Norwegian adventure sailor, 33-year-old Jarle Andhøy, skipper owner of the Berserk, the yacht that is missing presumed lost in the Ross Sea since 21st February, has strongly refuted most of the claims made recently by other experienced Antarctic seafarers in an interview with Sail-World.com
Berserk in the North West Passage
Both Skip Novak, a well-known round-world racing sailor, and Don McIntyre, Australian arctic adventurer, have been quoted recently (see Sail-World stories: http://www.sail-world.com/Cruising/international/The-tragic-loss-of-the-Berserk---an-analysis/80903!Skip_Novak, http://www.sail-world.com/Cruising/international/Don-McIntyre:-On-the-loss-of-the-yacht-Berserk-in-the-Antarctic/81046!Don_McIntyre) criticising many aspects of the Berserk expedition.
In the ill-fated voyage it is thought that three of the crew, left on Berserk anchored in Horseshoe Bay while the other two crew made a dash by All Terrain Vehicle (quad bikes) for the South Pole, are lost and the vessel sunk.
Jarle Andhøy completely denies many of the claims which have been made by the pair.
'I am perturbed about the false claims,' he said 'For the sake of the families of my crew who were lost, the true facts must be known.'
'First, I would never ask him (Novak) about going to the Ross Sea, because he has never been sailing there. While I respect him as a professional experienced sailor, he has not advise me on that at all.'
Skip Novak also claimed that the expedition was setting out from the wrong place, and too late in the season. 'This is erroneous,' says Andhøy, 'for a number of reasons. First, it it a little late in the season on land in traditional terms, because the old ways of getting to the Pole were slow. With our faster transport (the quad bikes) it was not too late for us at all. Shackleton and Scott's wintering quarters are there and that is the historical gateway to the South Pole.
'As for the sailing, January, February are recognised as the best times of the year for being in the Antarctic. He (Novak) can talk about the Antarctic Peninsula, but not about the Ross Sea, since he has never been there.'
Novak also claimed that the weather conditions were such - 80 knots of wind - that Berserk would have had difficulty surviving. Anhoey claims that they had already been in similar conditions off Cape Adare when they had five tonnes more gear on deck, with 60 knots of wind and 12-14 metre seas, and the boat and the crew handled the conditions well. 'The records are that there was between 40 and 80 knots in the storm,' he said, 'and they were anchored very comfortably in a secure fashion in Horseshoe Bay (when he left them).'
As for having taken advice from Don McIntyre before he left on the expedition, he could not remember who Don McIntyre was and denied seeking his advice ('I don't know the name'), although he acknowledged emailing to two cruise ships about receiving fuel from them while in the Antarctic. He has since since checked and found McIntyre was copied by the cruise ship Orion Captain Mike.
Both McIntyre and Novak implied that the Berserk did not have watertight bulkheads. Andhøy points out that this is totally incorrect. 'We had two watertight bulkheads on Berserk, one in the bow, and one between the engine room and the saloon,' he told Sail-World.
McIntyre had other reservations as well. 'They did not have a crisis management plan, they had no contingency planning, they did not alert the relevant RCC of their plans before setting off, they did not have the necessary permits under the Antarctic treaty (which is law for Norwegian yachts heading to Antarctica) and by all reports they were seriously overloaded.
Norwegian authorities say they plan to prosecute Andhøy. This, as quoted by Andhøy, has nothing to do with the incident that apparently cost his three crew their lives, but concerns only his 'paperwork', which he need to answer.
While Andhoey admits that there will be a case to answer in relation to the permissions, which he intends to defend, he hotly denies the other criticisms of McIntyre, who suggested that the yacht 'was meant for cruising the Pacific.'
'I wonder where they are getting their information from with these statements?
'Our yacht is a 48ft, 30-tonne 1.5 inch thick steel expedition yacht with a fully welded long keel, which I have owned since 2006, and we did a lot of work on her after that. I called her my 'little floating tank'.
'The yacht had performed very well on the journey to the Ross Sea, and then we had unloaded roughly five tonnes of gear - two quad bikes, sledges, fuel, food, skis, expedition equipment like special clothes shovels, ice hoes, harnesses, lines for crevasses and climbing to the Polar plateau etc etc. So she was five tonnes lighter than before. She was certainly not overloaded.'
But it is not until he starts to describe in his own words all he knows of the demise of his yacht, that his grief comes to the fore.
'We had scheds with them twice a day,' he says in a flat tone, 'at 1200 and 1800. They were anchored in a very safe spot in Horseshoe Bay. They had a weather forecast and knew bad weather was coming. On February 21st we had our last contact and all was normal. Then they write on an SMS Iridium message that 'everything is good, conditions are good, the morale is good on board and we are now leaving Horseshoe Bay.'
