Across Drake's Lake

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Fri 11 Feb 2011 15:11


Date: 11 February 2011

Position: 56:31S 066:00W 50 miles SE of Cape Horn


At 0700 this morning after making our way 100 miles through the channels of Tierra del Fuego, we passed Cape Horn and headed into the dreaded Drake Passage. As one would expect having passed through the Roaring Forties and now being well into the Furious Fifties, the winds have been ferocious and the seas mountainous and dangerous – NOT!


In fact, disappointingly, we’ve been motoring the entire time so far with winds light to moderate (10 – 25 knots), unusually from the south east which is roughly the direction we are going in, so not very helpful. Unfortunately we didn’t have the thrill of seeing Cape Horn as it was about thirty miles to our West but we’re all hoping conditions will allow us to see the Horn close up as we pass it on our way back.


It’s now become quite chilly, hovering about 10ºC and with the chill factor I’ve certainly needed to be experimenting with my new wardrobe of merino wool thermals, hats and gloves. The sky is leaden grey with no sign of the sun and it is drizzling. We have a very long two metre Southern Ocean swell.


So pretty miserable you might think. Well not actually. Pelagic Australis has been designed for high latitude sailing and most of the time those on watch are lounging around in the large, comfy, cosy wheel house with enormous panoramic windows. So not exactly being exposed to the elements – it will be different on Mina2!! We’re expecting (and certainly hoping for) the wind to go west later today, so we can start sailing properly, but the forecast is for the winds to remain relatively light (for these waters) until Sunday when we are expecting a gale from the east.


Our hope is to pass the South Shetland Islands (go on, get your atlas out!) to our east, through Boyd Strait and then to make our way south east to Deception Island  which is actually the horse shoe-shaped caldera of a still active volcano (last erupted in the 1970’s). But the idea of hammering into a gale and big seas for 35 miles doesn’t appeal, and also Deception Island is not a good anchorage in a strong wind, so we may heave to (basically, just stop the boat and bob around) just northwest of the South Shetlands and sit the gale out for 12 hours or so before continuing. Our ETA is therefore more likely to be Monday morning.


As far as the temperature is concerned, whilst a lot more chilly than it has been, it will get a lot colder still. There is a line in the water around Antarctica where the warm waters of the Atlantic and Pacific meet the icy waters of Antarctica. This is the Antarctic Convergence and when you pass through it both sea and air temperature plummet, so out with the balaclavas and another layer or two will go on until I will look like the Michelin man.


Meanwhile, I’ve got the bird book in one hand and the binoculars in the other identifying all the new (to me) Antarctic birds. This morning I saw my first albatross, a magnificent Wandering Albatross, one of the biggest birds in the world with a 12 ft wingspan. Since then we have seen  Black Browed Albatrosses, Sooty Sheerwaters, Wilson’s Storm Petrels (sweet little birds that rush around rather than gliding like the others) and Antarctic Skuas. Plenty more to come.