Friday, March 27, 2009

Xplore Punta Arenas to Buenos Aires: 27 March 2009

Upside-down dolphin Of course Xplore is a dolphin -- you try and convince all the hundreds of dolphins that have been swimming and playing with us for the last three hours that we're not !! I'ts just that we are an upside-down one and a bit bigger than them. In their eyes we're just like all of their mates in the ocean: grey body, two fins, likes playing and bouncing off waves, never tires of exercise, and the faster you go the bigger the splooosh and bang when you go into the next wave. Definitely sounds like a dolphin to me! We slipped out of the Straites of Magellan like someone had wiped our ass with baby oil: we got the weather and the currents right and did 198nm in the first 24 hours. Day 2 wasn't slow either: 182 miles which then turned into a glorious afternoon of sun, sun and calm seas (classic precursor to another southerly blow). We had been watching closely this new system and as we scraped our way around the southern corner of the Golfo San Jorge we had confirmation that change once again was on its way. With a lowering cloud base the winds continued to move into the north ... there was nothing we could do but to be ready and make our sail changes down early, keep it easy -- it's going to be a very blowy three days. With four reefs in, number 2 Yankee partially furled and the same for the stay sail, we came to meet this new howler in the early hours of the morning. Xplore when she is tucked up for a blow she is great, "snug as a bug in a rug," I some times say (mind you those who are suffering - whom we call 'bucket heads' - don't quite see it in the same cuddly sort of way I do). We tacked off the inside coast of the bay and headed out into never, neverland (South Atlantic). Within an hour we started seeing the loom of lights out at sea, and Jules and I talked about what type of boats they were. My guess was they were squid boats fishing off the shoals in the bay, they use strong flood lights to attract the squid and then use "jiggers" which are a type of fish hook with many barbs that catches them. We plowed on to the east, trying to bring on faster the break of dawn. Dawn came and the sun squeezed through the myriad of broken wind blown clouds, fishing boats all long gone, a confused sea state still remained to build as were not even over 70 meters of depth. Sea birds are plenty and as this story started the dolphins came to play ! For the sailors out there, we were getting solid 34 to 38 knots of true wind, sailing at 34 apparent we are doing 7.7 knots through the water, a good run for a blowy day. We expect the winds to go further north, and then shift to the NNW and NW and continue to blow for the next two and a half days, with a course to steer of 034 degrees true we should make good ground, touch wood and fingers crossed, as all sailors do. More news coming as we head north and finally feel some warmth for a change Stephen

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Punta Arenas to Buenos Aires: 24 March 2009