'Why did they leave? It is something I probably will never get an answer to, and something that I will ask for the rest of my life.'
He has obviously spent much anguished time thinking about it. 'Could the anchor have dragged?' he was asked.
'This boat had two separate anchor chains and five anchors and they would easily be able to manoeuvre if one chain broke they would easily be able to have a second anchor chain with a second anchor or two or three anchors connected together.
But they knew two days in advance of the storm and actually left. Why they have done that is impossible for me to answer. There was another captain, another expedition leader on the Berserk, whose name is Tom Gisle Bellika.'
He goes on, 'Something happened, we don't know what. There are no facts, only guesswork. The EPIRB went off when they were just seven miles down wind from Horseshoe Bay. They were only 4-5 miles from land. (east side in the McMurdo Sound)
'The discovery of the liferaft is no evidence of what has finally happened. Its tether was broken, not cut, it had not been released by the crew, so they certainly had not taken to the liferaft. By itself finding the liferaft is not significant. In those conditions, the Wellington, one of the vessels that responded to the EPIRB, had three life rafts blown off their deck.
'We had been travelling for one and a half years. The expedition captain who was left on Berserk, Tom, has sailed the North West Passage and Greenland, is an experienced sailor who has sailed all his life in the Northern part of Norway, he has been doing delivery sailing from the Med up to Norway summer and winter time and is familiar with such conditions.
'I don't know, and I will always be wondering. It is illogical. Why did they leave Horseshoe Bay?'
More of the abridged transcript is printed here below:
Interview with Jarle Andhøy – 11th March 2011
SW: Do you want to just tell me the whole story from your point of view? I gather you were making a television programme.
Jarle: There is no television programme in this. It´s just we have been travelling for one and a half years and this incident it happened in the Ross Sea and basically why I called you is because it´s very provoking that Skip Novak is printing a lot of statements about this expedition which are not correct. I just want to give the right picture from my perspective.
SW: Ok, well one of the things he says is that you talked to him before you went down there. Is that correct?
Jarle: That´s a completely false statement. I have never spoken to Skip Novak. I know very well who he is and he is a very respected sailor in the area but I also know that this sailor has never been sailing around in the Ross Sea so I would never contact him. 'First, I would never ask him (Novak) about going to the Ross Sea, because he has never been sailing there. While I respect him as a professional experienced sailor, he has not advise me on that at all.
So its very puzzling to me that he claims that we have been talking together.
SW: So Novak has told that he was asked for his opinion about landing on the continent to make a bid for the Pole but there was no mention of quad bikes.
SW: Well that’s all in his statement and, again, I have never spoken to him so it´s not very strange that he hadn´t heard about the quad bikes if he hasn´t spoken to me.
SW: OK, now what he says is that the winds were Berserk was were estimated to be as high as 80 knots. Is that right?
Jarle: The wind charts that I had seen it shows in the area wind speed from 40 to 80 knots of wind, but the boat, the Berserk and the crew, they went out into this weather voluntarily because what we do know from the information that the search and rescue operation has collected is that they were anchored perfectly off in Horseshoe Bay and they took off and they went into these winds. Why they left the safe anchorage and they went into the winds at a certain time we do not know. I can only guess. That´s a question I will be asking myself for the rest of my life.
SW: And there was nothing wrong with the anchors or anything?
Jarle: This boat had two separate anchor chains and five anchors and they would easily be able to manoeuvre if one chain broke they would easily be able to have a second anchor chain with a second anchor or two or three anchors connected together. Something happened, we don't know what. There are no facts, only guesswork. They has two days notice of the storm and actually left.
Why they have done that is impossible for me to answer because I was the expedition leader on land on the South Pole expedition and there was another captain, another expedition leader in the Berserk, whose name is Tom Gisle Bellika.
SW: What sort of experience did he have?
Jarle: He had sailed the North West passage. He has been sailing all his life up in Norway. He is from the northern part of Norway, with winter sailing, summer sailing and he is an experienced sailor. He has sailed the North West Passage and Greenland, he has been doing delivery sailing from the Med up to Norway summer and winter time and is familiar with such conditions.
It´s also to inform that when we sailed from New Zealand this boat had a cargo of additional five tonnes with two quad bikes with two tonnes of fuel, gasoline, with additional diesel fuel which was stored around on the boat with a lot of cargo on desk and a lot of cargo which was also below deck and we had 60 knots of wind off Cape Adare and up to 12 and 14 metre waves with a lot of icing and the ship and the crew had no problems with handling these conditions.
