Sally’s story (8): over the Drake Passage…

11 March 2015

From Ushuaia, Argentina to the Antarctic on the Anne-Margaretha
February-March 2015

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Crossing the Drake

Anne-Margaretha Drake PassageCrossing the Drake on the way down to Antarctica had been a baptism of fire for most on board. Many had missed the action, being confined to their bunks for the first three days. There were few who weren’t affected by seasickness. We were hoping for a different journey home and we got it.

Friday 6 March 2015
, calm seas and whales around the ship
The first 24 hours we motored in an almost flat oily calm sea. It was hard to believe this was the same stretch of water we had crossed on our way to Antarctica. We were surrounded by birds, the usual dark brown giant petrels but also a snow petrel, and many albatrosses. We were all on the lookout for orcas (killer whales) but had no luck. Instead we had three fin whales come to visit us. They are the largest whales and are longer than this ship is. It was such a thrill to see them. They stayed with us just long enough for some photos then continued on their way.

Saturday 7 March 2015,
albatrosses all over!
abatros near Anne-MargarethaThe next 24 hours were similar but a breeze came in from the north so we motor-sailed into it. The bird watching and whale spotting continued but with no success as far as whales were concerned. It was great having everyone up and about again. We were visited by the most beautiful wandering and royal albatrosses. They soared around the boat and coasted just above the waves with one wing tip just stroking the water. It was a photographer’s delight and Thomas the birdman took hundreds of photos.

Sunday 8 March 2015, orcas??
Day three and the wind was still coming from the north so we were still motor-sailing and pushing into it.  We still had an entourage of birds which were a delight to watch. Then came the call, “Orcas” and everyone rushed to get their jackets and life vests on, find their cameras and get out on deck. It was a pod of 5 or 6 and they were coming straight towards us as though they didn’t know we were there. We stopped the engine and watched. They weren’t orcas but pilot whales, close cousins but not the real thing. It was wonderful to see them even so as we hadn’t had them visit us before. They were obviously on a mission as they ploughed straight across our bows and off into the distance. We had now seen minke whales, humpback whales, fin whales and pilot whales and of course the hour glass dolphins that escorted us out of the Beagle Channel on our way south.
After the excitement was over and Al was at the helm, a small rain shower passed over us followed by the longed for shift in wind direction more to the west. The crew put the reefed mainsail back up and our speed increased to around 6 knots. Thomas had been busy in the galley and produced spaghetti bolognaise for dinner. It was the end of our watch and Al and I retired to bed to get some sleep as we were on duty again at 4 am.

Monday 9 March 2015
, alsmost at Cape Horn with increasing wind…
During the night the wind increased till it was blowing 60 knots. The seas were pretty wild and we were rocking and rolling and twisting our way along, occasionally falling off a wave with a crash that reverberated through the boat. The crew on watch were hand steering and were soaked through. Heinz, Sigrid, Thomas, Allard and Johannes went forward to drop the mainsail and lash it down. I was watching from the wheelhouse, counting heads to make sure everybody was safe. They had nearly finished their task when the boat went head first into a wave and smothered them all. Thank goodness they had all been tethered by their harnesses and came up spluttering and smiling.
It was now Sigrid’s watch. I was the only one of her watch still standing so, rather than have Sigrid and me outside in the dark for the whole 4 hours without a break, Heinz put the auto helm on and we stayed in the wheelhouse watching the radar. It was a wild ride and at the end of our watch still showed no signs of slowing down. At this speed we would be at Cape Horn in less than 24 hours.
It was not to be. The wind eased off for a bit. It had never really gone into the west as we had hoped but continued pretty much right on the nose. We were motor sailing right into a northerly breeze. It continued thus for the rest of the day, increasing up to the 40 knot range then easing off for a while. Sail up, sail down, fok up fok down, storm fok up, storm fok down.

