Our Antarctica trip really came about as a fluke. Down here, in Puerto Williams, we are surround by charter boats that regularly do the Antarctica trip three and four times a season. There is also a small percentage of cruising boats that pass this way with the sole intention of sailing to Antarctica. At one point we considered taking Karma but when the opportunity arose to join another boat we felt that was a more conservative option.
We met the captain of the boat we went on when we first got to Puerto Williams. We had thought we had all become quite good friends. The captain was in Puerto Williams without his family for his final year of charter and he spent many evenings aboard Karma; in fact, he spent the previous Christmas (2016) with us in Ushuaia on Karma. When he mentioned that he and his family would be going to Antarctica and asked if we would be interested in joining him as friends, not as a charter, Clint and I were beside ourselves at the opportunity. He told us that the plan was to take 6 to 8 weeks and we would go "slowly" around Antarctica. He was excited that we were interested because unlike most people we could be part of a trip that needed flexible dates and we could be away for up to two months. In addition to us, there would be one other person joining us; his best friend from Germany who was also an experienced sailor and was retired so he was able to take a lot of time.
We knew that the captain had a lot of experience around Cape Horn and the Beagle. He had also given us the impression that prior to getting married he had been to Antarctica many times as captain on another charter boat and that he had a lot of knowledge of Antarctica. Based on what we knew and on what we had observed, we were confident in his ability as a captain and in his boat. We also thought it would be a fun time since we had all gotten to know each other and seemed to enjoy each other's company. Unfortunately we were wrong.
Without going into all of the details, Antarctica turned out to be surprising in many ways. The place was more spectacular and special than we could have imagined. The experience aboard the boat turned into the Twilight Zone, also something we could not have imagined. The whole trip was quite traumatic for both of us. We have learned, the hard way, that you really do not know people until you put them in a small environment, at sea for a five day 600 mile passage on one of the most difficult bodies of water on the planet. We quickly found ourselves in a Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde scenario. We knew he (the captain) was a little obsessive compulsive and even joked with him about it. On a boat, at sea, it was our experience that an overly obsessive compulsive person turns into a supreme control freak in an environment that is very hard to have complete control over. His condition was not so funny anymore. We could do nothing correctly (in his mind) and were treated very disrespectfully as a result.
It did not help when an improperly stored container of gasoline (put there by the captain) flooded the boat with gas fumes and made everyone sick. Add to that condition the stress associated with a major rigging failure while heading south to Antarctica and you have a very bad combination.
This is a shot from our first anchorage, trying to improve our repair of the head stay failure. The yellow tow straps were part of our temporary repair at sea.
Clint and our other very experienced crew member were critical in making sure the rigging failure did not cause any additional problems and was safe for the rest of the passage south. The captain, in my opinion, did not deal with the problem very well and was not proactive in coming up with a solution. The important thing is that we got the problem under control; however, we quickly lost trust in our captain which is a very scary thing.
We hoped that once we arrived in the protected waters of Antarctica had a safe anchorage and some good rest things would get better. Unfortunately this was not the case. Even after arriving in Antarctica the captain showed an increased level of stress. Shortly after arriving his new focus was to leave. Instead of a 6 to 8 week meander through Antarctica we got the "drive by" tour.
Of course we knew before leaving Puerto Williams we would not be gone 6 to 8 weeks because our other crew member had booked a return ticket, he had only planned on a 4 week stay all together. After learning this, a lot of things began to fall in place and it became very apparent that we had been lied to and manipulated. We were still happy to be going for a month but in the end that did not even end up being the case. We covered a lot of ground in just a few days and then ended up parking the boat in one spot. Ten days crossing The Drake (5 each way), 5 days touring Antarctica, 14 days sitting in one spot. Not quite the six to eight week cruising experience we had anticipated or the month we were anticipating. Needless to say, we came back very disappointed. However, after a week of mentally recovering; we have chosen to move forward, learn from the experience, and be completely appreciative of what time we did have. Not many people ever have the chance to go to Antarctica and we are grateful for the time we did get shitty or not.
Enough of that! I do not wish to dwell on the negative but rather the positive. Antarctica is freaking amazing and our pictures do not even come close to doing it justice. We feel that we got to see many very unique things in one of the most remote places on the planet. Antarctica did indeed turn out to be surprising in many ways. The place was more spectacular and special than we could have imagined.
I hope you enjoy the pictures!
First let me start with a bit of perspective. Antarctica is way the hell away from where we started. The red line on this google earth image is the approximate route we have taken since leaving Florida. Pretty impressive if we say so ourselves.
The cruising area of Antarctica is a relatively small area of the Antarctic Peninsula.