Blasted By Sand, Blasted Sand! Punta Arenas is the most southern Chilean city in this country where the mixture of European cultures has evolved into a wonderful, eclectic mosaic of people, architecture and life style. When it's cold and windy here, its damn cold and windy. Winter and the changes of season see local people flee the area for some respite from the harsh conditions ... others, well they have just learned to live with it. Myself, I enjoy the visits to Punta Arenas. The Chilean people are always happy to see a sailing yacht visit their port; they are always friendly and helpful, and over the years I have made some very special friends in this town. After the excitement of the Avro Lincoln airplane crash, myself and the Xplore team cracked on with the work list in preparations for the trip north to the River Plate, Buenos Aires, and then over to Piriapolis in Uruguay where we lift Xplore out of the water for maintenance and painting. There were some good jobs and some shit jobs that needed to be done ... After two years of travel we had found that the starboard head's plumbing pipes had built up with calcification and narrowed the pipes to the point where they just didn't flush any more !!! 'Damn Bugger' you could here us say, so we spent the best part of one day removing all 12 meters of pipes and then meticulously cleaned out every centimeter of the internal pipe walls. Yep you guessed it, we were ripping the old shit out of the pipes ... 'Nice job' hey? But done and working again we don't expect any more problems with that side, however the girls and me do know that we will have to do the port side before the boat comes out of the water ... who's going to get that job ?! After three attempts to complete the port paper work and documentation, yesterday morning I finally was able to see all the government people to clear Chile and enable us to set sail for Buenos Aires in Argentina: Port Captain, for a new "Permissions to sail"; pay the port entry exit fees; customs department; and then the international police for the stamp in the passports. The day had started calm, but our permanently running satellite weather system began showing a very large new low pressure formationn. In theory it was possible to leave, but by 1030am as I stepped back onboard with the Naval lieutenant who was completing the final documentation, even he spoke gravely about the sea conditions and wind strength in the Straites of Magellan. I already knew in my bones that we weren't going anywhere, but being keen to set off can trap many a well wishing sailor. As we sat there in the cockpit and watched the water being torn from the sea around us, there was no one onboard who disagreed with my decision to sit, wait and be patient. We roared with laughter watching some of the juvenile birds trying to take off from the bay as the gusting winds twirled them around like fairly floss. One bird, after just taking off, was slammed back into the sea, and next we saw him shake his head as if to say to himself, 'Bloody hell what happened there ?!! No one told me about that!' We sat and watched and waited till the billy boiled (yes I know, that's an Australian folk song) and we did; and nothing changed. It blew and blew: the sand from the surrounding hills covering Xplore with dirt and grit, as all day and into the night the winds peaked into the 60's. I woke at 5am, at 7am and again at 8.45. Sleep, I didn't get much of, but by 9am I had formed the plan for the day. The winds had eased and the crew, keen to break the stalemate, jumped into the tasks to get us away. We knew the winds would be on the nose for the first part of the day but we had to get the tides right to pass through the First and Second narrows of the Straites of Magellan. To get them wrong means you can go backwards at up to 8 knots and have to start all over again. Finally clear to go , with a cheer we cast our lines. More news to come as we undertake the 1450 nautical miles to Buenos Aires. Stephen

Friday, March 20, 2009

Update on Found Plane

The authorities have said it is Argentinian, an Avro Lincoln Mk2, plane number B-019 which was flying from Rio Gallegos south, had 11 people onboard and went missing on the 22nd of March 1950.
Apparently the Chilean Air Force at the time did and aerial search over 6,500,000 Km of territory to find it but never did. Check us out on CNN

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lost Souls in the Mountains

The glacial ice creaks and groans, the stout windblown trees rustle from the incessant gales that sweep the area, and at the base of the glacier lie the souls of adventurers who flew in their airplane with a dream of success in Antarctica.

We have not been able to report to you all about the discovery that the team on Xplore made during this last expedition in the remote fiords of Tierra del Fuego (TDF) until now. We were exploring the bays and glacial basins off the arms of Seno Almirantazgo when one of the shore party teams’ VHF radio started calling back to the yacht with a squealed excitement.

Rodrigo had gone further up the glacial valley than anyone else and what he found after crossing the glacial moraine would open a wave of intrigue about what he had uncovered.

Lying at the base of the glacier, partially covered with ice and moraine soil were the remains of a large aircraft that had smashed itself to pieces as it had flown straight into the mountains.

Rodrigo's first reactions were a mixture of excitement and emotion as he relayed to the shore teams and Xplore what he was looking at. Touching and turning over pieces in his hands, the size of the parts lying there could not be taken lightly. The huge landing wheel couldn't even be lifted. The sections of the twin tail planes showed telltale signs of the type of craft, and the seat belt in his hand was rusted and of a design from many years ago. The huge propellers lay there, still with their yellow tips, bent and twisted. But the discovery of a parachute that he started to tug on, as it was partially buried, stopped him short in his tracks as he realized that there may be something on the other end of it, and the shards of bones lying mixed within the soil and ice could be …?

Rodrigo returned to Xplore with a few items and a lot of photos, his heartbeat was still erratic as the whelm of ideas and emotions were shared within the whole team. Where did it come from, what nationality, where was it going? Who was onboard?