Monday-Tuesday 9-10 March 2015, Wind North!
Anne-Margaretha bij Cape Horn(photo: Cape Horn, Febr. 2015)
At midnight on Monday night I was off watch, supposedly sleeping but my inner clock told me we might just be seeing Cape Horn. I got up and went up to the Wheelhouse. Disappointment. We were pushing into a head wind still and now a head sea as well and we were making all of 3 knots over the ground. We still had 18 miles to go. Oh well, we might be the first to spot Cape Horn on our next watch!
At 4 am I headed back up to the wheelhouse and there it was in the dim light of predawn. A rounded hump of an island with two navigation lights, and very puny they were too. Surely this iconic Cape could have a majestic lighthouse with a huge beam scanning the horizon. No, it was two pathetic little flashes. An anti-climax to be sure, but hey, we have crossed the Drake again and lived to tell the tale, but the Drake had not finished with us yet. There was more drama to come before we could  rest!
There was still a northerly weather system waiting in the wings so Heinz decided to adopt plan B, and instead of doing another 45 miles to Port Toro, we would anchor in a small harbour about an hour away. When we got there, two problems arose, our anchor chains had got tangled during the wilder parts of the crossing and the mooring buoy which used to be in the bay had disappeared.

Tuesday 10 March 2015, to Puerto Toro
Heinz decided to revert to Plan A and head after all to Porto Toro, the southernmost settlement in the world (as opposed to Ushuaia which is the southernmost city in the word). Heinz helmed the boat through Canal Washington and into Bahia Nassau which we had to cross to get to Porto Toro and then I took the helm again. The wind was picking up nicely into a good sailing breeze which, by the end of our watch was a stiff sailing breeze and the helming was getting a little wild. The next watch, Henrike’s watch appeared and Paul took over from me. Al and I retired below to catch up on some sleep.
Lying below in my bunk I could feel the motion of the boat changing and it seemed that we had picked up speed quite markedly. I could hear the crew on deck. The wind had been blowing about 40 knots when Al and I had gone below. Eventually curiosity got the better of me and I crawled out of my secure bunk and headed up to the wheelhouse. All you could see out of the windows was foam being blown off the top of the waves which were scudding past at great speed. The wind had risen into the high sixties and had just hit 70 knots. We were storming along with just the mizzen (aft) sail still up. The noise I had heard on deck was the crew taking down the fok.

Sailing with stormfok, speed 12 kn.!
Anne-Margaretha Beagle Channel(photo: Anne-Margaretha underway to P.Toro)
Still the wind increased though the seas were different to what they would have been out in the Drake. They were less mountainous and shorter as the wind was coming off the land. Heinz was steering with Sam, Sigrid and Henrike outside with him. We passengers were not allowed outside so watched the spectacle from inside the wheelhouse. The wind peaked at 77.5 knots. We were still sailing close to the wind and climbing up and over the oncoming wave.  Heinz called the crew out again and they raised the storm fok and took down the mizzen sail as it was pushing the stern of the boat around making it hard to stay on course. Our speed picked up from around 3 knots to 5 knots and about half an hour later we reached a point where we changed course a little. The wind shifted slightly in the opposite direction so we now had the wind almost behind us. With the engine just ticking over and only the tiny storm fok driving us we reached 12knots. It was exhilarating sailing. This magnificent ship and equally magnificent captain and crew just took it all in their stride. There was never an anxious moment.

Moored in Puerto Toro!!
All too soon our crazy sleigh ride came to an end as we had to make a turn to port, rounding the bottom of the island on our port side to sail close to the wind up to Port Toro. Sam called the Port Officer to let him know of our arrival. We slowed down just off the entrance to the bay and the crew took down the fok and made lines and fenders ready for our arrival at the dock. The dock was not very big and there were four fishing boats moored on one side of the pier and two yachts rafted together on the other side. The only space for us was on the end. The space was about equal to a third of Anne Margaretha’s length and at what would be our stern end the fishing boats protruded beyond the end of the dock. It would have been a tricky manoeuvre at the best of times, in flat calm conditions but even in this sheltered bay we still had 25 knots of wind. No need to worry. Heinz and crew had us docked in no time, the stern one third of Anne-Margaretha against the end of the dock and the rest of the ship protruding out beyond. It was all watched by two scruffy but very friendly dogs, a cluster of fishermen and the Port Captain, resplendent in his captain’s cap.
What an amazing day it had been. We were finally secure after 4 days and 9 hours at sea. We all felt that we had seen and experienced things beyond our wildest dreams. How lucky we have been!

Anne-Margaretha in Puerto Toro


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