Antarctica 2013 – 2014
Sailing to Antarctica is not straight forward. Dana Felicia being a British registered boat had to apply to the Polar Region Department under the British Foreign Ministry for a special Permit. Doing this was a process involving a lot of paperwork etc. amounting to a 50 page application where the qualities of the boat, previous experience and skills of the total crew and particularly the captain’s experience was looked at. My experience from sailing in ice in Alaska came in handy. After 3 month I finally got the Permit as expedition leader to enter the Antarctica. It is of course the responsibility of the expedition leader to select a crew which in all respects is supposed to be fit for adventures in such a remote and potentially dangerous environment as Antarctica.
On the passage south from Puerto Williams we made a stop and anchored in Bahia Alsina. Next morning we passed through the narrow Canal Bravo after which some serious williwaws hit us. One of the crew members already began to feel uncomfortable during cruising down in the remote Southern Patagonia, and now I detected various signs of unfitness of two crew members for this Antarctic adventure, and that made me seriously consider returning to Puerto Williams to leave them there; however commitments by the crew members in question and their assurances which were accepted by the rest of the crew made me believe that I could rely and count on the full support of each crew member, and I therefore chose to continue the expedition, – passing Cape Horn to port and setting course to Melchior Islands in the Dallmann Bay in the Palmer Archipelago in Antarctica. The weather was quite good and some of the stories going back many centuries about passing Cape Horn came to mind. We were lucky to have the weather with us and could study and enjoy the famous rock in peace.
During sailing south in the Drake Passage the wind changed from NW to SSW, and the strength was variable between 15 to 35 knots. Only small sails were used due to the unexpected short and steep waves coming at us on the beam and increasing the risk of a possible knock down. Due to the change in wind direction we chose to head for Deception Island and arrived there the 23th December. After passing through the entrance called Neptunes Bellows we anchored in Whalers Bay in front of the remains of a Norwegian whaling station after 80 hours of sailing from Cape Horn. The total distance sailed from Puerto Williams to Deception Island was 605 Nm long.
We celebrated Christmas here and decided to sail through the Gerlache Strait to Enterprise Island where it is possible to tie up to an old whaler wreck; however the conditions were difficult with growlers drifting into the anchorage and the leaning top side of the wreck was not easy to access. In addition the thick snow hanging onto the steep cliffs surrounding the bay looked as if they could drop into the water any minute and make waves which would make it difficult to effectively fender against the wreck. – Although it was late in the evening we therefore left for Port Lockroy and sailed through the Neumeyer Channel. It is easy to sail round the clock because it is light all night and floating ice can therefore be avoided.
It was interesting to notice that most of the icebergs and growlers consisting of “compacted snow” melt much quicker than blue icebergs calved by the real glaciers. E.g. practically all the icebergs we encountered in Alaska were blue compact icebergs calved from old glaciers.
The weather in Antarctica was most of the time fair only with a blizzard Christmas day. We had many sunny and warm days with little snow, and the air was very dry with little wind. Without the sun and exposed to the wind it was cold to stay in the cockpit and steer the boat, so whenever we could we went inside the warm pilot house.
Sailing in Antarctica is mostly done by motor sailing since it is necessary to manoeuvre quite precise past the floating ice.
The scenery in Antarctica is fantastic, with islands and high mountains with very thick layers of snow, the changing light and the fact that it never gets dark, and a visibility so good that it is difficult to navigate because it is almost impossible to determine distances based on previous experience. When adding the wildlife with different kinds of penguins, seals, whales, orcas, dolphins, and birds it is an unforgettable experience to visit this remote and fantastic continent, and worth all the effort.
New Year was celebrated on the base together with the Port Lockroy base personnel consisting of 5 kind females who take care of the old base which is now kept as a museum. They also study the Gentoo penguin colony on the island and sell souvenirs mainly to visitors from the big cruise ships.
On a beautiful clear sunny day we decided to continue the trip, weighed anchor in Port Lockroy and headed for the Ukrainian Vernadsky base on the Galindez Island. We carried some gifts for the base which we had promised a Russian film crew to deliver. They went down with another boat earlier but could not reach the base due to the ice situation at the time. Based on fresh first hand information from a cruise ship, the ice situation was now very much improved, and we sailed through the Butler Passage and the narrow Lemaire Channel down the Penola Strait and past Petermann Island.
We were sailing all day in waters with ice coverage of around 15%, and came as far down as 65º 14 S, which is approx one Nm mile north of the base’s latitude, when one of the two earlier mentioned crew members got very distressed. He wanted to return immediately without any particular reason other than personal and self inflicted fear. After carefully evaluating the situation none of the other crew members could find any reason for returning; however I sadly and reluctantly had to face this frustrating situation. My only choice was to limit the possible consequences of his distress, and therefore at once broke off the expedition and returned to Port Lockroy. Although he was relieved, it was quite clear that I should have followed my earlier concerns to return to Puerto Williams when the crew issue was first questioned at Cape Horn. Consequently the cruising in Antarctica was significantly shortened due to this unfortunate and unpleasant development.
Fortunately we met another boat in the Penola Strait which during a number of years yearly makes many trips between Puerto Williams and Antarctica with guests onboard. They kindly took the gifts from the Russian film crew and delivered them safely. They stayed at the Vernadsky base during the night and returned without any problems the following day, like we had planned to do.
The return trip went through the Neumeyer Channel, Gerlache Strait, the Ryswyck passage, passed Melchior Islands into the Dallmann Bay where we had to carefully hand steer through three belts of pack ice with big growlers many times bigger than the boat. This task was complicated by 2 – 3 m swell from the east; however in the early morning hours we were in the clear and could concentrate our efforts in crossing the Drake Passage and head for Puerto Williams.
The wind came from ENE with 25 – 30 knots. In the middle of the passage it came down to 15 – 20 knots and went NNE. Later it backed to NNW and NW with 20 knots. During the whole passage the short steep waves came at us on the beam, and due to the occasional gusts and breakers we only carried small sails to prevent knock downs. The passage distance from Port Lockroy to Puerto Williams was 661 Nm. The total Antarctica trip amounted to 1500 Nm with 145 hours of motoring. After resting in Puerto Williams the return trip through the Chilean Patagonia is waiting. We aim at visiting some of the many bays which we didn’t make on the trip down.