins are mostly around 65 F and have been known to reach 47 F when the hatch door needs to be open for communication inside and out during tricky maneuvers. Sheila set the indoor layer record today: six above the waist and three on the legs. Outside it was seven layers. However, with activity, the layers soon come off.
Today was fresh water shower day. We are all fresh and clean. Everyday dish washing is done with masses of cold sea water (heated on top of the heater) with a little fresh to finish the glasses and knives that would otherwise rust, but every four days the fresh water comes on hot and much appreciated.
This evening's five day forecast (GRIB files) lead us to decide to go no farther south. North and northwest winds are expected during the next few days. It would be easy to go south with them, but that would only add to the expected difficulty of getting back to the northern end of Marguerite Bay and back north through the Gullet. Our objective was to visit Marguerite Bay. We have been exceptionally fortunate with the weather since leaving Ushuaia. Rather than push our luck, now is the time to turn north.
-- Roger and Tony
5 March 2008 -- Stonington / Lagoon Island
Today began yesterday.
Our anchorage at Stonington was a compromise because the huge ice shelf that had provided an essential barrier no longer exists. This has become a recurring observance in our voyage.
We were barely sheltered as a result and vulnerable to wind shifts. Once again, we set a two hour watch schedule, but before Roger and Sheila had completed their ten to midnight shift, things rapidly started to change.
Wind and tide were now pushing some huge bergy bits (larger than a car) our way, along with considerable amounts of brash (small scraps of ice and chunks a meter plus in size) that proceeded to surround the boat.
Through the thick wet snow that was falling, our bright spot light illuminated the scene in flashes as we monitored the movement of the ice. The thudding of the ice along the hull was quite disconcerting for those below.
Some big pieces were moving inexorably our way so the "three men in a boat" - Hamish, Tony and Ron - jumped into the dinghy and basically became a tug boat. Pushing against the bergs, they gradually got some momentum going, and it was surprising -- and a relief -- to see how successful they were at redirecting them.
Those of us on SEAL fended off the small pieces (some roughly half the size of the boat and heavier ... ed.) with oars and at one point a curious crabeater seal, perhaps attracted by the light, swam around the stern. It was a beautiful sea-green shape in the water, obviously in its element, day or night.
Dawn began to slowly delineate the sea and surrounding mountains and the great wall of ice that ran for miles and miles along the coast.
The brash was now thick (similar to the picture above) but the big bergs were gone. Hamish jokingly called this our "Shackleton Experience." It was enough for us! Needless to say, we got an early start to the day as we slowly motored out to sea.
Tonight, after a sail through 30-50 knot winds and a great upwind leg, we are again snugly anchored at Lagoon Island. It is the first time we have retraced our steps.
Naps followed lunch followed by dinner -- G&T's chilled with ice chipped off a bergy bit for an aperitif, then our first feast off our second lamb. In spite of the naps, we are all off to bed to catch up on lost sleep.
Tomorrow we hope to visit Rothera, the big British research station. Three Canadian bureaucrats from the Department of Northern Affairs have just been flown back to Canada.
But tonight we shall fall asleep to the now-familiar grunts, belches and belows of the elephant seals.
The Art of Herding Icebergs Kate's account of a similar night in 2000 in the Wall Street Journal.
other reports from Antarctica 2008
South Georgia 2007