Saturday, October 19, 2013

Preparing for the Traverse

by Amy, Saturday, October 19

We remain at anchor near the head of King Haakon Bay. Everyone slept in and awoke in good cheer. Breakfast included banana muffins and French toast. The day dawned with a light breeze which has developed into a stern 35+ knot wind—too much to ferry equipment ashore in preparation for Monday morning's departure. Unless the wind abates we will have to transport everything tomorrow (Sunday). After breakfast we took the opportunity to pack our food stores per tent occupants: Gretchen, Cam and Skip will be in one three-man tent; Larry, Ed and I in the other; Julian and Giorgio will be in a two-man tent that Julian brought along from the UK. The general food stores were all laid out in the salon and each team thought out what they would like for breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner. Items are stowed in ziplock baggies and then put into a waterproof food bag for each pulk. Each person pulls a pulk that also contains their sleeping bag and personal gear (extra clothes, tooth brush, book, etc.). We will each wear a backpack with an extra layer of warm clothes, crampons, head torch, ice axe etc.

Right now everyone is working on their own to-do lists: sewing up holes in pockets, deciding which book to take (in case we're tent-bound in a blizzard for a day or more), putting skins on skis, checking harnesses, ropes, bindings etc.

I spoke with Skip this morning about the plight of Adelie penguins, whose colder habitat is shrinking as temperatures rise. The northern colonies must go further south and relocate where they can find room away from other established colonies. Gentoos, on the other hand, have more options for their colonies since they inhabit warmer climes. My new personal favorite is the King penguin with its beautiful orange/yellow neck and gray/black back feathers. I look forward to exploring the north side of the island after the traverse to see all the wildlife.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Landfall: South Georgia!

by Amy Oct 18th, King Haaken Bay

Our passage from Stanley, Falklands, to South Georgia Island was completed this morning at sunrise. The mountains facing us on the southwest side of the island are remarkably big and raw; the immediate sense of the place is that it remote and powerful. During the day we've been through several weather patterns ranging from blasting wind, cloudy and snowing to sunny and spring-like. We're enjoying everyone's company and pitching in for chores to make things move along each day. The boat is well prepared and serves as a very comfortable sailing vessel/home for us.

We're presently anchored at the head of King Haaken Bay in preparation for the island traverse. The weather pattern looks favorable for Tuesday morning, when we'll have to lower the pulks (our sleds holding our gear) over the Trident pass. This means that we'll depart early on Monday in order to make our way up to the Trident by Monday night. If the weather starts to turn bad by Tuesday mid-day, we may have to retreat to the tents until it blows over but we'll be over the pass which is the most challenging part of the traverse.

We went ashore today to see the sea elephants, their pups, and some King penguins whose feathers are beautiful. They march in a row and bump into each other if the leader stops. Their calls are quite different from the penguins we spent time with in Antarctica. Surrounding us are mountains and glaciers. We scouted a route from the beach up to the snowfield where we'll begin the ascent to the Trident (Monday). Tomorrow and Sunday we'll organize our loads, sort out food and gear, and make a stash on shore to pick up early Monday morning as we make our way from the shore up to the snow. We'll be busy! The traverse will be challenging in terms of distance traveled each day on our skis hauling our pulks, but we'll keep the pace reasonable and take a break every hour to rest and make readjustments.


South Georgia Sails into View at Sunrise!

By Larry Oct 18th arriving at South Georgia

We had the watch from 3-7am local time. What a treat to see the mountains and glaciers of South Georgia emerge out of the darkness and fog. At first we could only see some dark shapes but as the sun the mountains in front of us were in silhouette and the craggy peaks to our port side had a beautiful alpen glow to them.

The waves are still moderate, pushing and rolling us on their way in a hurry, only to crash on the rocks in front of us. Everyone got up, not wanting to miss the spectacular views, continually change as we sail up towards King Haakon Bay. The same bay that Shackleton sailed into. All around us, we can see the amazing turquoise colors of the glaciers with thousands of years of compressed ice flowing into the sea.

Directly ahead of us, we can see the Murray snowfield and Briggs glacier. This is where we plan to ski up. It's a lower ridge on our skyline, meaning that it will be the right place to cross the island, but that doesn't mean it will be easy! We'll be at the top in a few days I hope!