SW: But of course all that equipment had been off loaded, hadn't it? You had the quad bikes etc., so the boat wasn´t overloaded.
Jarle: No, that´s a completely wrong statement which has been used in a lot of media in Norway and also in New Zealand and the International media which is quoted by somebody who has seen the boat in Viaduct Marina one and a half months earlier.
SW: So what sort of quantity of stuff did you offload?
Jarle: We offloaded two quad bikes with the belts and the sledges and a lot of fuel and the food and the skis and the winter expedition equipment such as clothing, shovels and ice hoe and or course security harnesses and the lines, stuff for traversing crevices and climbing to the Polar plateau.
Five tonnes, that’s my rough estimate.
SW: Now the other thing that he talks about is the fact that he says the boat didn´t have water tight bulkheads.
Jarle: The boat was spit up in two parts so that if one of the parts was flooded with water half of the boat will still be able to close off.
SW: So you could close off a bulkhead?
Jarle: Yes you could basically close the boat off from the cockpit, from the centre cockpit and you could close off the foreship and the aftship.
SW: If the boat got a lot of ice in the rigging and it capsized water would have come down the companion way wouldn´t it?
Jarle: Well, to be honest with you that theory which, I don´t know if he has projected it or others, is a theory I have no belief in, in the sense that at the time it was estimated to be 8 to 11 meter waves and strong winds but the boat, the Berserk, the crew had experienced the same kind of winds earlier. I had the captain and the other (unintelligible) South Cape, we land Cape (unintelligible) and we had then up to 15/16 meter waves slashing the boat and the boat had no problem handling that kind of weather. The matter of the fact is that the place where the emergency beacon was set off is only seven nautical miles from the anchorage inside the sound and these sailors they were going down with the wind so that they were not forced in any way to go against it because from the information we know is that they had actually left the anchorage they were in. Why they left I cannot explain. It´s illogical to me why they did it but they have obviously run with the wind and that’s a very different condition than, for example, for the Wellington who tried to reach the Berserk for rescue who would have to go up against the winds and fight the 80 knots of wind and the 8 to 11 meter waves and try go the opposite way from offshore position. But the Berserk was not offshore it was only seven nautical miles off the anchorage called the Horseshoe Bay where they came from and it was three to five nautical miles off land when the incident happened, when the beacon was set off.
SW: And the life raft had not been used?
Jarle: They have not gone in the life raft. That’s what we do know because we know that they have found the life raft. It was not used and the line was not cut. It was broken off.
SW: Was the life raft on deck?
Jarle: Yes it was on the foredeck ahead of the mast.
SW: Is it possible that it basically had broken away in a rollover?
Jarle: Yes, absolutely and Wellington, which was in the same area, which tried to react on the rescue beacon and get up to the Berserk, they lost three life rafts in the same weather so the life raft alone is not the, like a proof that the boat has actually sunk in this area.
I am going to do this in media in Norway because it has been a lot of heavy criticism to the whole expedition, after all the different information which has come from here and there partly from Skip Novak ,and I have to speak about the facts that I know from this expedition.
I am just going to say one thing which has got something to do with the facts from the loss of the boat and that is that what we do know is that they have had a situation since the beacon has been set off so we know something has happened and we also do know that that life raft is not used but additional to that it’s just a lot of questions. There are no facts. It’s only theories about what’s been going on because what we do know is that they have had a lot of time searching in the area in perfect conditions. They have found nothing.
SW: OK, did you speak to Don McIntyre? Do you know Don McIntyre? He says he spoke to you, this is before your expedition. He´s the guy who you had a conversation with about a fuel exchange. What’s the name of his fleet boat?
Jarle: A ship, a boat, another boat?
SW: Yes. He has been down there for the last six seasons. He wanted to transfer... I´ll read what he said;
'In December Andhoy asked if I would rendezvous with Berserk off Ross Island at the very bottom of the Ross Sea. He wanted to transfer 1500 litres of fuel onto Berserk from the motor vessel Orion a 4000 tonne expedition ship. I agreed, but only if he could show me his permits to undertake the fuel transfer and the expedition itself. I would also then have to get special permits for that activity. The Antarctic permits are all about protecting the environment. He said he had a Russian Agent that would do that, but never did.'
Do you know the guy?
Jarle: I don´t know the name but I know the ship. I was in contact with two different cruise ships down there.
SW: OK. He also says;
'Andhoy has been reckless from the moment he set out on this expedition'
Jarle: Ok, because of what?
SW: 'You need a special expedition ship, watertight bulkheads were integral.'
Did you have a little front bulkhead as well or just one big bulkhead space?
