Mina2 Skippers Reunited – Antarc tic Crew Emotional Departure
Position: 54:48.8S 068:18.36W, Ushuaia
Date: 28 January 2012
Sorry to have deserted you all for the last few days, but there’s been a lot going on. Yes, I’m afraid we did hit the Micalvi for the second night in a row for a further top up of pisco sours and, yes, we did wake up the following morning with more hangovers. But the cobwebs were brushed aside with what promised to be a light walk up the hill behind Puerto Williams called Cerro Bandera – Flag Hill. From the Micalvi you could see the tiny little Chilean flag fluttering at the top of the hill – it didn’t seem too far away.
Off we set along river tumbling down the valley and past beaver dams until we started heading up the hill. We found the track surprisingly steep for a while, until it got steeper still. Up the hill the track twisted, higher and higher and steeper and steeper. After an hour and a half of torture we were surprised to burst through the tree line where at last we could see our destination. As we craned our necks upwards, the tiny fluttering flag was now much bigger but seemed just as far away. After two hours we eventually reached the flag which, in reality turned out to be monstrously large. We met a couple of guys who said if we went just a little further to the TRUE summit, we would be greeted by the most spectacular 360 degree panorama. The true summit turned out to be a little further than we had anticipated and after three hours of solid climbing – 960 metres – we crested the very last crest and there, before us and all around us, was the most stunning view imaginable stretching more than 50 miles in each direction. On the one side we could see the Beagle Channel stretching from the Le Maire Strait to the mountains well beyond Ushuaia and on the other side a magnificent panorama of sharp-peaked snow-topped mountains, valleys and lakes. It was breathtaking. Whilst soaking in this spectacle, two enormous condors – comparatively rare this far east - glided towards us and hovered overhead. We returned to the Micalvi after six hours of hard walking, completely exhausted.
But no time for rest. We were to leave early the following morning on our very last passage of the cruise, bound for Ushuaia in Argentina 25 miles up the Beagle Channel where we were to be greeted by the Downstairs Skipper and our daughter Selina. During the three days we had been in Puerto Williams more boats had arrived. We were on the inside tied up to the Micalvi, but three other boats were now rafted up outside us. Close in front of us and behind us were also rafts of yachts four deep. They would not appreciate being woken at 0600 to let us out, so there was going to be a big manoeuvre with all the boats outside us untying and letting us out, and then we were all to return in a different order with us on the outside. All the other boats managed to get out between the narrow gap left by the boats in front of us and behind us. Now it was our turn.
It was drinks time and all the crews from all the other yachts were enjoying the late afternoon sun on their decks, glass in hand, assessing the skill of each skipper in extricating his boat from the melee of parked yachts. We started the engine, slipped our lines and started the tricky manoeuvre of going backwards and forwards, slowly turning the boat. I control the engine speed and direction with a handle by the wheel, pushing it backwards and forwards. As I was executing the 25-point turn, something rather awkward happened. The all-important handle came away in my hand. There I was, in reverse gear, moving at quite a lick and heading for a yacht just a few feet away with no way of stopping the boat (boats have no brakes). All I could do was turn the engine off, wave the handle in my hand and scream “I have no control”. The embarrassing reality of the situation was immediately picked up by everybody. As my crew threw themselves to the back of the boat to try and fend us off the boat we were rapidly approaching, the bubble of conversation on the other yachts immediately ceased and every head turned towards us. Everyone in a “marina” loves a disastrous cock-up to liven up the evening. As we were straddled awkwardly across the moored boats, I flew down below to grab a few tools, an assortment of bolts and some gaffer tape and feverishly started to effect a temporary fix. What seemed to me like hours later, but was probably just a few minutes, I gingerly started the engine again and holding the tentatively repaired control stick in both hands whilst turning the wheel with my feet, we completed the manoeuvre.
All the boats involved then returned one by one and, last of all, we backed in again and tied ourselves on the outside of the raft. Minutes later, as I was doing a more permanent repair to the control handle, another boat trying to leave Puerto Williams went aground in the shallow water just opposite us. Two cock-ups in one evening. The voyeurs were delighted. Mina2 went to the rescue. We dropped our dinghy and took a line to the stranded boat and tugged her off with our winches. So at least we managed to claw back a little credit after our earlier humiliation.
Early the following morning we left Puerto Williams for the four hour final passage to Ushuaia. The Downstairs Skipper, and our wayward daughter Selina had arrived in Ushuaia the evening before to welcome us back from our epic adventure. As we sailed towards Ushuaia, we could see two tiny figures on the quayside waving handkerchiefs, and as the figures got larger we could see a large banner between them, proclaiming. “YOU’VE MADE IT MINA2!!!! WELL DONE!!”. I have to admit I was having to brush the odd tear of emotion aside as we approached the quay and tied up. Peter and I sprang ashore and into the arms of Maria and Selina. Completely out of character for a rough and tough veteran Antarctican, but by this time I was trying not to blub like a baby. The two Skippers of Mina2 and both our children were reunited once more.
Since our arrival, we have had a hectic time whilst the ever-energetic Richard has been trying to cram in as much as possible in the 36 hours before he, Venetia and Ewan were to fly back to Buenos Aires on the first leg of their long journey home.
After lunch today, the awful moment arrived when the bags were packed, the taxi was waiting and Peter and I had to say an emotional goodbye to our shipmates. We had together braved the most vicious seas in the world to visit the most remote, spectacularly beautiful but potentially treacherous continent at the uttermost end of the earth, well beyond the reach of any rescue services. The sights we have seen, the wildlife we have encountered and the adventure we have shared can never be repeated and will never be forgotten by any of us. This is the story we will be telling our grandchildren.
Without my incredibly competent crew it could never have happened, and without them it would not have been half as much fun. I owe all of you: Peter, Ewan, Richard and Venetia an enormous debt, and give to you my heartfelt thanks for making my dream come true.