Thursday, December 31, 2009

Yakity Yak, which language to chat ?

There is always an interesting air of anticipation that surrounds a group of people who are about to set off into the wild blue yonder. Especially when you are to cross the infamous Drakes Passage to get to Antarctica. What will it be like, will I be scared, will I be sea sick the whole time, what will the boat be like and will I get along with my team mates on board, so many questions that only time will answer.

Xplore was docked in the Argentinean port of Ushuaia, on the banks of the Beagle Channel that backs onto the Darwin mountain range of snow capped mountains, even now in the middle of summer we experienced dustings of snow on these peaks which make it a truly picturesque place.

For two days we made final preparations and topped up the provisions that will need to last us a month in the frozen south as 10 people from all around the world joined Xplore.

The question is what language do we speak ? we have 4 people from Italy, 1 from Belgium, 1 from Norway, 1 from France and 3 from Australia making a very eclectic group ranging from 19 years of age to my father at 76, a banker, someone from media, an electrical engineer, 3 architects and a student, surely this will be a love / hate experience !

Luckily a number of the team have sailed together before and those that haven't soon fell into the routine and comforts that have made Xplore such a popular boat, good food, great wine, homely comforts in a safe and warm yacht. what more could one ask for to make an adventure complete.

We slipped our lines early on the morning of the 30th of December, birth date to Lyn on board which we will celebrate in full style when we reach the snowy peaks of Antarctica.

With a calm forecast to cross, we have set full sail, more adventure news to come.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Working away in Punta Arenas

The days are long, for two reasons, it's light until 11pm, the sun starts to rise again at 3am and the work list for preparations for Antarctica are long as well.

But all is moving along well, Audrey and I are making good progress with preparing Xplore for the next southern adventure.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Something to chew on

We all like sitting back and chewing the fat, well in English we use the term when you just want to relax and have a think about things.

South Georgia with all its animals certainly have lots of time and also things to think about as well.......who would make a nice mating partner ?, who's getting in my territory ?, where's dinner coming from today ?, aaaaand who are those pesky humans that keep on coming and staring at us all day, and run around on those noisy rubber boats ?

Well Xplore and the team certainly saw a different side of something to chew on. The first experience was after the team had made a shore landing and we all went for a hike, weather being reasonable and we all wanted to stretch the legs, we left our zodiac on a relatively open and empty part of the pebbled shores within the middle harbor of Prince Olav.

On return an hour or so later, with lots of images in our minds and cameras we found two male fur seals sitting either side of the Zodiac there on the beach where we left it, only problem was that one side of the Zodiac was deflated (the same as how I felt when seeing it) with a bit of careful negotiation with the two fur seal boys we gingerly launched the Zodiac and returned to Xplore to find out how bad the "deflation" was.

After an inspection once we had the Zodiac back on deck we found that one of the fur seals had sunk one of their large upper jaw teeth into the back end of the dinghy, Serge and I dismantled the engine and heavy items and brought the rather flat tail end of the zodiac into the warmth of the companion way where we set about repairing the damage, a bit of hot air from a hair dryer, some alcohol to clean the area, repair patches and glue and within an hour is was all back like new.

In all of my time in the south I have never heard of a fur seal attacking a zodiac, Leopard seals do this quite often, but fur seals no ! we continued out travels around the island with a new wave of caution for beach landings.

Time moves on, and the spectacular sights of South Georgia captured everyone, until............, what not again !

One of the very special locations on South Georgia is a place called Gold Harbor, you may not become rich there but you will with experience, its a location that just has the right mix of everything, a hanging glacier perched on a rocky cliff, terminal lagoon to the left and an beach area which has one of the largest colonies of King Penguins, not just thousands but hundreds of thousands. Mixed amounts these beautiful birds is a whole range of other critters, Albatross, Giant petrels, Fur seals and this year we have a rather astonishing number of Elephant seals, males, babies and females all trying to have a happy and peaceful summer's holiday. Reminds me of one of those classic black and white movies of an English beach resorts where there is an air of freedom, some pomp and ceremony, and on the fringes there are the louts with their bad behavior and boozing sun baking and scantily cladded girl friends, there is sure to be some tears before bead time !.

After dropping anchor in the cove it wasn't long before we had the majority of the team that wanted to go a shore and explore, the light was great and the temperature nice, we headed in with a small shore break and I landed them all in the normal spot in the northern end where its calmer. I had circled a couple of times to see how the waves were running, and also noted a lot of Bull Elephant seal males on the beach and cruising the waters, all seeing who was going to get the best outt of those cute girlies that were baking on the beach.

