Every yacht’s voyage to Antarctica begins with a clearance in Puerto Williams, the Chilean naval post on the Beagle Channel and the home of Micalvi Yacht Club - the southernmost pub in the world. We didn’t get far from there - the weather kicked up, forcing a stop in Caleta Lientur. The williwaws began their blitzkrieg around midnight, and Whale Song dragged slowly. The windlass seemed overloaded, which made sense when the anchor that broke the surface was not ours but an Admiralty kind - about four times the size of ours, which had hooked this one and was now dangling below like a key chain ornament!
Crossing Drake Passage delivered us to a different space. Deception Island, South Shetland, looked out of this world. With Whale Song anchored by the Sewing Machine Needles off the east coast, we explored the empire of a billion penguins on Bailey Head. In Whaler’s Bay the rusting heaps of a Norwegian whale slaughterhouse looked haunted in the soft snowfall. In Pendulum Cove Whale Song’s braver souls splashed in a shore pool as comfortably as baleen whales - a subterranean volcanic hell keeps the water hot. Above the swimmers rose hillsides of ash-black snow and ice, a reminder of the violent 1967 eruption.
In Gerlache Strait, the blindingly white peaks, slashed in places by coal-black razor ridges, rose in a crescendo of grandeur over the blue cliffs of ice at the water’s edge. Here the fattest of cruise ships looked like toy boats of bad design. People of the scientific sort live here, on the rims of Antarctica, in several stations. Whale Song tied bow and stern across a creek at the U.S. Palmer Station, and the hosts gave us lunch and a tour of the research projects. In the Argentine Islands, with our little ship dangling on a web of mooring and anchor lines in Skua Creek, Wilson took the tender to the Vernadsky Ukrainian station, only to be force-fed, at 0900, glasses of vodka distilled in-house. I didn’t go, which was a good thing - an iceberg drifted in and toppled over at the Creek’s entrance, leaving little space for us to squeeze through.
There, at 65 degrees 15 minutes south, intimidated by growing numbers of icebergs and the shortage of anchorages farther south, we pointed Whale Song northward. We would try to enter Erebus and Terror Gulf in the Weddell Sea via Antarctic Sound - a voyage into a very different sea and icescapes. Look for Part Two of this four-part series on Whale Song’s adventure in the June issue of YACHTING.