Thursday, October 25, 2007

XPLORE underway to Ushuaia for adventure sailing / expeditions

22-Aug-2007 -- XPLORE is underway, en route to Tierra del Fuego, to begin adventure sailing and expeditions in the Antarctic and high latitudes this Austral summer.

The refurbished 67-foot HSLA steel expedition yacht recently left Plymouth, UK with XPLORE Expeditions founder Stephen Wilkins at the helm.

A good weather window prompted the skipper and crew to depart Yacht Haven Marina on 5 August. Following a brief stopover in Falmouth, Wilkins said, “We headed out into the North Atlantic with a fresh reaching breeze to take us through the first night at sea.”

“Weather and cloud conditions for the remainder of the passage to Puerto De la Luz (Gran Canaria, Canary Islands) saw us with a maximum of 28 knots of true wind, all reaching and running conditions, with the spinnaker pole being used a lot.”


Along the way Wilkins reported wildlife sightings have been good with, “Northern Humpback whales, and large schools of dolphins that continually come to play on the bow.” They have observed several Portuguese Man-o-wars, which Wilkins told, “are also know as ‘Down Winders’ from the tall ship days, as they follow the currents and winds as they circulate the Atlantic.”

“Tortoises were seen a number of times: at one point we came alongside one chap who was feebly swimming along at a snails pace. We wanted to throw him a line and give him a tow, but we were going in the wrong direction!”

En route, the crew settled in to a watch system of six hours on / six hours off during the day, with four on / four off at night, giving a rotation of watches every two days and lots of variety. As they quickly entered the warm Portuguese / Canaries current, the deck was christened with the first of many bucket baths.

Another interesting highlight of the 10-day passage Wilkins conveyed was the frequent reporting of missing or abandoned yachts in the North Atlantic. “In all of my years of making passages here, it just continues to amaze me how so many yachts, catamarans and vessels, are left floating free.”


“Sailing-wise the yacht slips into a good turn of speed even with winds below 10 knots,” Wilkins explained. Recent upgrades have improved creature comforts, and updated structure and systems. “Below decks the functionality and design of galley, navigation area, and cabins work very well. She’s safe, practical and easy to keep clean.

“She is an easily driven girl and behaves very well with a good sea motion. I know she will be great in the deep south, with heavy weather conditions,” he said.

“Four days from the Canaries we changed the Yankee No. One for the Genoa as forecasts were for continuing light winds from the north.” They arrived at the capital city of Las Palmas on 17 August.

“The port of Gran Canaries – Puerto de la Luz – is a very well-organised government port and marina with good facilities and simple entry / exit procedures. Costs for marina, fuel and provisions are very reasonable, and a pleasant change from the costs we have had to endure in the UK.”

Upon arrival, Wilkins reported few changes or repairs were required. “A swap of batteries are about the only major works we have had to do,” before departure on the second leg of the passage, 21 August.


XPLORE’s voyage to Ushuaia actually marks her return to the Southern Ocean. Previously a Challenge Business yacht, she circumnavigated the globe originally as Coopers and Lybrand in the 1992 British Steel Challenge, and has done extensive European passages.

“The passage plan from here will be to go directly to the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha for a few days of tropical R & R,” Wilkins said. The tiny archipelago, with a population of just 2,000, is roughly 350 km off the Brazilian coast east of Cabo de São Roque.

Plans are to continue straight down the South American coast to the Beagle Channel and the Argentinean city of Ushuaia. Wilkins estimated the voyage will take 36 days, based on a minimum average of 160nm per day.

XPLORE Expeditions has recently achieved accreditation as a Royal Yachting Association (RYA) training centre and underway, guest crew can work on training and education for yachtmaster certification.

Following the delivery to Ushuaia, the company’s inaugural season will begin, with scheduled trips throughout October 2007 to April 2008; to Antarctica, the sub-Antarctic islands, Tierra del Fuego, the Falkland and South Georgia islands, and other remote and exotic high latitude destinations. XPLORE Expeditions also was recently accepted as a member if the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO).

Founded by experienced yachtsmen Stephen Wilkins, skipper and expedition leader, and Nicolas Pichelin, co-skipper and project manager, the company will explore outlying and remote areas in the Southern Hemisphere with a focus on charting, surveying and discovery of undocumented coastlines and anchorages; observation and study of birds, wildlife and marine life; exploration of cultural, geographic, and historical areas of interest; and training and education under the parameters of the RYA.

Wilkins has previously led visitors from 17 to 77 years of age on polar and high latitude expeditions: “anyone who has stable health and a dream to be there. It’s very manageable with a well set up vessel, good heating and the proper systems.” Guests can book individual berths from the Programme or charter the vessel for customized passages and exploration.

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