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How we and six friends from the UK sailed to Antarctica and back aboard the 56 foot yacht Mago del Sur and lived to tell the tale. The following pages are taken almost directly from my trip diary although, I’m sorry to admit, they don’t really do justice either to the Antarctic, my friends or the trip itself. Sometimes diary writing can become more of chore than a pleasure and this was one of those times. Nevertheless, I hope it will give you some insight into the trip

Usual disclaimer

The following is extracted from the text of my diary as written by a sleep-deprived, lazy bugger! None of it is intended to cause any offence. If you feel something should be changed, deleted or corrected then please let me know. - Andy

Here we go again. Déjà vu and all that. Sitting in the coffee bar at Oslo airport on the way to London and Dartmouth before heading out across the Atlantic to – you guessed it – South America. But hey! Guess what? A new destination this year, not Aconcagua but, ultimately, the Antarctic. This should be an interesting trip – weather permitting. But right now I’m just trying to resurrect my writing ability, limited as it is, after 12 months of hammering away on keyboards.

Arrived early at the airport since I have check-in baggage for once but it went very smoothly so I now have too much time to spare. Even getting through security with a pair of 8000m boots in my bag went OK – amazing. Let’s be honest, there are no terrorists or hijackers queuing up to get through airport security, they’re already working airside. It’s just another government ploy to keep us all under control. Anyone know what happened to the liquid explosive people? That’s a story that seems to have slipped off the radars. Aargh!

 
8 January 2007

So, here we are in Buenos Aires. Soaking up several ‘café dobles’ aka double espressos in the airport café after a long flight from Gatwick via Madrid. Left Dartmouth on Saturday and stayed overnight with Clare’s relatives in Guildford. Very kind of them and very convenient, right on the railway line between Reading and Gatwick. Only complaint being the lack of baggage trolleys at every railway station. It’s no joke carrying two North Face bags weighing 27 and 28 kg respectively up and down flights of stairs while trying to reach connections etc.

My bad knee from last year tells me I am overdoing it but there’s no choice. I can’t imagine how we have managed to bring so much weight this year since there’s no tent, no sleeping bag, no cooker, mattress or food. And I’m carrying my plastic boots and Gore-Tex in my hand luggage. Incredible, but there it is. Anyway, we’ll be leaving some presents in Mendoza which will hopefully reduce it a little.

There was a KE group on the plane, on their way to the Big A – poor bastards. Or should that be lucky? Wouldn’t mind another go, but not this year – not enough time. By staggering coincidence we Dan Short, the KE guide from Stok Kangri, on the Gatwick shuttle. He was bringing some stuff from Keswick for the outgoing group. At least he recognised us because I wouldn’t have recognised him immediately, although the KE bags on his trolley would have been a bit of a giveaway. Anyway, we had some interesting discussions with him and his companion from Sheffield – Jodie the blond welder (who is not afraid to ask bewildered travellers very deep and meaningful questions). Dan hinted at a possible trip for next year – would be very tempting if he pulled it off – watch this space! Given the current Denali disappointment though I’m not going to get my hopes up too high (pun!).

We managed to blag extra legroom seats on both flights, albeit stuck by the toilets for the long haul from Madrid to Buenos Aires, but worth it nonetheless. At least I slept more than usual. My knee continues to remind me that it’s there, impossible to find a happy position for it. Will be interesting to see what happens over the next few weeks. As long as it keeps working the rest is only pain. Should be doable.

So, now we are waiting to check in for the flight to Mendoza. And then… Daniel’s pool awaits!

12:25 – airside at Aeroparque after a pleasant few hours eating and drinking in the restaurants. Seems like the prices are increasing but that could just be because it’s an airport in the capital city. Anyway, 8 quid for some croissants, coffee, water and freshly squeezed orange juice isn’t too bad by UK standards. Changed 100 USD at 2.71, will be interesting to see what the exchange rate is in Mendoza. Another airport rip-off I suspect.

On the plus side we checked the bags in for the domestic leg without being stung for excess baggage charges. If we’re lucky we may get away with it on the way down to Ushuaia too – fingers crossed.

The flight to Mendoza is delayed 35 minutes at the moment. But everything has gone so well so far that we really can’t complain. Saw the KE group – they lost one bag somewhere between London and Buenos Aires. Fortunately only a rucksack and sleeping bag, but not much fun. They are leaving for Penetentes tomorrow so not much time for the missing stuff to catch up. We were lucky this time but Aerolineas are very bad when it comes to baggage – last year people lost a lot of gear at Madrid. If it wasn’t for the good deals on internal flights I would definitely drop them. But then again, we’ve been pretty lucky so far. Back to waiting. The weather is spectacularly good, a great contrast to the British and Norwegian winter weather back home.

Daniel’s pool.
Our room, conveniently situated over the computer room.
The view from our window.
The most relaxing place in the word to eat breakfast.
Getting a bit of an English suntan going - only here for a few days so better get it on!
From here you can’t see the razor-wire!
Don’t mess with the flora and fauna here.
 
