Friday, July 1, 2011

Morning has broken

There are times in ones life that you will always remember, good ones, sad ones and bad ones.

But today, the dawn light is just creeping over the eastern horizon as we pass Ninth Island close on the northern coast of Tasmania, the seas are flat, the winds are calm, the stars are still shining brightly as they have all night showing us the final way home to my country and home.

We all could not have had a more enjoyable and relaxing "Second Half" to the crossing from New Zealand, the first 675 nautical miles were a tad on the demanding side and a reminder of what heavy weather sailing is all about.

The second half has been a joy, the type of ocean travel that you dream about, and which reminds us why we come out into the seas to visit distant lands, over come adversities and test ourselves, just for these delicious magical moments.

We have 26 nautical miles to travel until we enter the river system of the Tamar, this leads to Launceston, but more importantly to Beauty Point, my loved home and place where I have some of my best friends.

We left Punta Arenas in Chile on the 16th of April and we arrive here on the 2nd of July, just over 9,200 nautical miles, and once again in true Xplore style these miles have been filled with adventure and challenges.

As Skipper I have tried to always write about where we have been going, whats been happening so that readers of these blogs can briefly transport themselves into our very different world in the extreme and remote parts of the world that can only be visited by sea.

My greatest thanks though, and thanks that can never be said enough goes to my crew, Audrey first mate, Julie and all the other fine people who have helped me sail Xplore in such a professional manner which has safely delivered everyone to their dreams and back again.

This winter Xplore will remain in Tasmania for a well earnt break and some normal maintenance, and after that only god knows ?

Stephen Wilkins A proud skipper, and a happy Australian

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Great Balls of Fire

Sailing into electrical storms at night is something that land lubbers will never understand, and quite understandably, and you would have to ask the question of reason and sanity about why silly old sailors would do such a thing ?

Wellllllll, you see there are weather systems that you want to be on the right side of and there's the other side that just isn't going in the right direction, so you have to pick one or the other, sounds quite simple.

So last night we picked the right side of the system, but there is a down side to that, lightning, thunder, very strong gusty winds and heavy rain ! hmm you ask, doesn't sound very smart at all.

Every weather system is fed by external and upper atmosphere air masses which have different characteristics, and some times these don't mix that well or get along nicely, a bit like putting some guys from the Hells Angels in with a bunch of gay ballet dancers, you just know that there is going to be a fight.

The fight didn't last that long, and I am not sure who won, but it was spectacular. There we were sailing along and I was watching the winds start to creep back from the North, I just said to Jane that we would put the last (4th) reef in as it was feeling more unsettled and there was another, even darker cloud mass coming, and as we went to do this, ga boom !

Within seconds the winds went from mid 20's into the 30's and then 40's, we banged on the auto pilot buttons for 50 degrees course change as I ran back to the helm to tak it manually, Jane was dumping the main sheet and the winds peaked, and the torrential rain came bucketing down, we had to get off the wind to ease the pressure.

All hands on deck, as Audrey felt the sudden change from her bunk, tearing away down wind the girls fought with the main and brought it down and under control.

The lightening bolts and thunderous booms from the electrical storm directly above us was incredible, it was all happening very fast and there wasn't even a moment to shut the computer systems down, to do up your jacket or to even consider whether we would be hit by the lightening.

The crack of the whip noises, and the great balls of fire as the white fists from heaven came sparkling down left everyone awe struck and totally sodden with rain and perspiration, job done, boat fine, everyone safe.

Postion 37 03 S 167 42 E speed 7.2 knots course 242 true 1003nm to the Tamar River and Tasmania

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bug City

Your skin crawls with tingling shudders. You scratch so hard that the pain is nearly enjoyable. The nights are so long because sleep never comes, only the insects that silently drill holes into your skin. In day light the horror of the nights animal feasting becomes apparent. The lumps, welds and scars cover any, and every part of your body. Tucking into bed is no longer a pleasure, just the start of yet another execution session.

New Zealand, and its stunning Bay of Islands is a delightful place. One of the most important part of that delight is the incredibly warm, friendly and helpful people.

We have now spent a week in the harbor town of Opua, and the weather gods have tugged at our mooring lines stronger today, just to remind us of our plan and dream to finally sail Xplore into Beauty Point there in Tasmania for winter.

We leave the Bay of Islands and Bug City with smooth seas and a sunny sky, still scratching from the onslaught from the sand flies that they call "Midges"


Monday, June 13, 2011

Thered be sheep in them hills

The feelings of making land fall to any sailor are always very strong, the longer the voyage the stronger the feelings.

We left Punta Arenas Chile on the 16th of April and we are now just about to enter the port of Opua in the Bay of Islands New Zealand, it will be the 14th of June, a smidge under two months and 7,500 nautrical miles later.

The land of the Long White Cloud (New Zealand) is also reknowned for their sheep, millions of them, more sheep than the total population !

Many of the Xplore team have been to these shores before, but for each and everyone of us this marks end of the Pacific crossing. Many of the team will continue through to Tasmania, but some will depart here in New Zealand.

