The Great Adventure Begins

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Mon 2 Jan 2012 09:35

Position: 54:56.10S 067:37.107W

Puerto Williams, Chile

Date: 1 January 2012


After eight days of wonderful, warm relaxation over Christmas with the DS, Selina and Peter in Buenos Aires, and after a moving send-off party organised by Selina and her friends (hand-made bunting spelling “Buen Viaje”, origami sailors hats and a dubiously named but delicious cloudy cocktail called “Peter’s Jolly Seamen”), Peter and I met Venetia and Ewan at the airport on Wednesday for our 3 ½ hour flight to Ushuaia.   As we flew over the Beagle Channel on our final approach, it was clear that a serious storm was in progress with large breaking waves sweeping up the channel. Welcome to the Furious Fifties guys!


The first challenge was to get to Mina2 on her mooring via the AFASyN club launch before the marinero went off duty at 2000. The plane landed late at 1930, so Venetia and I legged it out of the airport and caught a taxi, leaving Peter and Ewan to retrieve our baggage. We made it with 3 minutes to spare. Bringing Mina2 alongside the jetty in screaming squalls of 40 knots without wrecking her was the second challenge but somehow we made it.


Within minutes, Saint Roxanna of Ushuaia was rushing down the pontoon to greet us, and to deliver the depressing news that the batteries I had ordered before I left for Christmas had not, as promised, been delivered on Tuesday and would not be delivered until Friday. Hey ho. Situation normal. It had become clear on our Falklands cruise that my batteries were on the verge of exhaustion and that the cold temperatures of the Antarctic were likely to be the final straw. If your batteries collapse then so does the ability, amongst other things, to use the autopilot (so we would be hand-steering in bitter conditions right the way across Drake Passage) or, much more importantly, use the communications systems from which we get our wind forecasts and to send our blogs to our adoring but demanding public. Going south without new batteries was unthinkable, but so too was the idea that after four years of planning and a limited time window available for our Antarctic cruise that the cruise be deferred.


Apart from the batteries, the other major task was the provisioning for the trip. I had already carried out a massive shop in the Falklands stocking up with all the things not available in Argentina including Mars bars, Fig Rolls, bacon, Colman’s mustard, Scott’s porridge oats, good flour for baking bread etc and, not least, boxed wine which is so much easier and space efficient to transport compared to bottles. You may recall that whilst I had been able to purchase a modest 60 litres of white boxed wine in Stanley, I had been shattered to find that no red had been available.


Venetia had already taken control of the provisioning, had drawn up a massively long list and took Peter off to the supermarkets, butchers and wine merchants. Later in the day they returned with trollies full of even more porridge and risotto rice, an entire dead sheep, but only 21 bottles of red wine. I was appalled and immediately sent them back out to try and trade half a ton of porridge for another 50 bottles of red wine. A compromise was reached. But even so, I’m afraid that to keep sufficient supplies for me, I’m going to have to ration the crew to no more than two bottles of wine per person per day. Venetia will find this particularly hard.


Talking of Venetia, when she arrived she was massively overweight – not in the same way that Linda became on the Falklands cruise; I’m referring to Venetia’s luggage. It was like she had gold bars tucked away in her underwear. The truth became apparent when she unpacked two large tins of her legendary fruit cake that is so saturated in liquor that after more than one slice you are incapable of taking a watch. A valuable contribution to crew morale given the appalling lack of wine.


I was particularly delighted to find that on the yacht club jetty was Pelagic Australis and Miles, Laura and Dave who had taken me down to Antarctica in February for a recce. After our first day’s hard labour provisioning and getting the boat ready, we invited the three of them on board for a few serious gins.


On Friday, Saint Roxanna arrived with yet more bad news about the batteries. They certainly wouldn’t arrive before Saturday, and if they hadn’t turned up by midday we wouldn’t get them until Tuesday because everything would shut down for the New Year celebrations.


Richard Close-Smith, the last of our crew also arrived on Friday, wafting in with his silk underwear two days after all the hard work had been done. To compensate, I have put him on heads cleaning duties for the duration of the cruise, cleaning the loos with his own toothbrush until they gleam.


Meanwhile, Peter had noticed that Able Seadog Snoopy was looking slightly odd with his head lolling around at a strange angle. We looked under his little neck-warmer and discovered to our horror that he had a gash in his skin so serious he was in danger of losing his head entirely. Both Venetia and Ewan have been on some heavyweight First Aid courses and immediately scrubbed up and took charge. Venetia was to be the surgeon and Ewan the anaesthetist. Ewan gently put a rag soaked in whisky over Snoopy’s nose and the little fella, trying ever so hard to be brave but whimpering slightly, slowly drifted into unconsciousness. Venetia straight away was in there, suturing like crazy whilst Ewan monitored the vital functions. It was touch and go but Snoopy pulled through and is now back again in his Vicar of Bray bowl looking as chipper as ever.


Snoopy was not the only animal having problems on the boat. It is traditional that boats heading to Antarctica take an entire lamb or two as part of their provisions, hanging them in the rigging where they stay in prime condition as it is so cold. The problem was that Ushuaia had been, over the previous two days, abnormally warm. We tried to get Dolly, as our lamb is called, in the shade but even so she is smelling quite gamey already. I suspect that choice cuts off her will be making an early entry to the roasting tin.


Saturday morning arrived and still no news of the batteries. At 1140 I got a call from Saint Roxanna. “They’ve arrived, but you’ve got to get to the shop before midday to pay for them or they will be shut”. I called a taxi and, with Peter in tow as translator, we sped to the battery shop with five minutes to spare. After quite a struggle carting half a ton of batteries onto the boat and half a ton of dead batteries off the boat, we got them installed, wired up, and I am delighted to say that they seem to be functioning perfectly.


So with everything now in place we were ready to leave at first light the following morning – New Year’s Day. But before New Year’s Day comes New Year’s Eve. Party time. Venetia cooked a succulent dinner of roast chicken after which we took a bottle of champagne to the boat of some Norwegian friends for a party. Just before midnight we assembled on the jetty along with everyone else, armed with glasses of champagne and a bundle of time expired distress rocket flares (it is impossible to get rid of them legally these days). At the stroke of midnight rocket after rocket shot into the night sky (what there is of it this far south) and exploded into a bright crimson glow. I pity anyone who was genuinely in distress and letting off a flare at that moment.


This morning we were up bright and early and trooping off to the Prefectura and customs for the laborious two hour process of clearing out of Argentina. That done we cast off and headed 25 miles east up the Beagle Channel to Puerto Williams in Chile to clear in (if you don’t clear in to Chile you can’t use their bays north of Cape Horn as a safe haven, and nor can you visit Cape Horn if the opportunity arises). After all the stress of repairs, battery replacement and provisioning, I can’t tell you what a relief it was to get going at last. We had a fantastic sail down the Channel, broad grins on all our faces, to arrive at Puerto Williams at 1430.


Puerto Williams is a very small town, largely consisting of a naval base. It is famous for being the most southerly town in the world, and also famous amongst sailors for being the jumping off point for Antarctica. The hub for the yachts is the yacht club which consists of an old, grounded munitions ship called the Micalvi against which all the yachts tie up. On our arrival I was surprised to find very few yachts there – I suppose some had already set off for Antarctica since Christmas – and there was not a person in sight. The town has 2264 residents but in the four hours we were there, apart from officials we only saw a couple of other people. I suppose they were all at home cradling their heads after a night of drinking pisco sours.


It took us another three hours to clear into Chile, after which with a good weather window forecast for the crossing to Antarctica, we were ready to cast off and head for Cape Horn and the infamous Drake Passage!