Sunday, December 30, 2012

Drakeonian Explorer's

Drakeonian Explorer's

You cant help but wonder how early explorers from the late 1700's through until early 1900's coped with the hard ship of the frozen south, I think of them often, like now mid way across the Drake Passage.

Even today with all the modern equipment on board and incredible protective HL wet weather gear with goretex layers, you cant for a moment wonder what those poor sods felt like and that they even had any fingers or toes left after a voyage to the "Freezer" as we often call it, remarkable endurance and fortitude.

For the team on Xplore heading south for our special project its important that I give thanks and acknowledgment to them all, at the start and I am sure at the finish.

Meghann Jones, Australian (culinary whiz)
Debbi Smith, Scotland (trooper with a sandy wit)

Fernando Landeta, hydrography technician,Chilean (cant help but smile)
Yoann Boulaire, hydrographer Shom, France (so hydro, he was probably born on  the sea floor)

Alesia Ramanenka, Belaurus (quietly knowing)
Ugo Angelelli, Italy (Mr history with gizzmo's)
John Clark, Australia (Irish and infectious)

Thanks team, so no matter what or how much we acheive, the journey and experience is what truly counts, because we are out here doing it.

Stephen Wilkins, skipper and expedition leader, Australian (where there's a Wilkins, there's a way)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ready Test Go

Xplore has maybe been silent from news in the last two months, but we have certainly not be dormant.

Late in October just prior to leaving Valdivia in Chile I happened by chance to meet a commercial diver who visited Xplore as he was an interested sailor and wanting to buy some parts that we had no more use for.

In conversation as we drove into town, I asked what type of work he did, diving on industry pipe lines, inspections and.............. hydrographic surveys there in Chile.

Within the short 15 minute drive I couldn't stop asking him questions about the type of gear that they were using and his experience, like a kid in a lolly shop stuffing his face full of sweets, I couldn't get enough information or ask the questions fast enough.

We ended the drive in town, and I had explained what I had been trying to organize for over 3 years, but which was a dream and a plan that I had carried for more than 10 years, and that was to mount a private hydrographic survey in Antarctica.

Since late October we have been busy, too much so, but with good reason, we have just departed Ushuaia in Argentina, and we are heading for Antarctica. On board Xplore we have 8 people and some very special equipment, and we are going to go to Antarctica to survey.

The project is an initial test to see if a little old sailing boat called Xplore can do what the big boys of the hydrographic industry do, and that is to data collect and produce an accurate survey of the ocean sea floor using the latest in modern hydrographic survey equipment. This is a world first, not just in Antarctica, but truly in the world, because no one has ever hung $280,000 dollars worth of high tech equipment off the bow of a sailing yacht and been treated with credibility.

We have with us some very clever people, Fernando who is the Chilean hydrographic company who we have teamed up with, but also Yoann who is from France is is a certified naval hydrographer who has been loaned to us to from Shom (France's hydrographic agency) who will qualify and certify that the survey work that we will do meets the highest of international standards in hydrography as set down by the IHO.

We have carried out sea trials and calibration testing whilst here in Ushuaia and everything seems to all go, the support of many countries within the hydrographic community has been great, Shom there in France, NZ,
Australia and UK, along with some great help from a good captain and friend on National Geographic Explorer we feel that we as prepared as ever we will be.

We are all excited, and just a little bit nervous about the project, we all want to do something very special here, and to prove that it is possible, because survey work in Antarctica is needed, only 2 % of the Antarctic coast line is currently surveyed.

To have a dream that you see through to fruition is going to be for me very sweet and satisfying, even though over the last 3 years many many doors have been closed and I have been told so many times that it is ridiculous to think that a small sailing yacht can do what the navy's and commercial hydrographic ship of the world get employed to do.

Time will tell ?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Along came......

Along came.........

At 5am am on Sunday morning we docked at the commercial pier in Punta Arenas in Chile, along side one of the huge ocean going commercial tugs that service the shipping that goes through the Straits of Magellan and the southern waters, nothing too fancy but quiet and stopped.