For most people the thought of traveling such as distance by sea is far too daunting, and the thought of being together on one relatively small boat with 8 people is inconceivable. But those who have sailed long ocean miles will always tell you that the days slip by much faster than you think, and that there is always something to do, to look at and to think about.

More news to come as we wash the salt from our clothes, put on some street gear and taste the foods and beverages of the Long White Cloud.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sweet Sister Sue, I fell in love today

Oh dear sister Sue, what can I tell you, I dont know how it happened but I fell in love today.

She's such an incredible woman, with curves and hips that send me quite wild, she moves so sweet and being with her everyone turns their eyes to stare at our grace.

I feel so good being by her side, I feel like a man when she is tucked under my arm.

She purr's and sings in such a sweet way, I now know how a woman can be when she's content and at ease with me.

For years I have looked for this woman, and for so long I didnt realise that she was there right next to me.

As friends in the past we have taken great paths, rough and extreme, much of the world that we have seen.

But today she has opened my eyes, and let me be the person that I have always wanted to be, the smile that rises on my face is the proof that true love is really in place.

Stephen and Xplore South Pacific 12 knots true wind, 38 apparent, 8.2 knots boat speed, 1/2 meter smooth swell

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

High There

The South Pacific Ocean, like all of the major ocean have a dominant "High" pressure cell located within these areas, they give regular and constant winds in a generally set direction which are call "Trade Winds"

Sailing the Trades, as they are often fondly called, means for relaxing, and relatively easy sailing (as long as you are going with them and not against them)

And like all good things in life, nothing lasts or stays forever, and that also can be said about the Trades.

We have again for the last 30 hours had wonderful sailing, power broad reaching with the asymetrical spinnaker up logging a constant 8.5 to 10 knots. Everyone has beem helming (steering the boat) and the grins on faces as the speed climbs over 10 knots is always infectious.

BUT, it stopped !! Bugger, Dam, put some more money in the wind slot machine! Please

Hmm, cant do much about that I suppose, so we have to continue at a slower pace under engine and what ever sails will stay up and not flap and flog themselfs to bits.

The South pacific High is a littler bit similar to the North Atlantic high, in that it is a split system, it starts in the west and pushes into the east, as it increases in size it dominates the whole area untill it gets pushed further to the east, then weakens as the next new high pressure cell forms again out in the west. Between these two High's is often a dividing low presure cell to keep it all mixing up, and making sure that sailors dont relax for too long.

We now have only 1,163 nautical miles untill we get to our most western waypoint, then we will head down towards New Zealand which is another 1,100 miles.

So, see you soon, well that depends on the Trades ?


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Xplore Medivac Up Date, Pitcairn to Gambier Island

There is deep sadness on board Xplore at the present time as we continue through to Gambier Island, I have attached 3 emails to the Mayor of Pitcairn and officials of what has transpired in the last nine hours.

Stephen Wilkins

I am so sad to have to inform all concerned with the Medivac of Terry Young that at 1638 local Pitcairn time on the 21st of May that he passed away whilst on board Xplore Expeditions on route to the Gambier islands Mangareva.

Melva Evans the paramedic nurse and all of the crew on board Xplore work hard for 35 minutes to try to resusitate Terry but were not able to.

During this time we sort additional medical information and advice to assist us from Pitcairn doctor Peter Cardon .

We will continue through to Gambier island with an expected ETA of the morning of the 22nd of May.

Stephen Wilkins Xplore Expeditions

Dear Stephen,

I understand from Dr Peter that Terry has passed away.

I wish to pass onto you and your crew my deepest gratitude for what you have done and what you continue to do for us. I didnt expect this to happen but I know you did all you can. We're all grieving the loss and i know you're grieving with us too. Could you please pass this message on to everyone on board and know that even in times of grief one can find love and peace. I know this event will affect you all for the rest of you lives, but know this, that we have reserved in all of our hearts a special place for all of you guys.

Thank you guys and and all

Could you also pass on to Melva the following message...."You did good sis...proud of you girl! I know you're feeling devastated right now but know this...."Naked I come from my mothers womb, And naked shall I return there The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, Blessed be the name of the Lord" Job 1:21 Hang in there and we'll see you soon.

Mike Warren Mayor of Pitcairn

Dear Mike, we all here on Xplore have been touched in a very special way with this whole experience, with Terry, Pitcairn and life.

You are very true with what you wrote, that this is an experience which has and will touch all of our lifes for ever.

Personally I feel sadness and grief that I wasnt able to get to know Terry better than what I was able to in this very short time, we did talk whilst he was with us and I felt that there was a very warm and kind man there, maybe one day you all there in the island will help us to understand more about what and who that man really was.

The whole team on board thank you for your kind words, and we all know that there is now a connection with Pitcairn which no one ever can take away from us all.

None of us ever, for even one moment considered any other option than what we chose and that is to help our brothers in need, for that we stand proud as humans with empathy and love in our hearts.

Please do pass this one with our deapest sympathies to all of the family and such kind folk there at Pitcairn.

Stephen Wilkins, Audrey, George, Julie, Mike, Bob, Lyn, Catalina and Melva

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday on my mind

Well some stories just have to be told as it happened and as it is.

