Today I invited the crew to get their own back at the lies and treachery that has been aimed at them through my blogs. The following is their take on the expedition so far:
It would be a lie to say I was mildly apprehensive about this trip. Having only met The Boss for a brief chat over a glass of wine and dinner in London in September, his sanity (or otherwise) was as yet unproven. After spending time on South Georgia and having met many high-latitude yachtsmen, I was aware that steel or aluminium hulls were the norm for visiting areas where the charting of hazards is less than comprehensive, and where ice poses a risk too ephemeral to appear on charts. I even knew of some strong wooden boats that had visited the Antarctic. But fibreglass? However I shouldn’t have worried. Mina2 is a strong boat, and since we left Ushuaia on New Year’s Day I have had no reservations about the suitability of the vessel to the task. The sanity of the skipper, and indeed the rest of the crew, however, remains to be tested…
I have grown up with tales of the Antarctic since I was very small. My father worked for the British Antarctic Survey in the 1970s when sledges were dog-powered and there were no women south of Cape Horn. After I left university, I also worked for BAS, spending thirty months at the sub-Antarctic biological research station on Bird Island, from where I returned in June 2010, so I have experienced the wildlife, icebergs, and 9000ft mountains draped with enormous glaciers. However, no amount of photographs and stories have softened the experience for me, and each day I continue to be overwhelmed by the things we see on this voyage.
My only previous experience of seasickness came whilst crossing the Minch from Ullapool to Stornoway in a force 7, when rather than being out in the fresh air, I chose to sit down below and attempt to seduce other crew members with Oasis and Travis songs strummed on a badly-tuned guitar, resulting in a swift dash to the heads. But the sea conditions as we left Bahia Nassau (AKA Bahia Nausea) and emerged from the shelter of Cape Horn left me feeling rather off-colour to say the least, for 24hrs. But the sun emerged, the wind moderated, Venetia’s ‘special pills’ (whatever they were…) worked their magic, and the albatrosses made for a captivating distraction from the queasiness. By the time we crossed the 60th parallel, everyone was feeling fine again.
Deception Island was a fascinating first Antarctic landfall. Exploring the old BAS base and whaling station and seeing other crew members meet their first penguin and seal made the whole visit feel very special. Personally I would have felt unfulfilled had Peter and I not managed a dip in the volcanically warm waters so was grateful to Tim for allowing us a pause at Pendulum Cove to wallow like seals in the shallows, before heading across the Bransfield Strait.
My interest in the polar regions relates largely to the animals that live here, all associated with the seas surrounding the frozen continent (as on land there is very little habitat to support life), so seeing our first humpback whales in the Gerlache Strait was a big moment. But my highlight of the trip until now was the hour or so spent in the company of two minke whales in Wilhelmina Bay, en route to Cuverville Island. A whale almost as long as the boat rolling on its side and looking you in the eye is enough to stir up considerable emotion. Even more so when you capture it on camera! Although, no amount of photographs and stories will ever be able to transcribe to friends at home about just what this place is like.
We’ve just arrived at Gabriel Gonzales Videla base, a Chilean research station in Paradise Harbour, and tomorrow we’ll visit the Argentines at Almirante Brown base. I’m excited to see how the other nations live in the Antarctic, following my experiences with BAS.
Thereafter, although restricted by weather, sea ice conditions and our own abilities, we should have another week of exploring. Every day we’ve spent down here has thrown incredible sights at us (this morning’s highlight was a humpback whale coming within 50yds of Mina2 whilst at anchor off Cuverville Island!) and I look forward to it continuing. I know I am not going to want to leave Antarctica when the time comes, so I must find ways of returning. Better get saving for that (metal-hulled) boat of my own!
Firstly, I want to put the record straight: Ben, Emma’s fiancé, is a lawyer but does not specialise in libel – sorry Tim. The truth of the matter is that everything is SO amazing here that there has been no need to exaggerate or tell stories to make the blog more interesting. It is just impossible to describe how incredible this place is, words are just not enough. To be here in a yacht is just all the more special. The Minke Whales “playing” with us was a highlight, they were just so close to us for so long. At the same time we were surrounded by scenery you cannot imagine, but that was not all, there were seals on the ice flows and penguins around us in the sea and before very long we saw Hump Back Whales too. Talk about sensory overload! As always a huge thank you , Tim, for all the hard work you have put in to make this happen. This blog really only needed one word WOW!
Having come off ice watch (at anchor, armed with a good book) at 4am this morning I had a well deserved lie in but, much as we have got to take a caring interest in each others welfare, even I was a bit taken aback when, as I belatedly appeared for my porridge the skip enquired “Now how’s your little Pinkie Richard?”
My response, “Err……” showed a shameful lack of gratitude for yesterday I dropped a rock on my finger (as one does out sailing) and Tim produced a most impressive First aid kit which not only sorted out my finger but has temporarily exempted me from washing up duties.
More seriously Mina2 has looked after us magnificently, in good part thanks to being so well prepared by Tim for the not inconsiderable challenges – and most importantly we are a happy crew.
Penguins stink. They don’t mention that on Frozen Planet but the truth is that really they smell completely repellent. Thank goodness they’re also incredibly CUTE! Even when they’re stealing little rocks from each other’s nests they look kind of adorable. But it’s not just penguins that we’ve seen. As previously mentioned, we also saw whales. In an attempt to film them underwater I managed to snap one of our only iceberg-poking poles (I’m not sure if this is their official name but I think it is). That means that we’ve resorted to fending off huge chunks of ice from smashing into the boat’s hull using a shard of pole the size of a cricket bat. Still, all is very well indeed (and I got the whale footage too). This place really is unbelievable. I’d become so focused on the crossing of Drake’s Passage that I’d sort of forgotten about the fact that two weeks cruising around Antarctica awaited us at the other side but ever since we arrived we’ve been met with an endless stream of amazing experiences. I can’t begin to imagine what the next ten days will bring. And hopefully I’ll have got used to the penguin stench by then too.