Last Night at Sea - South Georgia just out of sight

By Larry Oct 17
just off watch at 10pm UTC (2200 Zulu) Pos: 80nm west of South Georgia Island.

We've had a wonderful sail all the way so far. Downwind with the double headsail rig and only one or two adjustments for days. The low pressure systems keep marching through the Drake and their northern extents keep changing our wind direction. So we keep following the wind around to stay steadily downwind taking a bit of extra miles but no worries, we don't want to approach King Haaken Bay at night anyway. There are reefs marking the entrance and we'd like to see the boiling water hitting the reefs on either side so we know where to enter the bay safely. The bay is about 4 miles long and has another very shallow area in about 2 miles so Skip and Magnus think we will be reasonably protected in the head of the bay, especially if the wind has a bit of north in it.

Tonight's sunset lit up the sky even though we didn't actually get to see the sun set the light was beautiful as was the snow that was dropping on the deck when we went out to do a sail adjustment. I was on the bow trying to guide the furler line around the drum properly with ice on deck and on the bow pulpit that I was hanging onto. The waves are decent size, still the 15-20 ft max heights. We now have a bit of cross swell from the changing wind direction. The water temp is -0.5 degrees C (31 degrees F). The air is a bit colder. But being outside is a real treat. We definitely have passed the boundary into the Convergence Zone. Its cold and the water is a beautiful clear color at the top of the waves. It almost looks tropical.

Life on board has been very easy. Ed made a great bread and toffee pudding for desert tonight after Skip had made risotto al funghi. We are definitely eating well while the stores last. All the wine is staying chilled under the floorboards of our cabin.

Julian has been telling us about his work in conservation groups on South Georgia. Reindeer were introduced in the early 1900s by the Norwegians. Between the rats that have firmly grasped many areas of SG and the Reindeer, they have been hurting the populations of birds nesting on the island. One group has undertaken to get rid of all the rats, but they are waiting on Julian's group to get rid of all the reindeer first. They have transplanted some reindeer and have corralled the others and are now getting them ready for market. They sold off the first 2000 last year and this year will be the last remaining 2000 of the herd. As an end result, it is hoped that SG can be put back to the way it was before man started to interfere and that SG will once again be able to support the huge numbers of birds within the Convergence Zone that it did historically.

On we go into the night, with a nearly full moon on our bow, taking turns watching for icebergs and bergy bits, size of houses or trucks. Also, trying to keep our speed under 10 knots so we don't reach the island until after sunrise.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Iceberg Watch

By Skip Oct 17 Position: 54-15 S / 41-48W

24 hours to landfall on the island. This last day is critical in keeping a sharp eye out as the risk encountering ice is a given. This means tonight will be a very different story to the last three nights doing our four hour watches in the pilothouse, shuffling about in our slippers, drinking endless cups of tea while monitoring the radar. Quite likely we will have to slow down as the light fades and I will bet the visibility will 'crap out' with the northwesterly airstream setting in. Tricky business – needle in a hay stack situation with growlers and bergy bits just awash – waves look like ice, ice looks like waves . . . . . so its full gear; mittens and goggles for half hour turns in the cockpit staring into a grey soup, ready to hit the 'standby' button on the autopilot . . .

Tomorrow we have to decide on whether to go straight into King Haakon Bay to prep for the traverse or shelter in Elsehul Bay on the north coast for the two days (at least) we are likely to spend waiting for a settled period to begin the traverse. Not ideal conditions for sure, but lots to do 'scrapping and bagging' of equipment (how many pairs of sock?), fuel (I like plenty of brews!) and provisions (you take the salami, I'll take the cheese . . .).

Skip Novak, (expedition leader and owner of Pelagic Australis.
This will be Skip's 5th time on the traverse.


Back in the South!

By Cam Oct 17 Sunrise: Day 3 onboard Pelagic Australis

– rolling along with the westerlies down here in the rollicking furious fifties – latitude's that is. The roaring forties to the north and the screaming 60s to the south. We are eastbound and earthbound along the 52nd south highway. 2 headsails wing and wing held out by carbon poles and main lashed to centered boom is our sail configuration. Simple, Surfs in the 20 knot range, winds sometimes over 40 knots, seas, well seas, big and powerful seas and happy to running before them.

