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WANDERING ALBATROSS

"Sailing to Save Our Seas"
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Jan 08, 2007 Position 57 38'S 66 02'W

Into the Drake Passage
on a dilapidated dock to Porto Toro After a very busy week in Ushuaia, the most southerly town in Argentina, stocking up with provisions, filling up with diesel and propane and enjoying some New Year's celebrations with friends, we were keen to get on our way again. Very early on Friday morning we cast off from our mooring in Ushuaia and sped down the Beagle Channel in protected water with 25 - 30 kts behind us. By lunchtime we had tied alongside several other yachts in the Chilean port of Puerto Williams on Isla Navarino and had checked in with the authorities. The Chileans keep a very tight control on the movement of boats in their waters and are quick to close the harbour for small craft navigation when the wind picks up, rumoured to be in as little as 25 knts. Not wanting to risk the possibility of being stuck in there the next day we decided to keep going that afternoon, so paid a visit to the Port Captain to obtain a "zarpe", which is a permit to sail and anchor in Chilean waters. With the formalities complete, we left Puerto Williams in 15 knts and sailed a further 25 miles to Puerto Toro, the most southerly village in the world. A handful of houses nestle in the trees above the tiny harbour where we tied up on a dilapidated jetty (see photo). Saturday's forecast was not good, with gusts of 55 knts around Cape Horn, so we stayed put and made final preparations, baking bread, cooking several meals, poring over charts and stowing the last bits and pieces. Early on Sunday we set sail and by evening we were about 20 miles east of Cape Horn and could see the distinctive shape of Isla Hornos crouched in a grey drizzle. Overnight the fog rolled in, the first we have encountered since Iceland, and we have had intermittent rain. We never imagined crossing the Drake Passage would be easy but did not anticipate that lack of wind would be our main concern! After days of gales we now have under 10 knts from behind with big sloppy sea left over from the bad weather. With at least a knot of current against us, it is a Catch 22 situation - there is not enough wind to sail, but every drop of diesel is precious. At the same time, we can't afford to wallow out here waiting for wind as the next depression will bring too much.... so we are motorsailing at minimum RPM to conserve diesel and making slow progress towards Deception Island, just 350 miles away.....
 

Jan 10, 2007 Position 61 21'S 63 29'W

South of 60S
a black-browed albatross flying The wind finally came through for us last night after 60 hrs of very slow progress. It seems quite ironic that we had prepared for strong winds in the Drake Passage by changing our normal jib for a smaller, high cut "heavy weather" jib and had left the storm jib on the inner forestay. We took this down 2 days ago and replaced it with the staysail and now, with about 20 knots on the beam, we are sailing the boat as a cutter for the first time, doing well over 7knts with every scrap of canvas flying. Today has been a fantastic day with mostly clear, sunny skies, an occasional hail shower and consistent wind. We are skimming across a frigid blue sea and the water temperature has dropped to a rather chilly -1.0 C. We are keeping a sharp look out for icebergs, but have not seen any yet.
Yesterday we crossed the Antarctic Convergence, a zone circling the globe between 40S and 60S where warm, subtropical waters meet cold polar waters. Two important 'fronts' - the Subantarctic front on the north side and the Polar front on the south side - act as boundaries and between them flows the world's greatest ocean current: the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. Driven by the strong westerly winds of the Southern Ocean, this vast body of water carries something like 135 million cubic metres of water per second around the Antarctic continent, connecting the 3 major ocean basins and playing a unique role in Earth's climate system. In high latitudes sea water becomes colder, getting denser as it increases in salinity. It sinks into the deep ocean and is replaced by warmer water from lower latitudes. This movement of water exchanges heat between high and low latitudes, thereby maintaining the planet's climate, and the global circulation pattern created by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current is vital to this process.
Wildlife has been surprisingly scarce, with no cetacean sightings. But our faithful friends the albatrosses are always in attendance, mostly Black-browed (in photo) with the occasional, always thrilling, glimpse of a Wanderer or a Royal....
 

Jan 12, 2007 Position 62 56'S 60 41'W

Arrived in Deception Island
Telefon bay, Deception Island On Thursday afternoon we caught our first glimpse of Antarctica and it was a fantastic moment. It was a grey day with low hazy clouds and we knew we were only about 15 miles from land. Visibility was very poor but all of a sudden a break in the mist revealed the black shapes of rocky islands with a thick bank of cloud hovering above.....then we realised it was not cloud but a mass of ice and the "islands" were small ice free areas of land - this was aptly named Snow Island at the entrance to Boyd Strait! From our waypoint in the strait it was only 35 miles to Deception Island but the wind was now blowing from the east, putting it directly on the nose at around 18 knots. Although it was tempting to motor-sail and get in before dark (at around midnight!) diesel is too precious to be lazy so we tacked against the wind and current all night up Bransfield Strait, reaching the narrow entrance to Deception Island early in the morning in heavy snow. Known as "Neptune's Bellows" due to the strong winds that sometimes funnel through, the channel between high cliffs into the flooded volcanic crater that forms Port Foster is only about 600m wide with a submerged rock in the middle. It was exciting to navigate our way through in swirling snow, hugging the north shore, with only a vague view of what lay ahead. Port Foster is almost 5 miles long and surrounded by an undulating crater wall of black volcanic scree, capped at the highest points with sheets of ice, that forms a horseshoe shaped island.
Deception is a still active volcano and the last major erruption in the late 1960's destroyed British and Chilean bases. It also created 2 protected pools in Telefon Bay (see photo) in the NW corner of the harbour and these make ideal anchorages for small boats. Following directions on a sketch diagram we had copied from another boat, we picked our way into the snug inner bay to anchor and took several lines ashore to secure to large rocks. Once settled we sat out in the cockpit in the gently falling snow, enjoying the very special moment as it slowly sank in that after years of dreaming and planning we are in the Antarctic at last.....
 

