Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Fri 20 Jan 2012 00:48

Mina2 Heads North for the First Time in Six Years

Position: 61:38.26S 065:58.99W

Date / Time: 19 January 2012 2200 (20 Jan 0100 UTC)


Yesterday morning Ewan and Peter went ashore and cast off our shore lines and we swung to our anchor whilst we carried out all the work to prepare Mina2 for the return crossing of Drake Passage, including winching the dinghy onto the foredeck, deflating it and lashing it down with ratchet straps. This is something we don’t normally do. Typically we sail with the dinghy strapped under davits (like two cranes) at the back of the boat. But with the risk in these waters of being pooped and having an enormous wave crash onto the dinghy on the davits, the results would be disastrous. The whole thing took two hours, and we were ready to go. But before we got to the Drake we had one last 70 mile cruise through the islands of the peninsula through the Neumayer and Scholearts Channels, and, lastly through the Melchior Islands. This route passes spectacular avenues of mountains and enormous glaciers and you can almost guarantee to get lots of sightings of Humpback whales. Surprisingly and not as forecast, the wind died to nothing. The water was like a mirror as we motored almost the whole way. Disappointingly the visibility closed right in to no more than half a mile. We had to have the radar on to avoid the enormous icebergs that loomed out of the mist, and we could barely see the shore let alone the mountains. And not a whale to be seen.


There was a slight feeling of anticlimax on board, but as we approached the Melchior Islands in the late afternoon the mist cleared, the sun came out and there was Antarctica glistening in all her glory. A brilliant send-off to a life-changing cruise.


Once through the Melchior Islands, the long rolling swell of the Southern Ocean came in. The wind was moderate and slightly forward of the beam and we were off, for better or worse, across the Drake.


24 hours later and we are still making excellent progress and we’re now more than a quarter of the way across. The sailing has been good, although after two full weeks of being horizontal (the boat and Venetia that is) we’re having to get used to life at a 30 degree angle. Just getting to the gin bottle is like climbing Everest.


The one thing that lingers at the back of my mind are the very strong winds and waves that are forecast for the last 12 hours before we round Cape Horn and find the protection of the land. I think to an extent my anxiety is induced by the reputation of the Horn for giving you a whipping. Nor does it help having access to forecasts updated every six hours. Rather than enjoying then sailing I am tending to spend too much time hunched over the computer analysing every new forecast that comes in. In any event, this boat, now we’re out of the ice, can take anything. So can the crew. We have a really strong competent bunch on board, so perhaps I should relax more and enjoy the experience.


Apart from anything else, we have some milestones to look forward to like sailing in the South Pacific. We are heading west of our direct line to Cape Horn. A line due south of Cape Horn marks the division between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Not many of us have sailed in the South Pacific, so that will be worth a bit of a celebration, and we can put Peter and Ewan on watch for any desert islands with shapely hul-hula girls in grass skirts.  At about the same time we will passing from the Screaming Sixties to the Furious Fifties at which point we will officially be out of Antarctic Waters and we will be able to throw biodegradable rubbish overboard rather than feeding it into the narrow cap of the big bin strapped on the aft deck. For some reason Richard is obsessed by the need to throw his apple cores overboard and has felt a deep frustration that he’s been unable to do so. The reason for this rule under the Antarctic Treaty is that the water is so cold that none of the biodegrading microbes can survive here, so anything thrown in the water stays there floating around for ever.


And talking of it being too cold for anything to grow, that also applies to beards. It’s too cold to shave so we’ve all been growing beards (with the exception of Venetia – so I assume she must be shaving). But the facial hair that was positively shooting out for the first few days before we got to the Antarctic Convergence and the temperature dropped to freezing, has stopped dead in its tracks ever since. Peter’s OK because he had a beard before we set off, but the rest of us after three weeks don’t look so much like Captain Birdseye as scruffy old tramps (Richard says we probably smell like scruffy old tramps as well).