– Elegant sail configuration, no trimming required and the autopilot handles the rest as those on watch pass their time marveling at the seas, birds and surroundings. Conversations vary from the mundane topics, small banter to fill the voids, what might be the passing ship up to? Of the ends of the earth and high latitude explorations and climbing, crevasse rescues, to the end and beginnings of the human race, global warming, over fishing, terrorism, over population or deploying a new set of foils and flying to our destination of South Georgia in similar manner as the recent America's Cup cats seared down the San Francisco waterfront airborne on wings of carbon and of course food is discussed and prepared and eaten with lots of enthusiasm by those feeling well enough to partake.

The great birds, I consider my friends, the wandering sea birds of the southern oceans greeted us 3 days ago as we departing Stanley with the typically impressive aerial acrobatics that only the roaming seabirds of the southern oceans are capable of. Birds, big mysterious, beautiful and magically majestic, similar in many ways of my salty friends, who only return to land to breed.

I spend hours in awe, watching, wondering how I too could fly like an albatross or petrel. Soon, for my first time, I will get to see Albatross on the ground, on their nests and hopefully with eggs and young born soon to be aviators feeding, off regurgitated fish, preparing for a life roaming the vast oceans in elegant nomadic flight.

200 miles to go. Skis and camping gear ready for landing and the Shackleton traverse.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

We set sail! Update from 310 miles east of the Falklands (450nm west of South Georgia)

by Larry Oct 15/16 early morning,

We set sail about 6pm Falkland Islands time. We were concerned that Skip, our expedition leader might not have landed on the RAF flight from the UK due to high winds, but luckily he did. It was blowing less hard outside the islands and as soon as we bore away onto our course direction of 105 degress (ESE) we were almost directly downwind and rolling a bit. Its such a privilege to be in the Southern Ocean again. Its hard to convey the number of birds following us and playing in our wind stream. Petrels, Albatross, terns and other birds. We have a number of bird guides on board and a few people like Mike and Julian who seem to know the birds well. They are all so graceful, almost never flapping their wings. Just soaring along the wave tops and then flipping up 30 feet and swooping back down to almost touch the waves. The waves are about 15-20 ft high. Its now about 34 hours since we cast off and we've made a good 300 nautical miles already. Its pretty cold outside, but Skip's new boat, Pelagic Australis at 74 ft, is quite a bit bigger and heavier than the original Pelagic at 54 ft. (Pelagic is the boat Amy and I and our two boys went to Antarctica on in 2000 along with Skip & Julian).The main new features are auto-pilot, so no one has to steer for hours at a time out in the cold and a pilot house with steering and great visibility all around without having to go out except when one wants to be out in the wind.

We have our mainsail put away on the boom right now and have two of our three headsails out, one on each side of the boat led through long poles for a very stable double headsail rig. Its like a parachute catching all the wind while also riding the waves downhill. This afternoon was sunny and about 30 degrees (water temp is about 40 degrees here and will hit 32 degrees when we cross the convergence zone. Inside the Convergence Zone, the wildlife population grows immensely due I think to the greater amount of krill. THis is where the whales feed as do the smaller fixh and birds and seals. We sat outside by the mast for a couple hours fixing some rigging that had needed repair from UV damage over the years. When it was fixed we came in for tea and biscuits and after lots of continued catching up with each we had supper. Amy and I are on the 6-10 am and pm watch (using GMT), which is really about 3-7 am and pm local time. so one watch is in the aftenoon light as the sun is going down and the other watch is the wee hours of the morning before sunrise. Each of us does 4 hours on and then 8 hours off unless there are sail changes or other things that need more hands. Georgio is on our watch along with either Magnus or Laura and Tom (the boat's professional crew and Skip stagger their watches to keep some continuity between the watches.

The weather forecast shows winds at nearly 40 knots in the next day or two as a low pressure system moves through the Drake Passage (around Cape Horn) and then contineus on its way unimpeded around the bottom of the world. These systems bring more wind and often a change in the direction of the wind for half a day or more while they pass to the south of us. In the southern hemisphere the wind around low pressure systems go closkwise instaed of counter-clockwise as in the northern hemisphere. So the tops of the lows give us stronger westerly winds which is great for the outbound journey but will make it a direct upwind slog coming back from SG.

