Saturday, November 29, 2008

Xplore departs So Georgia Island: 29 Nov. 2008

We have left South Georgia this morning at first light (3am) and had one hell of a windy day, with toooo much ice around. We were hoping to be able to depart along the southern coast as the forecast favored it, but on rounding Cape Disappointment, we were sorely 'disappointed' - large seas were tearing small bergs and growlers from the huge tabular "floating ice islands" that are grounded along the SE corner of the island's continental shelf; making it impossible to get sail on and the boat off a safe course without constantly dodging ice with in the wave crests. We turned back around. In passing our anchorage that we had left four hours before, we faced a slow slog up the northeastern coast. The winds came, they went; they changed, and then increased ... mid-afternoon saw us with winds above 50 knots, four reefs, partially furled Yankee and staysail ... We plodded on. As the day dragged on and our energy started to wane, the winds slowly eased, but just as the relief of easy sea started to appear, the night and ice crept upon us. At 2245 I was awaken by Audrey and Allan, as they had a large berg 2.4nm close by on radar, with low cloud surrounding us. I checked our course and speed but also saw that the ice berg was large (1.2nm in size) and 5 degrees off our desired course, and we didn't have any light to safely skirt it. So stop, we had to: the growlers and small ice that floats down to leeward often can't be seen on radar. Frustrating as it is, it does allow everyone and every thing on board to regather some strength and the senses of humor for hopefully a better, more productive day of sailing tomorrow. The slow progress today just now means we are chasing a tight deadline for the two boys' flights in Stanley. ~ Stephen

Friday, November 28, 2008

Xplore in So Georgia Island: 28 Nov 2008

For many travelers the anticipation and the journey are the highlights, whilst the destination fails to meet their expectations. Happily I have not been disappointed by South Georgia. Rusting whaling stations, and the declining albatross population bear testament to the past and present industrialised harvesting of the natural world. However, the remaining flora and fauna have prospered in this truly wild place, and provide the snapshot of how the world once was that I had hoped for. We leave in the morning and I know I will miss this tiny island ~ Allan Stott onboard S/V Xplore 28 Nov '08

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Xplore in So Georgia Island: 26 Nov 2008

It was an early start for some of our party this morning - 3:00 rise for a sunset viewing and a hot drink. We rose again at a more humane hour and were quickly motored to shore in twos as the choir of almost every animal under the South Georgian sun welcomed us in at the river mouth, in the far right corner of the bay. A waterfall of ice followed by an explosion tumbled from the hanging glacier. 'I won't be climbing that cliff face then, hey Stephen?' 'I certainly hope not.' It's the only harbour that has almost everything you'd want out of South Georgia: two species of penguins, two species of seals, and soaring Giant Petrels and Light Mantled Sooty Albatrosses; and in such masses that you cannot hide in the tussac without being surprised or surprising them. We hiked the whole amphitheater around the mountain's edge, to the glacier pond, and back along the coal-black beach. Penguins surfed the waves in and plodded along gracefully as they fumbled along smooth pebbles and rocks. Male elephant seals bashed nostrils in the tussac, like two large thumbs in a thumb war. Gentoos revealed their newborns and served up fish meals as chirping calls beckoned. The tussac made for a great maize as Audrey and I hiked, and as we summited a ridge, we were speechless - with smiles as our form of communication. "We were replete," was what we were saying! The story doesn't end there: the evening became gentle and warm, as the wind dropped to nothing and the sun set behind the hanging glacier. We clinked glasses full of punch and watched the numerous icebergs, tussac hills, and snow capped mountains turn shades of yellow, orange and finally pink. To fill us further we finished off more of Barbara (the sheep) as chops for supper and here I sit, productively exhausted, ready for another glass of white wine. ~ Maria, crew member Xplore