We arrived in the early dark to the mystical dark shape that loomed out of the ocean called Pitcairn Island.

I have read and dreamt about this place since I was a child and was shocked by the news stories in early 2000's about the family crisis and crime that happened in this fabled and historic island.

Inhabited but the mutineers of the Bounty in 1790, Fletcher Christian and his followers certainly found an amazing remote Pacific island, that originally was charted as being in a different location, hence why they knew that they wouldn't be found for quite some time.

We chatted with the locals on the radio (Brian with a warm welcome and the offer for the next day of a good cup of tea on shore) and to get inside advice for last nights anchorage, we needed a place ideally close to Bounty bay, but with light to some time moderate winds from the North East we knew it would be a rocky rolly night. But to anchor on the other side of the island would dearly eat into shore time today, and we had only calculated a day or two here at best and the weather is still changeable, so we cant muck around.

Shortly after anchoring the heavens opened up once again and a deluge of rain coated Xplore with thousands of gallons of water (something that we are getting used to again here in the tropics)We had agreed to call the island some time between 7 and 8am to arrange for our visit and there wasn't anyone on board how wasn't champing at the bit to get to meet what these amazingly friendly people in the very special spot.

Dawn broke and I quietly sat on a damp deck marveling at the eastern side of the island as dawn broke through the distant skies, looks like not a bad day of weather for us, even if the wind was meant to pick up a tad during the day.

7.30am seemed like a good compromise to see if the island was awake, and what unfolded after that was an act of god.

Now god does move in mysterious ways, ways that I cant begin to understand, but Friday the 20th of May 2011 was meant to happen, to us on Xplore and there at Pitcairn.

With the volume not turned up too high as most of the crew were still sleeping after doing anchor watch, I called up the island and was greeted promptly by another voice on the radio, and this was Simon one of the island officials and welcoming committee, boy what I welcome we had walked into !

Simon asked when we would like to come ashore and for how long we would be there, just the day I replied as we are heading through to Tasmania. Simon then asked me to stand by as one of the other islanders had a question which we may be able to help with, to which I of course said that we would be delighted to if we can.

We changed channels to VHF 14 after there was a mix up with Peter who was trying to contact us but was calling for a yacht called Discovery, we though there must be another yacht around, but found it very strange that there would be 2 yachts called Xplore and Discovery at Pitcairn island both at the same time and day ? it wasn't, though he just had his metaphors all a bit screwed up, we laughed a lot.

Peter turns out to be the resident doctor on the island with a practice that is responsible for the 52 people who live there, not too taxing one would say, especially as the Pitcairnese have a great reputation of being very healthy. Hmm today wasn't one of those days though, Peter was calling me for something a tad more serious.

I agreed that we could talk as soon as we were on shore, and that if we could help them we would, but a sneaky part of me knew that something more serious was brewing.

The locals here don't muck around, because at 8.20am they had their fishing work boat / dories out through the surf and alongside Xplore which was rolling a bit like a fat pig on roller skates.

Myself and three others were the first in, and whisked onto shore where I had all the ships papers and passports to do the usual and necessary clearance in, what a fantastic ride in to their tiny protected boat ramp entrance, sitting on the back of a booming wave we surfed in with Brenda one of the boat drivers going for it like Juan Fangio. Hard to port we swerved at the last minute behind the break water and full astern she rammed the out board motor, whew, we were there, great ride, dont need coffee this morning.

There at the break water dock were quite a few people and they quickly asked who was Stephen the Skipper ? I raised a happy hand and on this I was asked to jump on the back of a quad bike with a stocky strong bloke, and told that we would sort out customs and immigrations later (all very casual I thought) but they did say that I was to be taken straight to the health center as Doc Peter needed to talk ASAP. hmmmm, me think something's cooking here !

Everyone was so nice and so welcoming to all of us, you couldn't help but smile and to be glad that we had come to Pitcairn, we zoomed up the steep road up the mountain to where the main village center lies, just like Brenda, Brian made some cool sweeping rally driving turns around the muddy potted lanes and boomp there we were at the health center, boy, lots of quad bikes here today, maybe its morning tea time that Brian had mentioned.

I was shown into the center and then passed over to Doctor Peter where we slipped into his hygienic office, a warm smiling face, but you could see that something was troubling him and I already knew that they had a bit of a medical situation that they may need some help on. Peter started talking and within moments I knew that we had been chosen to be here today.

Their problem was that they had one of the locals (Terry) who had 30 hours ago come down with some bad pains in his torso, what started out looking like a stomach ulcer , was actually appendicitis, and to make matters worse, it had ruptured !

We have all heard of horror stories of this happening, but generally years ago, but to be on a remote island in the Pacific is not the place to have this happen. Doc informed me that they had taken additional advice from medical staff in New Zealand, and had tried to contact 2 ships which were in the general area, one ship handout responded and the other was 4 or 5 days away and on route to Panama.

Their medical supplies to be able to keep Terry alive were forecast to last for about 3 days, maybe a smidgen more. I knew what they needed and I didn't hesitate to butt in (yes typical of Stephen) to straight up ask where they needed us to take Terry ?