9 to 13 January 2007

Will the eating ever stop? Well, here we are back in Buenos Aires domestic airport once again, after 5 nights in Mendoza. Anyone interested in what went on in Mendoza? Thought not! The whole stay is just a blur of cafes and restaurants interspersed with brief visits to Clare’s friends, trips into the city centre and afternoons by the pool. Apart from one day when it was cloudy the skies have been clear and the sun has not stopped shining. Temperatures in the shade reaching the low to mid 30s – in the sun it could be anything you want… as long as it’s hot! Daniel’s hotel in Chacras hadn’t changed much in a year, although he was planning to move out in order to open up some new rooms and to give his kids a chance to experience normal life. The highlight is still the long, long breakfasts in the garden before the heat gets turned up.

Mendoza definitely gets richer every year, or maybe the divide between richer and poorer gets wider. Plenty of quality shops opening both in Chacras and in the centre. Prices are still cheap by European standards but increasing, especially the price of a good meal in the better restaurants. But you can still have an excellent meal for two with good wine for the price of a beer and piece of pizza in Norway. In Chacras 100,000 GBP would buy the house of your dreams and probably the services of an armed guard to watch over it.

Didn’t see the KE group again after we left them at the airport so don’t know if the missing bag turned up. Today they should be walking in to Plaza de Mulas from Confluencia. Probably the hardest day of the trip apart from summit day. Wonder if they’ll be faster than last year’s group? Couldn’t be any slower!

Got an email from Dean saying that Ian’s passport had been stolen and he wasn’t sure if he could get a new one in time. It was stolen on Tuesday so he’s in with a chance but we will have to wait and see how many turn up in Ushuaia tomorrow morning. Dean and co. should be in Madrid at the moment, getting ready for the flight to Buenos Aires. Poor buggers arrive at midnight tonight, then they have to cross the city and wait for the 05:00 flight to Ushuaia. Dean really needs to get a new travel agent! Fortunately I am tanned and relaxed after my week in Mendoza. Just have to get rid of all the extra kilos.

I think we had 27 and 25 kg of baggage on the flight from Mendoza. Still scary. Of course Clare got more presents from her friends so we didn’t lose as much weight as I hoped. But we still haven’t paid any excess baggage – getting to like them more and more at the moment.

So now it’s just waiting for the flight south… and then the excitement really starts!

 
14 January 2007

The flight to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires was, surprise, surprise, delayed one hour. Looked dodgy for a while when they flashed up ‘contact agent’ but then they sorted out something. Late incoming aircraft would be my guess. Anyway, an extra hour in the departure lounge listening to the British pensioners discussing their imminent Antarctic cruises never did anyone any harm… except for Clare’s blood pressure. Which also wasn’t helped on the flight to Ushuaia by the kid in the seat behind us who was making free with his little tootsies. Not that his parents gave a damn since they were asleep for the entire flight. I guess they were more than used to the wriggly little bugger.

Three hours forty minutes for the flight, cloudy all the way with only occasional glimpses of the ocean below. Coming down over Ushuaia we could see the Magellan Straits before passing over some snow covered, razor sharp peaks and ridges before descending over the Beagle Channel and down on to the airstrip. The runway is built out into the channel so the approach is made up or down it. The wind was really howling, our ground speed when landing was so low that the pilot hardly needed to use the brakes. Weather-wise it’s a definite contrast between 35 degC in Mendoza and 8 degC and blowing Force 6 to 7 here.

The airport is a Scandinavian design (according to Clare, although she later denied ever having said this!), a steep sided barn of a building with lots of wooden beams. Nice, but the wind howls through the baggage hall, lucky I had a down sweater in my hand luggage.

Both bags arrived – a pleasant surprise given the long wait in Buenos Aires. You never know whether it’s better to have a short or a long stopover.

Got a taxi from outside the airport after a short wait in the howling gale, dropped our bags off at the Akaluff hostel and then back into the taxi for a short ride to a spectacular Beagle Channel side Kuar restaurant. Massive windows with an amazing view out over the water. The food was pretty good too – fresh crab followed by Bife de Chorizo with white chocolate ice-cream for desert. The steak was OK but still not as good as the ones we had during our first year in Argentina – I have a sneaky feeling all the best stuff gets exported these days.

There was a large freighter moored out in the channel looking very unloved. At around 23:00 the tide turned and we watched the whole ship swing through 180 degrees in just a few minutes. Quite amazing how fast it moved, makes you wonder how much strain there must be on the anchor chain. Wouldn’t like to get in its way if it broke loose.

Back to the Akaluff after midnight to our small room. With our bags on the floor the only standing room is on the beds. Also featuring a low hanging light to bang your head on every time you turn round. But the beds are comfortable and the water hot and we have another fine view of the Beagle Channel.

This morning we were up at 07:00, greeted by more wind and pouring rain. A lot of people already checking out of the hostel, probably off to catch the first flight out. For a cheap hostel with steep, narrow access stairway, there seem to be a surprising number of more ‘mature’ clients staying. I guess Ushuaia was full to capacity last night.

Took a taxi back to the airport at 08:45 to meet the rest of the group and Dean, fresh from their marathon flights. The plane was only 30 minutes late – can you see a pattern here – but their bags were still in Madrid. So nothing new there then! They are supposed to arrive tomorrow morning – we will see. There are eight of us in all, me, Clare, Dean, Kev and Del, Mick, Ade and Ian (who managed to get a replacement passport against all the odds). Will be interesting to observe the group dynamics. They are all highly experienced hill walkers (unlike us) but fortunately don’t look supremely athletic, at least not at first sight. Hopefully this is good news for us because we are not exactly at the peak of fitness and my knee is playing up after carrying all the bags.

