Further South

We set off from Vernadsky two days ago. The break did us good, but now we want to continue. For most Antarctic travelers, the southernmost point is reached at the latest here at the Ukrainian Station or even a little to the north after passing through the Lemaire Channel, at Petermann Island, and it’s time to turn back. But not for us. We have the time and inclination to head further south. Adelaide Island is our destination.

Across the Arctic Circle to the south

On the one hand, there may be some opportunities for the Mountaineering Team to let off steam on land for a few days. On the other hand, we have taken Ivan on board, a biologist from Vernadsky. And for him, our journey south is a rare and wonderful opportunity to pursue his passion and science – the study of Antarctic plants, especially mosses – and to collect samples at selected locations along the way.

We want to head south as quickly as possible to Marguerite Bay between Adelaide Island and the Peninsula / mainland. The weather is not exactly at its best: it is cloudy, gray and wet. The water – almost black – is dotted with small white whitecaps and numerous icebergs and bergy bits. After four hours, however, you can usually see the smiling faces of those on watch, dripping with wetness. The weather doesn’t make anchoring in the evening easy either: a first attempt at Marie Island fails because the wind is too strong from the wrong direction for the spot, and we have to discard other options because the depth is too great. We sail south for another two hours until we finally drop anchor in a bay near Cape Bellue.

It’s still wet and gray when we cross the Arctic Circle at 66 degrees 33′ 55” at around ten o’clock on Wednesday. A reason to unpack the bottle of rum and clink glasses. It’s never been so crowded in the wheelhouse. My watch has just started, so I have the good fortune and honor of being at the helm during this special event, but I also get a glass in my hand and share my rum with Neptune.

The gray remains with us south of the Arctic Circle, paired with decent waves but also sufficient wind, and we can set sail for a good four hours until we reach the north of Adelaide Island. We keep to the mainland, passing Isacke Passage, Hanusse Bay and the narrow Gunnel Channel to the east of Hansen Island. The clouds hang low, the little we can catch of the landscape along Hinks and Lawrence Channel is icy and glaciated. The wind from the northeast picks up to almost 40 knots, the search for an anchorage for the night is again not easy, but we find a small bay. The entrance is barely recognizable, icebergs are stuck on an offshore moraine. Only on the second attempt does the anchor hold, we have 80 meters of chain in place.

Unfortunately, the night is extremely restless. Ice is constantly drifting through the small bay, first in, then out again, and the icebergs that were stuck on arrival are also on the move again thanks to the tide. The anchor watch has a lot to do to keep the Selma halfway clear of them. At least we have support from the moonlight. The anchor is also tugging at the chain, the alarm goes off several times and more than once we think it’s going to break free. Fortunately, this doesn’t turn out to be the case, but hardly anyone on board really gets any sleep, and after a short night we set off again early before more ice drifts into the bay and blocks the exit.

We have a coffee at four o’clock and weigh anchor at five o’clock in the morning. In the morning, the British station of Rothera comes into view. Alan was here a few years ago as a field guide and radios the station. Unfortunately, despite this supposed bonus, we don’t get permission to call at the base.

Leonie Islands

In Ryder Bay, we drop Ivan off on Leonie Island. While he searches for mosses there, we anchor off Lagoon Island and take the Zodiac across. Rothera asks us on the radio to keep an eye out for signs of the bird flu virus. On entering the island, the smell of decay is quite foul. Five not too long dead skuas lie in a narrow area around a small lagoon. This could be a sign of the virus, they are old birds, all without any recognizable external injuries. But a little later, we identify a larger group of elephant seals lying here lazily, dozing and digesting, as the reason for the foul smell. A large pile of huge brown bodies nestled close together. From time to time, a head rises briefly, sneezing or burping, looks at us troublemakers with huge saucer eyes, only to dive back into the cuddly confines of the others immediately afterwards. Or a fin is stretched out to scratch its belly or back. It’s wonderful to watch this peace and comfort, which is only disturbed when one of the animals thinks it wants to turn around, to which its neighbors first snort and complain, only to slowly jerk their clumsy bodies back into place. However, they are only clumsy on land – in the water, these massive animals move surprisingly elegantly and quickly. This is demonstrated by a specimen that suddenly appears directly in front of us while we are waiting on the shore for the Zodiac, only to dive down again immediately afterwards in shock at our presence and quickly seek refuge.

Kayak trip

We decide to spend the night here. So we still have time for an excursion around the islands. Some of us choose the Zodiac. Unda, Gerhard, Karen and I set off in three kayaks. We paddle our way around some beautiful icebergs and turquoise-blue ice floes and discover a small bay where we can observe penguins, Weddell seals and elephant seals at close range. But they take no notice of us. Just as we are about to head back towards Selma, Karen spots three whales that are obviously heading in our direction. Just the day before, Unda told me about her desire to meet whales in a kayak. To paddle with them. At eye level, so to speak. And now that’s exactly what happened. An hour of whale watching at its finest. The course lines of the whales and our kayaks crossed at just the right moment, and we experienced one of the most wonderful and moving moments of this trip. But Unda has already written so beautifully about this.

The encounter with these three humpback whales, especially the moment when one of them surfaced right at the bow of our kayak and right in front of my feet and next to us, its head, the huge body, shiny black, close enough to touch … it was breathtakingly beautiful in the truest sense of the word.

Strangely enough, we were neither startled nor afraid – there was simply no time for that. But it took a moment before we dared to breathe again, to really understand what had just happened, how incredibly lucky we were that Unda’s wish had come true in such a wonderful way.

Ivan, who we picked up again in the evening on Leonie Island, was also happy with his haul: the many samples of mosses, lichens and grasses. We actually felt like celebrating after this day. But a small glass of wine will have to suffice this evening, because we want to weigh anchor again very early the next morning and set off. To the southern tip of Adelaide Island, where we finally want to start our long-awaited mountaineering tour.


