Friday, January 30, 2009

Xplore in Antarctica: 30 Jan 2009

Bonjour ! Nous reprenons la route sous un beau soleil qui rechauffe les corps et les coeurs en direction de Peltier Channel. Seulement 5 miles jusqu'a notre prochain mouillage. Steven prend a son bord les trois jeunes femmes qui travaillent a la base de Port Lockroy. Il les ramenera en zodiac dans la soiree. Joie et bonne humeur autour de smarties et de chocolats. Le canal Peltier est magnifique. Il fait 6 miles de long et est oriente NE-SW. Il separe Doumer et Wiencke Islands. Il est situe dans l'archipel Palmer. Decouvert et nomme par J.B. Charcot en 1904 en l'honneur a Jean Peltier, physicien francais. Nous stoppons a Peltiers Crack. 64 degres 52' S et 63 degres 34' W. Plusieurs colonies de Gentoo penguin nous tiennent encore compagnie. Nous croisons Podorange, un Challenge 67, voilier comme le notre mais celui-ci de couleur orange. L'ensemble de l'equipage part en exploiration sur Doumer Island. Nous observons des Cormorans imperiaux (Phalacrocorax atriceps) et leur petit. Leur contour de l'oeil est bleu et nous pouvons les approcher de pret. Nous decouvrons la base saisonniere chilienne Yelcho qui semble bien a l'abandon... Une etrange impression s'en degage. Serions-nous les derniers survivants ? Tout se degrade vite par ce climat violent et rude. La nature reprend son rythme impertubable et sa place immuable. Exit construction et ciment, bois et fer, portes et fenetres. La fin est proche a moins d'une prompte restauration comme celle spectaculaire de Port Lockroy. Le ciel est bien bas pour la prochaine etape : Port Charcot que nous atteignons le 29 janvier. Nous laissons Lemaire Channel sur la gauche et decouvrons le site d'hivernage de J. B. Charcot lors de son expedition en Antarctique en 1903-1905 avec son navire Le Francais. C'est une petite baie de 1,5 miles de large parsemee de cailloux et de icebergs au nord de Booth Island sur l'archipel Wilhem. Ce site fut nomme ainsi en l'honneur du pere de J. B. Charcot, Jean Martin Charcot, fameux neurologue freudien francais. Nous decouvrons le gros cairn etabli par Charcot et son equipage sur un petit sommet de la pointe Herveou de l'ile Booth puis une partie de notre groupe s'engage vers l'ascension d'un sommet plus consequent de l'ile ou la vue est de toute beaute. Nous observons de pret un Leopard Seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) et un phoque de Weddell (Leptonychotes weddellii). En fin d'apres-midi nous levons l'ancre pour Pleneau Island, un joli site observe encore une fois par Charcot. Le passage de Lemaire Channel, un des plus beaux sites de la peninsule nous met tous en silence. Ici, nous sentons peut etre au plus pret comment la creation organise et ordonne la Vie. Nous passons la barre symbolique des 65 degres. Le mouillage de Pleneau se situe exactement au point GPS 65 degres 06.406' S et 64 degres 04.526' W. A bientot ~ Serge PHOTO: RICHARD LARONDE