After three or four hours I get a call on the VHF that the shore party was ready to be picked up, happy laughs of some of the wonders that they had seen it was time to return to Xplore for drinks and nibbles. On with my dry suite I headed into the beach to pick up the team. In the same spot the swell had eased a bit, but the activity late in the day was getting a bit more serious as the Elephant seal boys were obviously getting desperate as to who was going to be their girl for the night.

A fast surf in on a wave and turn around, the team all jumped into the Zodiac at lightning speed so that we could get back out of the surf fast without all getting soaked, we all were looking toward to Xplore when within 10 seconds of leaving the beach the whole zodiac physically was shoved to the left, it felt like I had just driven the boat straight into a huge rock, a bit like when you drive dodgem cars at the side shows and no one gives a dam about the damage !! ca boom.

I was certainly startled and looked to the right hand side and saw close to us the hind part of a male elephant seal as he dove below the waters, he surfaced again and had one of those startled looks about him like a punched drunk boxer, what the hell happened there, you could see the expression on his face (he probably said the same about the look on my face as I certainly didn't know what the heck had happened)

Whilst all of this was happening I still managed to keep the revs on the motor, but within a moment I could feel the side of the Zodiac that I was sitting on went totally flat, oooooh Sh.....t, I think we have a problem. I quickly asked all the team in the boat to shift over to the other side and we roared back to Xplore as fast as we could. As soon as we came along side everyone started to climb onboard, but now that the zodiac was stopped I felt the water level changing at an alarming rate, I was sinking, double Sh.....t.

Quick guys, we have to get the Zodiac back on deck other wise we are going to loose it and sink the motor as well. What a team ! for the next crazy five minutes we pulled , pushed and winched the zodiac on deck, full of water, torn apart but the motor was fine, and most importantly was all of us were as well.

It didn't take genius to work out what had happened, we had either been attacked or we hit the Elephant seal whilst he was under water, it was good to look back though and know that we didn't hit him with the propeller as it was the starboard side of our boat which took the brunt of the shock. But his reaction had torn a 1 meter long tear along the side of the Zodiac with ragged vertical rips along the way, Elephant seals have claws on their flippers which they use in fighting and even with human strength I cant tear the material that these Zodiacs are made of.

The next morning at dawn a familiar cruise ship the Hansiatic that I know also arrived at Gold Harbor, I spoke with the expedition leader to tell him about the fisty activity in the normal landing spot and explained what had happened to us the day before. Fletch is a great guy who has years of experience down in the south, he also was surprised to hear the news, but he also asked if we needed any help to repair our Zodiac. I explained that we had looked at it and it was a serious repair, but if within their ships crew they had someone who had lots of experience in inflatable repairs, then a second opinion was appreciated.

20 minutes later one of the ships big industrial Zodiacs pulls along side with the Chief Mate and Bosun of the Hansiatic, and we scratched our heads as to the damage to our now very sad looking Zodiac. Bit it was very plain to see for everyone that this was a shore based repair job. We parted company, the Hansiatic was heading for Antarctica later in the day, luckily their shore landings went fine, and for us we had our second Zodiac to inflate and prepare for duty.

So with another range of different experiences, I will chew on this experience and have a very different regard to Fur and Elephant seals in the future.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Georgia, oh sweet Georgia, the whole day through

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through, and old sweet song, keeps Georgia on my mind !
Xplore arrived to the western shores of South Georgia after a smooth and rapid voyage from Stanley in the Falkland Islands. The 714 nautical mile crossing was achieved in 4 days to the minute, with clear seas devoid of the often seen ice fields we slipped into Rosita Harbor to a snug and secure anchorage between the shore line bull kelp beds.
Just like the Ray Charles song of Georgia, every time I return there is a feeling of peace and tranquility within the high snow capped mountains that surround you on all sides. With sunshine, South Georgia is a visual wonderland, its hard not to just stare at everything. When the clouds roll in the scene changes again to another mood, and gives you a different perspective of this truly grand island that is the breeding ground to millions of animals.
The sounds which come from the sea and on the beaches, is something which remains in your mind for life, the noises that fur seals make is so distinctive that even in the dead of night you can hear the Phiff Phiff noises that they make to themselves, or the roar that male elephant seals make whether they are making themselves comfortable for the night, or fighting for their territory on the beach can bring fear to even the strongest tempered person.
The team onboard has started to settle into life in the island, no more sailing watches to be done, and meals mixed between amazing experiences on shore, everyone returns to Xplore with memory cards full of images of animals and landscapes that have been carved by thousands of years of wind, snow and ice.
My only disappointment in coming to South Georgia this year is that a very dear friend of mine is not here on board with us to share this amazing experience. Betsy Crowfoot has been such a wonderful support, encouragement and media journalist from the inception of Xplore that she decided after so many years of me writing about the south to try "Life in the freezer" on board Xplore. After working through the final stages of the winter re-fit in Uruguay Betsy sailed with us as far as Punta Arenas, but will always be on our minds as a wonderful and dear friend.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