We had already set up the kayaks three days ago. Pjotr had been inspired by SY Podorange, where we can moor them well on deck. The dinghy has made a bit of room and now they are snuggled up on the starboard foredeck, their red color matching the Selma perfectly.

Of course, they are at their best when in use, as they have already proved themselves twice.

Ursula and I did the first test on Hovgaard Island. While the others went on a snowshoe hike, we took it easy, paddled between flat rocks and icebergs and enjoyed the silence. We are always delighted by every penguin sighting, it’s impossible not to smile when we see these funny animals. From the kayak, silently and at eye level, taking our time, it is particularly intense. Ursula is paddling for the first time in her life and immediately falls in love with this form of transportation, which I have long been addicted to.

From a distance, Woij keeps an eye on us in the dinghy and could be with us in no time if we need his help or the leopard seal shows too much interest. But we feel comfortable and safe and are only happy about a speedy return trip at the end, when Woij takes us in tow.

We must have raved about our trip, because two days later all six available kayak places are taken when we set off from Vernadzky Station, first to Wordie House and then on a trip around Galindez Island. This round trip is a little longer, but the kayaks prove to be stable, comfortable and with good straight-line stability. We are out for about three hours and enjoy our trip.

As I write this text, we are already heading further south towards Adelaide Island and hope to make intensive use of our kayaks there. My dream is to meet a whale then, at eye level so to speak. We’ll see 😉

At eye level with whales

Two days later, we are on a short exploratory kayak trip off Lagoon Island when we see three humpback whales swimming in the small sound between the islands. They were moving slowly, perhaps feeding.

We immediately start paddling, an imaginary line where our paths might intersect, and the plan works. We get closer and closer to them and are soon only a few kayak lengths away from them, then between them. We see one to our left and another to our right, hear them blow, watch them rise and fall. We are fascinated and excited, hardly dare to breathe and at the same time try to paddle, look everywhere and take photos.

The humpback whales are very close, but don’t seem to take any notice of us. Suddenly, however, one appears right next to the boat, touches it on the bow and makes a wave as it dives down, causing our two small kayaks to rock considerably. Whether out of interest in us or by accident, we don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. We are absolutely overwhelmed, happy and full of adrenaline. We don’t know what to do with all the feelings that are flooding us, we look at each other and are happy to be able to share this experience and see the same fascination in the faces of others that we are experiencing ourselves.

Happy and full of gratitude for this gift, we watch the three whales for a short while before they move on and we return to Selma.

Vernadsky Station I

Before you can see Vernadsky, the Ukrainian station, you can smell it. At least the day before yesterday afternoon, when we arrived, the wind carried the smell of the resident Gentoo penguin colony (gentoo penguins) towards us from afar. Soon after, not only did lots of penguins appear in the water and on land on and between the rocks, but also the station buildings.

Vernadsky Base

We took a break here for two days, hid from the storm from the SW, filled up on energy, water and diesel and visited the Ukrainians. The station is known for its hospitality towards small sailing yachts. The Selma and Piotr are welcome guests after many years, and Piotr has close friends here.

In a small bay close to the station, we lay quiet and sheltered. At the entrance, the resident leopard seal greeted us and drifted past us on its floe. For the first time during the trip, we not only dropped anchor but also deployed four shore lines. We spend almost two hours doing this. On land, we look for suitable anchor points in the form of rocks or large stones, lay slings, deploy floating lines with the dinghy, attach them to the anchor points and then gradually pull them tight from deck until everything fits and the Selma is securely moored. Just as we have finished, another yacht, the Mon Coeur, turns into the bay and moors up next to us. Gennadi, the Ukrainian skipper, is also a good friend of Piotr. He made the Mon Coeur seaworthy again years ago, refitted and extended it. He proudly tells us about it and later shows us every last corner of his boat. Everything is bigger and more comfortable than on the Selma. The engine room alone, where two Mr. Perkins are on duty, is as big as our entire saloon. The cabins each have their own bathroom, the kitchen is huge and it’s warm. Far too warm for our standards. We’re glad to be back on the Selma later, we’ve got used to the 10-15 degrees below deck and love it just the way it is.

A warm welcome

Piotr is invited to the ward in the evening. It’s a special day. It is February 24th. Today marks the third year of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. Of course, this is extremely present here at the station, even though home is unreachably far away: it’s 15,168 km to Kyiv. However, many of the 26 station members currently working here were at the front before the season and / or will have to return to the front after the changeover in April. They all fear for their families and friends back home. This painful reality is a daily reality for the people here, especially on this day. It also catches up with us in our happy and peaceful “bubble” on board the Selma. We may be at the end of the world down here in the deep south, but we are still a part of it.

All the more moving is the warm welcome we receive and the hospitality we are shown during these two days: we are given lots of fresh bread and a large pot of borscht, a detailed tour of the entire station and insights into its history and research work. The former British station has been run by the Ukraine since 1996 and is named after the Ukrainian geologist, mineralogist, geochemist and biochemist Vernadsky.

Historical pictures on the walls fill the corridors of the station, the group photos of the respective wintering teams of the station’s history – whether British or Ukrainian – hang in the staircase to the upper floor. We are allowed a glimpse into the laboratories of the biologists, seismologists, geologists, meteorologists … We get a hint of the complex relationships between climate change, warmer temperatures, migrating penguins, their guano, the subsequent growth of first-colonizing algae … and the resulting changes to the islands and landscapes of the Antarctic Peninsula. The station, which shares Galindez Island with a colony of Gentoo penguins that has been growing for years, can tell you all about it.


But the best part is the hot shower followed by a visit to the sauna.

After a long time, we enjoy the luxury of hot running water. The station’s women’s shower is currently mostly unused due to a lack of female staff, or is used as a temporary storage area for various scientific samples – numerous numbered bags are piled up next to our clothes. A curious glance reveals the contents: these are Ivan’s mosses, which are awaiting further scientific examination.

