Antarctic Adventure - Summary, Accolades and Conclusions
Date: 08 March 2011
Position: 34:20.854S 058 30.784W San Isidro, Buenos Aires
I’ve been back in Buenos Aires for less than a week (well, actually, I’m back in Punta Del Este in Uruguay after a rather trying 2 ½ day passage on Mina2 beating into strong head winds and a steep, choppy sea, but that’s another story). I was on a complete high for a couple of days, but already my adventure to Antarctica seems like a wonderful surreal dream. Looking at the hundreds of photographs brings it all rushing back. A fantastic adventure that will stay in my memory for the rest of my life: crossing the infamous Drake Passage; the wonder and awe of the spectacular Antarctic coast line; navigating through spectacular icebergs; the birds, penguins, seals, whales; rounding (and landing on) legendary Cape Horn. It has all been unbelievable and, for me, a deeply moving and emotional experience. I am very fortunate.
However, the principal purpose of the trip was as a reconnaissance and familiarisation exercise to assess whether Mina2 and I might be up for the trip next year. The professional crew of three of Pelagic Australis all worked tirelessly to make the cruise a truly memorable event for all of us. As a skipper myself, and having taken in some challenging long cruises in my time, I know how much work is involved in the planning, provisioning, navigating, sailing and maintaining the boat. On top of that is delivering an experience for one’s crew (whether paying clients or guests, it is the same) that is as safe as possible whilst being interesting and challenging. The crew on Pelagic Australis did a simply brilliant job and I learnt a great deal from them (some past crew of Mina2 would say and about time too).
But knowing my agenda of wanting to accumulate as much knowledge and information as possible, they were also incredibly generous with their time and expertise in talking about and demonstrating the specialist equipment that one needs for an extreme trip like this; the techniques of how and when it should be deployed, and explaining the risks of sailing in these areas and how to minimise those risks. It has been invaluable knowledge and I have returned with literally pages and pages of notes.
So who are these paragons, Miles the Skipper, his partner Laura as First Mate and Dave as Second Mate?
Miles is a Yorkshire farmer by upbringing. Delightfully laid back (he is not a shouty skipper as my mother would say) he is very relaxed but at the same time constantly alert as to what is going on around him – with the weather, the boat, the crew, the environment. Immensely experienced he is a true professional in the way he runs the boat and inspires great confidence in his crew and guests (unlike some skippers Mina2’s guests could mention). One of the great treats for me on this trip was, for once, being able to completely relax, having to assume no skipperly responsibilities or suffer the occasional associated anxieties. I was in Miles hands and they were a safe pair of hands. Being a country lad he also has a great love of and knowledge of nature and wildlife which he passed on to us. It really enhanced our experience. Kind and generous he was also a great host. Brilliant guy.
Miles at the wheel as we leave the Beagle Channel
Popping the champagne on our landing on the Antarctic mainland
Preparing for a VERY cold swim to clear a fouled propellor
Laura is a perfect foil for Miles. A great partnership in every way. Constantly cheerful and chatty, Laura never stopped smiling – well, almost never. She nearly lost the plot on only one occasion, when someone trampled mud on her pristine sole boards minutes after she had scrubbed them immaculately clean (which she seemed to do several times a day). But it was only for a split second before composure and happiness returned. After which she went off with a bucket, screwdriver and rubber gloves, with a spring in her step and a smile on her face, to unblock the loo. I’ve never seen that before. Laura is without fear. She cut her teeth on the winning boat in the BT Global Challenge around-the-world-the wrong-way race – and she loved every terrifying minute. See this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXuzy0k9mZQ . If that is your benchmark, then nothing fazes you very much. It would be she who would be the first to rush down the deck in 60 knots of wind, icy green water smashing over the foredeck, to wrestle with a whiplashing torn headsail, pausing only to apologise politely for having trampled on you on the way (Benenden girl – impeccable manners). I mentioned in an earlier blog her classic comment on our first day in Antarctica, when walking ashore and we were confronted by some potentially dangerous Fur Seals: “Oh, we’re just about to be charged by some Fur Seals. How cool is that?” And it was Laura who brought the essential and civilising feminine touch to our otherwise male community – a feminine touch that was so clearly lacking in Miles. She’s an unassuming heroine bundled into a fun-loving, warm, and great personality.
Laura receives a belated Christmas present in Puerto Williams
Laura with a penguin and Dave
Cutting a shoulder off Dolly the Sheep for dinner
Then there’s Dave. In his mid-20’s, he had packed in a load of racing, and done deliveries of yachts professionally before joining Miles and Laura for the extreme cruises to South Georgia, the Falklands and Antarctica. So he was already a very experienced sailor. Whilst able and willing to do everything that needed doing on the boat (including cooking some memorable meals) he, as he saw it, specialised in the fun bits – tearing around in the Zodiac, climbing high into the rigging, picking out the clearest ice floating around for the G&T’s etc. And he was never able to wipe the grin off his face wondering how he had found himself being able to do all of this, and was being paid for it as well. His youthful enthusiasm was infectious and he was simply enormous fun to be with.
Dave looking cool in the Zodiac
Looking cool in the rigging
Looking cool flaking the main
As a team they worked brilliantly well together. I learnt an enormous amount from all three of them and I owe them a great debt.
So will I be bringing Mina2 down to Antarctica next year? Few private boats venture this far south. Sailing in these conditions is not a game. It is tough on the boat and tough on the crew. This is not a place for amateurs. And, having now seen it for myself, I agree. To come here I would have to be slightly deranged. Mina2 is not ideal. She is made of glass – not metal. She has inadequate heating and insufficient insulation. It will be bitterly cold – far colder than on the specially built Pelagic Australis. But Mina2 is a strong boat that I will make stronger. She will be equipped by me for the conditions to a professional level. And now I have had some experience of the crossing and the conditions in Antarctica, I will be able to go there with a great deal more knowledge and confidence.
One experienced sailor in Buenos Aires said to me “Antarctica. A beautiful place - but not a place to take a boat you love”. Well, I love Mina2 as much as anyone can love a living and breathing composition of glass, resin, wood and metal. I have discussed the matter with her and she has told me that she would not forgive me if I didn’t take her. So that’s it. Game on. Whether we make it there (and back) – who knows, but the serious preparations start here.