The group assemble in the arrivals area at Ushaia airport. From left: Kevin, Del, Dean, Andy, Clare, Mick (aka Skottish) and Ade. Ian behind the camera. Note the fine T-shirt that Kev is wearing! [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Unloading and paying for the taxis outside the Yak Temi hostel. And there’s a casino next door - Dean has chosen well. [Photo: Ian Arnold]

The Yak Temi. Not unlike the Tardis, bigger on the inside than on the outside. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Signing in at the front desk - too early to get our rooms but that’s OK. It’s time to sample the culinary delights of Ushuaia. And the rest of the group don’t even have any bags to worry about, thanks to Aerolineas. [Photo: Ian Arnold]

The Malvinas memorial down by the quay. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
I don’t know any Spanish but I’d hazard a guess that it says something like... The people of Ushuaia have shown, with the shedding of their own blood, the truth of our sovereignty over the Malvinas - we will return! Excellent, as if there weren’t enough problems in the world. [Photo: Andy/Clare]

Part of the Malvinas memorial is dedicated to the 323 ’heroes’ who were lost when the cruiser General Belgrano was sunk. [Photo: Dean James]
Looking down the Beagle Channel from the Malvinas memorial. Storm clouds on the horizon. [Photo: Andy/Clare]

First sight of the S/V Mago del Sur. Soon to be our home for the next three weeks. Steel hulled, solid, painted black for stealth and with a formidable bowsprit. The yachties of the Southern Ocean will never know what hit them. [Photo: Dean James]
Looking back to Ushuaia from the marina. [Photo: Andy/Clare]

Looking back to Ushuaia from the marina. [Photo: Andy/Clare]

All went for breakfast at the Marco Polo restaurant in town followed by a walk down to the marina. Found the Mago del Sur tied up at the pontoon. Looks ‘interesting’ but Ian, the only one in the group with any real experience, described it as ‘solid’ which is reassuring. Looks more up to the job than some of the more fancy plastic boats moored down there anyway. We’ll be getting to know her intimately over the next few weeks, that’s for sure. With our lack of experience I think there may be some surprises in store. I have not sailed for 20 odd years and then only along the south coast of England. A bit tame compared to the Southern Ocean. In general I think we are all a little apprehensive.

More coffee and toast at the Chocolate Café across the road and then back to our luxury suite at the Yak Temi hostel – forgot to mention that we changed hostels this morning. What a contrast, from a cupboard to a 3 room suite with built in kitchen (no utensils) and a large double bed. We have a couple of nights here so will make the most of it – may be a long time before we see its like again!

 
15 January 2007

Breakfast at the Yak Temi – not the greatest, good croissants but lousy coffee. But it was a relatively late one so no real complaints. The rest of the group are still on UK time so were up early despite the long journey.

Went down to the Cambio for 10:00 but somehow walked past it so ended up having to queue for some time to change some money. Amazing how long a simple money changing exercise can take in Latin America! Then up and down the high street – called San Martin, of course – looking for souvenirs, presents and postcards.

Ushuaia was apparently built around the site of a 19th century mission post instigated by Captain FitzRoy of Beagle and Charles Darwin fame. He transported four Indians from the region back to England to be educated in ‘civilised’ ways. The three survivors, Jemmy Button, Fuegia Basket and York Minster, were then brought back and installed in the mission. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your point of view, it was almost immediately destroyed by the locals. The setback for the Europeans was, however, fairly brief as the indigenous population rapidly succumbed to imported diseases.

The town is built on steep slope above the Beagle Channel. The streets are arranged in a grid pattern with San Martin, the main street, running more or less through the centre, parallel to the Channel. Virtually every road is one way so to get anywhere you have to drive up and down the steep slopes, criss-crossing San Martine, until you hopefully arrive at the correct intersection. Get it wrong or encounter some road works and you have to go back and start again.

In common with many small towns around the world, including quite a few in Norway, everyone’s idea of a good time on Saturday afternoon is to get in the car and drive endlessly round and round the streets. The more posy the car – go faster stripes, furry dice, big stereo, loud exhaust – the better. On the plus side, the town does boast a number of good restaurants and cafés, although it can be a trial of patience when there are a large number of cruise ships in and the fat Americans take over the place.

San Martine - the main street in Ushuaia. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
San Martine - the main street in Ushuaia. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
One of the roads crossing San Martine at right angles. Steep roads - a good handbrake and clutch is recommended! [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Sunken tug boat, the St. Christopher, in the harbour area. Built in 1943 in America and sold to the British Navy under lend-lease the tug was originally named HMS Justice. In 1947 she was old to Leopoldo Simoncini in Buenos Aires and renamed St. Christopher. In 1953 the tug was sent to Ushuaia to help in salvage operations of the Monte Cervantes, a liner that sank in the Beagle Channel in 1930. After suffering engine trouble and rudder damage the tug was laid up in 1954 and abandoned three years later. [Photo: Ian Arnold]

Had lunch with the group back in the Marco Polo again. Burger, chips and beer for me – you never know where the next meal will come from.

