The Unreachable Star Has been Re ached – and a Burial At Sea
Position: 55:16.4S 067:05.0W
Date / Time: 23 January Gin o’clock (Tea time UTC)
Having survived the infamous Drake Passage twice, rounded Cape Horn in a Force 10 and had the most unbelievable cruise of Antarctica for two weeks, the dream has come true; the Unreachable Star has been reached. As we sat in the anchorage yesterday whilst 58 knot (Force 11) winds tried unsuccessfully to drag our anchor out of the seabed, we all reflected on our life-changing experience over the last four weeks. Whilst Peter and Ewan will have the chance of even greater challenges in the future, nothing can match this – the greatest adventure of Mina2. I believe I’m right in saying that more people climb Everest every year than the total number who have ever sailed to Antarctica in a private sailing boat without the support of ice pilots or professional crew. It is an achievement we can all be proud of.
We owe a lot to the boat. No glass fibre boat, designed more for the Mediterranean than Antarctica, is an ideal vessel for the particular risks of navigating in ice. However in Mina2 we have an incredibly strong boat, well-designed to cope with the tough conditions we encountered. Even during the Force 10 rounding of Cape Horn, we all felt absolutely confident that Mina2 would not let us down. And she did not. She is a fantastic boat and I am one very, very proud owner.
Nor could our epic adventure been achieved without the wonderful crew I’ve had with me. Richard, Venetia, Peter and Ewan all have their strengths and no discernible weaknesses. As a team I believe none could be stronger, and this has made my job so much easier. And as a bunch of people all with completely different personalities we have all got on just incredibly well. We have had the most unbelievable time not just individually but together, and that has enhanced the experience for us all.
The crew have all looked after me unbelievably well. Solicitous to a fault, I’m hardly allowed to do anything. If I was enjoying a spell at the wheel in a strong wind and a big following sea, screaming along under full main and a poled out yankee, drink in hand, Ewan would grab the wheel and say “Why don’t you take a break, Skipper, and let me helm for a while. Five minutes at the wheel in these conditions can be very tiring”. Richard volunteered to plan the watch rota (who is on watch and when). I observed that he had not included me, leaving all the work to Richard and the others. “That’s right Skipper” said Richard “that way you will be fresh and ready to take command in the case of any emergency”. When we were all going ashore in the dinghy and having to negotiate some thick brash ice, Peter all but wrenched the outboard tiller from me and said “Come on Dad, I’ll do the driving – why don’t you sit there and enjoy the view”. And whenever I come out of my cabin I always find Venetia with a bottle of gin in her hand. “Ah” she would say “I thought you were about to join us Shkipper. Let me pour you a gin and tonic”. The other day I was thanking them for looking after me so well. “Anybody would think you didn’t trust me to do anything on this boat” I said. My, how they all laughed – a little longer and harder than I thought was strictly necessary. And I’m not sure I didn’t notice some awkward glances being exchanged between them.
Today we had to perform our first burial at sea. It was a sombre and formal occasion. The body (or what sadly remained of it) was placed on a board, the RCC burgee respectfully covering the corpse. We all mustered on the poop deck. Hats off and heads bowed, a few words of devotion and gratitude to the life of the deceased were said before a salute was sounded on the bosun’s whistle. The board was lowered and the backbone and tale of poor Dolly was committed to the deep.
Mind you, we damned nearly had another burial at sea a few days ago. In the middle of some thick weather in the Drake Passage, Peter was at the helm. All of a sudden, there was whistling noise and a very long, very heavy piece of solid stainless steel with a sharpened point at the end came whistling down from the very top of the mast from which it had detached itself, shot past Peter’s head and impaled itself in the deck. As Richard said “That would have been an uncomfortable call to the Downstairs Skipper”. Must remember to check the masthead fittings more often.
Having been stormbound in Caleta Martial for 24 hours, the forecast suggested that today the wind would abate a bit and back round to the southwest for a few hours before coming in super strong again from the west. This was the only opportunity we would have to escape for the next few days. So we were up early and at 0630 we raised the anchor and headed north for the 75 mile penultimate passage to Puerto Williams. As I type this blog we are half way across Bahia Nassau (aka Bahia Nausea) having just had an amazing visitation from a school of 15-18 Peale’s dolphins who put on a spectacular display of gymnastics, just like they did when we were coming through the Strait of Le Maire, leaping out of the water and twisting and turning before splashing back into the water again. Magic moments.