The closest island with an air strip is Gambier Island and that lies 288 nautical mile West North West of Pitcairn, I had looked at it one the charts and knew that we could do this is 1 1/2 to 2 days max.

What happened during the rest of this Friday of Fridays is legendary, of adventure, hard work, community spirit that I haven't seen anywhere before, coupled with unhesitating warm and open friendship to everyone of us here on Xplore, which will live as a life memory and lesson about humanity and care of each other.

Tonight as I write this we have left Pitcairn 4 hours ago, we have on board two new crew members, one who is very sick and the other is a great paramedic nurse, we have 252nm to get to Gambier where the Tahiti / French medical evacuation team are expecting us, so that they can fly Terry out for emergency surgery.

Xplore sails a little lower in the water, not just because of our two new crew, but because of the incredibly generous offering that were gathered from all of the Pitcairn community during today, fruits and vegetables and local items that could mean that we can open our own grocery store, any where ! I have never seen so many bananas in my life !

We all hope and pray that we can get Terry safely there in time for surgery, he's a big tough looking chap but he's not so great at the moment, we need those smooth trade winds to behave for us and sail us sweetly and comfortably there to Gambier.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Easter Comes and Goes

Like so many of the passing's in lifes calenders, Easter marks a special time, and for those on board Xplore it was as well.

The only difference is that we spent this special time at Easter Island ! not quite on the same date as the rest of the world but it marked a specail mile stone in our Pacific crossing.

The day was hot and virtually windless when we arrived so that by the time we had droped the anchor in the bay of Hanga Roa most dived straight into the clear 26 C waters to cool down.

We enjoyed 3 days there is this remote Chilean island of the South Pacific, renowned for their Moi rock statues that surround the island's coast.

The team had one full day on shore, as the other's were taken up with the "Work List" topping up the fuel tanks useing a local open fishing boat, minor stiching on sails, provisioning and general re-tidy.

Bob's wife Lyn was also there at the shore line waiting for Xplore, and she now makes up our full team of 8 that continue across to New Zealand, hopefully with a brief stop at Pitcairn island which currently lies 346 nautical miles due west of our current position.

More relaxed news to come Stephen

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Like a bat out of hell

As if the gates of heaven opened, the chains that held us to Tierra del Fuego broke into dust and the sweet air of the ocean started to fill our lungs.

From when we left the anchorage of the Straits of Magellan four and a half days ago we have travelled 596 nautical miles, which makes an average speed of 5.5 knots, now to any sailor, that is not very fast for a 67 foot yacht !

The route which we travelled was not straight by a long shot, it had twists and turns, some round parts and some curved but the actual distance that we should of taken was 402 nautical miles, so one might ask is the skipper deranged or was there another factor that brought this about?

The slip out of the straits through the centre of the low did work well, the weather system that we had after that was not that well.

Out of the 4 nights we had to hove too for 3 of them (to stop the boat whilst at sea) . The counter currents along the Chilean coast made the seas even well off shore where we were like a washing machine, so even when we had boat speed, we were stopped dead by the continual hobby horsing and gyrations that Xplore made each time as we came over a wave crest.

A few technical, mechanical and sails issues also kept the speed down, and the atmosphere cool along with the temperature, the team on board was also settling into their own rhythm and routines along with their sea legs.

But like all sailors know, ever day and ever watch can be so totally different, and we at last saw what we wanted in the prognostic weather charts....... the re-emergence of the South Pacific High Pressure Cell!!

From late morning yesterday we have seen the back of the South, hell has been closed and heaven awaits those who are patient.

Our mileage that we have travelled in less than 24 hours, in the right direction has changed the faces of everyone on board.

So like a bat out of hell, we'll be coming on back to you


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Fasten your seat belts !

Fasten your seat belts !

The southern ocean will always have a mystique and awe about it.

The sea faring stories that have been written about the roaring forties,
furious fifties and the screaming sixties in the past only have changed in
that the type and style of the boats are hopefully a lot better... we hope.

Our departure from the shores of Tierra Del Fuego and the western reaches of
the Straits of Magellan was something of a feat, long hours mulling over the
possibility to sail direct into open ocean or to use the inside channels 400
nautical miles up the coast and then to exit further north from the Gulf De

I was happy with either way, but with each of these options there were draw
backs, pluses and minuses.

The prevailing winds are from the NW to SW, and here in this part of the
world you NEVER try to fight against the winds.

The inside channel route is some what protected, but as we found out on the
day before departure that our Cmap electronic chart package that we had just
installed on the boat navigation computer had some serious flaws in their
coverage. These were to compliment our collection of paper charts on board
and play an important part of the total navigation safety picture.

After paying $200USD for just this Chilean section, I was furrious with what
they had supplied us, it was virging on the case of suicide to only navigate
these twisting channels with them alone. I wasnt happy !

The option to sail direct into open ocean, and then north made a lot of
sense, BUT you need to right conditions and wind direction to be able to do
this, as this western side of Tierra Del Fuego is as ferocious as Cape Horn.

The night of the 20th we sat in our anchorage off the side of Magellan, and
I had my head deep in mixed thoughts. We had known for over 4 days that a
substantial low pressure system was going to come across from the Pacific
and take its normal path track around Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn, the
prognosis was for extreme winds on the front reaching higher than 60 knots.

