After the Shake

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Tue 3 Jan 2012 20:53

Position: 59:50S 064:56W

Drake Passage

Date/Time : 3 January 2012 1750 (10 mins to gin o’clock)


Well, yesterday was, I have to admit, rather unpleasant. The conditions were not bad by Drake standards. The wind was strong but not too strong – and it was coming from the right direction, but the movement of the waves was uncomfortable and we all felt quite rough. Venetia and Richard fared better than Peter, Ewan and me and were stalwarts in producing regular hot meals, made easier by Venetia having pre-prepared a few just before we left.


One near casualty of the lumpy conditions was Dolly the Sheep. Tied inadequately by the skipper to the backstay, she tried to make a break for freedom. She was lashing around and in the process broke the Falkland built pole on the end of which we have our kelp cutter – a sharpened dutch hoe that we use to slash away the tons of kelp from the anchor chain in the channels. Ewan rugby tackled Dolly before she finally broke free, and has now lashed her to the backstay with webbing so that she now looks like a rather bizarre decoration in an S&M parlour. Clearly in Ewan we have a man on board who, like the skipper, understands the meaning of strict discipline


The other casualty of the lumpiness was the pride of the skipper. No longer the man of steel that everyone has grown to love and respect, but a listless, pathetic character, green of hue, lacking in strength, and incapable of showing even a modicum of leadership skills. Humiliating and shameful. Venetia realised the seriousness of the situation when she asked me if I wanted my usual gin on the dot of 1200 and I declined, asking instead for a mug of weak broth. But with the help of Richard and Venetia who were suffering the least, we muscled through the crisis.


What a difference 24 hours can make. Overnight the wind moderated from 35-40 knots to 20-25 knots; the seas now consist of highish 3 ½ metre waves, but they are long ocean swells; so much more comfortable. Under all white sail, with the wind on the beam, we’ve been batting along at 7.5 to 8 knots. And then, if things weren’t perfect enough, the sun came out this morning and we’ve been basking in glorious sunshine without a cloud in the sky. Whilst we are only just half way across, this certainly is as good a Drake crossing as you could hope for.


We’re all feeling 100% now and, as Richard put it, bouncing around like Tiggers, compared to yesterday when he said we all resembled the sedated inmates of a lunatic asylum.


A big difference is the temperature which has now dropped significantly. When I started typing this blog at 0530 the water temperature had dropped to 4.6C, the outside air temperature was 6.5C and inside the boat it was 9C. So the thermals are on and are likely to stay on until we have to chip them off with a chisel. Now, the water temperature is less than 1C. The reason for this is that we have now crossed the Antarctic Convergence. This is the line which runs right round Antarctica about 250 miles offshore at which the icy melt waters of the Antarctic continent meet the warmer waters of the Atlantic and Pacific. It is like a physical brick wall. Sailing south you go to sleep at the end of one watch nice and cosy and then wake up a few hours later absolutely freezing. It represents a brick wall for some of the fauna of Antarctica as well, who cannot survive in the warmer waters.


But whilst some animals and fish cannot survive in the warmer waters, we humans cannot survive in the colder waters. If any of us were to fall overboard now, we would be unconscious within 2 minutes and dead within 5 or 10 minutes. This is less time than we would realistically be able to turn the boat round and recover any casualty. So, basically, if you fall overboard, you’re dead. As a result, falling overboard is something we’re trying to avoid – lifejackets are de rigueur all the time and no one is allowed out of the cockpit without someone else being on deck at the same time.


The next hazard will be ice – very hard stuff that can knock a hole in the boat and sink us. We’ll be talking about ice in a future blog.


The wildlife at the moment is disappointingly sparse. We had a brief visit or two from some Dusky dolphins, a few Giant petrels and a few Wandering Albatross. When the wind was up we also saw a few Wilson’s Storm Petrels flittering around. I hope that soon we will be visited by the delightful Cape Petrels or Pintado. Ewan, our resident Antarctic bird specialist thinks it may be that as most of the birds are breeding at this time of the year that they are not straying this far from their nests. I hope to see rather more as we close Antarctica.


A highlight today was at teatime when we all had our first wedge of Venetia’s divine fruitcake. Good thing it wasn’t offered yesterday or it would have been feeding the fishes.


Sorry it has taken a bit of time to get the blog out today, but I’ve had my head in the engine room most of the afternoon attending to the Whispergen (our generator) which we use to recharge all the new batteries and which had decided to pack up, I think because of the dirty Argentine diesel. Anyway, I’m pleased to report that after a strip down and de-coking, it is now humming away again.


Our next seamark will be the Crossing of The Line – not the Equator on this occasion, but moving across the 60th parallel of latitude which officially is the line at which we enter Antarctic waters, and move from the Furious Fifties to the Screaming Sixties. We should be crossing the line in about an hour and a half.