Monday, November 24, 2008

Xplore in So Georgia Island: 24 Nov 2008 #2

A surreal day at St Andrews Bay We were up and at 'em early this morn, heading for the famous Saint Andrews Bay!! We wound our way through some bergs and into a large bay with three huge glaciers feeding into it. From a distance you could see the elephant seals and penguins on the beach. We were soon anchored and readying the zodiac for a ride in. We surfed in on the rollers and unloaded quickly before the Capt. got swamped and headed towards the promised land. A large glacier-fed river stood between us and the main penguin rookery, and we tried unsuccessfully to find an easy way across. So Allan decided he wasn't going to be stopped and charged into the ice cold river, and through waist deep freezing water. I couldn't let him go alone so I followed on his heels, and our wellies were filled completely. But off we went, down a beach that was crowded with hundreds of leviathans (elephant seals) all grunting and bellowing our arrival. We crested a hill, and spread out for a kilometer in all directions were hundreds of thousands, yes hundreds of thousands of penguins . Baby brown fur balls and thousands of their King penguin parents. The sounds and smells were of another world. Yikes! It was a fantastic sight that will definitely be replayed in memories for many years to come, I'm sure. Spread out through them were hundreds and hundreds of elephant seals of all sizes: from the giant males to the doe-eyed babies. Coming back was equally challenging in the surf, and Allan and I were soaked through and through and frozen to the core - but you could not wipe the grins from our faces. We are sitting now on our yacht Xplore, anchored tightly in the bay. Katabatic winds are sweeping down off the glacier - 30 to 40 knots - and our sturdy yacht heels and keeps coming round. It is warm and cozy inside with delicious smells on the way up from the galley and much chatter on the day. Another unbelievable day in an unbelievable place, South Georgia!!! ~ John ( Standy Uppy) Wilson P.S . Go Stamps go, the new CFL Grey Cup Champs!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Xplore in So Georgia Island: 24 Nov 2008

Tucked up in bed South Georgia is such a nice place: calm, blue seas, tranquil anchorages, warm days and starry nights . . . . . . . . . well maybe in another 50 years ! Xplore stayed yesterday in the protected anchorage at Cobblers Cove. Forecast was for a small but brutal blow during the night bringing gale force winds from the north-northwest. With good holding we tucked into warm beds after a great meal cooked by Kris, and an informative presentation about wildlife protection and how fisheries are working with the World Wildlife Fund on protecting bird species, which was made by crew member Maria from her experience in South Africa. Sleeping with one eye open, and a feel for the boat, we rocked and swayed at anchor as the winds increased and the barometer dropped. At 3am, and the first signs of light, I checked on deck and looked at the most current satellite images on how long this was going to blow. Despite a gnawing clang each time the boat yawed in the bay, we held like glue to the shores of South Georgia. Hmmm, I thought, time to go back to bed until the weather swings and eases. All going well - we will leave to head for the Bay of St Andrews where the largest colony of King Penguins resides for breeding. The story continues. ~ Stephen

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Xplore in So Georgia Island: 22 Nov. 2008

Macaroni day (and we are not talking about pasta...) ! This morning we left Grytviken, but not with the first light of the day. Indeed, our guests from the museum and from the supply boat JCR couldn't resist the excellent meal cooked for hours by Allan and John, and the night ended up quite late. We anchored in Cobblers Cove just in time for lunch, after a rocky roly trip. Then everybody (apart from Stephen - who was keeping an eye on his steel lady) left the boat to try to find the Macaroni penguin colony. After a nice walk across the hills, bumping into a few silent giant petrels on their nest, we started hearing the penguins. You couldn't see them .... but you could hear them ... and soon smell them! Finally - thousands of them were waiting for us, with their blond hair which gives them a very funny face: they look like surfers, but missing their surfboards! Another nice day in an amazing place! ~ Stephen Plat du jour Macaronis ( mais on n est pas en train de parler de pates...)! Ce matin on a quite Grytviken, mais pas a l aube. En effet, nos invites du musee et du bateau en charge du ravitaillement de l ile, le JCR, n ont pas pu resister au diner prepare durant des heures par Allan et John. Du coup la soiree s est finie un peu tard. Nous avons jete l ancre a Cobblers Cove, juste a temps pour le dejeuner apres une nave houleuse. Puis tout le monde a part Stephen qui est reste a bord pour garder un oeil sur son bateau, est parti a la recherche de la colonie de Macaronis. Apres une bonne marche, quelques rencontres impromptues avec des petrels geants dans leurs nids, on a commence a entendre les pinguins. On ne les voyait pas mais on les entendait puis rapidement on les a sentis! Des milliers de Macaronis nous attendaient, avec leurs meches blondes qui leur donnent une bouille marante, genre surfers, mais sans la planche... Bref, encore une super journee dans un cadre magique! ~ Audrey. First Mate Xplore