Jan 14, 2007 Position 62 56'S 60 41'W

Deception Island
Gary hikes up a slope of volcanic scree, Deception Island Yesterday the wind was blowing strongly from the SW and we experienced some violent gusts in Telefon Bay. Known as williwaws, these blasts seem to accelerate down steep slopes and hit the water with enough force to send spray flying. We didn't entirely trust the rocks we had tied onto as one of them "dragged" during the night so we spent the day on board keeping an eye on our lines and catching up on various jobs. This morning dawned bright and sunny and we were just getting ready to go exploring ashore when a Zodiac came round the point and headed our way. By an incredible stroke of luck our friends Magnus and Cheryl, on a 10 day cruise in Antarctica, had spotted the boat from a hilltop and persuaded one of their guides to bring them across.....it was their last day but there was just time for a quick cup of tea before they headed out!
With a picnic packed we set off up one of the steep scree slopes towards the crater ridge which encircles the harbour at Deception Island. A heavy mist had come down and the summit was shrouded in cloud so we continued down the far side to the coast. It is a wild and barren landscape of volcanic rocks and scree, black and grey and red. Melting snow has eroded deep gullies and it was slow going across the ridges in between but amazing to be in such raw and primitive surroundings. Occasional patches of bright green moss somehow survive in the desolate environment with various lichens the only other vegetation. We were careful to avoid these areas - these slow growing plants take decades to establish themselves and a careless footstep can cause great damage. The weather here changes remarkably quickly and on the way back the sun came out just as we reached the high ridge again. The mist burned off in moments and we were treated to spectacular views of Port Foster and the crater rim all the way back towards Neptune's Bellows where we entered 2 days ago (see photo).....
 

Jan 16, 2007 Position 62 56'S 60 41'W

First Penguin Encounter
an inquisitive chinstrap penguin examines Gary It snowed heavily all day yesterday, big wet flakes that piled up on the spreaders and thudded to the deck every so often. We were boat bound with the fire going and spent the time going over the scanty notes and charts we have for Antarctica and planning our route. By this morning we were itching to get out and with a forecast of light winds we decided to go to visit a penguin colony some distance away. As Deception Island is still an active volcano the water in the inner bay is somewhat warmer than outside and there are numerous hot pools and steaming areas of beach. The warmer conditions deter most wildlife from entering and so far we had seen very little apart from a lone seal and a few distant penguins. But the chart shows numerous penguin rookeries along the outer coast, none of which are easy to get to! We took the dinghy 2.5 miles across the bay and then hiked a couple of miles over a barren landscape of volcanic scree, contouring round below the snow line. We could hear and smell the penguins before we could see them and came over a final rise to find a big colony far below. These were Chinstrap Penguins, named for the distinctive black line that runs from ear to ear across their white throats, and although it was impossible to estimate numbers we guessed there were tens of thousands, perhaps even a hundred thousand. The rookery was spread out over an area of hillocks and clifftops, each with a close packed nesting area separated by deep gullies. The noise was fantastic, a great cacophony of harsh croaking calls as birds came and went busily, the adults taking turns to go fishing. The chicks were well grown already, dark grey fluff balls almost the size of their parents, and there seemed to be many families with two chicks constantly demanding food. The adults trek up and down the steep hillsides on well worn paths, rolling and hopping along with a comical gait. a chinstrap penguin races a breaking wave We spent some time watching the comings and goings up at the nesting sites but the highlight was moving down to the water's edge to watch the penguins entering and leaving the sea in big waves. We found a comfortable rock to sit on a reasonable distance away from the main thoroughfare where we would not disturb the birds, but that didn't stop an occasional inquisitive penguin from coming to have a look at us, as shown in the photo! We watched for hours as the determined little birds hopped their way across the boulders and plunged into the ocean where they prey mainly on krill. Getting out seemed to be hardest as they surged in on foaming breakers and often got washed off rocks and swept back out to sea! It was an amazing experience and we hope it will be the first of many such encounters....
 
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Jan 18, 2007 Position 63 51'S 60 55'W

Trinity Island
After 5 memorable days in Deception Island we set sail yesterday, heading south, and covered almost 60 miles to a snug and spectacular little anchorage between two islands. It was an incredible sunny day with blue skies and great visibility and as soon as we left the enclosed harbour at Deception we were treated to views of the mainland coast of Antarctica gleaming white and endless in the distance. Words cannot describe the sheer magnificence of the scenery and we spent most of the day exclaiming in wonder as one amazing sight outdid the next. Massive tabular bergs, the "classic" type seen in photos, drifted in lazy majesty on a navy sea and many were aground on shallow banks. Islands of steep, snowclad mountains lay in all directions and the vast ranges of the mainland were swathed in ice with huge glaciers winding down to the sea. We had five close sightings of Humpback Whales, often in pairs, blowing within 50m of the boat and numerous penguins porpoising ahead. Arriving into the 'anchorage' was an exciting challenge as there is no detail on the charts and we had to eye ball our way between rocks and shallow areas and drop the anchor with just enough room to swing, then take lines ashore to secure to rocks. The process of securing the boat often takes several hours and involves much hauling on lines, rowing the dinghy and sometimes tricky maneouvering with "Wandering Albatross" so it is always good when it is done and we can relax and take in the beautiful surroundings, as the photo shows....
 