In the afternoon we walked down to the boat to meet mad Captain Alejandro ‘Mono’ da Milano and Susannah, his girlfriend. He certainly looks the part. They wanted our gear on board as soon as possible so arranged to have them ready at 18:30. Mono will pick them up in his truck. So back to the Yak Temi for an hour sorting gear. Decided I didn’t have enough clothing for both sailing and hiking after too much culling earlier. Nipped out and bought a good pair of fleece trousers for GBP 16 – not bad.

The Captain showed up on time and took the bags away in an ancient Ford pickup, together with a load of fuel and food, including some large pieces of dead sheep. Dean, Ian and Kevin joined the load to help at the other end. After they’d gone we realised that they’d forgotten the exit visa forms so I ran down with them. They were delayed by the pickup’s inability to tackle the steep slopes of Ushuaia so I met them by the Malvinas monument and decided to join the fun.

At the pontoon we commandeered a couple of trolleys to trundle the gear out to the boat. We had to manhandle the bags over two other yachts to reach the Mago del Sur. One of them was a very expensive Swedish owned boat for which he must have paid a ridiculous amount of money.

On the Mago we have two married couples in the aft cabin / galley and the lads in the bunks forward on the starboard side. Despite the disadvantages of sleeping in the kitchen it looks like we definitely have the better deal.

The Swede wanted to leave which meant us and the other yacht having to move out of the way. We ‘helped’ in the operation, which basically meant everyone except Ian standing around looking useless while the professionals just got on with it. We are going to have an interesting time over the next few weeks – the learning curve is going to be almost vertical.

Back to the Yak Temi and then out to the ‘All you can eat for 28 pesos’ restaurant, which, unsurprisingly, was not up to the usual standards – tip of the day: you get what you pay for. At least they had some good salads and hot entrees although the meat selection was nothing special – your mileage may vary, as they say.

Back once more to the Yak Temi for a last night in comfort.

 
16 January 2007

Final breakfast for the condemned crew. Left a bag of unwanted gear with the Yak Temi and then headed down to the boat for 11:00. Arrived a little early – we’re keen – but they were having some last minute repairs done to one of the toilets (worrying) so had to hang around for a while in the cold wind.

We who are about to... our last steps on Argentinean soil as we head down to the marina to begin our voyage into the unknown. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
It’s a nice day for it anyway. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Milling around on the quay, waiting for the last minute repairs to be completed so that we can go on board. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Lamb in a box - Mono stocks the meat locker prior to leaving Ushuaia. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
All the best butchers recommend that meat should be hung in cool place for some days before consumption - improves the flavour, doncha know! And it doesn’t get much cooler than where we’re going. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Ade, Skottish and Dean enjoying some freshly baked lemon pies. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
’It’s my pie and you can’t have it’! [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Heading off down the Beagle Channel. Andy pretending he knows what he’s doing while Skottish tries to distract him. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
A little rain shower welcomes us to the Beagle Channel as we leave Ushuaia. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Early days and the atmosphere on board is still good. But Mono is starting to realise how little his new crew actually knows! [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Del, Andy and Kev, Ushuaia fading into the distance. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Safely moored in Puerto Williams - that wasn’t so difficult, was it? [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Replica or the real thing? Period sailing vessel moored in Puerto Williams. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Skottish tests out his new luge. Note the tube of lubricant required to make a smooth entry. [Photo: Dean James]

Eventually got on board and found our bunks, I have the port aft one, Clare has starboard and Kevin and Del have the bridal suite – a double bunk across the stern. We have plenty of storage space under the bunks behind the galley benches, we definitely got lucky. The lads up front have a much harder time and the upper bunks, which will shortly become known as luges, are not much more than stretchers hanging from the roof. Not much fun for Mick and Dean, Ian denies any manipulation of the bunk allocations but you have to wonder!

Susannah gave us lemon pies to eat while we were waiting – still warm from the bakers – and very delicious. Then a whole pile of empanadas for lunch.

Finally we were ready to cast off, started the engine and headed out into the Beagle. Away from the marina we hoisted the staysail and shut off the engine – we are sailing! Managed a respectable 6 to 7 knots with just the single sail up heading downwind. Yours truly at the helm having volunteered to steer. Hopefully did OK although we got our first taste of the confused state most of us were to remain in for the duration of the trip – it’s not always easy to follow Mono’s instructions – I understand what you’re saying it’s just that I’m not sure that what you’re saying is actually what you mean. Or in this case, I can see where you’re pointing I’m just not sure that that is actually where you want me to go. It’s all a case of adjusting… probably.

Helming was quite relaxing and gave me something to do while everyone else just had to hang around. Most people probably reluctant to go below due to the potential for seasickness. With the wind blowing to force 6 and a following swell the Mago was rolling around a little. But everyone seemed to come through OK, although Dean, who like me is drug free, said he was a bit queasy when he was in the galley – OK up top.

After about 5 hours cruising (46 km according to the GPS) under the staysail we arrived at Puerto Williams on the Chilean side of the Beagle – our first stop. We have to officially enter Chile here in order to be allowed to sail in Chilean waters, the alternative is a huge detour out into the Atlantic – not recommended. We tied up alongside an Australian yacht, another luxury job just back from ‘the ice’. They refused to give us back The Ashes but were otherwise pretty friendly. Ian cannily dropped a few sailing terms into the conversation which was a good start – lulling them into a false sense of security over our competence.