Friday, November 21, 2008

Xplore in So Georgia Island: 21 Nov. 2008

The weather gods have been kind. The lack of daily reports is totally due to the fact that everyone onboard has been awe-inspired by South Georgia: there is not another place like it in the world. And with the weather gods smiling kindly at us during these last four days, there hasn't been a moment to lose as each day we have been packing in shore walks, zodiac cruising, and wildlife experiences that just leave you speechless. The team ventured off for the last traverse of the famous Shackleton [Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton ] walk, which arrives into Stromness Bay where the disused whaling station lies. Shackleton's arrival there and first meeting with the whaling station manager was one of total disbelief as Shackleton and his men were unrecognisable due to the seal and penguin meat they were eating and the black grease that came from the cooking: looking more like the Yeti than human, they were slowly recognised. Other key highlights so far have been the massive King penguin colony at Salisbury Plains, the Macaroni penguin colony - with hundreds of thousands at the Welcome Islands - and the zodiac cruising around the bays of the disused stations of Prince Olav, including the last station to close, in 1967, at Leith Harbour. When it's calm and still you can close your eyes and imagine the turmoil and terror of those huge machines: tearing and destroying thousands and thousands of whales. Now situated at Gritviken station and the bay of King Edward point - which is the main British Antarctic Research station of the island - we all (including the crew) have had a day of R&R. Tonight the Curator and staff of the museum will join us onboard for some festive mingling (and a few drinks of course). More news coming as the adventure continues to unfold as we cruise on down to the SE corner of SG: I am sure no-one will be disappointed with Cape Disappointment ... Stephen

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Xplore in So Georgia Island: 17 Nov. 2008

A perfect day! We awoke to bright sunshine, Xplore swinging at anchor in a glassy calm Elesehul with petrels and gulls circling and seals playing in the water around the boat. With the anchor up we motored out past a sparkling glacier on Snowy Peak (2800m) and past Cape North to check out the icebergs around the Welcome Islands. The fearless Captain Steve took Xplore to within spitting distance of the biggest berg in the bay, which promptly calved with an ear-splitting crack like a cannon, and shed a huge berggy bit into the water right next to the boat, accompanied by sharp waves that rocked Xplore. It was a perfect photo opportunity as the berg sparkled in the sunshine and the turquoise glacial water splashed around its base. How Captain Steve managed to stage such a show is beyond our understanding - just one more superhuman feat from our fearless leader. Next was a visit to the Welcome Islands that are literally covered with penguins, who seem to be able to climb sheer cliffs to take up residence on the grassy slopes of the table top. They were as curious about us as we were about them, standing to attention like tin soldiers facing the drill sergeant It was positively tropical as we arrived at Prion Island. This was a special treat. The island is rat-free and therefore represents South Georgia as it was before the whalers brought rodents, which prey on bird eggs and have decimated the resident population of ground nesting and burrowing birds. Since the island is rat-free and everyone wants to keep it that way, only one boat a day can visit and visitor numbers are limited to 11. Luckily the permitted boat that day could not go so we were first alternate. Each passenger had to read and sign an affidavit that they would vacuum out the backpack, pick the fluff off their velcro, check their pockets for rats and cockroaches, seal their snacks in transparent sterile bags and wash their boots in antiseptic to stop not only rodents but insects, plant seeds and even viruses from infecting this special habitat. The island was pristine. Such unspoiled bird habitat with many ground nesting albatross, petrels and a lovely little songbird called a pipit which is no bigger than a sparrow and is only found in South Georgia Island. Its song filled the air in an environment usually devoid of birdsong and dominated by the smell and the sound of larger mammals. 'Happy hour' was worth celebrating after a day like this. The sun still shone as we dropped anchor under clear blue skies in Rostia Harbor, where Captain Steve had already amputated BahBahra's hind quarter for a mutton dinner. (BahBahra is the stiff tied to the stern stanchions -- an ex-Falklands sheep). Too much wine and merriment led to dancing in the cockpit as we all listened to rhythmic Portuguese music from Maria's Ipod played at 100 watts into the moonlight. The skies were so clear that shooting stars, planets and the Milky Way itself watched over us as the tempo rose and danced past the midnight hour, to close out the perfect day on Xplore. Kristy Kissinger Totten deserves special mention for motivating everyone to move their hips in ways that have not been seen since adolescence. Captain Steve got a gold star for his performance -- sticky gold stars being awarded at the end of each day by StandyUppy John for those crew and clients demonstrating some yet undefined quality meeting the stringent criteria of the secret Star Committee. As we entered the morning, we left the stars to keep watch over the glassy calm of the bay and granted the sleeping animals some well earned peace and quite. Folks - its doesn't get any better that this. Ever!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

