Cape Horn Bound: Working the Mother-load.

Working the Mother-load.

Mary South small

May 20, 2010
54°56’458S 068°46’00W

As you can imagine, I don’t get a lot of sympathy when I have to travel for work. And yes, when I’m off to Mustique for a few days in the dead of winter or cruising the Costa Verde of Brazil, I don’t deserve an ounce. While the journey I’m making aboard Pelagic Australis is my kind of adventure—the chance to see a remote and rugged place that still looks much the way it did when Capt. Robert Fitzroy and Charles Darwin sailed these waters almost 200 years ago—it’s far from cushy.__

Pelagic Australis is making its end of season delivery to the yard for work, and it’s crew are captain Miles and his partner and first mate Laura, crewmember Chris (called “Swiss,” short for Swiss Chris,” to distinguish him from one of the students of the same name who is Australian) our Royal Yachtmaster instructor, Lara, and 7 students. They range in age from 23 to 64 and in nationality from Irish to South African. They have varying levels of sailing experience, but they’re all here to qualify for their Yachtmaster certification—and that means this is a working trip.


Last week my boatmates underwent 40 hours of onshore schooling and testing. We pushed off the dock this morning at about 0845 to begin the deck-training portion of the course. We’ll spend our first week, approximately, cruising the channels of southern Chile. So, each student (and yours truly) will take turns standing watch in pairs: charting a course, navigating, monitoring boats systems. But we’ll also take turns at something called the Mother Watch. I was assigned to the first Mother Watch with Rudy, our youngest crew, a South African. At 0645, I rolled out of my berth (as the latest arrival, I got the top bunk) in the pitch black and went to the galley to get breakfast for 11 on the table. It’s not as hard as it sounds: make the coffee and tea, toast the bread on top of the Reflex heater, put out some butter and jams, some cereal, and some juice. The Mother Watch is not actually required to do all of the “mother’s work”on board—making sure the crew gets three square meals and keeping the saloon clean—but they are expected to make sure it gets done. Rudi overslept on his first watch, but I had plenty of help from my boatmates without even needing to ask. (And Rudy more than redeemed himself with a really delicious pasta dish for lunch! His secret ingredients: cream and something like two and half pounds of pork. )

In fact, if I have one disappointment so far, it’s the food. It’s delicious and there’s lots of it and none of it seems to be low fat or low carb. So, my long-cherished dream of seeing at least 20 pounds effortlessly melt away over five weeks as I chewed weevil-infested hard tack and battled scurvy is, well, over. I still hope to lose some weight, but since the crew has informed me that everyone who comes aboard actually gains weight, I am going to have to exercise some hitherto undiscovered will power. Not my forte. Sigh.

And the beautiful weather so far isn’t helping: sunny, hardly a breeze, flat waters, and temperatures in the 50s. (No seasickness to curb the appetite. Yet.) We made good time on our way up the Beagle Channel and put into Caleta Ollo around 1545. This may be the most beautiful anchorage I’ve ever seen. A glacier glows blue as it spills down the mountain to a ring of wind-scoured trees. Anchoring was a little tricky and it took several tries to grab bottom. Then we ran some stern lines ashore and secured them to trees. It’s nearly windless tonight, but the last time Miles and Laura were here the wind was blowing fifty knots.


Tomorrow? I’m on navigation and we’re headed to Seno Pia.

For a gallery of images from Mary South’s trip around Cape Horn click here.