Into the Weddell Sea

01 Feb 16

The anchorage off Penguin Island proved restless for some; although ice free it was much more affected by the swell of the Bransfield Strait, resulting in some being rocked to sleep and others being kept awake by the rocking, creaking and banging going on around the boat.  Importantly, Stephen and the yacht had a better night of it, ready for the next challenge: getting to Antarctic Sound and finding out how far the ice would let us go.  Surprisingly, the penguins appeared to need very little rest, as they were noisily active throughout the night.

Everyone was up for a quick breakfast before preparing the mainsail for hoisting and starting to raise the anchor.  We set off for Antarctic Sound  with just the mainsail, reduced in size with 3 reefs, but once clear of the icebergs on the south shore of King George Island we were able to set the headsails and get ourselves up to 8½ – 9 knots in 24 knots of breeze.  We had a fabulous sail across the Strait, with many of the team getting used to steering round bergy bits, guided by 2 others acting as look outs; this fast developing teamwork in a new and challenging environment is a key element of adventurous training.

It is certainly a new and challenging environment out here for us all – each mile seeming to introduce yet another extraordinary sight and experience.  We were confronted by increasingly massive and awe-inspiring icebergs – initially resembling a very slow-moving English Chanel shipping lane for super-tankers and super-carriers only, giving way to leviathans the size of small cities and then islands in their own right. We were all treated to flypasts by acrobatic Cape Petrels and majestic Southern Giant Petrels and the entertaining antics of the Adelie Penguins both on land and in the sea.  Some of the team were also lucky enough to catch glimpses of a whale and some seals.

The Antarctic Peninsula appeared in the distance like a mirage above the clouds, until the mountains became more distinct and eventually the coast could be distinguished behind the ice bergs.  Still sailing at a great pace in a choppy sea, soup for lunch proved to be a challenge to keep in the bowl and then in the spoon, especially for those who chose to eat on the upperdeck.  As we entered the Antarctic Sound it was as if we had been transported to another world.  The recent strong winds had shifted all the ice into the north eastern side of the water, but this had been replaced by an unearthly stillness under the loom of ice and rock and a clear blue sky.  It soon became apparent that the conditions were about as good as they could ever get in this region, so we made the decision to carry on towards the Erebus and Terror Gulf to see if we could make it into the Weddell Sea.  After a trouble-free passage down the Antarctic Sound we had to pick our way carefully passed bits of berg and sea ice littering the Fridtjof Sound, between the mainland and Andersson Island. Shortly after 10 tonight we arrived in the Weddell Sea – the starting point of the remarkable survival story of Shackleton and his men a century ago and the inspiration for this whole project.  We celebrated our achievement with a glass of champagne as we quietly drifted in the sunset; for me a double celebration of the end of 4 year’s preparation and my birthday (the only one during the expedition).

Keen to avoid getting stuck in there, we turned back the way we had come to find a suitable anchorage on the coast of the Peninsula.  While on this final leg of today’s extraordinary journey, we all enjoyed a late dinner of a leg of ‘Barbara’ (except Emily of course, as she maintains her largely vegetarian diet).  A tired yet elated team got to bed well after midnight, with the prospect of anchor watches and another memorable day to come.


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