XPLORE arrives at South Georgia Island

[A cryptic note after an exhausting but successful voyage. I imagine that after their arrival, they all went to sleep! - Ed.] "Hi All, Arrived Elsehul, Lat 54 01 S 37 57 W Tired, knackered, at anchor ... all is good; seals and penguins on the beaches and in the water, cloudy mist makes the island look mystical. ~ Stephen"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Stanley to South Georgia Island: 14 Nov. 2008

Patience is life Day breaks in the early hours. At 4am the faint rays of light break through the Southern Ocean clouds and reveal what we have felt but not seen all night: a cold and windswept ocean. Until 2am the boat had lifelessly rolled and wobbled amongst the waves in the center of this monster low, its movement of 20 knots per hour meant we had a frustrating night of waiting ... be patient, wait for the signs as the winds shift. In the center of a low there is little wind, just the remainder of the swell of the screaming winds that have passed by. I was already partly awake when crew member Audrey called my voice to change over watch. I had slept poorly, and still had an aching back and a difficult dry cough. Many would say it's because of the amount I smoke, but over the last two days it feels like I have picked up some sort of bug back in Stanley that just makes you feel weak and tired ... or maybe it's just the stress piling up and showing its hallmarks when you don't want to take any more. A good mug of tea in my favorite cup (which has been with me for more than 90,000 miles) as a close companion - we drink yet another warm brew together and look at the latest satellite image on the Skyeye, only confirming the many hours of debate about which way, and when, this system will blow through. Xplore rocks wildly now as she's buffeted by winds over 50 knots. The outside temperature since the winds have gone to the southwest has dropped to below-freezing; time on deck is painful to the bare skin, and a few minutes is all anyone can take. Thank God we made the decision to stop when and where we did. South Georgia lies 176 nautical miles to the east of us. If it was much further distance we would all probably be more content to ride out this storm, but being so close just taunts us into wanting to free the sheets and let her run - to a safe snug anchorage, where sleep can be had without the bruises on your hips and shoulders. It will come, be patient. If I didn't know Xplore - and virtually every nut, bolt and screw in her - I would have been concerned My "Fat English Girl" as I fondly refer to her , is solid and tough ... some days when I look back at all the painstaking work we have done to prepare her for being down here, I know that in every blow or big sea we sail in, that she can take it with the best. It pleases me and comforts me, at the same time, in every breath as my neck tightens, and my ass checks clench as you feel the boat lift on the yet-another wave and feel the crash of water pummel the decks and shake the rig. Quietly, she always says, 'Be patient, we will sail another day in calm smooth seas.' ~ Stephen

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stanley to South Georgia Island: 13 Nov. 2008

Southern Ocean: hard and cold Short report today. The last 24 hours have seen everything; as we prepared and waited for this low pressure system, my tension subconsciously tightened. By first light we started seeing the swing, and then during the morning the wind began to build, two reefs, then three, and then four ... wind speeds started to get too high for the full Yankee No3 and staysail, and they had to be partially furled. Still stonking along at 10 knots; the visibility was bad, the snow came in horizontal flurries, and we soldiered on waiting for the worst. As skipper, I look at many different things when making any decision: the seas, the winds, the predicted future conditions; but I also am are keenly aware as to the condition and strength of myself, the crew and the people we have onboard. With the winds howling, I decide it was time to stop. The ice is too close and the only remote island group prior to South Georgia a little too close if we push on in the last daylight. So we hove-to until early daybreak (about 4 am) and then we'll re-evaluate tomorrow and the conditions. ~ Stephen

