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

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