|Vessel Name:||Pelagic Australis|
|Crew:||Miles, Laura and Dave|
|About:||Miles hails from Yorkshire farming stock, Laura is from Kent and competed in the 2000 BT Global Challenge, and Dave is a dinghy sailor from Devon|
It is difficult to know what to write to you about without repeating myself, but as this whole Pelagic adventure nears its end, we are appreciating more and more the places we visit, the people we meet, and the things we do. Yesterday we were in our favourite anchorage, Estero Coloane (otherwise known as Caleta Wow), which I know I have written about before, but it really is spectacular. A circular bay, maybe as much as a mile in diameter, is surrounded by mountains and glaciers. All around there are waterfalls cascading down from hidden lakes high up in the mountains. In one corner, there is a small island and a little nook under the trees. We reverse in with the yacht, so the stern is under the overhanging branches, and we tie a shore line from each corner of the boat, to the trees. When we arrived a couple of days ago, the wind was strong out in the Beagle Channel and swirling around the bay. Williwaws (katabatic winds) raced in different directions sometimes catching our bow, and sometimes leaving us be. We could see them coming down the hanging glacier high above us, and follow their progress to the water and then across the bay. Miles looked nervously at the tiny tree on the island that was holding our starboard bow line as it bowed under our weight, but there are no bigger trees and it held firm. [p] Yesterday it was calm and clear and we split into two groups. Dave and I took Andy and Sue up to the ridge behind the boat for a fabulous view of the bay, the glaciers and then, when we were high enough, the Beagle Channel. It is a hard climb but every time you turn around the view gets better. There was an easterly wind blowing when we got to the top, and the sky was dark dark dark - full of snow. By the time we'd had a a cup of tea and a biscuit it was snowing heavily, so we carefully picked our way down and joined the others on board. The other group had gone on a shorter adventure, but no less magnificent. They climbed up to a lake on the other side of the bay maybe 250m high. The lake was formed by a hanging glacier and the water still poured in from above. However, it has also been heavily affected by beavers. They are a real pest in this part of the world as they dam rivers and create huge areas of flooded land. Miles, Jarrod and Jeremy had a good look at the beaver dams, slides they use to get down to the waterline, the trees that have been recently gnawed and the mass of dead trees in the middle of the lake. They came back buzzing.[p] In the afternoon, we took the kayaks and the zodiac over to the far corner of the bay and made our way over the moraine to the glacier. This one is slowly retreating and for various reasons I haven't been over to it since our very first time in the bay 3 years ago. It has moved back quite some way since then, but just melting - no chunks of ice falling from it. It was so amazing to get up close, and actually walk on the ice. We had a hilarious photoshoot with all of us trying to stay in place without sliding back down, or falling into a crevasse. Then it started snowing again and so we walked down the valley bottom towards the boats. On our way down, despite the snow we decided to go and look at another beaver lake. They really are incredible creatures - collecting their wood and stockpiling it, then chopping it down into sensible size sticks to make a beautifully constructed dam. Then in the middle their lodge - an igloo made of stick and wood - amazing! It was almost dark and still heavily snowing when we returned to the kayaks, but so beautiful and still that we decided not to have a ride back. It was a stunning paddle back with that absolute silence that comes with falling snow and snowflakes so huge they could have been on steroids. We got back and Dave had started the bar b q. It was a special request from our South Africans on board - Andy and Sue lived in Botswana for 22 years, they are not used to snow and it was so fun to see them playing around in it. "I promise I'll cook, but we must have a bri in the snow!" - "Once is enough" he said afterwards! A great evening ensued with lots of wine, music and chat. Everyone on a high from such a fantastic day. As always, it feels as if we have known these guys for our whole lives, but just 10 days ago, they were strangers to us. What other job or environment pushes relationships so fast? [p] It is becoming more difficult to imagine leaving this world, but we are excited about setting up a home in Yorkshire and being able to welcome some of our guests - or new friends - to stay when they are in the area. This has been an extraordinary way to live - out of range for the media, and in the company of people that are on holiday, and therefore enjoying themselves and relaxing. We don't hear the doom and gloom, and melodrama of the worlds press, just the oohs and ahhs as we move through some of the most stunning countryside on the planet.[p] More soon, [p] Lots of love[p] Laura and Miles[p]
It's been a difficult charter so far - starting with a delay for the guests, some 'essential' equipment that didn't make it through customs in Buenos Aires, a four and a half day up wind Drake passage crossing, and then continuing with rain and snow and grey days, and so much ice in the channels down [...]