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stanley to South Georgia Island: 12 Nov. 2008

From Kris and John's perspective: The boat continues to rock and roll along toward So Georgia. Last night, all watches enjoyed clear skies and a full moon. It was gorgeous. We had two reefs in the main and a poled out Yankee. When the wind was up, we cruised along at 8-9 knots. This morning it clouded up, the wind dropped a bit and now it's raining. No snow yet, so no snowball fights like we had in the Beagle Channel. We just finished another scrumptious lunch, compliments of Audrey, our French crew. No shortage of food on this trip and the quality and variety of the cuisine is incredible! Not only do we indulge in gourmet meals, but we must have a cubic foot of chocolate onboard as well, and this doesn't even include the Snickers bars. No dieting on this trip! We've accumulated our own entourage of seabirds, and we are followed night and day by a motley crew of Cape Petrels, Prions, Black Browed Albatross, Great Wandering Albatross, Giant Petrels, etc ... At one point, we reckon we had over 50 seabirds flying around this strange yellow-sailed vessel. Captain Stephen is amazing! He is always there working the boat, handing out cups of coffee or tea and always bursting with positive energy. He clearly loves his boat, and sharing this love with his crew and passengers. So onward we sail, this cheery and well-fed boatload.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Stanley to South Georgia Island

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling The rattle of the staysail sheet slaps against the leeward deck, as the wind is shielded by the mainsail; and we smoothly slip to the east and to our destination of South Georgia. Leaving Stanley went well, with the strong breeze abating after 36 hours of gale force winds which buffetted the tiny township. Being next to the commercial dock had its advantages and disadvantages; protection from the large harbour swell ... but the entire boat is coated with metal sand-blasted steel from the ship repair work. Even with constant deck washing whilst there, we have the markings of a steel scrap yard, with millions of rust spots from the debris as we sail to South Georgia. With a steady forecast of WNW to NW winds, we are able to pole out the headsail and make a dead downwind run along the Southern Ocean swells. In the first 12 hours we average over 8.8 knots and cover more than 100 nautical miles, setting the stage for a brisk passage. In just two days, life with all the crew and people has quickly settled into a smooth routine; this different, rolly polly point-of-sail marks the final leg to adestination they have all been dreaming about for years ... Stephen

Sunday, November 9, 2008

XPLORE arrives in Stanley, Falkland islands

Heel angle high, cup level low The final 18 hours into Stanley was an interesting sail for all. Within the team on Xplore for South Georgia we have Allan Stott from the UK, John Wilson from Canada, John and Kristy Totton from Alaska, and crew mate Audrey from France - making it an eclectic mix of cultures, ages and experience. The team though in this breezy stonking trip up to Stanley have been great; no one has been particularly sea sick and everyone is settling into life at sea and on Xplore. With good forecasting information we had positioned ourselves to the north so the strong north and then west/northwest winds would give us favorable sailing directions. The final six hours sailing up the southeast coast of the East Falkland island were fine on the nose, so heel angle was max, keeping the level of tea in the mugs very low. But through good fortune we arrived into Stanley at a sociable hour, and even as the afternoon winds started to fade, the warm smiles on the faces of good friends Dion Poncet, of Golden Fleece, and Ian Bury, mechanical repairman extraordinaire, were there waiting for us at the wharf, to take our lines. It has been three years since I was last here in Stanley; for me, it's such a nice, refreshing change to be back in 'Little England'. ~ Stephen [note: Xplore leaves Stanley shortly, for South Georgia Island]

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ushuaia to Stanley: Day Three

