Approaching the Half Way Point
Position: 60:45.5S 066:30.3W
Date / Time: 20 January 0630 (0930 UTC)
As I type, we are 230 miles from the Melchior Islands with a further 300 miles before we round Cape Horn and make our way into the channels of Tierra Del Fuego. So far no dramas. We’ve had some cracking good sailing in stiffish winds but right now we are motoring in less than 10 knots of wind coming from the north (where we want to go) as the centre of a depression passes over us bringing light and variable winds. But the wind should fill in again from slightly north of west by about lunchtime.
The moment we stuck our noses out into Drake Passage all our old friends who we hadn’t seen for a couple of weeks came to greet us and accompany us on our perilous passage. Black-browed albatross swooped around us in their never-ending effortless glide whilst everyone’s favourites, the pretty black and white speckled Cape Petrels, fluttered around in flocks, landing in the water beside us with a patter of their webbed feet, before taking off as one to circle the boat and land again.
The days had been rapidly shortening in Antarctica and, as we head north, they are shortening even more. Last night we had our first proper bit of darkness and as each night of the passage passes they will get progressively long.
It is still cold as we have not yet passed through the Antarctic Convergence where the (comparatively) warm waters of the Atlantic and Pacific meet the ice cold waters of Antarctica. Some people have emailed asking me how we cope with the cold.
This has been an unusually cold summer for the peninsula. Generally the daytime temperature on deck has been a fraction above freezing and the temperature at what passes for night at a little below. If there is any wind the chill factor is considerable and in a good blow it can be cripplingly cold unless you are well prepared. Down below without the heating on it is about 8 C generated by a combination of body heat and engine / generator heat. We have a diesel burning heater on board which blows hot air into the cabins. As we need to conserve diesel we only have the blowers on in the main saloon (in the cabins if you are cold you can get into your sleeping bag), and we have been able to run the heater for a few hours in the evening before and after dinner, and perhaps an hour or two in the morning as everyone is getting up and having breakfast. With the heater on, it is still chilly by most standards at about 14C, but it’s toasty warm for us.
There is a saying “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. We have all gone to a lot of trouble making sure that we have clothing that is up to the conditions. Most of us have thermal underwear, long johns and long sleeved vests, of merino wool which is one of the warmest materials by weight and doesn’t start smelling like some man made fibres. Richard has gone his own way on this one and wears silk underwear instead. For the rest of us, perhaps a warm woollen shirt on top of the thermals and then the Weezle suit. These are specialist one-piece suits made to wear under divers’ dry suits for diving in freezing water. It’s a bit like wearing a thick tailored sleeping bag, but they are incredibly warm and absolutely perfect for these conditions. Peter and I bought them specially for the trip; Ewan already had a suit as he is a diver, Venetia, as a more lady friendly alternative to the one-piece, bought a pair of down trousers. Richard has gone his own exotic way on this one and has his extraordinary green Special Forces one-piece with all sorts of interesting zips and orifices. As for the extremities, out of the cabin almost all of us all of the time wear neck-warmers, gloves and hats. If there is a wind blowing, you will need a balaclava and if it is snowing then you’ll need ski goggles as well. As for the feet, normal sailing boots, however lah-de-dah and expensive, would be incredibly cold – their soles are simply not thick enough to insulate your feet from the freezing decks. So we all have industrial boots worn in freezer warehouses with soles an inch and a half thick and steel reinforced toes. These are worn both on deck and ashore. They’ve worked out very well.
But there’s no doubt you also acclimatise to the cold and whereas to begin with hauling in the long wet shore lines was always done with a pair or two of gloves, you will often see us hauling them in now with bare hands – it’s simply easier.
In cold weather, you also eat a lot more than you normally do, with a heavy emphasis on lots of fat (butter is spread like cheese here) and starch. In the Falklands I bought half a ton of chocolates and biscuits. Venetia is now having to ration them. Lots of hot drinks are consumed with, in Venetia’s case, a couple of healthy slugs of whatever she finds in the drinks cabinet as an additional warmer.
More on the special conditions of Antarctic expeditions tomorrow. Must grab some sleep.