Trade Wind Sailing Without The Flying Fish and Bikinis

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Wed 4 Jan 2012 18:05
Position: 61:52S 062:53W

Approaching South Shetland Islands

Date/Time : 4 January 2012 1500


We have concluded that Able Seadog Snoopy is not only Ship’s Mascot but a Lucky Mascot as well. When his head was almost severed we were suffering from the wrath of Neptune; high(ish) winds, big(gish) waves and sea-sickness the like of which none of us have experienced in 35 years (well, I hadn’t anyway). The moment ASD Snoopy had his operation, the wind and seas moderated, the sun came out and we were all bouncing around like Tigger again.


Since yesterday morning, we have had the most unbelievably good conditions for our crossing. The wind has been blowing so perfectly in both strength and direction (20-25 knots from the west) that it has been like sailing in the Caribbean trade winds, but without the flying fish and the bikinis. (When I made this observation to Venetia and Ewan, Venetia said “Well, perhaps I ought to take mine out then”, to which Ewan asked “What? Your flying fish?” I’m beginning to think there’s something a bit odd about Ewan).


By early this morning we had absolutely and definitely moved into the Antarctic Convergence. The sea temperature was fluctuating between +1.0C and -0.2C (sea water doesn’t freeze until -1.8C). In the cockpit it was 1C but with the wind chill factor it feels a great deal less and you can’t be without gloves for long before your fingers go completely numb. Down below it was a toasty 6C. So no reason for the crew to complain then. Indeed Peter, who had been on watch in the cockpit in his thermals and Weazle Suit, came down below to make a cup of tea and was almost passing out from the heat. The “conservatory” – the extension to the sprayhood which I had had made in Buenos Aires and which encloses half the cockpit - has turned out to be worth its weight in gold. We can keep watch in the cockpit in temperatures several degrees higher than outside and without the windchill. Brilliant.


Since the temperature has plummeted and we are getting closer to the land (now about 75 miles away), it has become quite foggy – quite common in this area - reducing visibility at times to as little 200 metres. In addition, there is an increasing probability of coming across ice which we definitely need to see before we hit it.


Ice round here at this time of year comes from icebergs which fall off the enormous glaciers that cascade glue-like down the steep mountains of the peninsula. These bergs can be absolutely enormous, hundreds of metres high and a mile or more across. Any full sized iceberg we would pick up easily on the radar. They are not the dangerous ones. What would threaten us are the “growlers” – the bits of ice that calve away from the icebergs and float perhaps only a metre high out of the water and 10 to 20 metres across. But below the water they are six times as big. Particularly in poor visibility such as we have now they can go unnoticed until you are almost upon them. But if you hit one, it could hole the boat  - something we would wish to avoid if possible.


So we have changed the watch arrangements from having one person on watch all the time to having two people on watch so at least one is always on the lookout. In the event that we do get holed we have on board an array of extra equipment to quickly stem the flow of water and make the hull sound enough to get back across the Drake and to safety.


Whilst it’s not over until the anchor’s down, we only have about 12 hours before we turn the corner round Snow Island at the southwest corner of the South Shetland Islands and head the last 30 miles to our destination of Deception Island. And the forecasts don’t look threatening. Indeed, since earlier this morning the wind has died and we have been motoring across Drake Lake. But I’m sure that Neptune and Drake will be saving things up for our journey home. Normally I hate motoring but now there is a plus side. I have on board a blow heater and whilst the engine is running we have enough power to have this purring away and making the cabin nice and snug.


Talking of snug, we were surprised to find ASD Snoopy’s hat in Venetia’s cabin yesterday. A mystery. We also noted that one of Snoopy’s woollen mits was missing. Peter found it attached to the Velcro of one of Venetia’s many layers of garments. Another mystery. We have concluded that Snoopy is getting out of his dog bowl in the middle of the night, and scampering into Venetia’s cabin for a bit of a comforting snuggle. He is adopting Venetia as his new Mummy. Smart move, Snoopy. As Quartermaster, Venetia is the only one who knows where his supply of High Protein Winalot for Antarctic Sledge Dogs is. Venetia is also the only person who knows where the exra large tin of Celebrations chocolates are which have gone missing. You can’t lose something that big, so I’m assuming she has secreted it away in her cabin for her own personal consumption. On one of my snap kit and cabin inspections I will be looking out for any telltale signs of crumpled sweet papers. If she gets through the whole tin she will end up the size of poor Linda.