Xplore in Antarctica: 30 Jan 2009

Walking on sunshine The travels of anyone here in Antarctica is an achievement; but those who ventured here over 100 years ago did it with a dream, a goal and what they believed at the time was the latest technology and equipment. We look back at those brave, brave people with admiration -- and wonder how they survived. We also need to be pleased with what we achieve in this modern era, because the length of time that we have, and the locations we are able to visit in such a small space of time whilst surviving and enjoying the experience amongst such a harsh environment, can only be viewed as success. I am not trying to pat myself and my team on the back, but it is so easy to become blase' about adventuring here in the south, because the south and Antarctica hasn't changed like technology has. It is still the same as it has been for hundreds of years: ice, snow, wind and water all mixing and forming at below-zero temperatures. Xplore and the team have covered some miles since our last report ... no reports generally mean that we have been busy and haven't had a lot of time to sit back and reflect, and busy we have been! Since last reported, we left Enterprise Island on a low cloud morning with soft snow falling, carefully slipping through the waters of Wilhelmina Bay. Dodging the ice floes along the way we arrived at the island of Cuverville at the northern entrance of the Errera Channel. This was the first encounter that the team had with a large penguin colony and they certainly weren't disappointed. The clouds lifted and the sun nearly shone, and the wafting smells of the guano (penguin shit) invaded everyone's noses, placing a memory of scent in their brains that time will never remove ... We moved on later in the afternoon through the iceberg graveyard of the Errera Channel, which swings to the SW and opens the path to Paradise Harbour and Waterboat Point. I wanted to take the team there because it is one of the easier places to land on the mainland Antarctic continent. At Waterboat Point there is also a Chilean summer station and a healthy Gentoo penguin colony, and if the conditions are right (wind direction and ice) it is possible to anchor there for the night. With the afternoon sun dropping and cloud level increasing, we dropped anchor and landed the team there on the "Continent" official. The bay was crowded with icebergs and growlers so the decision was easy to make: this was going to be a very short stop as to remain for the night would mean a night of no sleep with bergs and ice banging against the hull. At 2145 we weighed anchor and set course for the Neumayer Channel, with our final destination being the English historic station of Port Lockroy. We arrived at 1am and completed a four-line tie in, in the back corner of the bay called Alice Creek. Tying in with four lines means that we find locations that are small enough for us to enter, have enough depth that we can float at low tide, but give us protection from the weather; and the shallowness of the sea bed stops any large ice bergs from floating in as they ground out before hitting the boat. It had been a long day and even the arrival drinks on deck were very short, everyone was tired, and the forecast was for a sunny morning with low wind -- something that doesn't happen very often in the south. The first rustles of activity happened at about 8.30am: the sound of the toilet flushing with the mechanical hand pump, and the click-click noise of the stove lighter as the first kettle of the day went onto the stove. Sunshine was streaming in through every hatch and window beckoning everyone from their warm duvets to dance in the warmth of the sunlight on deck -- magic !! Sunshine-y days in Antarctica are rare some years, but when they happen it washes away any memories of the cold, windy. low cloud and snowy days that can last for long periods. 'Like taking your hands out from a wet soggy glove and putting them next to a warm fire, the warmth and heat enters your soul, and its those times that you really know why you came on this adventure to the frozen continent at the end of the world. Like kids in a lolli shop the team was full of life, running to see what was over the next hill, rock, or around the corner to the next cove. Snow shoes were all taken, cameras clicking away as battery life couldn't survive the onslaught; damp clothes and bedding were strung out on deck like a Chinese laundry soaking up the rays of light. The calmness of the bay - which has Harbour Glacier fringing the edges - gave rise to the changing state of the glacier's movement: you could sit on deck and hear the creaking and groaning sounds of its movement towards the sea. All glaciers must eventually end up in the water ... it may take thousands of years, but the sea calls the ice to its shores, and today was one of those special days where large sections of glacier ice were being set free. Like gun shots within an amphitheatre, the ice giants tumbled like Jack and the Bean Stalk, they fell and crumbled and sent waves of smaller ice to every corner of the bay. More news to come ~ Stephen PHOTOS: RICHARD LARONDE

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Xplore in Antarctica: 25 Jan 2009