Just over 24 hours ago, Xplore docked at the fishermen's dock here in the Straits of Magellan, Punta Arenas (Sandy Point). Waiting on the dock were five men from the Civil Aviation, Army and Air Force, who looked very serious. They waited until we had Xplore tied up and then the questions started to roll, on and on they probed Rodrigo about the events and discovery.

Late last night we received news that some possible answers were coming to light. During the Second World War and into the 1950's the Chilean and Argentinean Air Forces had used Avro Lancaster aircraft in the area, and we had evidence of Spanish markings on the plane’s fuselage. These planes normally flew in military operations with eight crew and had the capability to carry 15 passengers/troops.

Even though there had been no listed missing aircraft in this part of TDF, the authorities had received news that in the 50's two Lancaster aircraft had departed from Argentina en route to Antarctica. With extreme weather along the way, both had turned and headed to Punta Arenas to escape the conditions. Only one landed.

Is the twisted wreckage that we have found the other lost plane?

The investigation continues

~ Stephen

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Don’t go to sea on Friday the 13th !!

When you are woken with a slam to the top of your head at five in the morning, it can take you by surprise! Your mind tries to quickly work out what the hell is going on. Am I sleeping with a gorilla which has just tossed me out of the tree, am I sleep walking and smacked into a brick wall

-- orrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, holy shit Bat Man, the boat has just hit something.

Sure enough, the forecast winds for Friday the 13th had arrived and that was the start of a very memorable day, for all the wrong reasons.

The night before at the dinner table, Victor (Victoko by nickname) was joking about Friday the 13th. He was suggesting all sorts of nasty things, but even as we laughed, I had a small amount of dread in the back of my mind. Maybe it was that I knew the weather forecast, or maybe with so many years at sea I am becoming a little superstitious.

Now back to that thump in the top of my head. Any skipper knows when their boat is in trouble, and as I flew out of bed in only my underpants and skidded to a stop in the cold rain and wind, my fears were a very real reality. In our little anchorage where we were tied with three 26mm polysteel line to shore, we had lost the rear stern line and Xplore, in the strong winds, had moved forward and touched bottom (hence the sudden stop and my head banging against the cabin bulkhead (wall). “Damn and bugger,” I muttered to myself as I quickly jumped down the companion way and started the main engine. I had to get the boat and the situation under control damn fast.

My crew were pretty fast behind me and I was thankful that one of them handed me my wet weather jacket, as standing there on deck, just about naked wasn’t going to help the humor of the day (or maybe the crew couldn’t stand to see me like that). Anyway, we quickly got the boat and situation sorted out and Xplore was tied up once again in these blustery conditions. I had felt the katabatic gusts during the early hours in the morning but an exceptionally strong blast, with enough force of leverage had actually torn the tree that our stern line was attached to, out of the ground. Well, there's a first in life.

With all that commotion early in this "Lucky" day, I needed an hour sleep before I could face the new day, probably more to let my nerves settle than anything. I faintly dozed and then "shaken but not stirred," we moved on.

So out we headed. The mission for the day was to survey three islands and check them for wildlife nesting locations. The SE winds had eased, but were still gusty as we turned the corner and headed back into Seno Almirantazgo. We moved along under motor at a smooth rate and life seemed normal. An hour later, we were reaching our first island, when crew Audrey informed me that there could be a problem with the starboard heads (toilet). Sure enough, I checked the toilet and it was blocked. I persevered for 15 minutes, trying everything under the sun to unblock it but she was buggered. In a foul mood, I stormed back up on deck, knowing that a full strip down of the pumps were needed.

After a smoko break, I headed down with a bundle of tools and started pulling it apart. Lo and behold, it wasn’t a shit that had blocked it, but a huge piece of Fuegan kelp had been sucked up into the water intake pipe and blocked it solid. “Well,” I said, “this is turning into a fine day,” as we started to rock and bounce a bit.

Back on deck, the winds had turned and turned bad, straight on the nose, and by the looks of the clouds poring in from the SW, this was not going to be a good day. Big cumulonimbus clouds, wind blown were flying along, and we were being pounded. With headsail out, we clawed our way up the Straits of Admiralantazgo.