But the sauna – or banja – is the biggest thing! A small wooden hut on a rock about 300 meters from the station building is waiting for us. There are two ways to get there: by land through the middle of the penguin colony or by boat. We choose the sea route and the dinghy. An adventurous, somewhat weathered wooden ladder leads up a rock to the hut. The steps are slippery, as is the forecourt. Like the ladder, the small wooden deck is occasionally used by penguins, which stand, lie and call all around us, right next to and behind the sauna. The scenery is simply incredible.

We quickly get rid of our wellies and clothes and slip into the cozy warmth. Enjoy the 90 degree dry, crisp heat, the steaming infusion. Afterwards, we stand outside steaming in the frosty cold. Think about it for a moment and then scramble down the slippery steps, over the rocks and dare to dive into the Antarctic Ocean. Afterwards they are electrified, full of energy, everything tingles like a thousand fine needles. We stand outside in the twilight grinning, enjoying a cold beer and the view of the sea, icebergs and penguins. We warm up in the hut and then slip back onto the wooden benches by the hot stove. We indulge in this luxury three times before moving over to the station’s bar, cleaner and warmer than we have been for a long time. Here we are welcomed with music, drinks and a small buffet. It was a wonderful evening together with our Ukrainian hosts and the crew of the Mon Coeur – with beer, wine, cocktails, pool billiards, stimulating and moving conversations that not only accompanied us during the midnight crossing to Selma.

Wordie House

We start the next morning with a late, sumptuous breakfast and look forward to a day here in Vernadsky. No anchoring, no watches, no cold hours at the helm… just a whole day off. Free, so to speak. Well, not quite. First we get a delivery of fuel. Four heavy 200 liter barrels of diesel are winched on deck. While Piotr takes care of filling our tanks in the following hours, we set off on a kayak trip.

We paddle to the neighboring Wordie House on Winter Island. The former British Faraday Research Station is a historical monument from the early days of Antarctic science, built in 1947 and closed in 1954. The former main building of Station F was named after James Wordie, a Scottish polar explorer and geologist who, among other things, took part in Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition as scientific director. The building stands on the foundations of a former hut of the British Graham Land Expedition 1935-1936.

Today, Wordie House is a small museum: visitors are taken on a journey through time, 70 years back to the early days of the British Antarctic stations. The rooms, all in their original condition, offer a small insight into scientific work and station life. Historical measuring instruments and scientific material in the workrooms, the workshop and equipment such as diving gear, snowshoes and dog harnesses bear witness to this. The kitchen, including supplies and food, would still be ready for use. The adjoining lounge is a living room and bedroom in one. Some of the jackets are still hanging on the beds, shoes are on the shelves. Games, books, darts and the guitar have provided variety during the long, dark winter months. I love these trips back in time, breathing in the smell of bygone eras that still lingers in the rooms. Sometimes you think you can still feel the presence of those who once lived here.

A short ascent to the neighboring glacier and summit of Winter Island offers a beautiful panoramic view of the station and the Argentine Islands. We then continue kayaking between and around the islands, past glacier-blue icebergs, leaping penguins, passing cormorants (Arctic Shag) and crabeater and Weddell seals lying lazily on floating floes. We also encounter the leopard seal again, but this time it shows no particular interest in us. After four hours, we pass the station again and return to the Selma.

Crew extension

In the afternoon, the mountaineering team sets off once again for the neighboring glacier. Safety training is on the agenda. Alan, who regularly works for Mountain Rescue in Scotland, patiently practises various crevasse rescue techniques with us. After almost three hours, we are frozen through and finish our training session.

The Selma is now moored near the station’s small wooden pier and has stocked up on fresh water. We move together, rearrange our supplies and make room in the aft cabin to take Ivan on board. The biologist will accompany us for a few days; our journey south is a great opportunity for him to search for samples in remote places that are otherwise out of his reach. Meanwhile, our underwater drone remains at the station to support the scientists there.

Tomorrow we continue south. Now with 12 men on board, newly assigned guards, a thirst for exploration and lots of curiosity. And the great certainty that we will be back here again soon in this wonderful place – at least to drop Ivan off. But perhaps also to enjoy the warm Ukrainian hospitality and the most beautiful sauna in the world one more time.

Westside Stories— Lemaire Channel

We leave the incredibly beautiful but restless anchorage early in the morning. Just around the corner, the spectacular entrance to the Lemaire Channel awaits us. This six-kilometre-long strait between the peninsula and the offshore Booth Island is very narrow, measuring just 720 m wide at its narrowest point. Plenty of room for us small yachts, even if we have to slalom through the ice. Large cruisers approaching announce their passage on the radio, as only one ship at a time can pass through the canal. On both sides of the canal, the mountains rise up to 1,000 meters above sea level. Coupled with numerous glaciers, this is a spectacular backdrop that makes the passage an impressive experience.

Numerous blue icebergs await us on the south side, and Hovgaard Island – a larger island in the middle of an archipelago of numerous small, mostly flat islands that stretches out to the west and south. The anchor drops at around nine o’clock. The island is covered by a gently rounded, snow-white glacier cap. Most of us want to climb its 368-metre-high peak. Meanwhile, Unda and Ursula prefer a short kayak tour to the neighboring penguins.

We put our snowshoes in the Zodiac and are accompanied and followed by a curious leopard seal during the crossing to the island, just like on Astrolabe Island. A little too curious for our liking, after a while it starts to repeatedly graze the side walls of the dinghy with its head and body, dives under us, swims at us again … It is easy to see in the crystal-clear water, its strength and elegance are impressive, as are its huge head and suddenly open mouth from close up. Once again we have the image of those pointed teeth in the orange rubber before our eyes and accelerate. So does the leopard seal. And it is fast – of course, after all it loves to chase penguins as fast as an arrow. But we can’t really shake it off. We are glad when we scramble ashore, wish Voj a safe return journey, put on our snowshoes and are ready to go.