The picture below is our actual route to and from Antarctica. The more western line is our return.
This closer look shows the area we cruised.
In the map below I marked each of our stops. The first stop (#1), Deception Island, was not really a stop. We arrived there New Year's Eve and just before entering the anchorage, after 5 days of crossing The Drake, the captain decided he did not like the place (big red flag) and we pressed on. Our actual first stop was #2, Enterprise Island. We arrived there approximately 24 hours later on the first day of the year 2018.
#2 Enterprise Island, 64° 33'S : 062° 00'W
At Enterprise there is an old whaling vessel that is grounded. It provides an excellent mooring for the boats cruising Antarctica. It was the perfect spot to tie off securely to get some much needed rest. It is also a very popular spot. In the three days we were there, we were joined by six other boats. At one point four of us were rafted off together.
It's funny, in all the time we have cruised the fjords of Chile we found the anchorages of Antarctica to be more crowded!
The one upside to having other boats around is it gave us the chance to get off of our boat and to actually have a bit of fun. A Polish charter boat that was rafted to us had a birthday party and everyone was invited. The crew and captain from our boat only stayed about 10 minutes but Clint and I partied on. What do you get when you put a boat full of Czechs together with a boat full of Poles? A lot of vodka (and Igor).
One of the boats tied alongside us was a sister-ship to our boat. It was a private charter boat that had on board Czech climbers; one of which is supposedly the most famous climber in all of Europe. Funny side note, they climbed shear walls of ice but were afraid to ride around in the dinghy....
About 100 feet off of the bow of the boat was a glacial wall that enclosed the front of the anchorage. At low tide there was a small rocky shore. On our first there we woke to the climbers testing their skills. It provided good entertainment. Thirty-six hours later that very ice wall provided even more entertainment when it came tumbling down.....
The ice wall the climber in the picture above was suspended from is now in a million pieces in the picture below!
Just after sitting down to dinner we heard a loud explosion. Actually a sound we were all quite familiar with but could not place right away...a calving glacier; but, before we could even process the noise, the explosion was followed by the windows of our pilot house being bombarded with ice. It was really quite surreal. Within the blink of an eye it dawned on all of us that the glacier in front of us had just come tumbling down. It was low tide and the ice hit the rocky beach exploding and ricocheting right at the bow of our boat. As we were ducking for cover in case a window broke, we also braced ourselves for the tidal wave. Fortunately, because of the low tide the impact of the ice on the water was minimal. We were really quite fortunate, no one was hurt and the boat was not damaged. Soon after all of the excitement we tidied up from dinner and got the heck out of dodge.
One of the nice things about having light 24 hours a day is that you can move around at any time. So, by 9 pm that night we were underway for spot #3, Paradise Bay.
#3 Paradise Bay, 64° 49'S: 62° 51'W
Paradise Bay, in the Gerlache Strait, is home to the Chilean Gabriel González Videla Base. This is just one of several Chilean bases. Opened in 1951, the base is operated in the summer time only jointly by the Chilean Armada (Navy) and Air Force. It is a research facility and also home to the Chilean Air Force's primary Heritage Museum in Antarctica, aka a gift shop.
Being typical Chilean, we were given a very nice welcome. It also did not hurt that our captain is ex-armada and knew one of the guys at the station. They even let us use their shower. Our first shower of 2018 was in Antarctica...how cool is that?
The base is on a very tiny island with a ton of penguins. Technically the proximity you are allowed to the penguins is limited to 5 meters but here they were a bit relaxed so we were able to get up close and personal to these very stinky but cute creatures.
Do you see the egg?
Know the song, "Smoke on the Water"?
This phenomena is created when frigid air moves over the relatively "warmer" water.
While at Paradise Bay, we were treated to some more alpine entertainment. The Czech climbers who we met earlier at Enterprise and had left before us were at Paradise Bay when we arrived in the wee hours of the morning.
In the bay we had the Chile base on our port side and a beautiful mountain vista on our starboard.
Apparently the climbers only like to climb up....
And they prefer to ski down....
We spent one night at Paradise Bay before moving on to spot #4, Port Lockroy.
#4 Port Lockroy, 64° 49'S : 63° 31'W
Port Lockroy is home to the U.K. Base.
This base is only open during the summer. The Gentoo Penguins that call this base home are only the minor purpose for this base. Its primary function is to serve as a museum and post office for all of the cruise ship visitors. It is the number one tourist destination in Antarctica.
This ship, The Europa, was paying a visit while we were there. It almost felt as if Shackleton was visiting.
Unlike the penguins at Paradise Bay who were still sitting on their eggs, the eggs at Port Lockroy had already hatched.