Jan 20, 2007 Position 63 57'S 61 26'W

Christiana Islands
moored in the Chrisitana Islands After only 24 hrs in the Trinity Island anchorage the wind began to increase from the SW and unfortunately the bay was exposed to this direction. According to our latest weather forecast we should have been getting light wind from the north, but the forecasts have been rather inaccurate so far. It was 7 PM but we decided that the best option was to leave before the wind picked up further, rather than risk it becoming untenable in the middle of the night. By the time we had stowed all the lines and motored out between the rocks and reefs the wind was up to 20 knts and we had a fast sail south about 15 miles in glorious evening light with huge ice bergs dotted here and there. We were heading for an anchorage we had heard about off Cape Herschel on the mainland coast but had only a little information about it: an approximate GPS waypoint and a brief description. The approach was spectacular as we came past the dark, rocky cape and into a circular bay with a big glacier calving into it. The tie up point was between two small rocky islands and it did seem a bit exposed in the strong wind that was now gusting up to 25 knts, but it was almost midnight and we optimistically gave it a go. In a system that is fast becoming familiar we dropped the anchor and then paddled ashore with lines to tie to big boulders. It was well after 1 A.M by the time we were reasonably secure and could rustle up something hot to eat - at moments like this it would be nice to have an extra pair of hands on board! The wind continued to increase and shifted to the south making our position even more tentative. A strong current had started to flow through the gap between the islands and chunks of ice the size of cars were being swept past, which we had to fend off with a pole. There was no option of remaining here for long so we took turns to keep watch while the other got a couple of hours sleep through the twilit hours of semi-darkness and at very first light we got out, setting sail another 15 miles to the west to find a protected anchorage. Again we were working with minimal information but arrived at a group of islands called the Christiana Islands where we found a fantastic little cove on the east coast just big enough to tuck into. The main island to the north was totally covered in a high dome of ice, but the smaller islets to the south were ice free at the coast and we had no trouble taking four lines ashore. We are now snug and secure (see photo) and looking forward to exploring in the next few days....
 

Jan 22, 2007 Position 63 57'S 61 26'W

Chinstrap Penguins
a chinstrap penguin family We have enjoyed 2 amazing days in the Christiana Islands with just the birds and seals for company. The weather continues to be bright and sunny and we feel very lucky to be seeing the wonders of Antarctica in such perfect conditions. Along the shore of the cove we are tied up in a few Fur seals and Crabeater seals haul out each day, lounging for hours in the sun. On a rock ledge behind us a pair of Antarctic terns have two small chicks and we are able to watch them being fed while we sit in the cockpit. The parents are constantly vigilant, chasing away gulls and skuas that come anywhere near them with a series of swooping pecks and high pitched chattering that warns the chicks to lie low. Just around the corner we found a small rookery of Chinstrap Penguins and spent most of a day watching them. There were perhaps 20 pairs of penguins, most with two demanding chicks, and even such a small colony set up a raucous noise as the birds call loudly and frequently. Chinstraps prefer to nest high above the water, giving themselves a long trek up and down to go fishing. Although they are agile climbers and move at quite a speed over the rocks and snow it still looks like a big effort as they hop along on their short legs. Whenever a returning bird approaches most of the adults in the colony stretch their heads towards the sky and let out an extended warbling cry, perhaps as a means of identification. The penguin then heads straight for its mate and they perform a brief greeting, swaying their heads from side to side and calling, before the chick is fed. The chicks peck at the parent's bill until it regurgitates a meal of krill for them. The chicks are already quite big, almost three quarters the size of the adults (see photo), and feeding them is a full time job. Chinstrap populations seem to have flourished in recent years with numbers increasing and their range is expanding southwards as the Antarctic Peninsula warms....
 

Jan 24, 2007 Position 64 32'S 62 00'W

Enterprise Island
tied alongside a wreck at Enterprise Island We sailed 45 miles further south yesterday to Enterprise Island, about half way down the Gerlache Strait. It was another incredible clear day with breath-taking scenery and an endless sense of space. The trade off for the fine weather seems to be stronger than normal winds. We set out early with a forecast of light and variable winds, planning to take our time and look for whales but within an hour or so the wind increased from the south west, putting it almost on the nose. The day turned into a hard beat with over a knot of current against us and up to 25 knots of wind, but it was exhilarating sailing in such a wild and beautiful wilderness. The mainland coast became more and more spectacular as we moved south with higher mountains and massive glaciers. Enterprise Island is only a few miles away from the mainland so we had outstanding views from the bay where we tied up alongside a half sunken wreck. We were in a tiny cove surrounded by sheer ice cliffs over 100 feet high (see photo) with a colony of Antarctic Terns nesting amongst the rocks on shore and also on the wreck. Their chicks were well advanced with many already flying and we were in the midst of the action as the parents fished constantly to feed them. There was non-stop chattering and calling that changed to high pitched alarm whenever a skua or a gull came near. Then the whole colony rose into the air, screeching in noisy outrage and attacked the intruder en masse, quite something to watch at close quarters.
 