It takes us just under an hour and a half to climb the hill, which looks so inconspicuous from below. Small black dots in the white, vast landscape. The glacier is covered in snow. The higher we get, the more beautiful the view of the archipelago, the countless blue-white icebergs floating like ice cubes in the sea, the southern portal of the Lemaire Channel and the peaks of the Antarctic Peninsula, which unfortunately remain largely hidden in higher layers of cloud. And very small down there, between all this splendor, lies our red Selma.

It’s good to get our legs moving again and we really enjoy the variety of this snowshoe tour. Back on the coast, a skua takes an interest in our snowshoes and we discover an old depot, still full of supplies and emergency equipment. Alan identifies it as clearly British due to its contents and the color coding. On the way back we remain unmolested this time, Voj and we take a different route with the Zodiac so as not to dispute the leopard seal’s territory again.

After some refreshments, we weigh anchor and set off, heading south. It’s about two hours to the Ukrainian Vernadsky Station. This is our next destination. We want to pay a visit to Piotr’s friends here and take a two-day break to find some peace and quiet and avoid the strong winds forecast for the next few days. We are excited.

Westside Stories — Cape Renard

We set off the next morning, wanting to continue our journey south. We quickly leave the Argentinean station Almirante Braun in our wake. It’s still gray and cloudy, but the sun comes out in the Ferguson Channel. And soon we have a good 20 knots of wind from the SW. We set sail and the Selma is in her element. We enjoy the sailing between the peninsula and Wiencke Island and cruise south, tack after tack. At last we have the opportunity to practise this in good conditions and without any permanent risk of ice collision. It’s great fun. We sail into Flanders Bay and then westwards to Cape Renard. The wind decreases, the ice increases. We swap the sails for Mr. Perkins, slalom again and marvel at the countless ice formations and icebergs around us – one more beautiful than the next, shades of blue so deep you could sink into them.

At Cape Renard, the endlessly beautiful scenery is completed by jagged alpine peaks and glaciers, a few penguins and the odd Weddell seal and leopard seal on a floe drifting by. Later, we take the Zodiac through a labyrinth of dense and moving ice to get a closer look at the seals. The effort is rewarded – although they are snoozing comfortably, they take notice of us, raise their heads and give us a quick glance before resuming their cozy slumbering pose.

Cape Renard remains our anchorage for the night. The sun slowly gives way to dusk, the clouds in the sky glow a dramatic orange-gold over the peaks.

As calm and beautiful as the evening ends, the night is unfortunately exhausting. The combination of lots of ice, strong currents in the bay, the tide and constantly shifting winds keeps the ice watch constantly on its toes. Icebergs come in, and as soon as they have been guided past the Selma, the wind shifts and/or the current changes and they drift back and towards us again. We only concentrate on the bigger chunks. Every five minutes we use the pole and try to keep plaice and bergy bits at a distance. With such a strong current and the speed of the ice, this doesn’t always work. And above a certain size, you’re left behind anyway. That’s when the skipper and Mr. Perkins have to take over. There’s not much sleep to be had, neither on deck nor in the bunks, where the constant rumbling on deck and along the side of the ship robs some people of their sleep.

Westside Stories — Course south

We set course south. We leave Tower Island and Trinity Island to starboard. The uncomfortable weather and numerous icebergs remain our companions. Spotlights are installed on the bow for the night. It starts to snow in the evening. In the light of the bow floodlights, the strong wind blows the snowflakes into white horizontal stripes, stroboscope-like. Visibility is zero. We leave the lights off and prefer to stare into the darkness. With the help of the radar, we work our way south through the night. The dawn takes its time. The watch at the helm becomes a test of patience. Only slowly do the first shadows of the icebergs emerge from the darkness, so that we can finally rely on our eyes again. The snow from the previous night covers everything on deck white and wet. Shoveling snow is the order of the day.

The daylight returns, it clears up a little, even the sun makes an appearance. We slowly approach the well-visited part of Antarctica and occasionally encounter a cruise ship. For the most part, however, it is whales that we see in the Gerlache Strait. They usually come towards us, passing us at some distance to the north. Often individually, sometimes in pairs, every quarter of an hour. At some point we stop counting and the rower’s loud call of “whale” is heard only rarely.

We stop briefly at Cuverville Island in the afternoon. The sun shines over an alpine glacier backdrop. The scenery is fantastic, penguins are calling and jumping around, the island is ablaze with colorful lichens and mosses. We meet the Spirit of Sydney and anchor near her. Darrel’s yacht would also have been an option for us – but we are very happy to have opted for the Selma.

On a small island lies the wreck of a small wooden boat next to a huge rusty chain – the question of how the two fit together cannot be answered, they are probably remnants from whaling times. A Gentoo penguin (gentoo penguin) colony lives on Cuverville. We go ashore and have time to observe the colorful hustle and bustle. Here, too, there are numerous chicks, hungrily hurrying after their parents, indecisive swimmers, curious specimens who may be surprised at us strange giant penguins. A penguin highway – a narrow track in the snow – leads up the hill. It looks funny when the little guys hike up, especially when they come towards each other and decide who gets to pass the other first.

The exit from the bay is extremely icy and takes a lot of time. We pass the Errera Channel and the Graham Passage. Narrow, alpine peaks to the left and right, covered by glaciers. At midnight, we drop anchor in Hidden Bay, south of Paradise Bay, a tiny bay surrounded by glaciers. We spend the night here, well protected. The anchor watch is particularly beautiful this time: the full moon disappears behind the glacier and gives way to a clear starry sky that stretches across the firmament and between the masts of the Selma. The ice around us remains mostly calm, only the glacier cracks and bangs from time to time, a small avalanche goes off somewhere, you can hear it rumble and minutes later the wave crashes into the bay. The Selma rocks gently back and forth and lulls us gently to a well-deserved sleep.