If the low didnt track too much to the SE then we may have a small window to
exit Magellan and cross through the centre and then take the Southerly winds
north on the western side of the low, lots of ifff's and But's about this.

I slept with mixed dreams and woke early as any anxious skipper does, down
loaded some new weather information and looked at the satelite image, hmmm
this low is just about stationary and coming right across the top of us.

To not take this oportunity (and many would say that there is nothing
opportunistic about sailing through the centre of a big low prressure cell)
but here in the south you also learn that some of the calmest conditions
happen in the centre of a low, well thats untill you get out from the

Many coffee's and reflective thinking I saw that this chance to move was the
best, to not take could mean that we would be stuck there in the south for
another 4 to 5 days potentially, not a great thought as autum and winter is
drawing closer, the days already cut substantially.

The howling winds from the eastern side of the low started to ease early
afternoon, we made our break, but didnt really know what the Straits would
be like untill we exited our hiddy hole ?

What we found and what we saw was amazing, flat smooth seas, low wind, and a
clear passage North West, Xplore was prepared and ready for the Pacific.

In the 2 days since leaving the Straites of Magellan we have had some tough
but fast sailing, winds into the mid 40's have kept everyone on their toes,
rough starts arent the best for settling the stomaches of people but overall
the team has survived in a sterling fashion.

As we tear along 65 miles miles off the coast steering due north we all long
for the warmth of some sun and calmer conditions

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Blow and Go

Well, the life of a sailor is very much about patience, waiting for everything, the winds to turn, the seas to ease, the crew to arrive, the passengers to leave.

We are waiting at the moment in the very western reaches of the Straits of Magellan, much further west than I have ever been before in Tierra Del Fuego, and our waiting plan is all about a low pressure system.

In my years down here I have seen many a low blow through, some small and many very large, and this one that we wait for has to be classified as one of those large ones !

With the Grib files showing average wind strengths in the 60 knot range we know that gusts could be much higher. So in our travels out to this location we needed to find a good bolt hole that would give us protection.

As the name of the yacht is Xplore, we once again did just that, explored and found another new anchorage to hide away in.

If you have that chance Google this Latitude and Longitude and you can see where we are, and named it "Caleta Julie" as it was crew member Julie's birthday the day that we found this place.

53 07.995 South 73 36.250 West

The blow should last for 2 days, but indication have it easing on the morning of the 22nd where we may be able to sail out of Magellan and then head north to more temperate climates and the start of our Pacific crossing.


Monday, February 28, 2011

A hoy, what you doing up there ?

Finding yourself hanging 2/3rds of the way up the forestay off the Antarctic coast with a bitterly cold southerly wind and a three meter sea needs some explanation, about one sanity, and reason for finding yourself in such a position.

Well, where do you start, a sailor knows that some things need to be done, its not a case that certain things can wait, its a case of do it right, do it now, and do it fast, and this was certainly one of those situations.

I had been mulling over our weather window to leave Antarctica after a grand voyage along the white continent coasts line. This trip in February had dealt us a very mixed selection of weather, which also made it that much harder topic the perfect time to leave, too early and we miss precious time in this special white play ground, and too late and the plans,flights and future of everyone on board becomes a messy chess game.

The day of the 24th presented itself with an opportunity, any later would be dicey, and the only thing that was a question mark was the 35 knots of wind forecast for the first night out.

We headed up the Gerlach Strait, with sails flying, a following wind with clear sunny breaks. North of Brabant Island we turned and met with the ocean swell and the promise of a relatively quick but not too bumpy re-crossing of the Drake.

Being my 26th time of crossing the drake I am certainly used to its peculiarities and its temperament, something that no sailor here in the south would ever, ever take for granted, drop your guard for a moment and it will kick your ass so hard you will have nightmares about it for years.

We knew we were expecting wind, a good direction, but as February days are so much shorter now one has to take the lack of visibility and light into account carefully. Audrey and I were on the first of the night watches and we had already reefed down the main sail to 4 tucks, the head sails were virtually non existent as we saw the tell tail signs of a fast changing low pressure system sliding directly over the top of Xplore.

The barometer had been dropping all day and now was 20 millibars lower than what we started, at 958, we knew that it was going to change, probably fast and from a totally different direction, and that it did !

Within minutes of the wind grinding to a holt, as if someone had closed the front door of the house, the back door swung open, and a right feral monster was waiting out the back. 20 30 then 40 knots the winds started blowing, 50 and then 60, shit this is wild !

The winds were not from the West / South West as proposed but from the direct SOUTH, and in Antarctica every one learns very fast that anything from the south is COLD, very cold.

The decision to stop and hove too didn't take long to make, from a skippers perspective I am sure you can see what I mean, boat speed is 9 to 10 knots, visibility doesn't exist as its pitch black, and even if there was some light, the strength of the wind mixed with ice and snow means you cant look at anything anyway. Couple that with the fact that you have a boat which is your life line to the world with 12 people on board and there is a great potential that there are ice bergs around.