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Jan 25, 2007 Position 64 32'S 62 00'W

Imperial Shags
Imperial Shag with two chicks We have spent 2 days at Enterprise Island enjoying the security of a well protected mooring spot. Within a mile of the boat numerous tiny islets are dotted about and we have done some exploring in the dinghy. We found many remains of open wooden whaling boats as this area was used extensively by the whalers. In the cold, dry air the wood has hardly begun to rot although these wrecks must be many decades old. Each island also has one or two pairs of nesting Antarctic skuas which are one of the scavengers of the region, preying on weak chicks, stealing eggs and feeding on dead birds. They cause panic in penguin colonies as they soar low overhead searching for opportunities but protect their own chicks viciously, making swooping attacks at any intruder. But the highlight of our time here has been a small colony of Imperial shags nesting on a rocky outcrop. We have spent hours each afternoon watching these fine looking birds hard at work bringing up their chicks. It was very interesting as with only 10 nests at this site, each seemed to be at a different stage in the breeding cycle. Some birds still had eggs and we saw the "changing of the guard" as one partner returned from sea with an offering of seaweed, used to build their nests, and after an elaborate greeting ritual of bill tapping, calling and graceful movement of their snake-like necks the sitting bird stepped out of the nest and the arriving bird moved on. Two pale green eggs were exposed for the briefest instant and seeing them was somehow very special, as if we had shared some great secret. Other birds had tiny chicks, scrawny looking in their minimal down, that were so new and vulnerable they needed constant warmth and protection. The remaining pairs had either one or two well grown chicks, grey and fluffy and almost too big to fit in the nest any more. The chicks cry endlessly for food making a strange noise like a squeaky bicycle pump and when a parent returns from fishing there is frantic excitement as the chick cranes its neck and pecks at the parent (see photo). This prompts it, eventually, to regurgitate a meal which is transferred to the chick in an uncomfortable looking process with the chick's head well inside the parent's throat....
 

Jan 26, 2007 Position 64 49'S 63 30'W

Neumayer Channel
motoring down the Neumayer Channel The incredible run of fine weather that has lasted a week broke yesterday and this morning we awoke to find ourselves enveloped in thick fog, brought by a warm (relatively speaking!) and very light northerly breeze. We got an early start in spite of the bad visibility, relying on radar and GPS waypoints we had entered on the way into Enterprise Island to navigate out between two small islands. As we had hoped, the fog lifted a little as we reached the more open water of the Gerlache Strait. Ice shows up well on the radar and with visibility now up to a mile we set a course for the Neumayer Channel on the opposite side of the Gerlache Strait. Although the scenery was hidden in the mist, the day had its own magic as we had a long, panoramic view of ice and rock sandwiched between the low grey cloud base and the mirror-like pewter of the sea. Occasional shafts of sunlight broke through to illuminate a single ice berg or a distant glacier in startling clarity, creating an almost surreal scene. By the time we were entering the north end of the Neumayer Channel (see photo) in mid-afternoon the light was improving and we were able to appreciate the grandeur of the 1.5 mile wide passage. To port were almost sheer rock cliffs rising into the clouds, so steep that even the tenacious ice could not find a grip; to starboard the ice clad slopes of the mountains on Anvers Island soared out of sight, with vast glaciers of tumbling, tortured ice filling the valleys. As we came around the final point the sun was breaking through to reveal truly breath taking vistas in all directions, a world of ice and mountains. We could also see that the way ahead was choked with ice, small bergs and brash ice jostling together with no clear leads. It is the most ice we have encountered so far and the final miles were taken at a snail's pace as we wove our way between the larger bergs, pushing through the small bits and pieces in between - both exciting and nerve-wracking! Our destination was Dorian Bay, a tiny enclosed pool entered through a very narrow gap only 10 feet deep, between an ice cliff and a rock reef. Once inside we tied 4 lines ashore to rocks and sat in the cockpit to take in the magnificent surroundings. A large colony of Gentoo penguins is spread over every rocky mound, the closest group about 100m from the boat and we can hear them crooning and trilling to each other, a totally different sound to the Chinstraps.....
 

Jan 28, 2007 Position 64 49'S 63 30'W

Gentoo Rookery
gentoo penguin feeding chick Persistent NE winds in the last few days have brought the type of weather more typical of the Antarctic - low grey clouds have hidden the mountains and brought frequent rain and snow showers. The breeze has also pushed a lot of ice down the Neumayer Channel which is now clogging the bay outside the narrow entrance to Dorian Bay, but only the occasional bergy bit finds its way into our protected inner harbour. Ignoring the weather, we have spent many hours ashore amongst the Gentoo penguins watching their behaviour and the workings of a busy colony. They seem quite different characters to the Chinstraps we have seen so far and their chicks are beautiful, with grey and white down and bright orange bills. Most of the chicks are well grown and can be left alone for long periods while the adults go foraging at sea, but we did find one much smaller chick with a parent in constant attendance (see photo) Their feeding behaviour with the older chicks is quite something to watch. A returning parent identifies its own chicks with calls and they peck and cry in eager anticipation. The adult then sets off at a brisk pace, waddling through the colony and hopping up and down rocks with the chicks in hot pursuit. The high speed chase often causes all sorts of chaos amongst the neighbours and is so frantic that the birds often slip and fall along the way. It usually ends on the edge of the colony when the parent stops and feeds the first chick to arrive and research suggests it might be a way of separating the weaker chick from the stronger. We also spent time watching the penguins in the water. When they first get in they wash vigorously using their feet and flippers to clean off the muck of the colony. In the shallow water of the anchorage we could see them swimming under the boat, suddenly graceful as they 'flew' through the water in pursuit of krill, a tiny shrimp-like creature that is their main prey...
 