Westside Stories — Astrolabe Island and Bransfield Strait

We have now been traveling on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula for three days. And – compared to the east side – in a different world. Both the landscape and the weather have changed.

After starting on Tuesday morning in Hope Bay, Antarctic Sound, we sailed through the day and night. In the Bransfield Strait it has become gray, cold and wet, and it keeps raining. Wind around 20-25 knots from the SW. We initially set course for the South Shetlands, then cross to the south. Our destination, Astrolabe Island, emerges from the fog at dawn. A colony of chinstrap penguins nests here. Landing proves to be difficult. We can’t climb more than a few meters up the black, rocky coast: on the left, a group of fur seals are dozing on the ice, on the right, the penguins are in charge. The weather is so uncomfortable that even they stand doubtfully on the shore and seem to be delaying the step of diving into the ocean for as long as possible. We decide to explore the coast from the dinghy. A whale passes nearby and as it dives we are visited by a leopard seal. Curious, he makes contact and seems very interested in the orange rubber thingy we are sitting in. It follows us, dives down again and again and suddenly reappears next to the boat or underneath it. It is incredibly fast and easy to observe in the clear water. Up close, it looks imposing, its head and mouth huge, no longer as friendly and smiling as the ones we met slumbering peacefully on an ice floe. We feel a little queasy, the thought of a clash of teeth and rubber with an uncertain outcome makes us reach for our paddles, at least as a precaution. This mutual encounter lasts more than half an hour before we retreat to the safety of the Selma.

Good bye Weddell Sea

We made it, the circumnavigation of James Ross Island!

And not just somehow, but it was a feast!

We saw so much wildlife, island scenery, countless natural ice sculptures, history (from fossils to huts of brave Antarctic explorers at the beginning of the last century) and experienced many exciting hours. Whether traveling together through densely packed ice floe areas or alone at night, watching over anchors, icebergs or drifting ships, listening in the dark to unfamiliar sounds such as penguins, whales and cracking ice.

Always in a good mood and enjoying the whole range of activities, perhaps most of all the almost vacation camp-like times on deck, listening to Alan playing his guitar in the warming sun.

After 8 days we were back at our anchorage in Brown Bluff, toasted our success with Kraken rum and also paid homage to Neptune and his wife with a glass each.

The evening was fun, although not long. The watch system with changing shifts around the clock, the many impressions and experiences, shore excursions, fresh air and good food (the galley teams always conjure up amazing creations in the smallest of spaces) make you tired.

We’ve also been on the road for 18 days now, 11 people in a very confined space. Some people need space and time for themselves, so they retreat to their bunk with a book or headphones and their favorite music.

And the sleeping bag is still the coziest place to be. The warmest room is the pilot house, where it is often around 12-15C, and you also have a view without having to stand on deck in the wind. The 2 seats (3 if you like to cuddle up) are usually occupied. Down in the saloon it’s 8C, which is fresh if you sit for a long time without moving, and I often have cold feet. Overall, however, the body adapts well to the cooler temperatures, and of course there are plenty of warming layers of wool and down from well-known outdoor brands on board, which are worn in layers on top of each other. It is so comforting not to be subject to any dress codes or vanities here, instead everyone tries to wear enough to feel “weddell seal comfortable”.

Outside, the scenery changed.

In the Wedell Sea we always had land and/or islands in sight, so we were protected and had a lot of floating ice around us.

Now we are in the Bransfield Strait, our next stopover is the small island of Astrolabe. Wind from the west (we will have to cross), the sea is rough, no land to be seen, only a few large tabular icebergs in the distance.

We set sail for new adventures, exploring the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Changing the side

At last! We are sailing again!

After yesterday’s 40 knots of wind directly on the nose and an initially very restless night at anchor in Hope Bay in Antarctic Sound, we now have a moderate 25 knots of wind from WSW. The sound of Mr. Perkins, which had recently become familiar due to a lack of wind and / or too much ice, but was nevertheless unpopular, has fallen silent and made way. Not silence in the conventional sense, but the silence of sailing: the whistling of the wind in the sails and shrouds, the gurgling of the water along the hull, the roar and slap of an overcoming wave and the rumble and clatter of the crockery in the lockers. Three sails are set: the jib, the main in the third reef and the mizzen. The Selma rushes along at 11 knots.

The sun of the last few days also bid us farewell yesterday evening with a furioso finale: golden-yellow, glowing orange clouds, partly blown into layered lenses by the strong high-altitude wind, dramatically glowing against a gloomy dark gray sky. They have made way for a lead-grey, washed-out, misty sky over a heavy sea the color of black steel. Complemented by the white-grey, grey-blue, white-blue or deep blue of passing iceberg giants – some drifting past in the distant haze, sometimes perfect geometric shapes, sometimes resembling fairytale castles or skyscrapers, some almost disturbingly close, close enough to touch. You felt as if you could reach out and touch this smooth, shimmering surface.

After a good week in the Weddell Sea on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula, it’s time to change sides. We passed through Antarctic Sound yesterday and are now heading for the Bransfield Strait. Our destination for the next stage is the west side of the Peninsula. However, the wind is forcing us to take a detour across, or at least in the direction of, the South Shetlands. But we are flexible and have time, so we enjoy the peace and quiet and the rhythm that comes with sailing a bigger beat. Our sea legs are growing again, we enjoy (apart from one victim of seasickness) the confident movements of the Selma in the play of the waves, the visual reduction to the sky, horizon and ocean and the opportunity to process the countless impressions of the past few days.

Animal encounters

We were blessed with numerous animal encounters that will remain unforgettable.