Calm day wild night Dawn woke those on board with a smile as the seas had flattened out and started to rock people to sleep as opposed to throwing them out of their bunks. Calm smooth sailing continued all morning and I actually was able to sleep for more than half an hour. The after noon saw increasing breeze from the north and we started to prepare the boat for yet another nighttime blow: four reefs in the main, yankee No2 reduced by 30% and the staysail by 20%. As sure as water always tries to find its level, the winds built and built to relieve its forces. By 9pm we had over 40 knots true over the deck, sailing close hauled ... by 12 midnight we had furled the yankee and settled the boat down to a calmer 8 knots, instead of the on-the-edge 9.5 upwind. The shift that we were expecting happened as predicted, but like watching a kettle boil, it happened so slow. Alone on watch, I had decided to make yet another cup of tea, and by the time I had arrived back at the chart table it had started to turn: 5, 10 and then 20 degrees, it was turning and dropping as I sat there all within two minutes; in 10 minutes it had changed 120 degrees and the boat had virtually come to a standstill. With no yankee out, the boat had come down to 2.9 knots of boat speed and the auto pilot wasn't going to have anything to do with it! It wouldn't and couldn't hold course - we needed speed to give steerage way. On deck I quickly turned off the auto pilot, unfurled the yankee, and sheeted on. Hand steering, I slowly brought her back to the wind, which now was an entirely different heading. With sails set now for a beam/broad reach we gained way, and the wind gain as well - even faster. This new shift was a demon: within minutes we were back to 38 knots, 15 minutes later it was 44. Night grew into a faint dawn and the watches changed. I was exhausted but stayed with the others for an hour to see if there were going to be any other surprises. Thankfully not ... the wind speed remained a consistent at 38 to 42 knots, with a wind angle of120 degrees, giving Xplore a well and truly needed nudge in the right direction. ~ Stephen

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ushuaia to Stanley: Day Two

Today we headed out of Puerto Williams at 5 am with calm port conditions, on the tail end of a cold southerly low that brought ice and snow from Antarctica. The Eastern Beagle Channel held these cold winds with cumulonimbus downbursts all the way to the Lemaire strait. Each mass of cloud that rolled through brought ice, hail and snow as we flew along under shortened sail. In 14 hours we had covered 123 nautical miles, averaging 8.7 knots with peaks into the 12 knot range as we surfed down waves. In the sunny breaks - where the mounds of snow slowly melted out of the folds of the reefs in the mai sail - we enjoyed the pods of Fuegan dolphins surfing and playing with the yacht. These dolphins love to play: fast, snub-nosed and full of energy, they put on a show that would have impressed the crowds at Sea World. Night sets in and we are now snuggled down for a night where the winds are due to ease ... At present we are beam-reaching on a northly course, hoping to make ground before the next low pressure front arrives in 18 hours: they come thick and fast here in the south. With 280nm to Stanley we hope for smooth, fast sailing and no more snow. ~ Stephen

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ushuaia to Stanley: Day One

Ushuaia November 3rd / Puerto Williams November 4th Lat 54 56 S 67 37 W "One week on board a boat in port before a long passage can be hell, frustrating, hard work or just a long grind, as the preparation list gets smaller and smaller ... Finally, mid-afternoon today, Xplore headed out from Ushuaia for the Chilean port of Puerto Williams - loaded with provisions, fuel and clients - before heading east for the Falkland Islands. This we need to do because the Argentinians still insist that in leaving Argentina - if sailing to the Falklands /Malvinas - you don't need to clear customs because the Malvinas are theirs!! (However if you do this you will have a very unfriendly and complicated arrival and entry, by the English constables!) So late on the 3rd we arrive and settle down in Puerto Williams for the night, after completing our entry and exit paper work. Unfortunately the forecast for the 4th is not good ... there is a fair chance the port will be closed as the prognosis is for another low pressure cell (958mb) due overnight, with winds around the corner of the island peaking at 100 knots (hmmmm just a tad windy, even for down here). And so at dawn on Nov. 4th, Xplore sits in port, rocking to the gusty winds which tear through the mountain ranges of Navarino island; bringing showers and snow flurries from the south. A cold but relaxing day before heading off tomorrow." Xplore - Stephen Wilkins, Skipper & Expedition Leader

Saturday, November 1, 2008

XPLORE kicks off second season!

Xplore Expeditions kicked off its second season with a 10-day voyage through Tierra del Fuego; beginning in Ushuaia, Arg. and voyaging through the spectacular fjords and glaciers of the Beagle Channel, to Punta Arenas, Chile. The second leg featured a return along the same route and back to Ushuaia for provisioning and preparations for the upcoming epic passage to South Georgia Island, slated for 9 Nov.