White Squall what a blow !

White Squall what a blow !
Well after 9 years of sailing down here in the south I would have to say that this little blow took the cake to date, and gave me and everyone on board yet another reminder of the fact that we are only children playing around here in the ocean, and if we are not careful, the all, almighty will slap our wrists when ever he chooses to.
We had just entered the eastern reaches of the Striates of Magellan very early in the morning, we had 120 nautical mile to run through the 2 narrows and then into the widening part of the Striates before arriving into Punta Arenas.
Our voyage from the River Plate, Buenos Aires had been overall very smooth sailing, with one other relatively small blow along the way where we stopped, and hove to for just over 24 hours. Well we knew that we were going to have some unsettled weather and potentially some strong northerly winds during the day, all forecasts were similar and we proceeded on with a positive out look of the evening in port after 10 days at sea.
Through the first narrows we had fresh winds and some snow from a NNE wind, in the middle widening stretch between the 2 narrows, winds eased and the sky cleared with winds turning unstable and back to the north. Part way through the second narrows, Audrey first mate woke me after a nap to tell me that it was freshening and that the trend of a constant drop in millibars was continuing at a regular and constant rate.
On deck we continued to reduce sail area as things had freshened, more turns on the staysail (only head sail up at this point) and 4 deep reefs in the main sail. Sneaking around the final corner of the second narrows we had 35 knots of true wind speed from the NW and 26 nautical miles to go. Within half an hour we were seeing wind speeds reaching 50 knots true, but with the amount of sail area up we couldn't reduce it further and still keep our head up to maintain course, Xplore was trucking along with no major issues.
Bright sunshine was pouring through the cloud structures as we were seeing all forms of white fluffy things, cumulous, cirrus, stratus and cumulonimbus. Down below at the nav area there was tension in the air, we all knew the conditions were tough, but we also knew that we were very close to being in port, we were taking a bit of a thumping and the winds weren't easing, 55, 57, and then Serge who was sitting in the companion way under the protection of the new cuddy / dodger called to me at the chart table that he was seeing something ? So what is it Serge ? a ship, the island not far off our port side, give me more information, well in a typical Serge crazy French way he said that he didn't know, well whilst on the edge of our seats and with electricity in the air, I jumped up to find out what the hell he was talking about.
Words cant explain the sight that I saw, but instantly I knew what it was, and there was no doubt, the whole sky from water level up to about 1000 feet was a wall of white, the sky above was brilliant blue, from full left to right there was nothing but a solid barrier and it was coming towards us fast, the tendons in my stomach went knotted and tight as I evaluated our options, it had to be a white squall ! To the left of us was an island which we were nearly clear of, to the right and closer to the main land of South America, but that was to wind ward, behind was the narrows with its turbulent tidal waters that rip through at 6 to 8 knots with not a lot of room to manoeuvre.
We held course for Punta Arenas, if anything we used engine revs to lift our heading and to try to bring us closer and quicker to the protection of the main land and to ease the force of the wind from the sails. 59 knots, 62, 68 I have never seen our wind gauges ever read this high, and we have always known that it reads lower than what we actually experience and see out there on the water. The sheets of the headsail were thumping and tearing at the deck hardware, the winches were shuddering as the whipping forces of wind, sails and sea were trying to tear each other apart, I know there was a lot of preying going on, but everyone remained very calm and matter of fact as these hurricane force winds tested what we and the boat were made of. In the 14 hours up to the white squall the barometer dropped 41.2 millibars, probably about the same, but opposite amount of blood pressure that rose in my veins during this experience.
I look back at the experience and reflect on how it all went, what lessons did I learn and what could I have done differently or better, yes there are points and some aspects that I may change if I ever go through anything like that again, but I do believe that the team of four on board, the boat being very well prepared made the total difference of safe passage or disaster. I didn't feel at any point that we were going to loose, but I know that in anything but Xplore I would not have been feeling safe or comfortable. During the afternoon we all took some photos and video, see this link to some footage that Serge took when the wind speeds were in the high 50's and low 60's, from my experience at sea I estimate we encountered winds over 75 knots.  Stephen Wilkins Skipper Xplore Expeditions

