Falkland Islands to South Georgia
6th January, 7a.m. Starting line of the Stanley to Grytviken race
Crews are finishing off preparations, delicious aromas escape from the galley of Windora as food for the passage is being prepared while on Caramor, space is being used creatively to store just one extra can of summer fruit (possibly never to be found again until the next overhaul).
Windora (43') was built in the 1970s. She is made of wood and sheaved in a protective coat of fibreglass, she has a light airy CABIN and a sensible layout inside. Her crew includes Phil and Linda, tough sailors from New Zealand who boat-educated their boys during a long journey which took them half way around the world. After a spell back home during which they refitted Windora beautifully, they set sail once again eighteen months ago and spent last winter in the Chilean Canales. Bernie from South Carolina, USA has joined them for this leg of the trip. They met in New Zealand many years ago when Bernie was refitting his tiny boat. Back in the States, he sold the boat and bought a mule and set off across America.
Caramor radios Stanley Port Control to ask for clearance to transit through the Narrows. I am forward, pumping up the anchor and Franco is braced at the tiller. A moment later, Windora announces her departure over the VHF and motors past at full throttle. The radio crackles "Windora, Windora, this is Falklands Immigration, please go to the public jetty". Caramor takes the lead once again, flies through the Narrows into Port William Sound. Windora doesn't stop for long and is soon hot on Caramor's rudder. The wind is gusting up, time to reef. Precious time is wasted and Windora catches up. She takes the inshore passage and overtakes! She is the fastest boat. The race has been run.
Windora takes the lead, note the cabin
We wave farewell to each other, hopefully we will meet again in Grytviken.
The past two days have been mostly spent obsessing about a cabin ("if only we had a nice cabin like Windora") and the officious duty officer from Stanley Port Control who called us up on the radio when we were in the middle of a tack to tick us off for not calling in when we passed the line. What line? I never saw one! Good displacement activity to avoid thinking about the painful lack of sleep and the uncertainty of whether dinner is going to stay down. (Yes, I've been seasick!)
Today the wind has been gusting 36 knots and the sky is overcast. No wildlife, only grey lumpy seas for miles around. I picture Linda, Phil and Bernie, in t-shirts, playing dominos in their cabin, whereas we look like this:
In the middle of the night I stood on something (in my seaboots) and it crunched like glass. "Noooo, not my glasses" I hoped. Instead it was the glass front of the barometer which had popped out on a whim or as we entered the cold of the antarctic convergence zone. A curious feature which I don't remember reading in the manual.
While doing the walk to check the rigging, I spotted three white triangular shapes ahead. Not sailing ships, "Franco, iceberg" I yelled.
Our first iceberg
It was impossible to say how big or how far away they were. Franco sat on the cockpit rim staring at the giant ice cubes. He reminded me of Oz (my ex-dog) staring at a dangerous cat, expecting it to leap up at him at any time. Two hours later he was still sat there. Eventually I coaxed him down for some soup. We concluded that since we had been watching the iceberg for two hours as we sailed past at 6 knots that it must be fairly large and reasonably far away. Later we saw two more, one was flat which huge blue ice cliffs down to the water's edge and the other crenelated like a floating castle from hell.
Icebergs certainly capture the public imagination but sailing among them is far from romantic, it's terrifying. They must be the biggest hazard to shipping; unchartered and practically invisible in certain light conditions. Ask the Captain of the Titanic.
From now on we will heave-to (a way of setting the sails to reduce speed to a drift) every night from 9 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. when it gets light enough to see again.
The wind has gone northerly, the warmer air hitting the cold sea has turned to fog. The visibility is terrible, down to half a mile. We strain our eyes peering through the murk, dressed in full waterproofs and lifejacket. If an iceberg appears in our path we will have to act very fast.