The albatrosses and petrels of the Drake Passage were followed by the penguins. These also deserve a chapter of their own. I wouldn’t have thought it possible – at least for me – but you fall head over heels in love with these creatures straight away. With their unintentionally comical nature, their curiosity, their sometimes clumsy movements on land and their swiftness in the water. We met Adelie, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins and were lucky enough to spend time in their colonies, observing them in peace. You can do this for hours – it never gets boring. Their communication, their group dynamics, hungry chicks rushing after their annoyed parents. We found them out at sea, swimming like torpedoes, shooting out of the water again and again, drifting past in groups or sometimes all alone on an ice floe. We also saw two young emperor penguins, the colony was unfortunately denied us.

We often encountered skuas, skuas that prefer to stay close to colonies for their prey (penguin chicks). For their part, they vehemently defend their own chicks and clearly signal intruders like us, who accidentally get too close to the nests on the ground, to retreat by shouting loudly and flying towards them.

We met seals of all kinds, sometimes swimming elegantly in the water, more often lying lazily on an ice floe and dozing or on land. As Antarctic beginners, we almost stumbled over numerous fur seals sleeping on the beach (we now have a trained eye for what is a harmless rock and what is a sleeping seal). We spotted a pair of sleeping elephant seals cuddling and looked into the round, huge, black saucer eyes of the Weddell seals, which sometimes look bored, sometimes curious to see who is coming, raise their heads briefly, but then immediately calmly scratch themselves again somewhere with their flipper.

And we met the king of the Antarctic food chain (alongside the orcas): the leopard seal. Tall, slender, streamlined, often lying solo on the ice, they actually look friendly with their smiling faces. In the water, however, they become merciless hunters and are not exactly squeamish about their favorite food, penguins. The penguins are grabbed by the feet and then whirled around and around and hit the surface of the water (or even an iceberg) until they are de-balled (featherless) and ready to be eaten. It was a really impressive spectacle.

And of course we met whales! Usually announced by a loud cry of “Whale!” from the helmsman at the wheel. And anyone who wasn’t already on deck quickly crawled out of the wheelhouse or the saloon. The whales passed us by, sometimes in the distance, sometimes very close to the boat. Sometimes alone, often in pairs or in small groups of three to four animals. Most of them were humpback whales. It’s beautiful how they move gently and calmly through the water, wonderful to see their flukes as they dive down. But it was much more impressive to hear the sounds they make, the puffing as they blow, the whistling as they breathe. Loud and powerful. Especially when they were traveling in groups. Goosebumps and awe. This was also the case with the encounters with orcas. Out and about in groups, at first often only the huge sword of the fins to be seen, then up close the shiny gray bodies ploughing elegantly through the water. At these moments, it was completely silent on deck, everyone stared spellbound at the water and only the exhalations of the animals could be heard. No one moved or left the spectacle until the last fin had submerged again.

The local animal world is diverse and beautiful. And we have also seen the basis of all this rich life: krill. When they swarm through the water, the surface ripples a little, as if the sea were boiling. Bubbling and full of life.

And so the circle closes. Just as our circumnavigation of the Weddell Sea has come full circle.

We are grateful to have been able to experience this. Now we are ready for the other side of the Antarctic Peninsula, where – at least in part – a whole new world, a completely different side of Antarctica awaits us.


As the route to the east seemed to be blocked by ice, we decided to try to make our way further south on the west side of James Ross Island. Here too, between the mainland (Peninsula) and James Ross Island, there was a lot of ice. All but one of the bays on the west side of the island, all named after high-proof spirits (Brandy Bay, Whisky Bay, Rum Bay, Gin Bay), were full of pack ice. We made our way close to the mainland through the less dense tangle of icebergs, growlers and floes, got to know the fierce katabatic winds and appropriately celebrated Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 150th birthday on February 15 with a Shackleton whisky, not in Whisky Bay, but at anchor on Long Island.

True to the boss’s motto that it is in the nature of man to discover the unknown, we decided to venture further south and embark on the circumnavigation adventure.

Near the southern cape of the island, we discovered an old depot box during a shore leave – evidence of the past. Off Snow Hill Island, to the south-east of James Ross Island, we anchored at an iceberg that had run aground off the edge of the ice shelf and decided to sail further east the next day, all the way around. Unfortunately, we didn’t discover the colony of emperor penguins located somewhere there, but we glided across the mirror-smooth water in bright sunshine and calm winds, accompanied by numerous icebergs of all shapes and sizes. Heading north again, we encountered Adelie penguins on Seymour Island and traces of past geological eras in the form of numerous fossils.

These were also the reason for geologist Otto Nordenskjöld’s Swedish Antarctic expedition with the Antarctica (1901-1904). He wanted to spend the winter on either Seymour Island or Snow Hill Island and carry out his research from there. The decision was made in favor of Snow Hill Island, where construction began in February 1902 on a wooden hut that still stands today. Nordenskjöld and four other members of the expedition spent the winter here twice, the first time planned, the second time forced – but this is an extremely exciting story that is worth telling in more detail elsewhere.

We had also decided to take a small detour to sail south again between Seymour and James Ross Island to the north side of Snow Hill Island to pay a visit to Nordenskjöld’s hut. On a small ice-free area of the island, like a lunar landscape, it stands black and brown on a small hill overlooking a magnificent panorama: the entire bay, deep blue water, dotted with ice floes, icebergs, pack ice fields … in the background the majestic mountains and ice caps of James Ross Island. Whether and how often Nordenskjöld simply enjoyed this view from his window, we do not know. It was very special to enter this small wooden hut, this historic place. Reverently, our boots off, we crept through the simple rooms on woollen socks; breathing in polar history, seeing original relics here and there, such as the old stove at the dining table, the kitchen stove, the work tables or some of the fossils collected by the expedition members. We immersed ourselves in their lives for a moment and could not even imagine what it must have been like to spend two long, dark Antarctic winters in this place.

