Sunday, February 8, 2009

Xplore departs Antarctica: 7 Feb 2009

A skipper's prerogative to change his mind We all were patiently waiting for the verdict on when we had a good weather window to depart the Pitt Islands and Antarctica. During the 5th it looked suitable for the next day, however fate and weather had their own cards to play, and on the morning of the 6th the GRIB files ( weather data file that show wind direction and strength, Gridded Reference in Binnary) told a different story. Not only did they show that a departure on the 6th would mean that we would have a strong blow mid-crossing, but it showed a monster low hitting the Tierra Del Fuego coast and Cape Horn with wind strengths over 60 knots. We had to have another plan. The next best option first looked like early on the morning of the 9th, so with looks of joy, we settled back down to enjoying Antarctica and the Pitt islands: team tobogganing races down the snowy slopes; zodiac cruising in an area which has a wealth of animal wildlife; and the chart survey team with Skipper Stephen continuing their rounds of the myriads of islands, trying to plot and chart this rocky mess of islands. By mid-morning of the 7th, we saw a change in forecasts and were able to make plans for a revised departure late in the day. Most of the boat preparations had already been done so some last minute extra 'sea-going food' was prepared. James and Stephen finished off the charting needed, with final depth soundings of the enclosed anchorage that Xplore had sat in for three days, as the entrance to this cove is probable the tightest that Skipper Stephen has taken Xplore or any other yacht through, and the soundings were to prove invaluable -- with forecasts of slightly stronger winds in the afternoon, we needed to position Xplore with precision, as water colour with wind on it doesn't show the hidden depths. With a plan, the entire team -- the shore line crew, zodiac crew and depth spotters -- pulled off a flawless exit. Xplore slipped through the narrow gap (15 meters wide) which has an 80 meter glacial overhang looming to tumble on one side and about fpur meters within the water for sideways tolerance ... you could hear the collective sigh of relief and the un-clenching of butt cheeks as the depth sounder started to rise and we emerged into deeper waters. The next hour was spent doing the final preparations for the Drake Passage. Zodiac deflated and stowed, shore lines away, anchor removed and everything 'ship shape' on deck and below. With winds in the low 20's from the NE we hoisted our main sail with three reefs and slipped away from this magical place. Soon the ocean swells and the heeling of the yacht took their toll and the happy faces of life on a flat horizontal plane started to change. The faces slipped away to their cabins as they knew the best position for getting your sea legs is in bed. Xplore and her core crew settled down to life again on the ocean waves. More news to come as we head north. ~ Stephen PHOTOS RICHARD LARONDE

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