All hands piped on board - ready for the off
Date: 10 February 2011
Position: 54:56.10S 067:37.125W Puerto Williams, Chile
I,ve just ried to send a blog by satellite phone with pics but not sure if it got through, so here are the words only!:
Yesterday evening we cast off from the pontoon in Ushuaia to travel 25 miles west down the Beagle Channel to Puerto Williams in Chile, where the rest of my fellow shipmates were to come on board.
As a highly lucrative money making exercise, the Argentines introduced a rule whereby no boat bigger than 50 tons (which is about a 70 foot yacht) can leave or enter a harbour in Patagonia without a pilot on board. Chile have recently tit-for-tatted and have applied the same rule. The owners of 70 foot plus yachts are either owned by wealthy individuals or they are professional charter boats, like Pelagic Australis. The pilot comes on board for about 20 minutes, needs to do nothing (because the pilotage into both Ushuaia and Puerto Williams could be mastered by a three-year old), and then is taken off by the pilot boat. So it is a farce but a pricey one, as the cost is phenomenal. To leave Ushuaia and enter Puerto Williams the pilotage fee was about £5,000. Unbelievable.
But not my problem. I was in seventh heaven. The day had been incredibly warm with a temperature of about 27ºC – normally it is about 12º at this time of year. The locals, who are all conditioned to wear thermals and quilted jackets every day of the year were exposing their pale skins to the sun for the first time in years. We left the harbour with the sun low on the horizon throwing a beautiful soft yellow light onto the beach tree and conifer lined hills behind. Above the tree line, snow still lay in pockets on the mountains. The Beagle Channel is more wild and beautiful than I thought possible, and for me, this first small step on the adventure to come was quite emotional.
We arrived in the very small naval base town of Puerto Williams as the light was failing (about 2200) and tied up alongside the famous “Micalvi” an old rusting ex-munitions ship which now acts as a floating club house and pontoon. Most of the yachts here are professional high-latitude expedition boats or the private yachts of some of the world’s best known adventurers. I was in (for me) exalted company. The benchmarks for all these extremists are all a quantum higher than they are for other mortals. Anywhere else and a wind of 30 knots is pretty strong; 40 knots is very strong and a 50 knot wind is almost never experienced without a loosening of the bowels. For these brave heroes, they hardly consider a 40 knot gale to be a proper sailing wind, and they don’t really raise an eyebrow at anything less than about 60 knots. They talk nonchalantly about sailing over to South Georgia, the Falklands and Antarctica in the roughest seas in the world like it was trip down to Tesco’s. Drinking whisky with some of these guys in the spacious saloon of Pelagic Australis is pretty humbling.
Pelagic Australis has a full-time professional crew of three. Miles Wise is the skipper. A very laid back but highly experienced and professional sailor, this will be his fourth trip to Antarctica. His first mate (and partner of about seven years) is Laura Parrish and the second mate is Dave Roberts. They are a great bunch in command of an immensely strong boat which gives one a very comfortable, safe feeling.
Laura was delighted this morning to receive a Christmas present through the post. It had been posted to the Falklands in December but arrived two days after Pelagic had left. It then went to Punta Arenas before being forwarded to Puerto Williams awaiting her arrival.
The guests other than myself is Charlie, an successful American businessman who has sailed all sorts of boats for most of his life, two Germans Nicolas and Jochin – Nicolas ownse a 62 foot Hanse back at home and has sailed with Pelagic before. And finally four Russians, Almir, Mikhail, Alex and Eugenio. Almir speaks goodish English; Mikhail a very small amount and the other two none at all. Alex and Eugenio like to spend their time shooting bears and catching fish. They have never sailed before. I hope they know what they have let themselves in for. So an unusual mix and it will be interesting to see how the crew dynamics and bonding turn out.
We leave this evening at about 1830 (2130 UK time) making our way out of the Channels overnight and we should be passing Cape Horn at first light before heading south into the infamous Drake Passage. God, I’m excited.
My Iridium phone with which I send the blog and emails cannot be plugged into the ships antenna so I have to go on deck with my computer to send anything, so I may not be able to send another blog until we reach Antarctica probably some time on Monday.