Jan 30, 2007 Position 65 08'S 64 02'W

Port Charcot
a grey day in Dorian Bay Dorian Bay was a very special place and we stayed hidden away in there for 3 days. Yesterday evening the NE wind increased to around 20 knots and as the tide came in it brought a lot of brash ice into the bay. "Wandering Albatross" was soon surrounded by chunks ranging in size from tiny to a maximum of several metres long and we were kept busy adjusting our lines to allow the ice to pass underneath. This size of ice is not a threat to the boat and it was quite exciting to see the harbour fill with ice. This is all glacier ice as opposed to sea ice and the sound of escaping air bubbles is loud through the metal of the hull, a constant snap, crackle and popping as though the sea is fizzing and alive. The bumping of ice against the boat all night kept us awake into the wee hours but it is probably something we will have to get used to in the weeks ahead. With a forecast of a NE gale in 36 hrs we felt we would have to get out this morning if we could. It was low tide around lunch time and most of the ice was left high and dry on the shore (see photo). Looking out into the Neumayer channel we could see it was almost clear of ice for the first time in days as the stronger wind had moved it all along, so we took the gap and headed south to Port Charcot at the north end of Booth Island. Here we met the first other yacht since Deception Island, a boat called "Sadko" that left Ushuaia around the same time we did. Like most "anchorages" down here there is only room for one boat to tie securely, but as they were planning to leave early the next day and there was almost no wind we made a temporary mooring with an anchor down and 2 lines ashore. We had a sociable evening with Noel, Catherine and Martin, drinking cocoa with rum and swapping notes on the various anchorages we had each visited.....
 
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Feb 2, 2007 Position 65 08'S 64 02'W

Ice & Penguins
3 gentoo penguins struggle across the ice In the last few days (or to be more accurate nights) we have had our first real encounter with ice and have not had very much sleep. Tied four ways in a snug, rocky cove at Port Charcot we had good protection from the strong NE wind that was blowing and although we could see the clouds racing over the mountain tops ahead of us we felt little direct effect. But large chunks of ice are being brought into the bay on the incoming tide and drifting towards us. Many are as big as the boat and with a lot more bulk as most of an iceberg is underwater - only about 10% is visible above the surface. Although tiny by comparison to the large tabular bergs that we can see floating past in deeper water these bits, often with extensive protrusions and shelves, are disconcerting as they thump against the hull and get caught on our lines, so we spend a lot of time trying to fend them off! With our stern facing out of the bay the rudder seems a bit vulnerable and we decided to remove our Aries wind-vane self-steering system just in case. It proved a wise move as that very night a chunk about 15m long and 1.5m high lodged itself right across the transom and might well have damaged the Aries.
Ashore there is a fantastic penguin rookery spread over the hillside, mainly Gentoos but with small groups of both Chinstraps and Adelies mixed in. We are not the only ones bothered by the ice - we spent many hours watching the Gentoos try to pick their way across a shore covered with ice chunks (see photo) This was obviously their normal route from the sea back to the colony and creatures of habit that they are they didn't deviate from it despite the obstacles created by the ice. It was both hilarious and heart-breaking to watch them as they struggled from one awkward perch to the next, slipping and sliding and falling as they went, but determined to get across...
 

Feb 4, 2007 Position 66 02'S 65 24'W

Moving South
Wandering Albatross amongst icebergs Yesterday morning we left Port Charcot and began heading south, hoping to cross the Antarctic Circle in the next few days. The first miles took us through an amazing area of grounded bergs, every shape and size imaginable and as we wove our way between them it was like sailing through a vast natural gallery of ice sculptures (see photo) We spent several hours marveling at the grandeur and beauty of the bergs and watching seals hauled out on smaller floes. We stopped for the night in the Argentine Islands where we walked up to a high point for spectacular views back towards the mainland at sunset, then got underway again very early this morning as we had a 60 mile run south to the Fish Islands. It has been a remarkable day. We started out in bright sunshine on a crisp and pristine day and it felt as if we could see for ever. The never ending chain of mountains on the mainland stretched away south and in all directions were massive ice bergs gleaming bright white. It seems that the further south we get the more spectacular the scenery becomes and the more wild and untouched the environment is. A light breeze helped us on our way and we used the jib in open stretches of water as we are counting every litre of diesel. All day the clouds were building up behind us and as we approached the anchorage on Flounder Island a grey wall was advancing, swallowing the islands we had recently passed. By the time we had tied our lines ashore it was snowing hard and we were glad to get cosy down below with the heater going.....
 

Feb 5, 2007 Position 66 02'S 65 24'W

Flounder Island
surrounded by ice in Flounder Island We had planned to get a very early start this morning and push on south. Overnight our bay at Flounder Island filled up with ice and we had another fairly sleepless night adjusting lines (see photo) and pushing off the bigger chunks. At 5 A.M. the entrance was almost entirely blocked by brash ice and visibility was very poor in low grey clouds and snow. We didn't need much more to persuade us to stay put for the day, and went straight back to bed! Later the weather improved slightly and we went exploring ashore where we saw our first Weddell seals hauled out on patches of snow and a few Adelie Penguins....
 