The guys arrived last Saturday. We had had a busy week doing some routine maintenance, cleaning and provisioning, and didn't really pay much attention to the fact that the wind instrument hadn't been registering all week. When we came to leave, it became apparent that we hadn't just accidently pressed some button to turn it off, but that the wind vane at the top of the mast wasn't actually sending the message down to the computer. We hoisted Dave (now back on board with two working eyes) to the top to replace it with the spare and for a few minutes it worked perfectly. Phew, we can set off safely knowing where the wind is coming from and how much of it there is. Unfortunately it didn't last long at all. In fact Dave had time only to get back to the deck and light a cigarette before it stopped reading again. 'Oh well' said the very experienced Jim Stephens (one of two Americans - brothers - on board) 'we'll have to do it the old fashioned way', and he was right. We get very used to computers telling us what is what, and forget that we can tell the wind speed from the sea state, the feel, the way the boat moves and the noise, and it's not hard to work out the direction. So no drama, off we went. Miles and I actually commented on the way across that it was quite nice not having the information broadcast to us, and the sail plan dictated by a small electronic screen, and instead the sailing and sail plan was about instinct and experience.
Now, I know you must be getting bored of hearing about how windy it is down here, but our arrival this week really did set some new records. The forecast showed a small front coming across the island through the morning with 20 or 25 knots of wind, and a little bit more to the south and to the north. By 5am we had force 6-7 from behind us and really great sailing conditions. As we approached Willis and Bird Islands (on the western tip of South Georgia) it increased to a force 8 and the decision was made not to go down the very narrow channel between Bird Island and the mainland but to keep offshore where the sea state was more regular and predictable and we had more sea room. 3 reefs and the staysail and doing 11knots - awesome! Through the morning the wind increased again, we rolled in a bit of the staysail and Miles looked at me - 4th reef? OK, probably too windy to expect these guys to go forward to put the reef in, so Miles and I went up to the mast and fought with ropes and sail and eventually had it under control. Jim was holding court in the cockpit - 'How much wind do you reckon Miles?' 'I dunno, 50, 55knots?'
Jim looked smug and said that's just what he'd told the others. And still it increased.
We buzzed along north of the island, heading for the Bay of Isles to Rosita Harbour - an 'all weather anchorage' in Skips words. The wind eased for a while and gave us a chance to put the sail away and lash it down and also to prepare the anchor on the foredeck. Then we came around the corner and saw the telltale signs of Williwaws racing across the bay. Big white clouds swirling and whipping the sea into a frenzy. For two hours we did battle with the weather, making incredibly slow progress into the wind, and being pushed over and round by gust after gust. When we finally reached the anchorage the conditions hadn't changed - if anything the williwaws were more frequent and more ferocious. We went to our usual spot for anchoring here, dropped the hook and held our breaths. The wind was so strong we literally had to kneel on the foredeck to keep our balance. 70 or 80 knots gusts coming through with ridiculous regularity. Three of us had hats whipped from our heads - a donation to the ocean, the fur seals or is it neptune? One of the guests noticed that I wasn't wearing any gloves and brought me a pair. It took several minutes to work my fingers into the right holes, there just wasn't any feeling in them. The anchor didn't hold and we had to bring it back up to look for a better place. Another hour went by, and another failed attempt before the anchor bit and our position was a safe distance from rocks. When we eventually came back inside, our faces felt as if they had been dragged across a frosted up freezer, burning and red and stiff and really quite painful. The best bit about it all was when Richard - a complete non-sailor looked up once the anchor was safe, and said 'wow, what a beautiful place, lovely sunshine, great wildlife on the beach, fantastic view - awesome!', and then when we came back inside Jules was equally enthralled - 'you couldn't ask for a better / more dramatic landfall'. What a group!
Now we are at Grytviken, tied to a dock and able to sleep full nights. There is a cruise ship here that have invited us for dinner so no need to cook tonight, they drive us around so we don't even need to launch the dinghy. A real night off for me - what a treat! Unfortunately Miles has been told that he has to stand up to speak to the guests and answer some questions about yachting down here so he's not feeling quite so pleased with the situation, no doubt he'll do brilliantly and drink a well earned glass of wine when he's done (or maybe before!)
Tomorrow we are planning a hike up one of the peaks here to get a sense of the scale of the place, Miles and I just have to quickly learn some basic climbing skills and techniques...!
Hope all is well at home, and Christmas isn't taking over yet. Lots of love Laura and Miles