Had a quick look around Puerto Williams but it was raining hard so gave up and went back to the Mago. Doesn’t appear to be a lot to see anyway. Had an excellent lentil stew for dinner, Mono’s recipe. Fortunately suffered no Lucretia Fernanda side-effects. Sadly, the bar at the yacht club – located in the sunken ship that we were tied up to – was not open so we couldn’t nip over to sample the hospitality.

Finally to bed for our first night on board. Opening the hatch was a good move – cleared the cooking smells a little and introduced some fresh air. Whether we’ll be able to do it further south remains to be seen. The sleeping bags are thin, Woolworth’s style, not the high altitude gear we’re used to – it may be cold later on. But there is stove in the galley which is permanently lit, unless someone closes the main hatch too aggressively, which seems to keep the place at a fairly good temperature.

 
17 January 2007

Up at 07:30 this morning, not a bad night’s sleep. Dean was already hanging around in the cockpit hoping for signs of movement so he could come down and make a brew. Seems like everyone slept OK.

The weather is still not brilliant, more wind and rain. Found that a Hurtigrute cruise ship was in town, the place was swarming with Americans, all wearing identical blue and black waterproof jackets. After breakfast we joined them for a look around. Not a lot to see, Puerto Williams seems to be largely a naval base with loads of identical houses perched on top of the hill overlooking the port, all painted yellow or white with red tin roofs. The roads are dirt tracks running with muddy water. There’s a small museum for the cruise ship passengers and one or two shops around the central square. Most of them seemed to be closed even though the ship was in, or perhaps because it was in? But we could smell freshly baked bread so obviously there was a bakery in operation somewhere, even if we couldn’t find it.

Memories of home - the Hurtigrute cruise ship Nord Norge tied up at Puerto Williams. Soon to be seen listing at an alarming angle in high winds further down the Beagle Channel. Wonder what the blue-jacketed American tourists made of that? [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Welcome to Puerto Williams and the ’Communa’ of Cape Horn. [Photo: Ian Arnold]

Puerto Williams in the rain - not the most inspiring place. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Puerto Williams town centre and shopping precinct. [Photo: Ian Arnold]

The town square in Puerto Williams. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Some people have garden gnomes, others... [Photo: Ian Arnold]

Back to the Mago at 11:00 and off into the Beagle Channel for more downwind cruising. Put the main up as well as the staysail this time so we got to pull on a few different ropes… sorry, sheets and halyards! Not that any of us are any the wiser! Maybe it will all become clear eventually but as long as Ian is running around doing everything it makes life easy for the rest of us – just sit back and let him do the work. No doubt that he’s a teacher back in the world, he tries to lecture us on the basics of sailing but it’s just going over our heads most of the time. We need remedial work.

Heading out of Puerto Williams, back into the Beagle Channel. Next stop Puerto Toro. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
First mate Ian at the helm. Puerto Williams astern. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Heading down the Beagle Channel on our first afternoon out from Ushuaia. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Williwaws sweep down from the hills and threaten our karma. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Captain of the Mago del Sur, Alejandro ’Mono’ da Milano. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Welcome to Puerto Toro! [Photo: Ian Arnold]
The quay in Puerto Toro - more sturdy than it looks but watch out for hidden obstacles. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Mago del Sur tied up in Puerto Toro. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Dean and Clare enjoy a Gore-Tex moment in Puerto Toro. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
View of the chapel and harbour area in Puerto Toro. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
The pilot boat has arrived. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
If this what two days at sea does for you then what does the next three weeks have in store? [Photo: Andy/Clare]

We were passed by the Hurtigrute ship, Nord Norge, soon after leaving Puerto Williams. Meanwhile we enjoyed another excellent lunch of lamb and a heap of roasted vegetables. After lunch, fortunately, the wind started to pick up and we were hounded by dozens of ‘williwaws’ sweeping down off the mountains to the south. These are powerful whirlwinds that could easily cause us some grief if they caught us unawares. We took down the main and reefed the staysail but were still managing 6 to 8 knots but eventually the squalls became too unpredictable and we had to furl the jib and go over to motoring. Even under bare poles the boat was heeling 20 degrees in the squalls.

Mono decided to stop over at Puerto Toro – the southernmost community in Chile. The weather reports from further up the channel gave 45 knots increasing to 60 further out. If we needed any further proof then the sight of the Nord Norge heeling over at an extremely alarming angle in the distance was more than enough to convince us that discretion should be applied – are we men or mice? Definitely mice! More to the point we were getting fed up with being buffeted by horizontal hail and spray.

Found two other yachts already tied up in Puerto Toro but there was a free space on the northern side of the battered old jetty. After tying up Dean and I walked to the top of the hill overlooking the bay and a good view of the mooring. On the way we passed the new church and a dilapidated children’s playground. About 40 people live here during the fishing season but at the moment it is deserted apart from the Chilean immigration people and a few stray dogs.

We found out that the pilot boat was coming in and demanding to tie up at the jetty. Thought we’d have to move but turned out that they wanted the other side so we were spared, but the other yacht was forced to swap up and tie up against the Mago. We watched the fun from the top of the hill – even though the bay is fairly sheltered it is still hit by some big squalls which can seriously upset any delicate manoeuvring.