Feb 6, 2007 Position 66 52'S 66 47'W

Antarctic Circle
crossing the Antarctic Circle The ice cleared out of the anchorage at Flounder Island last night and we got going this morning at 4 A.M. with a very light northerly breeze under grey skies. Our route took us between many small islands where countless massive bergs had grounded in the shallower water, sometimes making it hard to even identify the islands. We had to pick a way around the bergs and in many places push through bands of brash ice. There was a sense of being in a true wilderness where the raw power of nature dominates all and we were aware of how alone we are down here - a good and humbling feeling. A stretch of open water followed where the mist rolled in and for a short time we could see neither land nor bergs. Then, as if we had crossed some invisible line, the curtain of cloud drew back and ahead bright sunshine bathed the mountains in golden light. Beautiful bergs in every form imaginable drifted in the navy blue sea - we saw a fairy castle complete with turrets and arched entrance, a sleeping dinosaur, a perfect swan, a dragon's ridged spine and if possible the scenery was more awe inspiring than ever. At 66 33' S we crossed the Antarctic Circle, a thrilling achievement - it has been an incredible and challenging adventure getting here. Our destination was Detaille Island, a tiny mound of rock cradled in a horseshoe of majestic mountains created between Adelaide Island and the Antarctic Peninsula. There was a lot of ice around the island with numerous bergs aground but once we had negotiated our way into a bay on the north of the island we found it was clear of ice. It took some time to get tied up properly as there were few suitable rocks on shore, but in the end it was done. We sat out in the cockpit, watching as last light turned the icecap a marvellous shade of pink and appreciating the special moment of arriving at our furthest south....
 
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Feb 9, 2007 Position 66 02'S 65 24'W

Detaille Island
moored at Detaille Island With a forecast of SW wind at 10 -15 knots we had high hopes of exploring Detaille Island over several days but the weather down here is never predictable and on the night of our arrival the wind came through at 30 - 35 knots from the SE and blew a near gale for 36 hours. Although the bay we were in was protected from ice there was little shelter from the force of the wind which, due to "Wandering Albatross" being tied 4 ways, was directly on the beam. Things were quite wild and uncomfortable on board and launching the dinghy in those winds is a tricky undertaking. But the sun shone the entire time and when we did get ashore the island proved to be a magical place. Young Weddell seals were hauled out all over the expanses of snow and they are far more photogenic than either the Crabeater or Leopard seals, with pale markings against a darker pelage and big, trusting eyes. A thriving colony of Adelie penguins dominated the southern half of the island and the chicks were already fledging into adult plummage. Some were very advanced and had just small patches of fluffy down left, often on the top of their heads which made them look as if they had a crazy hair-do! There was an abandoned hut near our anchorage where a British unit was once stationed. It remains in good condition and was both fascinating and somehow nostalgic to look around. It seemed frozen in time, as if the men had just popped out, with jackets still hanging on pegs, boots lined up on shelves, tools at the door and cupboards full of porridge oats and tinned mince, the labels quaintly old-fashioned. Telegrams lying on one of the bunks were dated in the late 1950's and it is probable that the hut has not been used regularly since then. We could easily have spent longer here but another NE gale is forecast in the near future which will fill our bay with ice. So today we made use of the last of the southerly winds to sail north back to Flounder Island, 65 miles away and the closest secure anchorage....
 

Feb 11, 2007 Position 66 02'S 65 24'W

Flounder Island
Wandering Albatross in the snow at Flounder Island Returning to Flounder Island 2 days ago was almost like revisiting an old friend as we had stopped there on the way south so were familiar with the approach and knew exactly where to find the best rocks to tie up to. It had been a day of brilliant sunshine with the ever spectacular scenery revealed in all its glory. Huge bergs all along the 65 mile route fascinated us with their wonderful shapes and there were a lot of them aground near the entrance to the anchorage. We were treated to a memorable sunset behind the distant mountains and sat up on the rocks above the bay to enjoy it a fitting farewell to the rugged and unique wilderness south of 66S. The next morning we awoke to a blizzard outside and the snow continued all day, soon covering the boat and the rocks with a layer of white (see photo). The forecast strong NE wind has not materialised but a short spell of NW wind blew several large bergs across the entrance to the bay this morning so for now we are blocked inside and quite happy to be here. The ice is doing us afavour as it prevents all the smaller brash ice from entering the bay and we are protected in a pool of calm, clear water. The bergs are always moving and breaking up so as soon as the wind changes they will clear out and we will continue moving back up north....
 

Feb 14, 2007 Position 65 26'S 65 22'W

Pitt Islands
an Adelie penguin colony near Prospect Point Yesterday we sailed north to the Pitt Islands where we negotiated our way into a sheltered cove through a series of channels between small islands. This island group is on the ocean side of the Grandidier Channel about 35 miles from the Antarctic Peninsula and consists of many low, snow-domed islets, quite different from the mountainous scenery of the mainland. The highlight of the last few days has been spending much time with Adelie Penguins (see photo). First at our previous anchorage and today here we have spent many hours sitting amongst the birds. Most of the chicks are partially fledged but still sport tufts of fluff on their heads and backs. They are almost as big as the adults now and we saw a number of them make a tentative foray into the water. It is clear from their behaviour that they are experimenting and testing themselves, learning how to swim and it is fantastic to watch their uncertain encounters with the sea. They hover at the edge, sticking their heads under the surface or wading into the shallows for a trial submersion. You sense their inquisitiveness and surprise as some rush out again at once, shaking themselves and flapping their flippers. Others go straight in and we saw one trying to dive under with its head down and orange feet kicking in the air - it didn't quite have the hang of buoyancy control yet! Feeding chases happen all around, with the chicks pursuing the adults at high speed across the rocks before they receive a meal. Already there is a feeling that the season is winding down and a few adults have begun molting, a process they go through to replace their feathers every year at the end of the breeding season.
 