Its so great to be on our way after all the hard work of everyone in preparing for the expedition, we can relax and enjoy our time at sea and beyond. I easily slip into a routine at sea, feeling very much back home in the Southern Ocean.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Couple pictures from Pelagic Website

Waiting for Skip to arrive on the RAF flight this afternoon and then we'll leave. Blowing 35 from the NW - Course is ESE, 4 days sailing

Here is a picture of the boat we're sailing on - Pelagic Australis

and where we're going on South Georgia Island:

The remains of Great American I, the trimaran that saved our friends Rich Wilson and Steve Pettengill

by Larry - preparing to leave Stanley

I sent out an alert to many friends about following our adventure and got back from Rich Wilson, who is preparing for his second Vendee Globe, round the world, non-stop race in his mid-60's the following email before we left the internet cafe:

You may or may not know that our 60' trimaran Great American, that was lost in the double somersaulting capsize 400 nm west of Cape Horn on November 22, 1990, and then drifted around the Horn after Steve Pettengill and I were taken off by the giant refrigerated containership New Zealand Pacific (their logbook read swells of 15 meters, sea train on top of 5 meter, 85 knots of wind), ended up on the west coast of South Georgia Island about 20-25 miles south of where Shackleton landed. Should you see her, tell her thanks for being strong enough to not break up in those 2 capsizes. She was found a year or so later by someone cruising who said she'd been washed up over the rocks, bottom ripped out. This was confirmed by Tim and Pauline Carr, who lived on their boat in S. Georgia for 7 years I think and wrote Antarctic Oasis. I never wanted to see her in that state so never visited. She was a great boat.

We all remember his adventure and stories that he lived to tell so many about. Rich, I asked Magnus about it and he said he did see your Great American I exactly where you said when he was sailing past with a kayaking expedition last year. Center hull of the trimaran was still there on the rocks 23 years later. Nothing degrades inside the Convergence Zone! He'll give her a good word from you next time he goes by. We'll probably be too far north.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

In the Falklands, Preparing to Leave tomorrow for South Georgia

Amy: October 13, Stanley, Falklands 

Greetings from the Falklands,

Yesterday we flew from Chile via Argentina to East Falkland Island. Julian, Ed, Michael and Giorgio were also on the flight; this means our team is complete except for Skip, who will arrive on Monday. The airport is the GB military base, located about 20 miles from Stanley. The terrain is quite desolate with pete bogs and rocks left from the last glacial episode. Sweeping vistas include yellow short grass with occasional herds of sheep and rolling hills. There are fenced off areas designating land mine fields; a constant reminder of the 1982 Falklands War between GB and Argentina.

We were greeted at Pelagic Australis by Magnus, Laura and Thomas under sunny skies and a mild breeze (by Falkland standards). After loading all our gear on the boat, we all sorted and reorganized sailing clothes and stowed the ski/traverse equipment. Larry and I have been assigned to the starboard forward cabin--I've taken the top bunk. Down below the boat has a wonderful salon with a heater, cushioned seating/table area, and well-designed galley. There are three cabins and a head on the port and starboard sides. Up front is a workshop and the forepeak holding supplies and gear. Up above is a pilot house with seats, the nav station, and a hydrolic wheel to steer if the auto pilot needs help. The boat is sturdy, well cared for, and ready to go.

We all had a nice walk through town on our way to dinner at the Malvinas Hotel. Several of us had Shackleton beer with delicious reindeer from South Georgia, where they're being eradicated and sent to the Falklands for eating. Reindeer were introduced to South Georgia by the Norwegian whalers, who wanted fresh meat. The reindeer did thrive, but over time their grazing habits have been very damaging to the island's delicate ecosystem. The reindeer are corralled on SG and then killed and shipped on a freezer ship to the Falklands.

Back on the boat, we settled into our bunks as the wind picked up, rattling the rigging. Everyone was quite happy to not be out sailing!

Today dawned cloudy with big breeze as we awoke to the smells of fresh coffee and Laura's tasty apple muffins. Michael, Larry and I went on a short tour of part the island with Tony, a Falklander who was able to explain some details about the Falklands War and the local history. We visited a sheep station at Fitzroy where the young sheep, just sheared, were quite cold without their coats.

Tomorrow morning Magnus will give us the safety and sailing briefing. In the afternoon, after Skip arrives, we'll set off for SG. The weather report is generally favorable with possible 60 knot winds once we arrive. That will make landing for the traverse quite difficult. We'll see!