Back to the Mago for tea and cake and to catch up on several missed days of diary writing. Dean and the lads went off to play rugby in between the rain and hail showers. Plenty more food for dinner, crisps, peanuts, olives and other snacks, followed by a big salad. Thought that was it – we’d already had a huge lunch – but alas no. What we thought was going to be tomorrow’s lunch turned out to be the main course, a massive potato and vegetable soup. One thing is for sure, we will not starve on this trip. Unfortunately we didn’t notice when Susannah started doing the washing up, we were too busy chatting. Not a mistake we’d be allowed to make again.

Evicted the guests from our bedroom at 22:00 so we could get an early night.

 
18 January 2007

Awake at 07:30. Last night at 00:30 I thought I heard a scream from the bow but I couldn’t be bothered to get up and check it out. Turned out to be Mick waking up from a dream and dropping his MP3 player from his ‘luge’. The weather this morning is still squally with hail showers but the forecast suggests some improvement later. And the pressure is starting to rise.

After breakfast we went for another stroll around the bay and visited the church near the mooring. It was built in 2002. Well maintained with white paper flowers decorating the pews. Some of the front pews are marked with family names – maybe there is a permanent congregation? Leading out of the town was a new road which we followed. Turned out to lead to a new water purification plant – a major development considering the size of the community. The Chileans are obviously keen to maintain their presence on these remote islands at the end of the world.

The chapel near the mooring at Puerto Toro [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Inside the chapel in Puerto Toro. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Swathes of colour brighten the bleakness that is Puerto Toro. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Mago del Sur and Columbaio (?) in Puerto Toro. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Five star accommodation awaits. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Entrance to a fox hole guarding the harbour. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Crab pots awaiting the return of the seasonal fishing population. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Fishing boat on the beach in Puerto Toro. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
The small cemetery on the hill above Puerto Toro. [Photo: Andy/Clare]

Back at the boat mad Captain Alejandro has been repairing the wind generator and rigging the self-steering gear. But it doesn’t look like we are going anywhere anytime soon. Waiting for the last of the squalls to pass over and then for the seas to calm down a little before we resume our journey south. Maybe we will stay here one more night.

Roast lamb for lunch, cut down from the rigging much to the disappointment of the local bird population. Another culinary triumph from the little gas oven. We have now been given a rota for the washing up and it’s my turn. Fortunately at this stage there’s no shortage of water and I’m allowed hot water to tackle the greasy plates. Hope I did an acceptable job – the galley’s not exactly built for anyone over about 5ft 6in.

In the afternoon we worked off a few calories playing table tennis in the town’s gym. Until we broke the only ball – oops! Then another walk with Del and Kevin. Del had stumbled over the old cemetery and we wanted to take a look. A sad collection of four graves surrounded by the remains of a wooden fence but with fantastic views down the valley to the water. If you have to be buried somewhere then there are worse places than this.

Back to the boat for coffee, diary writing and reading around the galley table. Beats the heck out of a draughty tent on a dusty mountain.

The Captain says the weather is still bad and we will wait until early tomorrow morning before we leave. Maybe 06:00 or 07:00. Sounds good to us, we are tuning in to this relaxed, tied up to a safe mooring, style of sailing. Nothing to do but browse the ship’s library of Antarctic books from the comfort of my bunk.

 
19 January 2007

About 35 nautical miles from Cape Horn. Mono was up and about at 05:00 this morning – early as promised. Most of us got up to lend a hand. There was a short delay waiting for our neighbours to move out before we could put Puerto Toro behind us at around 05:30. There was the usual confusion around the unmooring process and we nearly left Dean behind. He’d also cast off the French boat by mistake but the ‘error’ was spotted before any harm was done. Just goes to show how far out of our element we are here – he would never have made a mistake like that on a belay!

Out into the channel and up with the main sail, virtually no wind now. Put up both fore sails after breakfast but no go, so back to motoring again. Fighting a strong current so only making about 5 knots on the GPS. Passed Lennox Island and entered Nassau Bay, a large open area of water where the swell picked up. Clare was first to give in to seasickness having spent a little too long below deck, a bad move. Everyone else seems OK so far. Me, I’m on my bunk catching up on a few zeds after listening to Kevin snoring all last night – poor guy has a cold.

Sunrise over the Beagle Channel as we prepare to leave Puerto Toro, destination... Cape Horn! [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Sunrise and threatening clouds over the Beagle Channel. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Dean and Clare share a little gallows humour. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Following Columbaio (?) out into the channel. [Photo: Dean James]
We have a bigger engine and more fuel so we quickly overhaul our rival. [Photo: Dean James]
Dean uses steering the boat as an excuse to rest his hand on Mick’s knee? [Photo: Andy/Clare]

Got up for a while to see some dolphins playing in the bow wave but they only stayed for a short time – we are not fast enough to give them a good ride.

First mate Ian - looking good, mate! [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Let’s not and say we did. Is Del writing her last will and testament as we head ever closer to Cape Horn? [Photo: Ian Arnold]

Arrived at the islands that make up Cape Horn at around 16:30. The cruise ship Hanseatic is close in under the cliffs and there is a long line of red jacketed wandering up the steps to the buildings and sculpture on the ridge above. We hung around for a while watching. The weather was definitely not epic by Cape Horn standards, in fact almost flat calm. Finally headed out into the Southern Ocean on a bearing of 165 degrees on the GPS.