Feb 16, 2007 Position 65 06'S 64 04'W

Humpback Whales
Wandering Albatross amongst icebergs En route between the Pitt Islands and Hovgaard Island yesterday we had the most amazing encounter with a pair of Humpback whales. It was a windless day and we were motoring in flat calm conditions when we saw the blows of whales about half a mile away. We throttled back, as we always do, and drifted to see if they would come any closer. For a few minutes there was no sign of them, then they surfaced right next to the boat, blowing with a resonant booming noise and showering us with spray. They were literally a few metres away and for the next 1 1/2 hours they played with the boat, swimming beneath us, alongside us and all around us, lifting their tails high in the air as they dove (see photo). They were close enough for us to have a clear view of the tubercles (raised bumps) on their heads and lower jaws and to marvel at the length of their flippers, which are about a third of their +/- 15m body length. Humpbacks are well known for their curiosity and we later heard that this year has been a very good year for krill, the whales' primary food source, so they are full and have time to investigate boats. We have never had such an incredible meeting with whales and needless to say we were thrilled. We felt honoured that they chose to stay with us for so long and it was a deeply moving experience as we felt we were almost able to communicate with them.
 
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Feb 18, 2007 Position 65 06'S 64 04'W

Pleneau/Hovgaard Islands
fantastic view from Hovgaard Island For the last few days we have been enjoying the spectacular scenery at the southern end of the Le Maire channel from a secure mooring spot. Tied up amongst numerous rocks and skerries that lie between Hovgaard and Pleneau islands (see photo) we have been treated to 2 days of perfect weather. A big rookery of Gentoo penguins nearby has enticed us to sit for hours and we have been observing the next phase of the breeding cycle. Although there are still a few young chicks to be seen, most are almost fully fledged and full of curiosity. The feeding chases have taken on a new intensity and often the adults lead the chicks all the way to the water's edge and plunge in. This seems to be part of a training process to teach the chicks where to find food, as the adults emerge from the water within moments to feed the waiting chick. Older chicks sometimes follow the parent into the water at a run, only to halt in surprise and stand staring at the sea. Many adult birds now look skinny compared to their sleek, plump chicks, showing what a toll the raising of the young penguins takes on them. Once they part from the chicks they will spend some time at sea feeding themsleves before returning to molt. During the weeks of molting they cannot enter the water as their specially designed feathers provide insulation and waterproofing and without them they would not survive. All their energy is spent growing a new set of feathers as fast as possible, a process that normally takes about 3 weeks.
 

Feb 20, 2007 Position 64 49'S 63 30'W

Inquisitive Gentoo
an inquisitive gentoo penguin comes for a closer look We are making our way slowly north with the intention of looking for a weather gap to cross the Drake Passage around the end of February. Yesterday we sailed the 25 miles back to Dorian bay, one of our favourite stops on the way down, and are sharing the protected anchorage with Thies and Kicki on "Wanderer III". There is a definite change in the air as the summer rapidly draws to a close - the sun is lower in the sky and where we had almost constant daylight just a month ago there are now 6 hours of total darkness. It was exciting to see stars for the first time in ages and to discover the Southern Cross almost directly overhead. Precipitation falls now as snow rather than rain and it is getting much colder - in the early morning the bay has a thin skin of newly formed ice across the surface. The dynamics in the large Gentoo Rookery here have also changed and there are very few penguins left in the nesting areas on the rocky hillocks. Most chicks are now fully fledged juveniles and they congregate in large numbers along the shore line, practicing their swimming and waiting for the right moment to take to sea. They will spend several years as ocean nomads before returning to breed themselves. If anything they are more fascinating to watch than ever and incredibly inquisitive. We found that just sitting still on a rock arouses their curiosity and they advance in twos and threes to investigate. Singing and whistling interests them further and they waddle to within a few inches, peering at us (see photo) while the bravest ones make an exploratory peck at boots or fingers. There is something very special about coming eye to eye with a wild creature when it can choose to stay or go. This will probably be our last intimate meeting with penguins in Antarctica and we are making the most of every minute....
 

Feb 22, 2007 Position 64 54'S 62 52'W

Minke Whale
eye to eye with an Antarctic minke whale On a fantastic sunny day we set off up the Neumayer Channel, heading for Paradise Harbour on the mainland coast. We passed through this channel on the way south on a grey, misty day and now we had the chance to appreciate its true grandeur - soaring mountains, enormous glaciers and spectacular views up and down its length. Emerging at the north end we found there was about 15 knots of NE blowing and we were able to sail for a couple of hours, conserving a few more litres of valuable diesel. By the time we entered Paradise Harbour there was not a breath of wind and with the sun behind us we were treated to awe inspiring scenery, reflected mirror perfect in a motionless sea. We were motoring slowly, absorbing the sheer beauty and wildness, when an Antarctic Minke Whale surfaced just ahead of us and we throttled back in the hopes that we might get a better view. Although we have seen many Minkes in the last few weeks, the usual sighting is a brief glimpse of the dorsal fin as it slices the surface, then the whale is gone. So we were astounded when this whale approached the boat and played with us for over an hour. It was the most incredible and special encounter, an almost spiritual experience that seems impossible to describe. The whale was swimming so close to the boat at times that it appeared to be rubbing against the hull. Rolling onto its side as it passed alongside it stared up at us with an all-knowing eye and we stared back in wonder, lying on the deck just feet away. We felt an intimate rapport with this magnificent, gentle creature and it genuinely seemed to be interacting with us. an Antarctic minke whale spyhops next to the boat On many occasions it spyhopped right beside us thrusting its pointed head high up towards the rail, so close we could have reached out and touched it. We even had a close up view of coarse, short whiskers down the end of its upper jaw. Every time it blew we were showered with spray and when it slid beneath the boat we got a great impression of its sleek and streamlined shape.
The Antarctic Minke feeds mainly on krill, lunging into concentrations of prey and gulping great mouthfuls. It is thought that a single calf is born every one to two years. It is beyond belief that anyone could bear to harm such a wonderful creature but sadly Japan continues to hunt Antarctic Minkes in the Southern Ocean, killing several hundred each year.
 

