Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Snow & Sail Repairs in the Southern Drake

Ship Log

Drake: 60'56,7 South, 061'27,9 West. Midday Dec 1. Snowing for 12 hours. Fog. Heading south 125 degrees. Mix sail / motor. Watch 8-12 and 16-20 today: snow ball fights on helm. Amazing helming in snow & Antarctic gale. Arrival Barrientos Isl Wed @ 14h00. All well.

December 1, Drake Passage
  • 04h00: 60°26.0 South / 062°36.3 West
  • 08h00: 60°40.0 South / 062°05.6 West
  • 12h00: 60°55.7 South / 061°28.4 West
  • 16h00: 61°12.6 South / 061°13.6 West
  • 20h00: 61°31.6 South / 060°56.8 West
  • 24h00: 61°50.1 South / 060°37.1 West

08h50: the first day of December and the first day of snow! Snow falling on a tallship, awakening to the sight of a white ship ploughing a forlorn path through the fog and grey sea.

Watch this morning began at 08h00. Well I say began, it began for some of the watch with the first duties but for me I was able to grab some quick breakfast before getting totally kitted out for the first run. Given it is cold and not so pleasant, we have reduced the watch times from 30 to 20 minutes. Outside it is spectacular, despite the cold. Everyone is straining their eyes to spot the first iceberg since we have a competition on board to see who chose the closest hour.

I cheated by getting the one of the permanent crew to show me the ice chart. It looked like early tomorrow morning, so I went for 1h00 and Frida, a co-conspirator, 5h00. We’ll see. Today brings another watch at 16h00 and in between some briefing on making landings in Antarctica.

10h10: Just back from another turn on the helm. It’s a fabulous experience. The snow raging around, the ship set fair at 125 degrees south and the bow crashing in and out of the swell.

Wonderful experience – especially when it can be digested in small bitesize chunks of 20 minutes with 40 minutes back in the warmth of the deck house. One can only marvel at the determination and courage of sailors over the centuries who battled against these conditions and far worse to explore these waters.

So back to the other members of the crew on my watch. Frida has been a good co-conspirator on various things, the stay sail setting yesterday and the cheeky manoeuvre on trying to beat the odds on the iceberg competition. She is from Switzerland and has rather amazingly cycled down from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. In my book, that’s pretty crazy - the experience of cycling 20kms around El Calafate still fresh in my mind - but hats off to her. Another person on our watch who has travelled extensively is Carolien. She has been travelling for eight months, mainly around South America and only decided to join the Europa trip two days before it cast off in Ushuaia! That’s what I call spontaneous! A final person to write about in this first part on Europa characters is Erin. She is Canadian and is a GP when back home. Clearly a very useful person to have on one’s watch, although naturally we do have a permanent GP on board too! She comes from Vancouver and is used to the outdoor life. She owns a small cabin up in the mountains where she lives and explained to me how in the summer she does cross-country skiing to get up there. Those Canadians and their outdoors lifestyle! More on the permanent crew later.

November 30, Drake Passage

  • 04h00: 58°10.9 South / 063°46.3 West
  • 08h00: 58°44.8 South / 063°40.8 West
  • 12h00: 59°07.2 South / 063°15.2 West
  • 16h00: 59°27.1 South / 062°48.7 West
  • 20h00: 59°48.1 South / 062°46.3 West
  • 24h00: 60°09.1 South / 062°52.7 West

20h00-24h00: I’m writing this blog during Red Watch between 8pm and midnight. We take 30 minutes on shift outside, either on the helm or on look-out, with 30 minutes then back inside the deck house to warm up and do things like write a blog. Today has been an excellent day, good weather for the most part, in fact feeling relatively nice this afternoon. Now however the wind has picked up, the sky has got greyer and the sea has taken on a distinctly sombre and threatening mood.

The re-appearance of wind is greatly welcome as it has allowed us to put up some more sails. For most of the day until tea-time we were just under motor sail.

The break in sailing did allow the permanent crew to undertake some repairs to the sails and this gave myself and Freda, another member of the voyage crew our task of the day. Initially roped in by Val to help carry the repaired sail across the deck to the foremast where it was to be reattached, I volunteered additional help.

Such offers are rarely declined on a tallship and soon Frida and I found ourselves teetering a couple of meters up the foremast in the process of attaching the sail back to the rings. Essentially this should have been a rather simple task, but the two of us conspired to make it a much more difficult one, having to ask Val for assistance several times over!

But we got there, and I can happily say that the sail has now been set – and for the moment – is firmly attached. Long may it continue.

The other highlight of the day was the whales we saw late afternoon. Some of the voyage crew were taking climbing lessons up the rigging at the time and spotted at least two pods in the distance, at least 8 whales. After much discussion and consultation, Dan, our onboard expert, decided that the whales in question belonged to the Sei family. Pretty big ones. Certainly they looked big from our perspective, although they didn’t come close to the boat. We learned later on that these whales do not go down to the Antarctic and that where we saw them was pretty much the limit of their range. They were also heading north, confirming this analysis. An incredible sight, as always, to see whales in the open ocean. No photos of them though as Frida and I were still working on the sails! Other whales were to follow though...

A final interesting event to record came during our night watch in the early morning of Monday. Nick and I were on foreward lookout when suddenly a bright flash lit up the horizon, a trail of white and then green light heading down towards the water. Nick thought it was a flare. Right from the start I wondered whether it was a meteor of some kind. We radioed in the event to the wheelhouse and following a short chat with Martijn, the First Mate, we concluded that it had been a meteorite of some kind! Unfortunately I didn’t reach quickly enough to grab a camera and record this special event...

1 comment:

  1. I studied the area around Cape Horn and the Drake Passage for my historical novel 'Tungee's Gold.' In the story we are on board a Clipper ship, one ice storm traveling east the other in hurricane winds and rain moving west.