The contrast between the Chilean base and the British base was really quite poignant. While the Chile base was very relaxed the British base was very formal. Upon arriving at Port Lockroy we radioed the base asking for permission to come ashore. We were told that they would be closing in thirty minutes so if we could be ashore in the next 10 minutes, we could walk around until they closed. We had not even anchored yet and the dinghy was still up on deck. We then asked if we could come the following morning. In very proper British, we were informed that the following day was a Royal birthday and they would be closed. Okay, how about the day after that? Yes, they were open but there was no availability for us to come ashore. What the hell? It became quickly obvious that our best bet was to get our butts in gear and get ashore as quickly as possible. Without even dropping the hook, we dropped the ding and quickly made it to shore while the captain stayed at the boat. The good news was we made it with 15 minutes to spare. The bad news was we did not get to really enjoy it. I spent my whole time in the gift shop while Clint quickly went around snatching pictures of the displays in the museum so we could go back later and do a "virtual" tour. In all the rush to get to shore, I forgot my address book. I am sorry to those who did not get a greeting from Antarctica.
The best thing to come from our afternoon at Port Lockroy was that we were able to talk to a cruise ship that was returning from the south. The day before we had received word at the Chilean base that the Lemaire Channel was blocked and not navigable but the cruise ship reported that it was currently open.
#5 Lemaire Channel
The Lemaire Channel has the reputation of being one of the most spectacular areas in Antarctica. It is 11 km long and only 1600 m wide at its narrowest point; hence the tendency for it to be blocked by ice. We were very grateful to get word that it was open. As I said, our captain had already begun to start talking about our return to Chile and if the channel was not open the plan was to go tuck a way at a very safe anchorage he knew about where we would sit tight for a week before looking for a window to head back to Chile. Fortunately with the news that the Lemaire was open and the very calm conditions we were having he was willing to go for it. The Lemaire was absolutely the high point of our trip...
Clint taking it all in!!!!!
Those are penguins walking a very long way up a mountain to the rocks where they nest.
The trip from Port Lockroy south through the Lemaire was just over six hours. The plan when we departed Lockroy was to anchor in a very protected anchorage at the south end of Lemaire. After arriving at the anchorage the captain did not "feel right" about the spot so we turned around and headed back to Lockroy. Clint and I were really bummed, we thought that if we had gotten that far south we would be able to visit the Ukraine base and at least have another week of exploring Antarctica. This was not to be the case. We arrived back at Port Lockroy 14 hours later at 4 am.
Disappointed and tired we quickly crashed and woke later that morning to the news that we were headed for Melchoir; the protected anchorage where we would wait to return. This was on January 7th, just 6 days after arriving at Enterprise. Our Antarctic "Expedition" was over.
It was at this point that things went from bad to worse. We sat in Melchoir one week before the captain began to look for a weather window to return to Chile. We then sat for another week waiting for weather. On January 21st we left Melchoir and headed north.
The return trip across the Drake was much more difficult than the one south; for one thing, I was completely emotionally drained from the psychological trauma inflicted by our captain over the previous three weeks. I did not even leave my bunk for the five days we crossed the Drake. I am not proud of myself for this but it was the best I could do.
We survived the ordeal and learned a lot from it. Antarctica is, to date, the most spectacular place either of us has ever been to and although not all of the memories are good, we are still grateful that we got to go.
Some more pictures of our trip:
After four days of hand steering south this was our first iceberg sighting in The Drake.
Penguins! You can never get enough of these guys.
Icebergs everywhere.... To some of you it might just be a piece of ice.... to us, it is art!!!!
This berg was the size of a city block!!
Do you see the dinosaur?
One thing that really took us by surprise was the elevation. The highest peak on the Antarctic Peninsula rises just over 9,000 feet.
It is hard to tell but that is an iceberg in the foreground.
Wedell Seals sun bathing on some floating ice in our anchorage at Melchoir.
Leopard Seals! Which frankly Disney got all wrong in Nemo.
Jaws, aka Miss Piggy, which we stared at for two weeks while at Melchoir, wondering when she would come down and end it for us once and for all.
We were anchored directly opposite just 50 yards away.
Two of three humpback whales we caught frolicking.
For Clint this was the money shot!!
And last but not least, a big shout out to out sponsor:)
We have never asked for gear before but a friend of ours who runs regular charter trips to Antarctica raved about her gloves. We found a distributor for the gloves in the US. Although they only sold wholesale, once we told them a little bit about ourselves and our upcoming trip they offered to send us several pairs! Thank you HT Enterprises, htent.com
. Your gloves ROCK!