Feb 24, 2007 Position 64 19.5'S 62 55'W

Last Day
whale watching We spent 2 nights in a sheltered cove in Paradise Harbour where we could anchor without the need for shorelines for the first time in Antarctica. Less than a mile away a fantastic glacier tumbled down a steep mountainside and we could hear a constant thundering and roaring, as if the ice was alive. Much brash ice accumulated outside the bay overnight and when went out out exploring in the dinghy we came across a 'new' type of ice: small, jagged pieces of brash ice were welded together with sea ice like peanut brittle and floated in broad but thin slabs upon the surface. The weather forecast is showing the makings of a possible gap to cross the Drake Passage in a few days time and although we are reluctant to leave, we can feel the changing season in the air and know it is time to go. So today we headed north to the Melchior Islands, which will be our departure point. Very aware that this is our last day in Antarctica we took our time and tried to absorb every detail, soaking up the views and ice bergs and wildlife to remember forever. And it was indeed a memorable day. Perfect reflections of the ever impressive scenery stretched in all directions; great blue bergs in interesting shapes gathered off every point; big groups of penguins congregated in the water, surfacing as one and causing the sea to boil and churn as a hundred black and white heads popped up; more stood on the ice, always seeming to enjoy srambling up a steep slope that goes nowhere; seals, too were hauled out and lay motionless on the ice as we passed by unnoticed. About half way on our route we came across a pair of Humpback whales drifting like logs on the surface. Not expecting a repeat of our previous Humpback encounter, but ever hopeful, we stopped a few hundred yards away and drifted with them. They blew softly and sank beneath the surface and a few moments later came up just yards from the stern with booming blows and a shower of spray. A third whale soon joined them and there followed 2 hours of incredible interaction with these wonderful creatures as they swam and dove and spyhopped around the boat, often within a few metres. It was as if we were engaged in an elegant dance together and we were yet again awed by the close proximity of such magnificent animals and delighted that they seemed to be so interested in us. Our path has been intertwined with that of "Wanderer III" for the past few days and as they were not far behind us we shared this remarkable encounter with Thies and Kiki (see photo). It was another incredible meeting with whales and we particularly noticed their size and power compared to the Minke whale a few days ago. We reached Melchior on a real high and tied up in a small, rocky cove in a channel between isalnds domed with ice. The next few days will be spent preparing to cross the Drake Passage...
 

Mar 01, 2007 Position 58 34'S 67 00'W

Drake Passage
a humpback whale surfaces beside us Our weather window materialised earlier than expected and we are now well on our way back across the Drake Passage. We have a steady 20 knots of wind from the SSW and are flying along in moderate seas - perfect conditions for "Wandering Albatross". Conditions are forecast to remain much the same for the next day or two and as we should make landfall sometime tomorrow it seems that the Drake has been kind to us.
We left the Melchior Islands in heavy snow on the morning of the 26th after managing to prepare the boat for the passage in one busy day. Amongst other things we had to put our wind steering system back on the transom, collect about 100 L of water from a nearby stream of melting ice, check over the rig, stow everything securely, bake bread and prepare some underway meals, not to mention sharing cups of tea and slices of cake with Thies & Kicki on "Wanderer III"! As we motored slowly out of the channel and turned into the wind to hoist the mainsail a pair of Humpback whales surfaced a few hundred yards away and then approached the boat. To our delight they blew and dove and spyhopped around us at close quarters (see photo) and then swam near us as we reluctantly turned north, almost as if they were bidding us farewell. It was a perfect send off and as the smooth snow domes of the islands were swallowed in the driving snow behind us we vowed we would return one day to this magical, untouched wilderness at the bottom of the world. The next day was very calm and sunny and it seemed as if whichever direction you looked there was the high, bushy blow of a spouting whale, some near, some far and several passing close off the bow or surfacing at the stern. All appeared to be swimming slowly at the surface and heading in a generally northerly direction. It was a remarkable sight and we surmised that this must be Humpbacks beginning their long migration north to breeding grounds in tropical waters. Humpbacks that feed in the waters off the Antarctic Peninsula have been recorded breeding off the coast of Costa Rica, a straight line distance of at least 4500 miles and the longest confirmed migration of any individual mammal. On this incredible journey the whales average only one mile per hour as they rest and socialise frequently. We felt very lucky to have witnessed this moment and it was nice to think that we were leaving Antarctica at the same time as these special whales...
 
Our sail back across the Drake Passage was fantastic and we were jubilant to make landfall on the 4th March in the Wollaston Islands in southern Chile just 10 miles from Cape Horn. Our return marked the successful completion of our Arctic to Antarctic Challenge, an 8 month adventure that had fulfilled a dream and helped raise awareness for marine conservation, particularly the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.