Stop and stop fast !

Having too is a traditional mariners way of virtually stopping the boat whilst at sea, it brings calm to the boat if positioned correctly to the seas, not often able to be used on modern fast and fancy plastic boats these days, but here in the south this is something that we regularly use when the going gets just a tad too tough........ like now!

Instead of being a comforting smooth stopped motion by hoving too, Xplore and my fine bunch of feather friends (as I quite often call them) had been whacked onto spin mode in the washing machine. For myself, Audrey and Julie the key crew we are all quite used to this, but the stomachs started to turn pretty fast for the fathered bunch.

But situations like these need concentration and as boss I wasn't concerned about what was happening in the boat, but what was happening outside of the boat !

Southerly strong blows in Antarctic if they are fed with a moist air stream from the ocean means lots of snow and ice in the winds, and this is exactly what we were getting, and for a mariner we call this "Icing" yep a bit like a cake top.

Icing looks really pretty, but on a boat if it happens, and has a lot of snow, then the weight of the snow can if this continues for longer periods dramatically effect the stability of the boat, so you can understand that from my perspective, I didn't really care if anyone was sea sick at the moment, whether their pillows weren't fluffed up, but I certainly was very conscious ad cautious about what and where we were, and what was likely to happen ?

We knew that this Low pressure cell was going to move over us fast, and the barometer was already moving up fast, but a fast rise is a bad as a fast drop, and the 65 knots that we were currently experiencing I was hoping that we weren't going to see any stronger.

We all know the saying that "Every day is a different one" and for sailor we definitely agree with this, it just that for sailors we measure a day by each of the watches that we do, one 4 hour period can be horrendous, and then after a sleep the next can be like a bed of roses, calm sunny and tranquil.

I was woken by the ON watch to be told that the winds had dropped, I had already felt it in my snug bunk that I refer to as the "Cave" positioned back aft on the boat we really feel the swell and the movement when things change. I slipped up on deck and confirmed that our hove too position needed to be change, we had to get under sail, and stop playing around like a cork in the ocean.

We beared away and flopped the head sail over to the correct side so that we could gain boat speed, the winds were still 30 to 35 knots, but gusting 40, really quite calm compared to what we had during the bleak hours of darkness !

As we started to make speed the ice and snow that had built up in the mast,spreaders and rigging began clanging down on the deck and our heads,luckily most of it had already turned soft from the wintry sunny morning.

We settled the boat onto a beam reach (winds 90 degrees to our heading) and I decided to put out just a small amount of the second larger head sail called the yankee to give us a little more speed and stability. Crew at the ready on deck we slowly eased the lines and winched in the sheets to control it, but at that moment we were hit with another 40 knots or so of wind. Within seconds the lazy sheet that sits idle on the opposite side of the boat started snaking in the air, and with enough slack in it, it started whipping like a demon, crack crack at everything in its way. Seconds can seem like hours, but seconds it took and the proud and strong No 2 yankee was torn completely in half.

With team speed and reaction we turned off the pilot and headed down wind to reduce the pressure on the sail, to furl it there and then was the only option. I was gob smacked and shocked, speechless and angry $%#%#&&^%(^&*()&%& came from my mouth like someone had used me as some type of a ventriloquist act on TV.

We gathered our self's and not a lot was said, we were only just off the Antarctic coast and had a long way back to South America and one of our most important sails was in tatters. There's not a lot you can do with a blown head sail in 35 plus knots of wind, I hadn't slept for nearly 24 hours but the show had to go on. We turned on the main engine to give us the extra speed needed to controllably move through the large 4 meter swells that had built during the night, nothing much else I could really do.

Exhausted and devastated I asked the watch to wake me in a couple of hours, maybe my soft pillow would give me comfort and some idea's.

My pillow was comfortable but my dreams weren't, a few hours can make a big difference though and I climbed up on deck with a hot cup of tea and consumed at least 3 cigarettes before the plan unfolded, we had 600 nautical miles (about 1,100 Kms) to get to Ushuaia an we need to do it pretty quickly. The Drake doesn't let people or boats sit around for long in one place before reminding them who's boss.

The head sail had to come down so we at first turned down wind, to unfurl it and then ease the halyard which holds it up, slowly slowly doe it weeased the lines and watched to ripped remains flap and wiggle in the winds, bit by bit it unwound until................ shit ! Where the tear from leech to luff horizontally across the sail 2/3rds up our towering mast the internal rope call the leech line had broken and wrapped it self around the forestay and the top section of the sail ##^%$%^%(*^(&)&(& God this language seems to be the basis of my day !

We refurled the sail again, and I once again sat and smoked another 3 cigarettes. The dread of what I knew needed to be done was all too apparent, before we could do anything to salvage this sail we had to get it down, and that was impossible here in deck. I also knew that if we motor sailed all the way back to Ushuaia that what remained of the sail up the mast would most likely look nothing like a sail after 4 or 5 more days at sea. The other factor that had to be taken was if we didn't get this sail down then we couldn't hoist another sail to replace it, and then that would mean a very slow trip back with everyone on board missing their flights back to the other corners of the world.