Waves and water were pouring over the decks as the combination of wind against tide were giving us really shitty conditions, and those waves were getting bigger by the hour. This was going to be a very slow day. At the nav area, I was working away at a revised schedule and options of where we could go and be located by the end of this "Lucky" day, when all of a sudden I heard a “Sploosh” as I felt the boat lurch from another wave. “Oh shit,” I think someone heard me say as I rushed forward to the cabin areas, to find that two of the hatches had been closed, but not properly, and sure enough, we had taken a good dose of sea water into their areas. “Bugger, damn,” I spluttered, “what a fine day this is turning into,” as I crawled around the floor with a sponge and small bucket before all the seawater soaked into everything.

Hmmm, time for a cuppa (mug of tea) and a few ciggies (cigarettes). We continued with the rhythmic thump thump, splash splash as we tacked our way to the NW. Three more miles and then we could make the final 100 degree turn that would take us into Bahia Brooks. But along comes crew Julia who informs me that someone had left the head’s valve open and that the bathroom was flooded with salt water!

“!#$!^^^$%#&#&#&%#.” Yes, you can imagine I didn’t say nice things but hey, this was Friday the 13th. The question was, what was going to happen next ?

We all sat quietly and kept our thoughts to our selves; we all know that "Shit Happens" but today was really taking the piss out of us. Like a cat on a hot tin roof, we waited and made sure that we checked and double-checked everything that we did and what was happening. We didn’t want any more of this game today, we had all had a gut full.

Quietly we slipped into our anchorage that evening, tired and in need of a good stiff drink. No other unexpected things happened that afternoon, but needless to say, the selection of strong trees were very good.

Xplore and the adventure here in Tierra Del Fuego continue.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

In the heat of the night

Rarely do heat waves get experienced here in TDF (Tierra Del Fuego), the land of fires, and are seldom front page newspaper stories about temperatures soaring into the mid to high 20's (Celsius we are talking), but over the last three days, Punta Arenas and the surrounds have had some warm weather. Even for us we felt the heat compared to the normal days in this region of between 4 to 12 degrees, so our last three days of boat preparations have been done in short sleeve shirts and we even worked up a sweat.

Xplore departed Punta Arenas early night time with a smooth ripple on the waters of the Straits of Magellan. Early explorers of this region, Pringle Stokes, Fitzroy and Darwin would have rarely seen nights like this.

The team from Comapa here in Punta Arenas are used to the changing faces of TDF. Comapa is a company that has two small cruise ships of 110 passengers that ply the waters of TDF and Cape Horn, giving tourist who don’t want to bother with “flappy white sails” and doing it tough, the chance to see and experience the marvels of this region. The team on board are all part of their company’s Expedition Team, and we are in search of new and interesting locations for wild life and adventure experiences so that they can broaden their choices of landing locations for clients in the future. Yes, TDF is becoming a very popular location as people start to realize that Chile has some of the most grand and interesting landscapes of mountains, glaciers, flora and wild life in South America; so popular that Comapa have yet another larger high quality cruise ship in construction to meet continued growth.

The team from Comapa is comprised of Branko, Alvaro, Rodrigos and Victor who, along with the Xplore team of Audrey, Julia and myself, head to the northern regions of the Darwin moutain ranges. These parts of TDF are very rarely visited by anyone. The distances involved and their remoteness means that you have to have a very good reason to make the trek, hence why we are sailing all night to get to the first part where our discovery starts.

With current information from the University of Marine Biology there in Punta Arenas, we hope to be able to locate some newly found breeding colonies of seals (leopard and elephant) and bird life (black browed albatross). Along with this, the scope of permanent glaciers will hopefully mean we can locate some safe ice climbing locations for the more adventurous tourist visitor in the future.

So with fair forecasts for the next 36 hours we head to the south east. What we will find only time will tell. Stephen