64:19.06S 62.55.87W. 16th January 2013 - Melchior Islands and departing Antarctica

Matt Stafford and Rohan Buckley
Wed 16 Jan 2013 16:01

The time just slips away!   Time flies when you are having fun applies down here that is for certain.  The last few days have been magic with blues skies and great views, but also a little drama which we will expand on later.  We have been very lucky with the weather so far, and talking to other people down here they also state that the weather has been very good this time of year compared to the last few seasons.  Lucky us!!!


Vernadsky Station was the furthest south for us in Antarctica and we sailed north on Monday the 7th January aiming for Paradise Harbour some 40 miles to the north east.  We sailed back through the Lemaire Channel and on the way we passed yacht ‘IceBird’ and our pals Darryl and Kath who were heading south with climber charter guests looking for a mountain to tackle.  A quick hello and a few waves and we parted company to have a look at a huge glacier nearby that also had a few pods of humpback whales feeding which made for a great few hours.  With a lot of miles still to do that day we soon had to tear ourselves away from it all and continue up the channel.  Now, up until this point we had not seen much of the big winds that can notoriously appear from nowhere in the many fjords and valleys down here… until today!   Exiting the Lemaire Channel we were hits by some wind that, though expected as we could see it on the water ahead of us and we had reduced sail accordingly, surprised us by the ferocity of the gusts that swirled around the headlands.  A few items not properly secured down below went flying with us laying over a tad with the strong winds, but otherwise we gave the conditions a go and battled on for about 20 minutes before we decided that it was not worth pushing the yacht so hard and turned about to seek some calmer water and a good anchorage for the night.  We went back to an anchorage we had used before in the north of Booth Island and settled in for the night planning an early departure in the morning.  We had not seen that sort of wind this trip, even in the Drake, with winds over 30 knots at times gusting to 40.  Poor Kate being the least experienced of us had quite a fright at first but she soon realized all was fine and quickly settled into the noise and turmoil of rough weather sailing. 


Early the next morning we sailed to Paradise Harbour in much more settled conditions (with no arguments from Kate) and anchored at Skontorp Cove a little after 6 in the afternoon.  Skontorp Cove is a great little anchorage with ice cliffs on three sides with excellent views of the nearby glaciers and mountain ranges that give Paradise Harbour its name.  Due to the recent warm weather there were almost constant glacial carving (small to iceberg size pieces of ice falling off the face of the glaciers) and avalanches in the mountains that made for quite a loud an impressive show whilst we were there.  On several occasions the yacht was rocked about from the waves caused by this.  We stayed a few days at Skontorp taking in the surroundings which also included a few tender trips to get a closer look at the glacial faces.  Once again words cannot describe how amazing this all was, and to our respective Mums and Dads we did not get too close to all the action ;)


Remaining in Paradise Harbour we up-anchored on Thursday the 10th and moved a short distance to Brown Station which is a small Argentinian Research base.  We had a look about and met the friendly staff who told us that most of their work was repairing much of the base that was fire damaged several years ago by a staff member (the base doctor) who at the end of summer had had enough and set fire to the buildings so they could be evacuated before winter set in.  No one was hurt but the subsequent damage reduced the base to a summer only facility which will take many more years to bring it back to its former glory.  Crazy stuff, but the base is still a popular stop for tourists for not only its interesting past, but also the excellent tobogganing hill behind the base.  Armed with toboggan like garbage bags we gave the hill a good test and needless to say had a lot of fun ;).  Later that day we moved to the north of Paradise Harbour to ‘Water Boat’ point which was next to a Chilean Base and remained at anchor there for several days.


In those days we did a day trip to Neko Harbour (dramatic, beautiful… it just never stops) and also visited the Chilean Base ‘Gonzales Videla’ - an old research base that is now a marine radio station with a museum which was manned by 15 Chilean Naval and Air force personnel.  A great bunch of lads that were more than happy to show us around.   During our stay at this anchorage we were visited by some of the crew of a small expedition ship (60m with 180 guests) – the “Ushuaia” that we had met in Ushuaia…. Good to see you and cheers for the well wishes!  The anchorage also provided some drama in the form of several growlers (large chunks of ice, not iceberg size, no more than 5 meters in diameter but still several tons) being blown into our anchorage in the night.  Quite a sight to wake up to with your channel out blocked by a wall of ice!  This caused some concern because there was a danger of possibly being stuck there for an indefinite amount of time due to fact if these big boys get grounded too hard then there is not much anyone can do to float them again.  With this weighing heavy on our minds we had to wait for the evening and the next high tide to make an attempt to skirt around the ice in the already narrow and shallow channel.  Thankfully we were able to do this, but not without several lines ashore, some fancy manoeuvring, a little paint off the hull mixed with some colourful language, and most importantly some help from the Chilean Navy guys in there 60hp work boats giving the growlers a good nudge for us.  A big thanks to them all and once again demonstrating the hospitality and generosity of the people down here.


Our final evening in Water Boat Point was spent rafted alongside “Petit Prince” belonging to a very hospitable French family – thank you Maia, Franck and their 5 and 7 year old kids Titouan and Anaa for an enjoyable evening after such an eventful day!


After our final sail through Gerlache Strait, we are anchored in the Melchior Island doing final preparations for the sail north back to South America.  The forecast for the Drake looks ok so all being well we have departed today for Cape Horn and terra firma.  It will be with mixed feelings that we will depart Antarctica; all desperate for a decent shower and washing machine, but all too aware that as soon as we depart we will miss it.


Will send some position updates as we track north..


Best regards to everyone,

Matt, Rohan, Tina, Nigel and Kate