Water finds its own level Since last we wrote, water has come and gone, winds have changed, and the Antarctic snows and ice have settled. Deception Island was deceptive as usual: those who have experienced the South Shetland Islands will understand that in this northern archipelago of Antarctica, if there is going to be tough, strange and unpredictable weather, then that's where you will find it. Our entry through Neptune's Bellows - the narrow opening into the centre of the still-active volcano - was impressive as usual: the volcanic organ pipes on the shear rock cliffs, Neptune's windows that overlook those who dare to enter, all make for a special experience. Entering Whales Bay, which opens in the southeastern corner of the main volcanic cauldron, is where the Norwegians first established a whaling station to process blubber and products, a testament to the thousands of peaceful mammals taken in Antarctic waters. To date (the end of the whaling era, we hope) there have been an estimated 1.1-million whales taken in Antarctic waters. The remains of the disused station still raise their ugly heads, even though nature has tried to remove and hide past sins. The volcano, which is still active, is forecast to erupt again in the not-too-distant future ... When? Only God knows. It last erupted in 1967 and again in 1969; spewing millions of tons of molten lava and fine volcanic gravel over the island and Antarctic territories within the region; reshaping and hiding its ugly scars, a face lift not quite completed. Time will tell when it finishes the job. Our time there in Deception was excellent: walks on shore, to Neptune's Windows, amongst the whaling station and disused aircraft hangars from the secret British World War II operations in the 1940's ... and four of our team of adventures couldn't go past without having a shoreline heated bath in the waters warmed from the volcano. With weather stable in the morning, shore activities were easy and relaxed. The afternoon though started the wheels of change and the weather deteriorated; snow and winds started to make our anchor position dubious, and by evening dinner time the skipper was on edge -- the forecast had been for it to remain more easterly, but now it was swinging into the southeast and placing us in a vulnerable position parallel and close to the beach. By 2100 it had swung more and we softly touched the bottom of the sandy bay. 'No real problem there, but move we had to. We shifted about 3/4 of a nautical mile to the southern section of Whalers Bay where we were positioned better for the southerly winds. By 2300 we had anchored securely after three attempts, and the crew went back to bed. By 2340 the winds had swung and again we touched bottom: the deep ocean floor rises so fast that you can only anchor close to the beaches there. By this time I had had enough of Deception Island and her games; she was telling us we were no longer welcome, the message was loud and clear. We motored through Neptune's Bellows as the skies to the west showed us the orange-golden rays of the setting sun. The lumpy sea from the day's winds made for a motion more like a jack hammer working on a road re-build program, and there were some uncomfortable looking faces which slipped off to bed as a few of us manned the boat for the nighttime passage 105nm to the next destination. Daylight rose fully and delivered one of Antarctica's very special sunny days. Light winds from a fair direction made it possible to motor sail along the Gerlache Strait and the mood from previous low cloudy days and snowfalls melted from the minds of all onboard. Lunch on deck in the sun, with clothing layers being removed, proved that Antarctica is not always brutal. We sailed and motored our miles towards Nansen North Island - also referred to as Enterprise Island - where there is a safe anchorage, well-used by former whalers and sealers on its eastern shoreline. The afternoon was a special one and God and his creatures were happy. Around 4pm we sighted whales in the straits not far from where we were. With everyone on deck it appeared these huge mammals were like us relaxing and enjoying the day. We slipped a little closer to see if they would like to say 'Hello' and to our joy we experienced one of the most breath-taking displays of animal inquisitiveness that I have seen in these waters. Three Humpback whales all close together decided that they liked Xplore (understandably so) so they played and circled us, popping up and having a long look at the green hull and the funny looking tiny people lined along the decks. You could hear the sound of the camera motor drives humming as people's fingers pushed harder on the buttons - hoping their cameras would take more pictures and capture the golden 'money shot'. As Antarctica whale experiences go, had we left these waters that day without seeing another animal, everyone would have been happy: you could not have experienced a closer encounter. Onwards we slid along the Gerlache and Enterprise Island started to make itself visible. Navigating in Antarctica is a game of show and tell: what seems close is far away, as the clarity of light and the total whiteness makes it virtually impossible to recognise many islands, objects and bearings. The cove, protected from virtually all conditions, has the luxury of a beached whaling supply ship which had caught on fire in the area. The skipper, not prepared to sink in the icy Antarctic waters, drove the ship onto the shores of the cove and saved the entire crew. Now it is a virtual marina dock which yachts often tie alongside, giving protection and an easy place to be able to relax from the always uncertainty of changing conditions. We stay and begin to play, more news to come. ~ Stephen PHOTOS: RICHARD LARONDE

Friday, January 23, 2009

[ED NOTE: Stephen writes 23 Jan. that the winds - predicted E/ESE - instead became southerly, making their anchorage unsuitable. Hence they departed Deception Island at midnight, and will report again when they reach their next safe anchorage.]

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Xplore arrives in Antarctica: 21 Jan 2009

A piece of Brazil in Antarctica Plans change and so does the weather. Skippering here in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica means that you have to recognise conditions as they change, and change with them. Our well thought-out plans to head for Elephant Island changed just as we were 124nm from the eastern Cape Valentine. With the weather changing to the ENE and becoming windier, we altered course to King George Island. The options had narrowed so the move to KGI was sensible, as low cloud and snow would have meant that even if we had reached Elephant Island, we would not have been able to see it or land due to the high winds. With no anchorages there we would have been left exposed with few options but to continue pushing all night with poor conditions. But after three days traveling across the Drake the team and myself needed a break and a safe anchorage. With charts out and some local knowledge "Mud Maps" we turned into Admiralty Bay in early afternoon. The visibility was no more than one mile, so it wasn't until we had made the entrance to the channel that we started to see glimpses of land; 'til then it had all just been blotches on a radar screen. Our first option was an anchorage in Lussich Cove, well suited for southerly winds and we still had ESE. We entered over a very shallow moraine bar where we only had 2.8 meters of water under the keel. Not content with the winds blowing off the glacier within the bay we opted to move to the west side of Keller Peninsula, which on the eastern side where the Brazilian Base Commandante Ferraz is located. Anchoring close to the shore with excellent holding, I sighed my normal and deep relief that we had once again crossed safely with no problems. Twilight came, and we enjoyed good food and wine on a level table with everyone's spirits lifted. Sleep came early for me, and I believe for many others. I woke a number of times during the night to check on our position and conditions; at 2am we continued to have a dusting of snow just to remind us of where we really were. Dawn came, and we enjoyed lifted skies and nearly sunshine as we prepared the Zodiac for shore landing. Near to where we were anchored is a refuge hut for the Brazilian station for field research (or possibly to get rid of troublesome base staff??). As we prepared the Zodiac, three quad bikes came over the hill and the Brazilians were there on the beach. It took us another half-an-hour to finish and launch our boat and our first landing in Antarctica was underway. Then, with everyone on shore, some of the crew came back to prepare for the day. To our surprise we received a call 15 minutes later from the shore: it seemed that one of the Brazilians was in trouble. In traveling along the rocky hillside one guy had flipped his quad bike when the loose rocky ground had given way. His condition wasn't good as they suspected a broken arm, and their request was for us to ferry him around the other side of the peninsula with our Zodiac, as for him to return to base on another quad bike was going to be excruciating agony. With pleasure to help as is always the attitude of the South, two of us picked him up on shore and made the voyage to the other side. He was a lovely guy, but even at slow speed you could see the pain that he was in. As we traveled around he had communication with the base and they asked what nationality his rescuers were: French and Australian we were!! As we walked up the beach to the front of the station two of their staff were raising the Australian and French flags at their station mast to say 'thank you for the help'. We entered and were given the warmest welcome you could have asked for, with hot Brazilian coffee and friendly faces; and an invitation for the entire team to come back during the afternoon for a complete station visit and afternoon tea / coffee. More news to come ~ Stephen