Dread and a healthy dose of Dutch Courage, I sat down and explained to Audrey and the team what needed to be done and our options, well there wasn't really any option, it had to come down, and the forecast was for increasing winds later in the day, this moment was probably going to be the only chance to get the sail down and replaced if there ever was going to be

So there we are, swinging around like a koala bear clutching to a gum tree in a storm 2/3rds the way up the forestay, knowing that if I let go at any moment then my brains would be cracked in pieces by the forestay or the inner forestay, well at least if I passed out I wouldn't feel too much pain.

The long side of the story is good, I did get up to the cut point of the sail and cut away the leech line that was stopping us from unfurling the sail so it could be lowered. I am not ashamed to say that I screamed a bit towards the end of being up there, as the blood streams in my brain were about to explode.

I am so proud of Audrey, Nigel and Justin who worked side by side with me on deck and made sure that I did get down in one piece, along with the sail.

I lay on my back still in my climbing harness for at least 10 minutes, I couldn't move. With a bit of time I found some energy and lifted myself from the deck, I didn't smoke 3 cigarettes at once (that's how bad I was feeling ) but we tidied the deck and put the sad and twisted No 2 yankee to bed.

But the job wasn't finished, we had won the first part of the battle and the confidence to win again was strong, the replacement sail had to go up. We woke the rest of the sailing team on board Julie, Assaf and Sami and within a hour we were sailing again.

I write this for you all, so that you know some of the different sides of being a sailor, its not always easy or a champagne cursing that we do down here, but also for myself, because I have found that every time that I have a tough, difficult or traumatic experience writing it down is some what therapeutic.

Now we are 100 nautical miles exactly from our eastern way point to enter the Beagle Channel, 26 crossings of the Drake meant that this was my 13 expedition to Antarctica............... God I am lucky.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Crabeater Seals can fly

Sun shine and a crystal clear mornings haven't been happening that much here in Antarctica this February !

But when they have it is certainly been something to savor for everyone on board Xplore.

The islands of Hovgaard and Pleneau were our anchorage and birthday location for Troll, feeling that she was getting very old we decided to have a grand party the evening before, and invited great chum and mate Henk and his guests to join in the celebrations.

The rising of the sun did bring rays of light which for a few of the team were a tad too bright considering the strength of the birthday punch and the copious amounts of other delightful liquor's that were consumed during the night, but the warmth of the sun reminded us why Antarctica is so amazing.

Sitting on deck with a few of the team, I was positioned at the stern of Xplore having a quiet "Lets get my head together" type of a start along with a needed cup of tea.

Others were on deck including Assaf one of our able bodied team members from Israel, cleaning the decks with buckets of crystal Antarctic water, I was noticing a Crabeater seal swimming towards Xplore, and the floating shore lines which we use to keep us in position.

I didn't notice this crabeater at the party the night before, but it was a busy night, because this chap didn't have his bright brain cells working too well either, because as he was swimming up to our floating lines he just plum forgot or didn't see them !

With a splash and a great flap he whacks straight into the line, makes a rubbish sort of a dive down to cool off his sore nose.

This really gave me a chuckle, silly bugger, and I went back off to my fairy head land admiring the views with a sweet little smile on my face, oh nature can be so amusing !

Within about 20 seconds of day dreaming we were all startled to hear a great Ge splash from the Starboard side of the boat, my first reaction was that bucketing washing Assaf had fallen in the drink !! but as I quickly had turned my head, it wasn't Assaf entering the water but the end of the Crabeater who had tried to jump up on board Xplore !

Now to get a few figures straight here, Crabeaters when fully grown are around 400 Kg, the height of Xplore from the water to the deck edge is about 1.6 meters, and the life lines and stanchions are about another 0.6 of a meter higher on top of that.

Well the silly bugger, must have known that we were a great place for a feed and a drink because if he had managed to flop over that last little height of the life lines we certainly would have been in for very rude awakening, because a 400 Kg Crabeater isn't the nicest of guests to try a shoo off the boat at any time of the day.

Well, he left his mark in all of our minds, and he also left his mark on Xplore, the 600 mm high stainless steel posts that hold up and support the life lines are strong bits of steel. The Crabeaters entrance meant that he bent one of these over at a 40 degree angle Oppps, that's something new on the work list to repair !

Antarctic Adventures continue as we head north east to Enterprise island

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Stomachs rumble, stomachs grumble

How could you ever look a client in the face before leaving to cross the Drake and honestly tell them that they weren't going to be sea sick ? Its a bit like thinking that a bank wont charge you interest rates on a loan.

Crossing the Drake though does come easier to some than others, but its often interesting as a witnessing by standing that is a none sufferer, about who will, and who wont be sick, an that is virtually impossible to judge or place a bet on.

There's the quiet sufferers who crawl into a corner, or to the depths of their dark cabin, there's the noisy "I want to make as big a mess" types, and there's the sly types where it just sneaks up on them and catch you by total surprise.

And you cant forget about the macho types, that always are looking for some thing else to blame this malady on "oh it must have been the peanuts that I ate" it's never happened before.

But I love the strong willed, get it out of the system and get on with it types.