Approaching Cape Horn. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
We are not alone at the Horn! [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Cruise ship Hanseatic sheltering in the lee of Cape Horn disgorges boat loads of red-clad, overweight tourists on their way to conquer the steep slopes of Horn Island. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Stairway to, err, heaven? Red jacketed clones mount the steps to the right of the photo, heading for the bird sculpture on the ridge above. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
So this is Cape Horn? Mono’s seen it all before. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Clare prepares to bid farewell to Cape Horn and set course into the Southern Ocean. [Photo: Dean James]
The much revered Cape Horn. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Pretty easy this sailing business - now where were we supposed to go next? [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Dean and Clare - confirmed Cape Horners. What was that about earrings and stuff? [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Off into the Southern Ocean - Ian gets to steer while we disappear below for tea and biscuits. It’s a hard life being first mate, but someone’s got to do it. [Photo: Ian Arnold]

From now we start our 4 hours on, 4 hours off watches until we get to Deception Island, hopefully in about 4 days time. On our watch we have Susannah, Ian, Ade and me. The other watch is Mono with Dean, Kevin, Del and Mick. Clare is totally out of it with severe seasickness – she will not be seen again until we sight land.

 
20 to 23 January 2007

A bizarre fog of memories of sleep deprivation, noisy running under the engine, futile attempts to sail, cooking fumes in the galley and flat calm in the Drake Passage. Trying to hold a fixed GPS course using the magnetic compass as reference. Dehydration and a whole host of other stuff.

Skottish at the wheel as we cross the Furious Fifties. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
First sight of land after four days crossing the Drake Passage - the icy cliffs of Smith Island loom spectacularly above the horizon. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Smith Island - our first sight of Antarctica. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Spirits are high even after days of sleep deprivation and hardship - hey! we survived the Southern Ocean! [Photo: Andy/Clare]

Suffice to say we arrived in Deception Island, a spectacular caldera volcano with a small opening to the sea on one side. Amazed to be here in one piece after crossing the notorious Drake Passage, 849 km from Cape Horn.

Approaching the entrance to Deception Island’s caldera. Low cloud obscures the tops of the cliffs. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Neptune’s Bellows, the entrance to the caldera, opens up before us. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Neptune’s Bellows, entrance to Puerto Foster, Deception Island. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
A little local knowledge goes a long way when you are passing through Neptune’s Bellows. Somebody should have mentioned that to the Captain of the good ship Nordkapp. [Photo: Andy/Clare]

Once inside Deception’s crater, known as Puerto Foster, we got a tour of the old British whaling station and the Argentinean and Spanish research stations from the sea. We moored eventually in Telefon Bay, a sheltered cove on the northern side where the water depth is less than 10 meters. Once there we broke out the inflatable and persuaded Mono to give us a run ashore, since we’re not to be trusted to use the inflatable on our own – our Captain is no fool!

Deserted British whaling station just inside Deception’s caldera. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Remains of the British whaling station on Deception Island. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Rusted remains of the boilers used for rendering the whale blubber into oil. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Storage tanks for the whale oil? [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Abandoned whaling boats and discarded whale bones against a volcanic backdrop. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
The people who worked here must have been tough - it’s a desolate place. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
The Spanish research station at Deception Island. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Next door to the Spanish station is the Argentinean one. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Argentinean naval vessel offloading supplies for the base in Puerto Foster. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Move along - nothing to see here. How many Brits does it take to launch an inflatable? Gaaah! [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Mono prepares the inflatable after our arrival in Telefon Bay. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Mono and Dean set off, towing one of the extended mooring lines. In the Antarctic you can never have too many mooring lines. [Photo: Andy/Clare]

Found the beach patrolled by a single solitary gentoo penguin, a lonely looking little bugger. Took a short walk up into the hills but Clare was not too well after her ordeal on the crossing so we returned to the beach to wait for the others and to keep the penguin company for a while.

Going ashore in Telefon Bay. We may not have slept for days but the urge to feel something solid under our feet is greater. [Photo: Dean James]
Mono returns to the boat for a well earned rest after depositing the passengers ashore. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Misty Mago at anchor in Telefon Bay, Deception Island. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Lone gentoo penguin on the beach at Telefon Bay. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Andy gets a cold shoulder from the lone gentoo - it was nice and quiet here until you lot showed up. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Clare, not seasick any more. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Gorilla in the mist? [Photo: Andy/Clare]

We were too early getting back to the boat – Mono was not amused, a definitely not happy about the black volcanic grit we left in his inflatable. But for 2000 dollars a day he should be able to take the rough with the smooth. Anyway, Susannah had some food waiting for us when we got back and we spent the last of the afternoon around the galley table indulging in the usual bullshit.

Dinner was another late meal – yet more lamb with roasted vegetables. Really tasty although some might wonder how much longer the meat can last hung from the rigging. Finally off to bed at around 22:30 – our first real sleep since leaving Puerto Toro and Cape Horn. And the first chance to clean my teeth for some days – yes!

 
24 January 2007

Woke up at 02:00 with the yacht healing over in a severe squall. Decided to get up and have a quick look to make sure we were still on our mooring. Crept up to the main hatch and peered out to find that we were still in position and that another, fourth, yacht had appeared and was moored out behind the Swiss yacht. In general everything looked OK so headed back to my bunk.