Monday, January 19, 2009

Xplore to Antarctica: 19 Jan 2009

Green Flash Myth from Jules Verne's stories says that those who have seen the green flash are empowered with the ability to look into their own hearts and to be able to recognize true love ! If that's the case then why - after seeing the green flash four times in my sailing life - is it that I am still single ?!! Oh well, maybe it's because I spend too much time at sea. Anyway, last night at sunset it looked possible that we might see the green flash, however it didn't occur as there was low cloud on the horizon. This morning though, at 5.20am; myself and first mate Audrey were doing the Dog Watch, and low and behold as the sun was rising giving a beautiful painting of reds across a stratocumulous sky, I was looking intently on the horizon and there we both saw the instantaneous green flash milliseconds before the top rim of the sun broke through. It happens because the earth's atmosphere acts as not only a "lens" but also as a "prism" to the light rays and the colours that are transmitted from the sun. Red is a long wave light that has the greatest distance, hence why you always see reds in the sky at sunrise and sunset. Green and blue are short wave colours with blue being the colour which is seen most at high mid-day sun and least at sunrise / sunset. Green though holds its own and if the conditions are crisp and clear then the light of green can be seen as the sun rises or breaks, normally only at sea. Why is it seen as a flash? Well because red and green are at two different frequencies there is a split second difference between the two light colours, effectively giving a green and red sun. More news of our travels soon ~ The team onboard Xplore

Xplore to Antarctica: 18 Jan 2009

The "dog watch" was in raptures ... Dawn in the Southern Ocean summer happens early; light is full at 4am, and when the daytime watch came on deck the talk was all about 'the whale'. The first whale sighting of the trip was an excellent one with a Fin whale coming right next to Xplore as we slid along at a healthy 8.5 knots. Daytime winds started to ease in the mid-afternoon as forecast, lifting stratocumulous clouds showed broken patches, and the rain eased. Well across the convergence zone, where the relatively warm water of the Southern Ocean blends into the cold icy waters from Antarctica, we had small amounts of the telltale fog and mists that can last for days. By evening meal time though we could see to the west the opening clear skies of the centre of the passing low that had slowly been moving to the east. A number of us sat on deck as the sun finally dropped to the horizon, at 10.20pm, soon to rise again in a few hours from the east. We sat in hopes of possibly seeing the "Green Flash" as the hues of different colours painted the sky from blues, pinks, reds and greens, a wonderful recuperative sight -- especially for those who suffered a little bit of seasickness during the first days of the passage ... We continue with 230 nm to Elephant Island, first known by whalers and sealers beginning in the 1820's for the large number of Elephant seals. We hope to be able to land there at the site where Sir Ernest Schackleton departed on his rescue mission to South Georgia to save his men. He left these frozen shores in the tiny James Caird with a handful of his team mates to make the epic voyage across the Southern Ocean, and finally save the entire team with no life lost some months later. More news to come ~ Stephen and the team on Xplore

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Xplore to Antarctica: 17 Jan 2009