We left this historic place as the tide started to come in and the wind had picked up. After navigating our way through the initially dense drift ice, which gradually thinned out, we set sail, heading north through the Erebus and Terror Gulf. We met up with our old track at Devil Island and the circumnavigation was complete. In Antarctic Sound, we celebrated this successful adventure with a glass of rum for each of us. And Neptune also got his well-deserved share for the safe escort.

Weddell Sea

Our time in the Weddell Sea was as unexpected as it was fantastic. Originally not planned at all (except perhaps to point the bow into the Antarctic Sound), this change of plan turned into a very special experience. We actually managed to round James Ross Island!

Fortune favors the brave, they say. We are very lucky to have a curious, adventurous skipper in Piotr, who – like us – is interested and keen to explore new, unknown paths rather than well-trodden ones, preferring to go on a voyage of discovery in unknown places rather than heading for familiar destinations. We were lucky enough to have the right conditions (ice, weather) and took advantage of them. Whether we did it well or not, it was always the right decision.

We were rewarded with a successful rounding – an absolute rarity for a small sailing yacht, if not perhaps even a first. We don’t know. But what we do know is that the conditions rarely make such an undertaking possible at all. The weather is too uncertain and there is usually too much ice in this part of the Weddell Sea, even in the Antarctic summer. Even the large and much more powerful expedition cruise ships are hardly ever to be found here. We didn’t see a single one of them.

We were greeted by a landscape that is second to none and cannot be compared with that of the west side of the Peninsula.

In Duse Bay, we entered the Antarctic continent for the first time at View Point. The volcanic island of Beak Island greeted us magically bathed in fresh snow, a dream in black, brown and white, and gave us a little morning snowball fight. We swapped our wellies for hiking boots and had time to explore on our own in the sun, freezing cold and icy wind: hikes, small lakes, summit bliss and a magnificent panoramic view. Skuas vehemently defended their nests and chicks. We almost stumbled over fur seals on the black beach, peppered with white blocks of ice glowing in the sun.

We struggled unsuccessfully through thick drift ice and darkness in Prince Gustav Channel for a night in search of a suitable anchorage, paving our way with the ice pole, paths repeatedly turning out to be wrong turns, the ice closing impenetrably in front of us or filling a targeted bay from the outset. Try and error, back and forth, one failed attempt followed by another. For the first time, we realized first-hand the power of this ice. How strong and powerful it is, how close success and failure are.

The Herbert Channel again confronted us with a lot of ice, almost 40 knots of wind and plenty of waves on the nose. We found shelter on the south side of Vega Island, near Cape Lamb, enjoyed some peace and quiet after a strenuous night’s sailing and later discovered lots of fossils on land, proving that it didn’t always look like it does now.

We didn’t find the devil on Devil Island, but we did find a large colony of Adelie penguins, and we spent a few hours immersed in their hustle and bustle.

What a perfect day

It’s 3 o’clock in the morning. I’m standing alone outside on deck. The night envelops me, I can dimly make out the outline of the landscape, very slightly gray, barely discernible, the ice stands out against the black water, on the horizon the tiny golden sparkle of the first dawn.

It is calm and there is total silence. Almost. From time to time, the water gurgles along the hull of the Selma, I hear the soft sizzling of the ice, the sound of escaping air, a subtle crackling. And somewhere out there, very close by, in the direction of the strip of light on the horizon, which is getting bigger by the minute, I can hear the breathing of a whale from time to time. It is probably sleeping and drifting in the calm water, just like us with the Selma. One with the water, the universe. Perfect peace surrounds us.

But that can change quickly, which is why I’m out here. I watch over the sleep of the others, watching the drifting ice that drifts with us between Seymour Island and Cockburn Island on the east side of James Ross Island. And if it gets too close, I use the long pole and put the ice in its place. This works with smaller floes and growlers, but if a larger iceberg comes too close, I wake Piotr and we start the engine. But it remains calm, the skipper snoring quietly in his bunk, the engine off.

Drift freely for a night instead of anchoring somewhere. Just letting yourself drift. I know this from sailing on the open sea, but here in the Weddell Sea near Ross Island I wouldn’t necessarily have expected it. But the conditions last night spoke for it: calm weather, hardly any wind, the water between the two islands too deep for anchoring, but halfway free of ice, but the two coastlines full of drift ice, sometimes dense packs, icebergs and floes of all sizes. Which – anchored off the coast or in a bay – could have become close and dangerous at night. The drift variant is at least the one that promises the calmest night. This is already the second – at least for me and most of us – unusual and new version of an anchoring maneuver within two days.

Selma’s sleeping place was already special yesterday. Just like the whole day yesterday, which was special.

The day before

It’s almost a little surreal. We are in the Antarctic. In the Weddell Sea. We have already half rounded Ross Island and are very far south by local standards on the east side of the peninsula. This is not really an area for a ship, let alone a small sailing boat. Only very rarely does one venture here, who knows if one has even been here before? Even expedition cruisers are not usually to be found here. The sea on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula is too often covered by thick pack ice, impenetrable even in summer. However, we took advantage of the opportunity and the favorable conditions – after all, we are on an expedition and full of the spirit of discovery – and ventured to circumnavigate James Ross Island, somehow cheating our way through all the ice barriers to get here. And are now gliding along the south coast of Snow Hill Island, south-east of James Ross Island. At 64 degrees 35 minutes south.

Snow Hill Island. A place steeped in polar history. The Swedish polar explorer and geologist Otto Nordenskjöld spent the winter on the north side of the island twice (planned and voluntarily in 1902, forced to do so the following year) during his Swedish Antarctic expedition with the Antarctica (1901-1904). His hut still stands today, and we also want to pay it a visit if possible.