You can see how horrible that they feel, their guts are wrenching, their faces are covered with tears and traces of the last meal, and they throw their heads back, lift their red strained eyes to the sky (obviously asking why god has done this to them) but they always surprise me because they just jump in and ask to help on deck, take another glass of water or even straight into another meal..... impressive.

There are though many medications and techniques that can help people to avoid or to get over from sea sickness, but the trouble is that it takes a test or two to work out which type works for the individual, that's the frustrating part, because even though you are taking something to stop or cure this, it some time reacts and can make someone feel worse.....poor poor souls.

But being comfortable and confident with the fact that you are on a boat,staying warm and dry but not too hot or too cold makes a difference, the human mind is a powerful device that does have the ability to help control the internal balance system that triggers this in people.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Gale came, then everyone went to bed

Funny how some people just make you want to go to sleep.

Not sure if its their grey personality, their habits or lack of jokes but Gale seems to certainly be one of those types.

For our team of Antarctic ski climbers who managed to ascend 12 different peaks during their time on the white continent they all feel the same way about Gale.

Its a bit of a shame, because when you get to know Gale, she really does have some interesting sides to her, but maybe that just takes a special type of person to be able to see that.

We left Antarctica in mill pond perfect conditions, the whale society was out in full force for our departure, waving their hands, tails and blowing their horns. ooooh what a send off it was.

We settled down into sea life again, as Xplore changed face from "Hotel" mode back to southern ocean sailing mode, the forecast was for a soft start and then two periods when we would get some stronger winds The (Gale Sisters)

I write as a few snores and grumbles come slipping out from the cabin door ways, its been sitting stead at 38 to 45 knots of wind coming from the ENE, seas are about 4 meters.

The barometer is continuing to drop rapidly as we strategically position our self to go through the centre of the low pressure cell the heart of Gale) and then exit on the WNW side of Gale to give us a favorable wind direction to make the final run into Tierra Del Fuego and the Beagle Channel.

Position at present 60 degrees 19 minutes south, 65 degrees 44 minutes West


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Beef Indian Curry

Position 65 degrees 14 minutes South, 64 degrees 15 minutes west, Antarctica

We are located in Stellar Creek, chartered in 1935 by the British vessel Beagle.

This is located on the island of Galindez which was discovered in 1903 by the French expedition under Charcot.

Galindez is part of an island archipelago called the Argentine Islands, again discovered and chartered by French Charcot and named Argentine in appreciation for all of their support of their expedition.

But what has this got to do with Indian beef curry ?

Well tonight we are enjoying a fantastic Indian beef curry, made by an Australian, particularly for the British team of ski climbers that we have on board because a good curry is renowned as their favorite national dish.

It is accompanied by extras prepared by an Argentinean and 2 French, and is just in time before we visit the Antarctic station which is close near by which is Ukrainian, but formally was English.

Hmmm, a slightly large mix of international elements to the whole day.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

What to write ?

Writing can be such a power thing, for the writer and for the receiver.

But there are times when its hard to know "what" to write, even though you just know that there is something itching to come out, some part of your soul and experiences that need to be put down on paper.

I sit here tonight (well I cant really call it night as December in Antarctica and its close surrounding waters is never dark) but there I go,I've where was I, that's right, trying to find something to write about.

Our climbing / skiing expedition leader,Jim has stuck his head up from the cabin, he's a tall chap and a metabolism of a 17 year old youth, and the engine that drives him needs fuel, he's been just a tad queasy for the first day, but now that his sea legs are really kicking in his worms are restless.

Duracell Dave, our expedition surgeon, well he's been bouncing off the walls and ceiling, great guy to have around for a chat and a helping hand, always looking for something to do, and with a permanent smile, he's infectious.

Ski expedition surrogate woman Bethan, has come back to the world, its her first ocean sail, and the understandable nerves of the Drake started early.she took to her bunk and we didn't see her for the first 24 hours as the seas were a bit lumpy and not a training play ground, safe move. But now she's up and in the Admirals seat of the companion way and amazed at how the boat doesn't roll over, tucking into a modest bowl of Shepard's pie, she's a happy girl now and back off to bed.

More news on the team and its members as the adventure unfolds.

Position 61 58 South 63 04 West course 181 true speed 9.1 knots,

temp 3.3C water temp 1C wind WNW 24 knots


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Slay Bells Ring

How can one ever explain the joys of ocean sailing unless you have experienced it... and not been sea sick !

Ohh my heart goes out to those who do suffer this malady. and I can say that from my experience of youth when I also used to be vilently sea sick. My first encounters of sailing there in South Australia still bring vivid memories back to my mind and stomach.

We have taken the plunge across the Drake, the first stage was rough, wet and exhausting, for all of the team in their own ways, but slowly each have bounced back after fighting their own fears, dreads and doubts about what the Drake will be for them.

I am though very proud of each and every one, because they really came for what is on the other side, and their dreams were far stronger than their fear of the Drake, the white continent Antarctica is getting closer !

Position 59 15 South 63 09 West, course 169 degrees true, wind 29 knots WNW, boat speed 10.2 knots, out side temperature 4.1 C, water temp 4 C

Xplore Expeditions