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The First Big Blow

The Furious Fifties have lived up to their reputation. No sooner had XPLORE crossed the 50 S meridian than we met with our first ‘big blow’ of the new season.

But we were ready. Several days before Stephen had seen this brewing, and one night the crew gathered around the nav station for dinner as he clicked through the satellite images and grib files, explaining to us what was to come.

The night before was the proverbial ‘calm before the storm’. Audrey and I sat on deck and she admired the bucolic scenery as a crimson swathe of sunset burned between the sea and the brooding sky. “We have petrels. We have dolphins (a small pod of Duskies splashed alongside). We have a sunset.”

“And we have a storm,” she added, her arm panning the sky.

Since then the wind has increased and canvas decreased, as we took in all the reefs on the main, furled down the headsails, until ultimately, last night just after midnight, we hove to. Now we are drifting – deliberately and slowly –out of harms way, waiting for the storm to pass. It’s quite civilized: we stand two hour watches, read, rest, and enjoy meals together. And watch the sea. The swells seem to be born right before our very eyes: huge charcoal grey mountains pushing up from the sea; white with spume; rushing by, one after another after another …

But we feel very safe and secure on XPLORE. I was around for only the last month of the refit to see (and help with) the huge amount of work and planning that has gone into making XPLORE an even better platform for the South. Like the new cuddy atop the companionway with the clear plastic enclosure. You have a 360 degree view of the seas all around, from a dry secure perspective. Stephen’s many seasons down here are evident in the thoughtful improvements made – and especially comforting in a ‘big blow’ like this!

 - Betsy

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sea Fog and Monsters

The main engine burbles along on the oily flat seas, with virtually no movement noticeable on board we could be tied to a dock.

But on deck there is an eerie feeling about, the lines of phosphorescence streams out from the side of Xplore as the "Fat English Girl" carves her way south, surrounded by sea fog, the only sign we have is the soft reflection of the navigation steaming lights against the moisture soaked air that is all around.

It's one of those nights that would have captured the writing imagination of Jules Verne and scared the wits out of ancient mariners, already superstitious as they voyaged into unknown oceans and lands, the feeling that slimy tentacles could slither up over the sides of the deck and grab a dozing sailor doing his watch just seem all too real, you feel like you must stay close to the centre of the boat so as to have a chance of getting away from its clutches.

The sea fog that is all around doesn't let you see more than 10 meters all around, but the cover is close to the surface, so if you look directly above you can see the soft glow of the southern hemisphere stars.

Having left Buenos Aires two and a half days ago we have made good progress down the coast of Argentina, sitting 100 to 150 nautical miles (NM) off the coast we are still on the continental shelf, and shallow waters. Our voyage south to Punta Arenas is approximately 1400 NM and if the weather holds true, we could make this in 8 to 10 days in total, if it turns nasty then god only knows our ETA.

We do have a deadline, as our first official trip for the season departs Punta Arenas on the 30th of October and heads for the exciting island of South Georgia, an animal play ground and haven to millions of creatures.

But in the mean time all of us on board will try to recover from the massive work load and daily grind of the last 3 months of re-fit and modifications, we can now sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labor as Xplore looks so good and sails so sweetly.


"Steve and crew,
it is good to hear from you and to learn that you are all underway fo a new exciting season; I am so much looking forward to joining you lot again this winter. I'dlove to see some photos of ur beautiful boat with all the modifications, improvments etc.... and maybe under sail... keep in touch... ciao from a cold milanese morning with a dy in the office ahead.... believe me, you are all quite lucky!!!
yours, Marco"

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sunday, October 11, 2009

XPLORE arrives Buenos Aires: 10 October 2009

At long last we have completed the refit and departed Piriapolis, making a swift and joyful passage to Buenos Aires, Argentina. XPLORE looks more fabulous than ever, and has attracted the attention of sailors young and old here at the Yacht Club Argentino. Earlier today several of the hundreds of junior sailors here for an Opti regatta were invited aboard by Skipper Stephen. After a talk and ‘Q&A’ (How fast can you go? What is the most wind you’ve had? What kind of animals do you see?) they enjoyed a tour below decks, which drew ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ from the youngsters, who came from all over South America to compete in the championship regatta. The bulk of the refit is done but there is much to do still before we depart Buenos Aires later this next week. Next stop: Punta Arenas, Chile! ~ Betsy

Friday, October 2, 2009

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Have bug-eyed creatures from another planet taken over XPLORE?