We’ve got company... but Telefon bay is too shallow for this yacht so they have to stay outside in the cold. With our retractable keel we can go places others can only dream of. [Photo: Dean James]

Mono appeared in the galley at 06:30 to fill his Mate flask and then disappeared again. Probably good for hangovers!

Nobody else stirred before 08:00. The weather is still windy and there’s no sign of us going anywhere for a while. Had a good breakfast with plenty of toast and tea. Mono headed over to the French yacht to get a weather forecast – south westerly, 30 knots. Decision is to stay here another day. People are starting to get a tad fed up now, we are running out of time and not getting any closer to the ice. At this rate we will be lucky to get a couple of climbs in.

Onshore, preparing for our second walk on Deception. Yachting wellies are not really up to the job. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Dean and Clare with Telefon Bay behind. The new arrival on the right later turned up in a documentary about wildlife on South Georgia. Fame! [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Onwards, ever upwards into the mist and gales. [Photo: Dean James]
Nice walk, shame about the view. [Photo: Dean James]
Snack stop as the cloud lifts a little. Ade ponders the geology of Deception Island. [Photo: Dean James]
Yes, well - maybe Argentinean chocolate is an acquired taste. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Skottish and Ade. Mick is particularly pleased that he didn’t bring his pee bottle by mistake. [Photo: Andy/Clare]

Had a run ashore at 10:30, promised Mono we would be away for a few hours so he and Susannah can enjoy some time alone in their home. Had a brilliant walk up a ridge in howling gale, lashed by dust storms and almost blown over a few times. In and out of the clouds so the view was not fabulous. Summit of the ridge was at 170 meters, not a major peak but better than nothing.

Descended from the ridge down to the beach via an excellent gravel slope. Looked quite steep from above but turned out to be brilliant – soft and fast. Only concern is how much we are disturbing the environment – how long do our footprints last in the soft ground? Looking at the way the wind stirs everything up probably not that long. When I worked in Svalbard they talked about 15 years to cover to tracks, hopefully it won’t take that long here. Although we are not the only ones taking excursions from yachts in the area, the actual number of people is very few. If the cruise ships started unloading their human cargo around here the effect would be devastating. There are apparently some no-go areas, for example over by the whaling station. We also found a Greenpeace sign designating the area round the freshwater pools as an SSI and off limits. But this seemed to be generally ignored.

Walked along the beach beside the caldera, watched by several gentoo and chinstrap penguins and some pairs of shags. There were plenty of whale bones on the beach and the remains of a wooden building of which just a few planks were left. At the end of the beach were some amazing, stratified pyroclastic outcrops eroded into stunningly sculptured cliffs.

Ian and Kev. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Andy speculates on what the hell Mick’s got in his rucksack that makes it so big. Maybe there’s something valuable in there? [Photo: Dean James]
Epic geology overlooking Puerto Foster. Soon we will descend the slope in the foreground - fun for us, but perhaps not so good for preserving the environment. [Photo: Dean James]
Looking down into Puerto Foster. [Photo: Andy/Clare]

The most amazing things are the penguins. You can get to within a few meters of them and they are not disturbed at all. They are so funny and you can watch them for hours without getting bored. The chinstraps are more friendly than the gentoos but they are all entertaining. In all we counted 23 penguins on the beach, mostly chinstraps. They seem to be refugees from the larger colony further round the bay. Either bachelors who couldn’t find a mate or perhaps just some guys off for a lunch break. We tried to interest them in a game of rugby but they were more interested in preening – probably football players. Video clips : [512 kbps] [48 kbps]

Chinstrap penguins on the beach. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Make sure you get my best side. [Photo: Andy/Clare]

Walked back to the boat at 16:30, passed the remains of a dead seal washed up on the beach. Also found a lifebuoy which must have been washed overboard from one of the yachts. The batteries were still operating. We took it back for Mono – he was quite pleased but unfortunately it was later claimed by one of the other yachts. Total distance covered on our excursion was 8.5 km in a total time of 5.5 hours (according to the Geko) so not exactly an epic. When got back we discovered that Mono had disappeared off to the hot springs with some friends from another boat so we had to wait on the beach until he reappeared.

Dean, Dell and a Tern admiring the chinstraps. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Chinstrap penguin contemplating the good old days before all the noisy humans arrived. [Photo: Dean James]
Wooden beams, possibly the remains of a research station destroyed in a recent volcanic eruption, provide a point of interest in the otherwise featureless terrain. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Whale bones and wood. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Clare finds a handy place to sit. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Andy adopts a Spiderman pose - when all’s said and done, it’s not exactly warm here. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Weirdly eroded pyroclastic stratification in the cliffs further down the beach. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Skua! [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Skottish investigates. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Pyroclastic cliffs. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
Mick and Ade debate the pros and cons of toppling this little baby, which is literally perched on just a few remaining pebbles. Eventually they let it stand for another day. [Photo: Andy/Clare]
The local chinstrap population are more concerned with preening and looking cool than playing rugby - they are probably all football players. [Photo: Dean James]
Mick tries to tempt some of the local boys into an impromptu game of rugby. [Photo: Ian Arnold]
Mago del Sur and companion in Telefon Bay. [Photo: Dean James]

Talked with an English woman from the French yacht, she says that Trinity Island, our next port of call, has big mountains and glaciers. Hopefully she’s correct because we are desperate to get some ice under our feet.

 
 
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