So, we are back in Antarctica, with an eclectic group of five Russians, and an Italian. We arrived this morning and my watch — consisting of myself and two Russians: a young married couple — were on from 0600 till 0900. We were really lucky that soon after we came on watch, the snow stopped, the visibility improved and we motored quietly into the magic that is Antarctica. We saw several whales, some distance from us, but unmistakably large minke whales. They moved so slowly that I could see a large black thing in the corner of my eye, had time to look and focus, warn the others that there was a whale to be seen and then watch as it flicked its tail high into the air and then dived down. Usually they disappear after that for up to thirty minutes.
We are now safely moored in Enterprise Island. We have been here twice before — for our last stop last year, and our first stop the year before. It is quite an interesting experience working out what to tie up to. On our previous trips, we had other yachts in the bay and they had taken the best mooring spots. This time, when we arrived, we saw that there were no masts, so we could tie up alongside the wreck. The wreck was a whale factory ship, Norway’s biggest and best in 1913-14 but it caught fire in its second season and was beached where it is now.
The weather is very benign, overcast but still, and incredibly bright. It is all so different from South Georgia where at any minute we expected the wind to howl and blow us out of the harbour. There is no darkness, and it was amazing this morning at 07:00 that the sun was already high in the sky — we had to do a doubletake to be sure of the time when the fog lifted and we could actually see the sun.
Yesterday we stopped at Deception Island in the South Shetland Islands. It is such a cool place, the crater of a volcano, and it has steaming hot sand and water at various points around the inside. There is a small gap in the crater which is deep enough for us, and other larger ships, to get through. Once in, we sailed around on the inside and found a reasonable anchorage so we could get ashore for a walk — and a swim!
Yesterday morning, we had just dropped anchor at Pendulum Cove, when a RIB full of Spaniards from the Spanish science base came by. They said hello and then went ashore just behind the boat. Then, quite surprisingly, one of them stripped off his dry suit and dived into the steaming water. Many shrieks of delight indicated that this wasn’t a daily ritual and that conditions must be perfect. After some coaxing, even Dave and I (Miles says he has done enough swimming this season) donned our swimmers, put foulies over the top and headed to the beach in the zodiac with all six of the guests. No sooner had we beached the dingy, than two of the Russian girls — both young, thin and beautiful, were in their bikinis and preparing to dive in. The Spaniards could not believe their luck and amongst much hilarity a photo shoot took place with penguins, two girls in bikinis, Spanish scientists in dry suits, and snow capped mountains in the background. It was quite a sight. I think in the end, everyone swam, or at least sat in the very hot water at the edge. Dave, Carla (Italian) and I swam well out into the cold water and it was such a strange sensation to have some parts of the body in the hot water, and the rest in cold, not to mention that only the top 10cm were hot. We thought it would be fun to invite the Spaniards for coffee and so the flirting continued and a return date was planned for later in the day. It was interesting to see the Spanish base — they are researching a mixture of marine biology, lichen and mosses, and seismic activity and at its peak there are 35 people living there. The tradition down here is that they stamp passports for tourists and as it happens I took our Pelagic Australis stamp, so I ended up stamping their passports — not sure if it is legal, but it is done now, so there we go.
So we head on tomorrow, hoping to cross the Antarctic Circle at some point, and see some of the spots further south. One thing that is different from the first time we came here is the number of cruise ships. This is absolutely peak season and this morning we had three within 10 miles of us. We are hoping that if we head further south we will find some space for us and us alone and not have to hear the announcements on the speakers: “On your port side you will see the sailing yacht...” and “to starboard a humpback whale is...,” “drinks are being served in the ...,” “ for those wishing to send a postcard please...” etc.
Anyway, I will try and keep in touch but in the meantime, happy new year and happy Christmas (we have Christmas music playing as I type as it is Russian Christmas day tomorrow!), in fact we have Russian New Year on the 14th January so on this trip in total, two New Years, one Christmas, and two birthdays. I might actually get quite good at baking cakes!
-Laura and Miles
Pelagic Australis rounds Cape Horn in gale force winds.
Stormy weather greets boat and crew’s South Georgia expedition.
A winter crossing from Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope, in a boat that’s built for just this kind of duty.