Lockroy at last
20 December 2013 | 64 49.2'S:063 29'W, Port Lockroy
From a reluctant and first time blogger.
The project has returned to Port Lockroy for Stage 2, but not before a struggle. It all began in Cape Town, when six hours before Elena, Lara, Luca and I were due to get in the taxi for the airport to fly to BA, Nelson Mandela died, finally. Elena, who has worked on covering Mandela for the last seven years had to bail and stay behind organizing the ensuing media extravaganza on behalf of EBU, with heads of state arriving by the plane load.
The three of us carried on of course, and I hatched a plan for Elena to join us on the Peninsula via cruise ship, departing Ushuaia today. Mandela was buried on the 15th, so she would have time to tie up loose ends, get a plane on the 18th and hopefully join us by Christmas Eve. But even this is not sure, read on . . .
After a night in Buenos Aires after our long flight, the three of us flew down to Ushuaia were Dave and Bertie were waiting for us, Pelagic having been provisioned and fueled and more or less ready to go, after their week between their epic November trip on Stage 1. Film producer Andrew also sailed back, leaving Ruth at Port Lockroy at the base, as his family was due to arrive on the 9th. Struggles continued in Ushuaia, never a relaxing place, and we spent two days marching up and down the town doing last minute shopping; materials for Christmas decoration, art supplies; sketching pencils lost, later found; two bottles of gin and one of brandy; for flaming purposes only; elastic for making wrist loops to prevent gloves and mittens from blowing away, a fishing pole; cheap Chinese model, fell apart immediately; Lara's favorite Argentine biscuits, plastic water bottles, sick buckets . . . . . . all between darting off to Ramos for an expensive coffee to check emails before departure Ð you get the picture?
Bertie flew back to the UK on the 9th. I had to second Dave back on to take Elena's place Ð he was due for R and R in Stanley during the holidays and we checked options for getting him back once we hit the Peninsula, before Elena's ship arrives.
Leaving the dock in Ushuaia is always a relief Ð except in this case when Dave and I miscommunicated and we made a balls up of casting off and bent part of the pushpit, luckily not damaging the expensive yacht behind us Ð an inauspicious start. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a sail under jib down the Beagle, while Andrew, his wife Emma and Amy age 12 and Daisy age 14, all non sailors, got their gear stowed, were briefed on the plumbing in the head and all the dangers that could entail. This would be a steep learning curve for them, crossing the Drake Passage on their first offshore sail.
Entering the creek at Puerto Williams was really the beginning of the expedition as the town has nothing to offer in terms of retail, so no distractions. We could finally focus on getting the vessel ready for sea. The only imperative job ashore, other than waiting around the Port Captains office and customs and immigration clearing in and then clearing out, was to cut down our Christmas tree. We found a classic Tierra del Fuego version; a Canelo Ð winter bark - not far from the Micalvi Yacht Club which found its way into the forepeak with much speculation on whether it would survive the Drake. So too the crew.
On December 11th at 1800, we left Williams with a good forecast, feasting on centolla, a king crab, on deck, a present from our friend and agent Cocha. The four kids bedded down after dinner and as expected various levels of sea sickness manifested themselves as we left the protection of the archipelago near Cape Horn and picked up the Southern Ocean swell.
I won't go into detail about the crossing, but it was all about keeping the kids hydrated, passing sick buckets around and offering the usual comforting platitudes. The second day and night out was the worst, and then the weather did change and everyone slowly came to life, although mainly staying horizontal.
After a windless third day, having made an exceptionally fast crossing of 72 hours from Williams, we entered Boyd Straits and turned east for Deception Island, first shelter in order to take a break, recoup and have a run on terra firma, the only sure cure for mal de mer. After a good breakfast, the first decent meal in a while for the minors, we blew up the Zodiac and ferried everyone ashore. Andrew filmed the kids sledding behind the ruins of the whaling station, meeting a few stray Gentoos and standing in the warm water on the beach shrouded in steam. Everyone felt a lot better about the situation. That evening we sailed south, or rather motored in a light southerly, as the preoccupation was to get back to Lockroy asap as the first chicks would be hatching from this point forward. Ice reports further south from the other yachts, Pelagic Australis included, and cruise ships were not encouraging though. Sea ice and brash still was blocking the primary channels and anch orages in the central Gerlache Straits area, with stable weather offering no chance for a flush out soon.
After a long day and night underway with little or no ice in the Bransfield Straits and northern Gerlache, we decided to spend the night at Cuverville Island. Getting to Lockroy would be a mission as apparently it was still surrounded by brash ice. In fact the base only had one landing in the last two weeks, which will be a substantial loss of income for the Heritage Trust. We were lucky though as the anchorage at Cuverville was open enough to spend a quite night, after three hours ashore in sunny, calm conditions at the Gentoo colony, albeit sharing the landing with a cruise ship.
Next day we attempted to reach Lockroy via the Neumayer Channel from the north, enjoying twisting our way through unconsolidated brash ice Ð but were stopped not two miles from the station when it all closed up and got very sticky. So it was a back track to Waterboat Point dropping a hook off the Chilean base Videla. Next morning we tried via the south end of the Neumayer, and got within less than a miles from the base, and same story Ð thick brash and no way to push through. Rather than shelter at an open anchorage miles way, we decided to plant Pelagic in the brash and spend the night there, on the chance that a change of tide or wind would open it all up Ð and that's what indeed happened when we woke the following morning. We pushed our way into the inside cove not 20 meters from the boathouse at Lockroy, with five lines ashore - and here we sit in glorious sunshine, having remade contact with Ruth and the team of four who man, or should I say woman, the base for the s ummer season. The ice has moved back in and effectively we are trapped for the moment, but able to get ashore in the Zodiac.
Elena has boarded the cruise ship Ushuaia this afternoon . . . . . but I am wondering . . . . . if the ice doesn't move out and we can't get back out nor she can get in . . . . ??