Today, the conditions are the opposite of an Antarctic winter, and we also expected a different Antarctic late summer. The sun is shining. The sky is deep blue. There is no breeze, only the wind brings a little life to the small (still Chilean) flag on the mast. It’s anything but rough, cold, wild … for once, most of the crew are on deck, noses are stretched out into the warming sun, sun cream is applied thickly, Alan plays a soft guitar: Lou Reed’s “What a Perfect day”. Nothing fits better at this moment. You could easily imagine yourself in warmer climes, only the view of the passing landscape reminds you that we are in Antarctica.

With the ice shelf edge of Snow Hill Island on our port side, we are on the lookout for the local emperor penguin colony, the northernmost in Antarctica. But there are no penguins far and wide, hardly any life in sight. Two lone seals bask on passing floes, the occasional Arctic tern, nothing else but blue and white. Snow Hill Island is almost entirely covered by a gently rounded ice cap, which flows into the sea on almost all sides of the coast as a high ice shelf edge. The penguins are probably already on their way again, or further south, in the pack ice.

My second watch today is over. It’s been relaxed at the helm for the last four hours, just a bit of slaloming around the white in the blue. A lot of ice and no wind unfortunately also means a lot of engine and no sails.

This morning the sky was again bathed in a soft pastel color. The Selma swam around the iceberg that we had used as an anchor the evening before, for lack of alternatives. The water was too deep and the entire coastline was an ice shelf several meters high. The stuck colossus was just what we needed. With the help of the dinghy, we deployed a 250 m long floating line (twice 125 m), laid it once around the iceberg and tied it to two cleats at the bow of the Selma. During the night, the Selma drifted very slowly with a light wind or current towards the edge of the ice shelf and this morning once clockwise around the iceberg. Then it’s up to the ice guard to intervene and push us off the ice with the long pole and create enough safe space again. This works surprisingly well in calm conditions, in the morning the two lines were retrieved reasonably quickly and we were ready to start the day. Hopefully this will bring us a little closer to rounding James Ross Island to the south of Snow Hill Island and then heading north again.

A perfect day that followed an already perfect day and will probably lead to more days that just feel perfect to us.


“This is no holiday, this is an expedition!”

Often with a wink, sometimes as a joke and occasionally simply surrendering to life on deck with everything that goes with it, this sentence is said several times a day.

And that’s why I’m sitting here now, early in the morning at 4:00 a.m., tired and shivering as an anchor watch.

If it were a vacation, I would have had a hot shower and then 9-10 hours of sleep after 4 hours of watch on deck last night at the latest, after steering and pushing ice away with the long iron bar. But it’s an expedition…

Yesterday it took us deeper into the Weddell Sea than we would ever have imagined, as it is often not even possible, because even in summer there is usually thick ice and no way through for a small sailing boat. But this year there are conditions that make it possible and our skipper team is curious and willing to take risks and we crew follow them full of trust and a desire to explore.

When we sometimes find our way through thick floes and large icebergs at a speed of just one knot, we don’t know whether we will continue or end up in a dead end. The white mass also moves in the wind and current, pushing paths open and closed. But optimism and the skipper’s wealth of experience (he even holds an Antarctic Guinness record with the Selma) have now taken us as far as 64 degrees south to Snow Hill Island, south of James Ross Island, which we want to try to circumnavigate.

And now I’m sitting here keeping anchor watch, which isn’t really an anchor watch at all, because the anchor is on deck and instead we’re attached with a rope to an iceberg that’s stuck to the bottom off the coast. Every now and then we need a push with the pole if the boat drifts too close to the ice to push it away again

There is almost no wind, the sea is as smooth as glass, as it was all day yesterday. It’s slowly getting light, the sky is turning pink. It is still quiet on board, but soon the hustle and bustle will start again, we will be scurrying around each other in the confined space and at the same time enjoying the incredible vastness of this Antarctic world.

I am really looking forward to this day and am excited to see what it has in store for us today. It will be great again, unexpected and breathtakingly beautiful, I’m sure of it

Early morning pink

My 0340 alarm sounds. I turn it off and think for moment that I want to stay snuggled deep in my sleeping bag for another hour. I get up, grab my staged clothes and socks and step into the salon. I greet the other two already there. One is going off-watch, the other is half way through his watch.

We are still anchored. The plan had been to depart between 0330-0400. Skipper Piotr is lying in his bed, already one coffee down. We wait impatiently, ready to pull anchor and be on our way.

At 0415 we are on our way. The gift for rising early in the pre-dawn cold is a soft slow sunrise. The day unfolds in soft pinks and purples over the stark white mountains on the Antarctic Peninsula. Gradually the colors change from shades of purples to light blue and finally a deep blue sky. Rarely is the payoff not worth the trouble.

Quietly we glide through the water, engine purring, water turning to glass. Picking our way through the icebergs and growlers, we stare in amazement at the incredible beauty all around. Trying to capture the essence of the morning in words or on camera is like trying to hold water in your hands.

Slowly, the rest of the crew start to rise and peek outside for a glimpse of what the day may hold. The next watch grabs a cup of coffee and sits in the pilothouse, figuring out the right clothing combination..


By 0800 the galley watch is up and has hit tea and coffee ready. Porridge follows shortly afterwards. Five of us sit in the salon eating and conversing. The word ‘orcas’ is heard from above deck. We all drop our food and drink and scramble to the deck. Grabbing gloves and cameras, we look expectantly in the direction given by the watch.

The boat slows, drifting, while a family of four orcas gracefully glide by. Rising for air, dorsal fins glistening in the sun, they pass is front of us near the ice, looking for food or just transiting through the channel.

Seeing wildlife in its own environment, visitors in this harsh unforgiving environment, we embrace these moments and suffer the uncomfortableness. Forgotten gloves and hats are dismissed until we are too far away to see the orcas. We scurry below deck to finish our breakfast, gather our gloves and hats near to us and warm up.

We are ready for whatever comes next…