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