An iceberg looms in the mist
Four teeth on one of the bubble door zips break off and the zipper just falls away, cold air gushes in. I am furious, in my state of tiredness, I am convinced that the Uruguay Post Office's failure to deliver the zips we ordered from the UK is tantamount to attempting to murder us by freezing (said zips safely returned to UK - aargh!). The lady in the shop in Montevideo told us the zips she had were rubbish but they were the best available in the whole of Uruguay! I can see a possible way of fixing it but I am cold and hungry so it will have to wait until after lunch. I make pea soup and pop to the loo while it is heating. I return to a green tidal wave, as the pan has boiled over and the soup has engulfed the cooker. "Franco, where are you?" I rage. "Hiding outside until you calm down." comes the reply.
No bergs all day until the light starts to fade and we pass one to starboard.
A beautiful dawn, we pass an iceberg to port in the early hours. It looks like a mountain. I consider how lucky we have been on the crossing as we have had very few breakages.
Franco wakes at lunchtime and as he is getting dressed a large wave hits the stern and pushes it round. I stick my head out and the genoa has backed. Franco tells me we've gybed. We rush outside to put things right but by some miracle Aries (the wind self steering) does it by himself. We both turn and stare at Aries as this is absolutely impossible. Either Aries has become a sentient being with a brain or else ... The rudder is swinging, no longer connected to the tiller. Very bad news, we can no longer steer the boat. We bring the boat back under control by heaving-to, using the sails only.
I remember us changing the tiller when Franco first bought Caramor, an arduous task. I have visions of us spending the next 8 hours drilling out the stump from the rudder and start planning how to keep the drill batteries charged. Franco springs into action and removes the bolts, while I dig out the spare tiller. With some trapeze work, balanced on Aries, Franco completes the change over in less than an hour. I am impressed.
At night we decide to try deploying the drogue for the first time. We have a Jordan Series drogue made up of 120 small parachutes attached to a heavy duty rope for use in very large seas. Shorty, a friend in Stanley used to use his regularly to give the crew a break. It should slow us down considerably and we will be drifting down wind (in the right direction). The motion isn't great though.
It takes an hour and a half to recover the drogue. It certainly worked well but we won't be using it unless we need to. Heaving-to is a lot easier. It's 3:30 a.m., an hour and a half past Franco's bed time. He sits on the bench, hardly able to keep his eyes open. I'm not sure he even knows his name anymore.
By mid morning the wind has increased to force 8, it is howling out there. The sea is wild and foamy. South Georgia is nearby but we won't make it to Grytviken before dark. The forecast is for even stronger winds tomorrow. The choice is either to head out to sea and stand off over night or to make our way to Rosita 'Harbour' where there the pilot describes an all weather anchorage behind the kelp. The decision is easy.
We have a plan. Immediately to the north of Cape Buller, we furl the genoa, turn on the engine, drop the main and then, with the engine ticking over, sail into Rosita Harbour on a tiny piece of genoa. The sea flattens as soon as we are in the lee of Cape Buller but the wind accelerates as it falls off the 200m cliffs. Spray is flying everywhere and the williwaws knock Caramor sideways from the left, then from the right, a 180 degree switch in wind direction! With gritted teeth we hunker down.
A cove opens out on our right, no shelter there, the water boils, tormented. We continue past the next point and beyond the kelp a sailing boat is anchored. We recognise Johan's yacht Saturnin, Johan helped us tie up to the public jetty when we first arrived in Stanley. Fancy meeting him here! We weave through the kelp and, against all odds, find the promised calm.
Saturnin at anchor, Grace Glacier in the background
We have come to the end of the world, or at least the end of the human world. The animals all seem to think it is a lovely day and the fur seals are having, quite literally, a 'wail' of a time.
Our noisy neighbours the fur seals
Stats: We covered 851 nautical miles in 6 days and 5 hours, despite 18 hours spent hove-to during the hours of darkness. A fast but rough passage.
NB: Our internet access is through the satellite phone so we will post only a few small photos. Back in Stanley we will post the 'best of South Georgia'.