Jarle: Yes. One in the front, that was a very small one but in the big picture it’s pretty much right in the centre cockpit between the engine room and the saloon. It was a watertight bulkhead where you can lock the boat off.
SW: So you had a little one at the front and a big one in the centre?
Jarle: No I mean that you could close off the whole ship, so to say, so that more or less mid ship you could actually close the whole compartment and keep it watertight.
SW: Ok, so you could be in the back half of the boat or the front half and you could get up the front hatch then?
SW: And was there a little tiny one at the very front of the boat as well?
Rob: OK. They are both suggesting that you didn´t have watertight bulkheads and you are saying that’s absolutely not right?
Jarle: I wonder where they get their information from because it’s just that goes from Skip Novak, he’s the one that has been in the media in Norway about the expert who knows everything about this expedition and I wonder where he gets all the information about the boat and, of course, about the expedition leader for the boat with Skipper Gisle Bellika who is maybe a lost man who cannot answer for all the accusations that Skip Novak is putting against him.
SW: Fair enough. Just tell me about your boat. What sort of boat is it and what’s its length etc?
Jarle: The boat was a custom built steel boat that McIntosh designed, 48 feet and it was 30 tonnes of weight and a very sturdy boat. The bottom of the boat is one and a half inch of steel. Also with a ram part on the boat so that when it got into the ice it could speed up and break the ice in order to get through it. I call this boat the little floating tank.
SW: How long have you had it?
Jarle: I have had it since 2006 and since we got that boat we have customised it and done a lot of things to it so basically it was a naval shipbuilder who had built it who died at an early age and the boat was bought in the Caribbean.
SW: Is there any chance the keel could have come off?
Jarle: No. No, absolutely not. It was sturdy built and well welded and it was wide steel and, how do you call it, like a constructed as a part of the boat but not welded onto the hull, so to say.
SW: Was it bolted on?
Jarle: No it was welded so that you know, a fully welded long keed with lead in the bottom.
SW: So two of you headed off for the South Pole. Did you get there?
Jarle: We went to the Worlds end and I say that because for us now the focus is on this incident about what has happened to the Berserk. We don´t want to put any focus on the land expedition but what I can say about it is that expedition was a success. We had no problems with the weather, with the cold. It was running very smoothly and the reason we went into this area, to the McMurdo Sound, it´s because it is a traditional, historical gateway to get to the South Pole and in the old days because of a slow rate of transport they always spent a winter before they did their South Pole attempt. Shackleton and Scott's wintering quarters are there and that is the historical gateway to the South Pole.
That goes for Scott, that goes for Shackleton, that goes for Amundsen but in 2011 it´s a lot faster way of transport than walking, man holing or with dogs. So basically the land part of it was absolutely no problem.
What is very surprising for me and everybody who has been attending this expedition is that the accident has happened in what was calculated as the safest spot which was at the anchorage, at the so called anchor rocks, waiting for us to get back.
SW: Were you talking to them on radio?
Jarle: Yes every day we had communication at 12 o´clock and 6 o´clock on our Iridium and then at 21st of February I had my last contact with them and there they write on a sms Iridium message that everything was good, conditions are good, the morale is good on board and we are now leave Horseshoe Bay and that´s the last message before the accident.
SW: So they said they were leaving the bay.
Jarle: Yes and what is absolutely not logical to me or to anybody else who has been working on this operation is that the Wellington, the navy ship, had the day before told them about this bad storm and bad weather coming so it´s not logical that somebody would actually go out and face that storm and that’s the big question which I keep asking myself. I probably won´t get the answer on that.
SW: It seems the Norwegian Government has announced they intend prosecuting you.
Jarle: Yes. I would gladly face any charges and this has got to do with the paper work, the formality around the expedition on the South Pole and on the Antarctic Continent. What I want to just say that those papers, those formality things, have got absolutely nothing to do with this accident. It’s not so that the Norwegian Government or any other Government is giving you some papers and issuing you how the weather and the circumstances are going to be in Antarctica and in this sense, in this case, it looks like it’s been really bad weather and something has happened but with or without those papers three lives have been lost at sea and that´s my concern. For me the charges is just nothing on this tragedy.
SW: Fair enough. So it was you had to have permission papers and you didn´t have them? Did you have to have some permission, official stamped papers and you didn´t have them?
Jarle: No other papers than normal clearance papers and I did the same kind of formalities as when I sailed to Antarctica the last time. I sailed to Antarctica last time in 1998 onboard my first Berserk and we heard nothing about any papers then. It was easy going, good crew and also then we had pretty rough weather so, yes but that’s just a different story.