Swing low, sweet chariot Xplore departed Puerto Toro on the eastern side of Navarino at 1100 hours local time [17 Jan 2009] with still fresh to strong winds from the back side of the low depression that has swept the coasts of Tierra Del Fuego. All onboard seem to be in excellent spirits as we head on a course of 142 degrees true to make our landfall in the Antarctic archapelago of the South Shetland islands. Winds are due to swing more to the west during the day and during the next 36 hours ease. At present we are still experiencing squally gusts of hail as the clearing cumulonimbus clouds race through across the southern skies. Boat speeds are in the mid to high 8 knots as we are not trying to push the boat hard, but just try to let everyone onboard settle into life at sea: no one wants to be a buckethead, so the easy start approach is best. More news soon. Stephen

Friday, January 16, 2009

Xplore underway to Antarctica: 16 Jan 2009

Writing about the preparation and the work that goes behind an Antarctic expedition can take time, but needless to say that it doesn't happen overnight. XPLORE has been based in the port of Ushuaia, Argentina for the last nine days. readying the boat for the passage from South America to cross the Drakes Passage. Our main concern in the big picture of things is what the weather is doing and what are the ice conditions, in the Drake and on the continent of Antarctica. This season stated with large amounts of ice being present in the south with vessels having difficulties with how far they could go south, The cruise ship Ushuaia ran aground and holed her hull early in December, leading to a full evacuation of their passengers, with the Chilean navy coming to their rescue to tow the damaged ship back to safe waters of South America. And sailing yachts that ventured south in December had tough ice conditions: some trips returned early as it was hard to get into the safe anchorages that are normally used for small craft. All in all weather systems have been tough early on with high winds, snow and icing during the start of summer. Luckily, news of changing weather, and the commencement of more stable summer weather started to come through with some vessels sending reports of long sunny days and higher temperatures in late December and early January. For us, our team of people all came together to Ushuaia, mid-January with our departure planned from there on the 15th. For days I had been closely looking at the weather prognostics for a good sailing window that we could leave on ... there was one on the 11th ... another on the 13th (lucky hey !! ) ... but for the 15th there was and still is no joy. With everyone onboard, safety briefings completed, and customs cleared with Argentina; we slipped our lines from the dock and headed east along the Beagle Channel to the military port of Puerto Williams (PW) in Chile. We headed to Puerto Williams for two reasons: the forecast for a savage low pressure system due to hit Tierra Del Fuego during the night; and the other, that late to join the team is a couple from New Zealand and the UK -- and one of them (James) has been there in PW, as Sonia had come to Ushuaia to pick up final personal clothing and gear supplies for the expedition. Sailing the Beagle when its good is a joy, and the trip to PW was magic sailing. But fresh breezes from the north, which prelude the changing weather conditions, hung heavily in my mind as I watched the barometer drop all day. At 730am the Bar was 991, by midnight it was 962 -- 29 millibars in one day. We entered PW and cleared customs and immigration into Chile, probably one of the fastest turnarounds with paper work because we needed to get a new Zarpie (permission to weigh anchor) from the Navy department so that we could continue navigating in their waters. With the forcast looming, we cleared PW as I feared they would close the port for potentially two days -- possibly more if the intensity of the low was blocked into a stationary pattern. Chillean forcasts only reinforced what our weather systems onboard had been telling us, N to NE winds 45 to 50 knots shifting during the night to S to SW 60 to 70, with gusts predicted into the 80's. The last thing I needed as skipper was another 23 nautical miles of travel at night to round onto the eastern side of Isla Navarino ... and when you smell the aromas of the Thai green chicken curry bubbling away on the stove, the saloon all warm and a half-finished Heineken beer on the side bench, who would want to move? But move and travel we did, to the tiny fishing settlement of Puerto Toro (PT), the most southern settlement in South America. We motored and ate excellent food as the Beagle Channel continued to lull us into the false image of peace and tranquility. Lines went onto the dock in PT at 2355 and the port Navy personal kept the generator on for 10 minutes longer to give us light on the dock. The night remained calm, no wind, nothing. We sat on deck and enjoyed a laugh and a bottle of wine, sleep came over me and I slipped off to the warmth of my duvet. 650am woke me with the boat rocking at the dock, side to side with not so smooth a motion ... nature called and I rose to check on conditions: wind gusts were tossing us at the docks and the shift to the South / SW had come through. No one is moving today -- not XPLORE nor the other two yachts who had snuck onto the dock for protection during the night and early morning. Everyone has the same idea, 'Dont go to sea!' We sit, relax and wait Stephen

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

XPLORE to Antarctica: 15 Jan 2009

STAY TUNED for dispatches on our 28-day voyage departing from Ushuaia across the Drake Passage, with ample time to explore the Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula. Unforgettable vistas and wildlife.