No, that’s Stephen (right) and Audrey (below) removing the glue from the deck to replace the TBS deck tread.

TBS is an incredibly durable and effective non-skid application which Stephen has used since 1999, and which XPLORE, from her earlier incarnation as a Global Challenge racing yacht, had on deck. Part of our refit plans include replacing the TBS … but first, the old stuff had to come off.

Warm sunny days soften the glue enough to make it easy for one or two of us (and on occasion all three: stacked up like a conga line) to peel off. The old pieces are kept to use as templates for the new application. Then the glue must be removed from deck: a crucial process which involves scraping up the goopy cement with copious amounts of solvent, hence the face masks.

Once the deck is clean, the new pieces – which have been carefully cut using the templates and a double-check of sizes and placement – are easily placed down, and the edges are sealed. Voila. At this time we have replaced nearly a third of the TBS on board XPLORE and sunny days ahead promise the rest won’t be far behind.

“When we re-designed and modified XPLORE for the South, we worked with TBS hands on. It’s easy to use, measure, cut and apply; with the self adhesive backing all you need is a clean, smooth area and it sticks and stays!”

Stephen first product-tested TBS 10 years ago, saying “At first I thought there was not enough to grip onto, as the surface seemed smooth; but quickly I realised that no matter how much water came on deck there was always a firm grip and a feeling of steadiness, whether you were pushing hard in racing conditions, or when there was snow and ice everywhere.” Since then he has become a big proponent of the product, for secure footing in the world’s toughest, most demanding and dangerous conditions; Antarctica, the Southern Ocean, and Cape Horn.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Sept 21 2009

Today is a gorgeous sunny day and the forecast is for more of the same … so finally, we paint!

XPLORE has been in Piriapolis, Uruguay for her biennial refit. Stephen and Audrey have already added extra navigation area windows, and a newly designed cuddy atop the companionway, both of which increase comfort and safety as well as a bit more brightness below deck. Above deck we’ve been working on replacing the TBS non-skid deck tread, for safer footing underway, plus other odds and ends like replacing part of the mainsail track.

But our plans to repaint the hull have been stymied by the weather, including the last-big-blow-of-the-winter last week, which put us all into ‘chill’ mode. However this morning dawned sunny and clear: Fiky and his workers are already busy prepping the hull, and replacing all the protective plastic that shredded in the storm. We hope to be seeing green (as in the hull, not envy!) soon – fingers crossed. -BC

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Onboard but never bored

XPLORE’s deck is a clutter of tools, parts and projects; the colorful power cords strewn about: up the rig, over the side, and all about. Stephen is dangling from the bos’ns chair up the mast, replacing parts of the mainsail track that got dinged in a big blow on the way to South Georgia. Audrey stands by: passing tools up and down.

Alongside, Fiky and his men continue to prep the hull for painting: sanding, filling and priming, in the hopes that a weather window is ahead. But it’s much too windy these days and the threat of rain is imminent. In the meantime, we keep busy with projects that conditions allow – sealing the new cuddy and oiling the teak trim and rails in between Stephen’s occasional call from halfway up the mast: needing a hoist up or down.

It’s been non-stop and I’m impressed with all that’s been done since I arrived a week ago; and not only that, but the boat on the whole. Even in her ‘undressed’ state she’s by far the most beautiful and powerful yacht in Puerto Piriapolis, and I take more than a small amount of pride in being onboard as part of her crew. After several years of being ‘shore support’ for XPLORE EXPEDITIONS I have come south to sail for the season, and will be adding my voice to Stephen and Audrey’s dispatches here. ~ Betsy