But 6am I was at the newly build reception rooms of the public hospital of Punta Arenas, there was only an old man sleeping in a line of chairs that could seat 100 people, a nice warm place as even in November Punta Arenas can be bitterly cold when it chooses.

By 6.15am and some interrogation by a young intern, I hear him talk to the medical staff that he had a gringo who had a bit of a problem, laughter and chatter in Spanish as to whom was going to see the victim made it very apparent that it had been a long, slow and boring night.

By 6.20am it was quite clear to the doctor at hand, an experienced naval surgeon that this was not a laughing matter.

He told me that the local anaesthetic was going to hurt, but the first sting of the needle made me cringed but as he slid the needle deeper and deeper into my skin and flesh I screamed, bloody hell ! what's the rest of this going to be like I wondered.

After a short while to let the drugs kick in he then started then started to cut, it felt like someone tearing at the top of a can of vegetables with a pull ring that needs a final grand tug to get it open, shit I screamed again
even though I was already feeling wimpish from my first yelp.

Ah Stephen, this is not what you think, this is one of the most impressive cases of this that I have seen the doctor tells me. At this stage, all of his team of nurses and students are lined up around me sharing thoughts of medical knowledge and others having a quiet chuckle about how they would hate to have this problem themselves, how embarrassing !

The surgeon then continued to cut, he went in with a circular motion to take a large tubular core out of me, this I definitely didn't expect, as my own diagnosis on board had visions quite different.

He proudly showed me the core of flesh which he cut, black, dead and lifeless, hmm what can you say, but thanks.

By 7.15 am I was loaded up with enough drugs, anti-imflamatories and antibiotics to kill a horse.

The problem had started after a day and a half after leaving Valdivia to head south to Tierra del Fuego, I noticed that on my left buttocks that there was the start to an annoyingly large pimple. After a day or so more and regular tea tree oil, the problem was getting much worse.

I have never had a boil or abscess on my buttocks, salt water boils in arms and the neck but this was really talking it to extremes. The days wore on and the pain and size of the abyss was unbelievable. The crew saw me cringe with pain as we sailed the boat or sat down, the boat movement wouldn't allow me to sleep, every wave woke the partial sleep that I was meant to be enjoying.

After four days of pain I had to share the problem, Meghann offered to have a look as she had had a bad infection before on her leg. Well the look on her face was not of joy when she saw what was on my ass, but she managed it well and agreed that it was bad, Nic in hearing the talk ducked around the corner to peak and in a good old Kiwi way, said "Struth mate that must hurt".

I searched through all our medical books and check the stocks of all the different antibiotics on board and came up with a choice of a strong penicillin based antibiotic to heal and rid my poor ass of this infernal

The days went on and the size grew and grew, with your hand fully stretched out it would only just reach the sides of this massive raised infection that was so hot and painful and hard. I of course tried to push and squeeze a bit, even knowing that this was not the approved way to deal with a boil or abscess , but the agony and pain was relentless, never stopping, never easing and each movement on board made it worse.

A strange sick side of me wanted to know more about it so we took a photo, it was scary, it looked more like a badly swollen breast of a nursing mother who's 2 year old teething son had been gnawing at her nipple (not that I have seen one of these)

We arrived in port and you know the rest, but what the surgeon told me was that it wasn't an abscess at all, other wise there would have been a lot of rubbish and waste exit when he opened me up. But it was a perfect case of a Chilean Spider, called an Arana del Rincon, Corner spider or scientifically Loxosceles Laeta, in Chile they only have two animals that are venomous and both are spiders, and this was one.

Even though they are at their worst or most venomous during spring (yes now in November) they can be lethal if they bit close to a vital organ, glad that they liked my ass ! so who was a lucky boy.

After 2 weeks of 4mg of antibiotics each day and the other drugs it seems to be on the mend, so I chuckle a bit when I remember the nursery rhyme of little Miss Muffet who sat on her tuffet.