Chance for YOU to sail the Antarctic?
by Cruising Editor on 3 Apr 2006
Arriving at Penguin Base Camp .. .
In all sailing history, one of any sailor’s greatest dreams has been to sail around the Cape Horn. In the olden days, sailors were even entitled to wear an earring in one ear as a mark of that achievement. The Antarctic itself has also been a longtime lure for intrepid sailors and some of the greatest adventure stories of all time have been set in the icy waters around Antarctica.
Now, thanks to the proactivity of Australian promoter Mariner Boating, YOU can sail the waters of the Antarctic, AND you have over a year to plan for the trip. The Pelagic Australis is a purpose built 73ft sloop, which will start its sail from Puerto Williams in Chile on 7th February 2007, cross the Drake Passage to the Antarctic peninsula. Then the boat will spend 12 amazing days sailing in the Gerlache Straits area.
The cruise along the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula will take in one of the most scenic and varied parts of the continent. Pelagic Australis will be a mobile base camp and the crew will be making several shore landings during the course of the time on the Peninsula. In true sailing relaxed style, the plan is to spend more time in fewer areas with lots of flexibility overall, and the whole amazing journey will take just 17 days..
For booking and detailed information, contact Mariner Boating, but here’s what’s planned:
It must be understood that the itinerary outlined below can only be a rough guide to what we will see and do while on the Antarctic Peninsula. Every cruise will vary due to weather and ice conditions, making it impossible (nor desirable) to be bound by a rigid plan.
Board Pelagic Australis in Puerto Williams, Chile. The afternoon is spent stowing personal gear, familiarizing the team with the vessel and having a safety briefing. The evening will be spent tied up alongside the ‘Micalvi,’ – a retired channel trading ship now home to the local yacht club.
Clear out of Puerto Williams and head east through the Beagle Channel and turn south through the Cape Horn archipelago. Weather permitting; we will sail directly across the Drake Passage for the Peninsula. On the other hand, if the forecast is for strong headwinds, or there is risk of a storm, we will shelter in any number of three anchorages within the archipelago. If we are storm bound for a day or two while the system moves through, there are opportunities for long walks ashore on the rugged terrain of the Wollaston or Navarino Islands .
Crossing the Drake Passage to first shelter on Deception Island should take no more than 60 hours. It is emphasized again that if storm winds are forecasted, a day or two waiting in the Cape Horn archipelago will be necessary until a safe and comfortable crossing can be made.
Arrive on Deception Island in the South Shetland archipelago. This is a semi active volcanic island and we enter the lagoon which is the flooded caldera. The landscape is unique in the Antarctic region as the island’s shape is a combination of volcanic ash and layers of ice. A night and a day will be spent here rigging the boat for inshore sailing, briefing the team on the Antarctic guidelines with respect to the wildlife and taking any number of walks ashore which can include a visit to Whalers Bay, the site of the first commercial whaling operation in the region. On the day of departure, sea conditions permitting, we will try to land on the southeast corner of Deception where there is one of the largest Chinstrap Penguin colonies in the Antarctic.
Sail south for the Gerlache Straits. This can be done overnight (in relative daylight) as the majority of the passage is offshore through the southern portion of the Bransfield Straits. From the northern section of the Gerlache Straits, we would navigate in between Anvers Island and Weincke Island – the Neumayer Channel - and then continue south towards the Penola Straits.
From here on south, Humpback Whales will be in abundance, so we can divert at any time to try and get close to them, which involves turning off the engine and drifting, hoping they come to us. Leopard Seals can also be approached as they ride the ice floes feeding off the penguin population.
Early morning sail through the Lemaire Channel which is a narrow, ice filled passage fringed between the high mountains of Booth Island and the mainland. This is considered to be the most scenic stretch of water on the Peninsula and hence its nickname, “Kodak Valley!”
We would spend the day in the Penola Straits, with a possible temporary anchorage off Hovgaard Island. This and the nearby Pleneau Island are good places for a walk ashore where a small colony of Elephant Seals reside. The night would be spent anchored off Booth Island with stern lines to the shore on either side of an isthmus depending on which way the wind was blowing.
In the middle of Penola Straits lies Yalour Island which is one of the most attractive Adelie Penguin colonies on the Peninsula. On a sunny day, the views across to Mt. Shackleton and the peninsula plateau beyond are spectacular. In good weather we would anchor off here for the morning and go ashore.
The afternoon and night would be spent only a few miles away at the Ukrainian scientific station Vernadsky. This was formerly the British Antarctic Survey base Faraday, where the ozone hole was discovered with the Dobson spectrameter which is still in use today. We normally get a good welcome and a tour from the base commander. The anchorage is very protected and we moor to the shore in a narrow backwater in the small archipelago of the Argentine Islands. This is also the most secure of storm anchorages. This is probably the best example of one of the old Peninsula bases that is still functioning.
Three days will be spent probing south into the Grandidier Channel and possibly into Crystal Sound. Since last year’s sea ice is very unpredictable, it is never sure how far we can go on the inside passage, so we may have to backtrack and go on the outside via the Pitt Islands where we have good shelter. On the outside of the island chain the big icebergs are usually stacked up touching the bottom and breaking up. If there is a swell running it is dramatic to see them heaving up and down and not uncommon to see quite a few capsize.
The culmination of the voyage and the goal on this stretch would be to reach the Antarctic Circle and land on the mainland. If we can make it through the inside we would shelter near Prospect Point at the Fish Islands. Prospect Point is the site of an old British Antarctic Survey base that was abandoned in the 50’s and is soon to be removed. An interesting place if it is still standing!
This will be a highly variable (and therefore the most interesting part of the voyage for some people, as the landscape here is open and stunning, but on the other hand very challenging as the good shelters for the vessel are few and far between.
Aggregate lost time assumed due to un-navigable conditions. We will be storm bound somewhere!
Working our way back up north through the Penola and Lemaire Channels we will anchor and put lines ashore to Weincke Island near Port Lockroy. This has become the de facto visitor center for the cruise ship trade, but it is always worth a visit. Formerly a British Antarctic Survey base and recently renovated as an information center, they provide the service of a British Post Office selling stamps, post cards, information sheets, maps, etc. The base, manned in summer only, has been declared a Site of Historic Interest within the framework of the Antarctic Treaty System. The base was originally built on a Gentoo Penguin colony and today the humans are still very much the guests.
Going south abou
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