Monday, August 24, 2009

Saint Tony

Every once in a while a little ray of sun shine comes along in your life, not just a morning beam of light but a glorious and magical beam of light that permutates everything.
For us here on Xplore, that is dear "Saint Tony" (Antoine in French).
For the last six weeks as Audrey and I have been busy with a huge work list of tasks to get Xplore ready for this next summer season, Tony and his wife Celine have been here in Piriapolis with their yacht Shana.
Shana is a French design aluminum yacht of 14 meters which Tony and Celine built there in France and are currently doing their second circumnavigation.
Tony is a professional yacht builder who over his life has built seven yachts for himself; he just loves building yachts ! He obviously loves sailing them as well, as his first circumnavigation was for seven years and this one that they are doing may be around the same length, time will tell ?
When we met Tony and Celine they were making desions about whether they would stay here in Uruguay for a bit more time or move over to Argentina and lift their yacht out there for cleaning and painting.
Well a few days went by and Tony and I kept talking about projects and what we were all up to, so over a drink Tony informed me that he was bored; they had decided to stay here for a month more, but because his yacht was all in excellent shape and didn't need any repairs or maintenance, and that he would like to help us with our work list.
I said to him that I would have a think about some small projects that he may be able to assist with, and would let him know on Monday ... well that was six weeks ago.
At first I was a little bit reticent to ask someone else to help (because I don't like to impose, and secondly that we don't have the budget to pay someone) but Tony on the first day said to me when I told him that we didn't have much $$$$$ that he was just happy working away and keeping busy on a great boat without being paid.
The friendship and his total devotion to helping us get through the mountain of tasks has been amazing, Tony just keeps turning up for something new to do. During our time here, we have tackled a vast array of jobs, cutting new windows into the navigation deck house, fitting new lexan windows, a newly designed stove lock, forepeak hatch surround improvements, forward bulkhead trim, cabin bunk modifications, advice and help on rudder bearing re-fairing and the list goes on ...
Luckily we have been able to help them in a few very small ways in comparison to all of his help, but for me having someone else around me who is soooo "Boat Savvy" and motivated, this has also helped me to remain focused, fast and to methodically work through the tasks and projects at hand.
I know that their time now is limited here in Piriapolis, and now that spring is showing its signs then Tony, Celine and Shana will be moving on. For me I know that there has been a very kind, generous and hard working French man who's standards of work is the same as mine "Do it Right, Do it now, and Do it fast"
He has left a quality mark on Xplore, and that where ever we sail we will think warmly and fondly of Saint Tony.
Hopefully we may see them in the south this summer, but we may just be passing ships in the night; however if you every meet Tony and Celine on Shana give them a warm welcome and a glass of red wine (but don't give Tony any jobs that you KNOW are going to be a pain in the ass!).

Friday, July 24, 2009

Marooned on a marina !

