Yesterday was our Sunday. After a rather sociable night on Pelagic Australis with skipper Magnus, a crew of Russians and the Ukrainian scientists from Vernadsky Base we gave ourselves a day off. It was a day to be safely tied up to a rock and to sit back and enjoy our surroundings. We wrote our diaries, Fanny and Stafford went walking on the next door island. Kirsty read her book curled up by the chart table and James and I went exploring in the dinghy to find more rocks to tie up to should we ever be lucky enough to make our way back here. The cliff we have our lines on is call Skua Island and Sarah and John found out why as they were dive bombed by angry birds that prevented them from straying far from the boat. Sailing wise there has not been a lot of action to report so I’m going to write a bit about something else that has surprised me: how sociable Antarctica is.
You would imagine that it might be difficult to find a party below the convergence zone and that the yacht skippers and base commanders would be absorbed in their work or the stress of keeping their boats safe in the harsh environments. Not so. Once the shore lines are on and the icebergs are restrained the party begins. So far on our travels (both this month and the last) we have had sociable evenings in nearly every anchorage. These range from semi civilised dinner parties (haggis suppers and full roasts) to cockpit raves and all night saloon soiree’s. Base visits happen in a land where last orders doesn’t exist. Fuelled by the continuous daylight the people of Antarctica never seem to sleep. This is not to say that recklessness ensues. Throughout all, the boats keep an anchor watch and are ever ready to fend off ice and to move the boat to a new place if the wind direction or strength changes and becomes unfavourable. Thinking about it, the social scene down south between yachts is not that surprising. It grows out of the camaraderie between crews and the tight community which exists between the skippers of the long term charter yachts. It seems to be generally accepted that if you’ve managed to get your yacht across the Drake then you are probably alright (unless proved otherwise). We have had nothing but help and support from the other yachts and the ‘old men’ of Antarctic travel. Skip Novak and his skippers Dave (little Pelagic) and Magnus (big Pelagic Astralis) have been fab in lending advice, sharing their favourite spots and helping with the less glamorous business of buying food and diesel in bulk. We’ve tried to repay them in wine and company. Similarly, Steve Wilkins of the Challenge 67 ‘Xplore’ has been great in answering our many questions and giving advice before the trip on Challenge yachts in the south. On our first trip Eric who has been sailing ‘Vaihere’ for 10 years here showed us a useful spot in the Melchior Islands to wait out the weather in (we hope to go there on the way home) and an Australian open 60 ‘commitment’ has been in many of the anchorages and always on hand with a cup of tea and occasionally something a bit stronger. These are just the yachts, I have not mentioned (though perhaps you have read in previous blogs) the hospitality shown to us at Port Lockroy (the Lockroy Ladies), at Waterboat Point by the Chileans and at Vernadsky by the Ukrainian scientists. Even some of the smaller cruise ships have interacted with us although it seems difficult for them to deviate from their schedules. Polar Pioneers expedition leader Dom offered us showers on Christmas day and a couple of lucky ones got a sauna.
It is hard to describe how at home I feel at the end of the world and I think when we head out into the Drake in a few days time there will be a massive sense of loss. The scenery is now so familiar and the sight of penguins whilst you are eating your breakfast is so normal that I’m finding it hard to believe that this might be my last few days in Antarctica. I hope that we find a way to get back here.
It looks like the weather gap to come home will be on the 21st/22nd (ish). The plan is to head up to the Melchior Islands via Paradise Harbour and make our break from there.
Hand update: Kirsty’s hand is doing well
Birthday message: Happy Birthday to Michael from James