SW: Now Novak allegedly says the only place that you can guarantee landing is on Antarctic Peninsula, the South American sector, which is ice free in the summer and there is plenty of shelter.
Jarle: Yes, I had already been there so I know the area. Skip Novak can say whatever he wants to say about the Antarctic Peninsula but that was not our mission. That was not where we were going and I have never even spoken to him so whatever he has said he has probably said to himself.
SW: OK, now what he does say is he said February is too late in the season for a Polar bid but you didn´t have any problems on the land
Jarle: No, no problems and that’s the point which is also need for me just to qualify and that is that on this expedition we had to divide into two parts which are 1. the land expedition going up to the Polar Plateau. Yes it’s late in the season for going to the Polar Plateau but for sailing on the coast January, February is the best time on the earth to sail and it´s the only possible time, if you had an icebreaker to get into these areas. Coastal wise it is a good time for the sailing, for the plateau it´s late but we, onboard the Berserk, we like to compare ourselves with old days seafarers and old days explorers and they were down there also in March and Scott, himself, he was still on the Ross South in late March.
SW: When you got no more signals from them what did you do?
Jarle: We contacted all involved parties. First the Rescue Coordination Centre in Norway, then the Rescue Coordination Centre in New Zealand and tried to provide them with all the information that could be informative for them in that situation.
SW: And did you then come back?
Jarle: Yes, we had already turned.
SW: So you were already on your way back so you just kept coming?
Jarle: Yes but we kept the speed going so we just kept going for another five days nonstop just to get back. We then got back to the Scott Base and there we got out with help from the Americans so with the last American plane we were going out. The information we got was that the air field was cracking up because the ice was melting so they said it was one of the last planes for the season.
It´s good to get the facts. It has been really, really confusing for me and also all the families of the victims here, who are probably lost at sea, to even up of wrong information and just getting really a bad reputation to good men who are lost at sea.
Letter received from reader in October 2013:
Sender: Dave Ungless
Message: I've recently read your Sail World article regarding this tragic incident. I have also read the various reports issued by the Norwegian, New Zealand and US Antarctic authorities as well as other extensive media coverage.
We are ourselves are a circumnavigating sailboat with considerable sailing experience, currently making for Alaska and the Arctic Northwest Passage. We spent some time with Andhøy and his crew with his yacht Berserk in Kudat, Borneo whilst Berserk and our own yacht Sänna were hauled out of the water in the small boatyard there. Berserk had experienced problems with her prop shaft and we assisted in the underwater assessment of the damage and whilst Berserk was subsequently hauled out for repair.
We got to know Andhøy, Berserk and his crew very well. They were extremely experienced Arctic voyagers. There were a number of other circumnavigating and very experienced skippers in the same boatyard who welcomed the opportunity of meeting these guys and of inspecting Berserk whilst out of the water. She was clearly a formidable vessel well designed and equipped for the conditions Andhøy anticipated. Andhøy is correct in his statement about the construction of his vessel.
There is considerable sympathy for Andhøy amongst 'hardcore' skippers and crews who circumnavigate 'off the grid'. There is also a large appreciation and understanding of Andhøy's views regarding the need for Permits and Authorisations which establishment sailors such as Novak do not understand. There is a feeling and counter argument that Novak and McIntyre use these media opportunities to advance their own status and credibility in the conformist world in which they operate which, in this incident, is disrespectful to Andhøy and his crew who are now dead.
There are other experienced sailors other than Novak and McIntyre who hold different views on this sad tragedy and which are not reported. Clearly Andhøy's anti authoritarian methods do not endear him to government authorities who try and control many aspect of access to frontier wilderness. Andhøy is portrayed by the media, Novak, McIntyre and the Antarctic organisations as a rogue individual who is responsible for the death of Skaanes, Bellika and Banks. He is not. Andhøy and the equally radical crew of the Berserk were exceptionally brave individuals who knew the risk, faced them and died.
There is little media mention or general appreciation of Andhøy's bravery. There is, however, a strong feeling amongst the experienced skippers who know him that many who criticise Andhøy are not capable of achieving or undertaking anything close to his achievements in their own lives. He deserves some level of respect outside of the off grid sailing vessels who fully recognise both his formidable sailing abilities and his rebellious character.
Having the wrong or insufficient paperwork is a marginal reason to criticise the bravery of Berserk and her immensely courageous crew. Maybe Andhøy, Skaanes, Bellika, Banks and Massie should rank alongside Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton, who were the same rebellious explorers as the crew of the Berserk.
When Scott died there were no governmental institutions on the Antarctic ice on hand to criticise him and vilify him.