From Ushuaia, Argentina to the Antarctic on the Anne-Margaretha
24 February 2015, Land Ahoy!
Storm sail down, fok up and we are motor-sailing with the wind down to 10 to 20 knots. We were hove to (stalled with the jib backed) for a short while last night but as the seas calmed down to an oily swell it was deemed safe enough to make passage at night with a person outside on look-out for icebergs. None were sighted, but land was, on our starboard (right hand) side. Al and I were lucky to be on watch this morning as our island emerged in the distance. The reflection on the underside of the clouds and a thin bright line gave it away. A huge slab of rock and snow named after us – Smith Island. It will take us till dusk to make our chosen destination on Deception Island.
( photo: Heinz and Greet, the owners and captains of the Anne-Margaretha).
While we gently rock n’roll on, I can take the time to introduce you to the folk aboard. First we have the Captain and one of the 2 owners of Anne-Margaretha, Heinz Wutschke, and our First Mate, Sam, Heinz’s son. Next we have the Watch Leaders, Sigrid, Henrike and Thomas.
On Sigrid’s watch are passengers Sal and Al Smith and Silvya. On Henrike’s watch are passengers Paul, Mimi, and Mariette. On Thomas’s watch are passengers Lieke, Allard and Johannes. As passengers we are not required to stand watch but can if we want. Most of the passengers have found their sea legs now so this morning on our watch we had a full complement for the first time since leaving the Beagle Channel.
It is almost embarrassing to note that the English were in a minority, only three of us, but everyone else spoke English and none of the English spoke any other language. Out of deference to the English speakers on board, English was the language used in general conversation.
(photo: Deception Island, in the NNW our anchoring bay)
As we got closer to Smith Island, land began to appear on our port side. It was deceptive as it was an island that was a perfectly smooth, pure white, shallow dome with a parallel line of puffy white clouds hanging over it. This island is aptly call Snow Island. Off to port we saw our first icebergs, then they began to appear out of the gloom ahead as well. One huge one looked like an ice encrusted frigate to start with then morphed into a shaggy terrier pretending to be the sphinx and finally took on the persona of a grizzly bear as we sailed past it. The wind was gradually increasing as a weather front passed over us. We had a day of iceberg, bird and whale watching. We had a humpback whale surface and dive right next to us, many cape petrels soaring around us, sometimes a penguin and the occasional black browed albatross.
The wind was now gusting up to 50 knots accompanied by snow but thankfully it was short lived, the snow that is. We continued to have a wild ride in strong wind which unkindly increased again just as the crew were about to take the sails down to make the very narrow entrance to the harbour in the centre of Deception Island. A small ship belonging to the Spanish station called on the radio and said they would stand-off and wait for us to clear the entrance, then follow us through.
Deception Island is at the southern end of the South Shetland Islands. It has a volcanic crater at sea level that is accessed through a break in the crater wall. This forms a large enclosed harbour around the perimeter of which were smaller craters forming enclosed bays. It was in one of these that we were going to anchor. The first priority was to get the sails down. The boat was turned into the wind and Heinz, Sam, Thomas, Sigrid and Allard did battle with flogging canvas. Once everything was under control we set off under engine towards our safe anchorage for the night.
Heinz put two anchors out as there were still lots of squalls coming down from the high hills around us. The engine was stopped and we were still after 5 days and nights at sea.
We had crossed the feared Drake’s passage, an awesome achievement especially for those who had never been on a sailboat before. A real baptism of fire! I certainly will never forget the thrill of helming this ship in winds up to 50 knots. Wow is all I can say!
(photo: Henrike, Sam, Heinz)
Henrike had cooked us a superb dinner, most of which she had prepared on the equivalent of a bucking bronco. How she kept everything under control while we climbed up the swells and slid sideways down the other side and rolled and rocked and cork screwed our way over the seas outside the harbour. We dined on stuffed aubergine with meat sauce and pasta, followed by chocolate cake and accompanied by beer and wine. Then we had coffee with a drop of rum.
After dinner we started playing games. Banana proved popular with some playing in English and one in Dutch. Another group were introduced to Set and as the noise level rose, so did the laughter. We were brought back to earth however, when the roster for anchor watch came around. We chose our shifts and then headed for bed, the first stable bed we will have slept in for 5 nights.
Doing an anchor watch means staying in the wheelhouse and monitoring the chart plotter which shows the ship meandering around the anchor chains. If the ship icon crosses a solid line marking the safety zone, we were to call Sam. As it happened one of the two anchors was reset during the night. When Al and I came on watch at 5am (or 5:30am for me who embarrassingly slept through the alarm) it was already daylight. We watched a penguin waddling along the shore, a fur seal sleeping on the beach and a very large male barking on the far shore.
Our plan for the day was to go ashore and either do a beach walk or a hike up to the top of the hill. After breakfast we watched a short film on the history of Deception Island then Thomas gave a presentation on the wildlife we should be seeing both here and when we head south to mainland Antarctica. While this was going on the wind continued to blow at around 40 knots. Heinz had warned us that we may have to shelter here for a couple of days and he was right. It is now 6:15 in the evening and it has been blowing hard all day. It hasn’t been possible to launch the dinghies, let alone for anyone to go ashore.
An hour or two ago the anchors had to be reset. The strong winds whistling down the mountainside made this a lengthy task. We are secure again now and dinner preparation is underway as the day draws to a close. It has been a day of sorting photographs, writing diaries and resting. With luck on our side we should be able to go ashore tomorrow so I’ll stop now. Tomorrow there will be new adventures to report.