As winter re-fit work continued day after day, we knew that the storm that had ravaged the coast of the River Plate and Punta del Este three weeks ago and taken ashore 18 boats, was not going to be the only one during winter.
Daily, when sending emails, we check the next five days forcast, to see what conditions will be like for work; can we do inside work or will it be shorts and T-shirts in the sun? Last Sunday it showed us that this week was going to be one hell of a windy week, with no real let-up before Sunday the 26th.
Xplore lies at rest in the marina complex in Piriapolis which is between Montivideo and Punta del Este on the Uruguayan coast of the Rio del la Plata (river of silver). We are tied to shore fore and aft, meaning that our bow faces the concrete dock and we have buoys which have heavy chains going to the sea bed. In total we have six heavy lines securing her.
On Monday, by the afternoon we had electrical storms and torrential rains which were forcast, and that was the pre-frontal warm air mass before the blow.
Audrey (Troll) and I made a dash in full wet weather gear to the partially flooded town centre to pick up food supplies and some finally-to-arrive hull paint that had taken over four months to materialise and find its way here! (Even after seven years in South America, I still get astounded by some of the inefficencies we experience here.)
So tucked back on board, dripping like wet rags, we eased our lines on the bow to let Xplore sit back further from the dock as we do every night in case weather turns, and that night she did.
By first light on Tuesday morning the winds had started to blow, they actually had started around midnight, so we could feel whilst lying in our bunks the change of the motion as the waves and wind hit Xplore from side on.
We had a friend from another boat who came over on the dock to see us, and by 9.30 am we could hardly hear his shout as the winds had already increased. The barometer continued its drop. We went to the bow to see if it was going to be possible for us to bring Xplore closer, but the strength of the wind and the motion of the boat had all lines bar tight. To ease a line even half a meter at this point would only put us in trouble.
We waved "Cheery Oh" to Tony and got back to work. By mid-morning and coffee break, the barometer had bottomed out, and it was now a case of how fast would it rise. A fast rise is just as bad as a fast drop in air pressure because the rapid change in barometric pressure means that even though it is rising, it's just a sign as to how the Low is moving away and gives an indication as to how fast the next High pressure system is moving in. When it changes fast, it means that its going to blow hard, and hard she was proving to be.
At the dock lunch time was like a beam reach in 25 knots, dinner time was like close hauled in 35 to 40 knots, and this is tied with six lines! During the afternoon, the seas had built to large rollers that were now breaking fully over the breakwater walls and dumping thousands of tons of water on the fishing boats tied on the inside of the "So called" protected walls of the marina.
We settled in for the night, hoping that these winds would start to at least ease a bit by morning. With clenched teeth and a hope that none of the mooring buoys would let go, we headed for bed that felt more like a washing machine on "Heavy duty cycle."
I woke a number of times during the night, it felt like the winds eased a bit, but by 6 am it was still black, both the night skies and the winds! Troll had been up as well, and even though sleep had come, it wasn't the type that brings rest. We had held alright and everything seemed fine on deck, but we have now been marooned onboard for two days and with winds being as equally strong as yesterday morning, the saying goes that if its blowing hard in the morning it will blow hard all day.
Maybe we will just keep on working away at the jobs list like yesterday, but even that was hard at times. Cutting aluminium was hard to keep straight with all the bouncing around, and to hold the Sikaflex sealant gun on a straight line was nearly impossible, as every gust of wind brought the the boat to a different heal as she strained at the lines and then they would snap taunt with a jerking motion. Oh well, maybe I should have taken up knitting as a hobby! I certainly know some people who have been onboard that would be seas sick here at the dock in these conditions.
So we wait, we work and we stay on watch for a change, good or bad in our little marooned little island here in the marina.
Stephen Wilkins

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tall Ships to round "the Horn" once again.

In the depths of a southern hemisphere winter in Ushuaia July 2009, I met with three Admirals who were visiting from Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago Chile. What could have brought these desk Admirals to the coldest ends of the South America continent at this time of the year ? Skiing ? Not likely, but a dream to celebrate 200 years of when Argentina and Chile first made moves to cut ties with Spain and establish themselves as new countries of the south, that was in 1810 and a lot has changed since then.

My meeting and dinner with them at the sleepy airoclub also inspired me, because their plan to celebrate the bi-centenary was to bring together one of the largest fleets of Tall Ships that still sail and to make a regatta by rounding of South America. From Rio de Janeiro Brazil, south with stops in Argentina and Uruguay around Cape Horn, then north along the Chilean coastal historic ports to Peru, Ecuador, through the Panama Canal to Venezuela, Dominican Republic, then a finale when the fleet reaches Veracruz in Mexico, 5 months of sailing and some of the most spectacular coast lines and historic sailing ports. (see

Xplore will rendezvous with this currently confirmed fleet of 12 Grand "Ladies" of sail when they arrive at Staten Island off the coast of Tierra del Fuego, where we will commence the first 2 week period of sailing in company as an official support / photographic vessel to the fleet.

From Staten Island we will sail the eastern stretches of the Beagle Channel into Ushuaia, a brief port stop, then we will head for Cape Horn, a place that for all sailors around the globe, it is the Mecca that symbolizes achievement in sailing. (please see the included Cape Horn extract below)

After "Doubling the Horn" we head to the central and western reaches of the Beagle Channel and make sail with the fleet up the Straits of Magellan to the Chilean southern most city of Punta Arenas (Sandy Point) where we will end this first leg.

To sail in company will be amazing, to see this all in Tierra del Fuego is a once in a life time experience, interest is starting to mount as word gets around that this may be the last time to ever see a sailing Armada afloat in this part of the world.

Xplore has posted their entries with Argentina and Chile and has been officially accepted at sea and in port. We hope with strong interest, that we will continue to follow in company of the fleet the complete length of the west coast of South America and possibly through the Panama Canal to finish the regatta.

We ask that anyone that you know who maybe interested in joining Xplore for this experience to contact us, as group and longer passage discounts are possible.

So "ahhhhh me hearties, swab those decks and you'll get a bottle a rum"

Come sailing with us onboard Xplore and see those grand ladies under sail like you never will again.

Stephen Wilkins