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.

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.

Circumnavigation

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.

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.

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.

Circumnavigation

“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..

Orcas

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…

Lazy day

What a wonderful moment:

I’m sitting on deck in the sun, wrapped up warm because it’s really cold. The Selma’s wheelhouse provides a little shade from the wind. The wind is blowing strongly, with fierce gusts from the south that tug at the anchor chain. But we are well protected in a bay on the north side of Beak Island in Duse Bay in the Weddell Sea. Outside, icebergs in every imaginable shape and shade of white, gray and blue drift by, the water covered in whitecaps. We were here the day before yesterday and know that we are well protected from the wind and the ice drifting in. The options are limited at the moment due to the current strong winds and the many bays blocked by ice or threatened by drifting ice.

Almost the entire rest of the crew is ashore. I use the quiet time on board for a short break, to pause for a moment. The last few days have been very intense, filled with experiences, magical moments, discoveries, encounters… I have enjoyed them, we have all enjoyed them and soaked them up like a sponge. The Drake Passage, the first steps on Antarctic soil, the fascinating, vast landscape, the icy strong wind, icebergs, ice floes, drift ice, pack ice … the already numerous encounters with animals, including humpback whales, orcas, fin whales, fur seals, Weddell seals, leopard seals, elephant seals, various penguin species and numerous seabirds.

All these impressions, one more beautiful and overwhelming than the next, first need to be processed and sorted… the hard disk is full, so to speak, and needs some maintenance.

The days become blurred, drifting into one another like the drifting ice all around. What was yesterday? What was the day before yesterday? Sometimes it’s hard to tell, irrelevant anyway. Here and now is the benchmark in the Antarctic. Every moment is something special, a gift. Pure happiness to be here, to be able to experience and discover this wonderful part of our planet. To walk on ground that has rarely – if ever – been touched by human feet. Climbing peaks, often nameless and – compared to alpine standards – not particularly high, which nevertheless offer a view that simply takes your breath away (if the often strong wind doesn’t already do so). Grandiose panoramas that no photo or video can ultimately capture. Overwhelming in their size and vastness and without scale. Huge icebergs speckle the bays and the ocean; from above or from a distance they merely look like crushed ice, the dimensions shift. Due to the clear air, distances are difficult or impossible for the untrained eye to judge. Coastlines or icebergs that appear to be only a hand’s breadth away are often still a few miles away.

The clouds in the sky are also magnificent. Strong high-altitude winds produce foehn lenses and huge rolls of cloud that chase dramatically overhead. When the magical light of the Antarctic late summer is added at dusk, with its sometimes soft, sometimes intense colors that transform the sky into a firework display, a sea of light and color, you become speechless and awestruck by this natural spectacle.

The crew and the shared life on board are also wonderful. How wonderful to be together with these ten people. That, too, is a gift and a great stroke of luck: over the course of a year and a half, eight completely different, previously unknown people have come together to share this adventure, some of whom have completely different ambitions and motivations. Plus an equally unknown skipper team. And here on board the Selma, where things are sometimes tight, where it is important to work as a team, to be considerate of each other and to be able to rely on each other, this combination has so far proved to be a stroke of luck, balanced, harmonious, a good and humorous group. Each individual with their own idiosyncrasies enriches life on board, and the joint watches go hand in hand. All of us, but especially Piotr, Wojtek and Ewa, give unlimited attention to our well-being, whether sailing, during maneuvers, during and between watches, when going ashore … but above all in culinary terms. Good food = enough energy = positive mood – it’s a simple equation. And it works, whether it’s the meals prepared by the kitchen team in charge, the coffee and tea in between or the incredibly delicious desserts and treats prepared with love by Ewa and Wojtek. I wouldn’t want to miss a single one of these people here on the boat, this little Selma cosmos of our own that the eleven of us inhabit, and I look forward to every day we will spend here together.

During the first few days underway, which demanded a lot of attention and energy during the wakes and sleep between them, especially in the Drake Passage, but also here in the meteorologically unstable and ice-heavy Weddell Sea, there was still a little lack of peace and quiet for relaxed and intimate conversations … but as we get used to it, we will have and find enough time for that too. Days like today are also perfect for this.

Drift

It’s quiet, with the occasional ripple of a small wave. I can only hear the captain snoring softly in his bunk in the wheelhouse.

I missed the “ice thriller” at the beginning of last night, my watch didn’t start until 2:00 a.m., when we had just got out of the thick ice we had got into in a bay in search of a sheltered anchorage.

Now we’re drifting in open water, like a ghost ship, rudderless, with the rudder turned fully to port to compensate for the wind on the mast.

Everyone, especially Pyotr and Voy, is resting, getting a good night’s sleep.

I sit with my eyes on the radar and keep an eye on what’s happening. This island ahead looks so close, but according to the radar it’s almost a mile. Distances are much harder to estimate here, there are no reference points, and at night it’s even harder. Outside, there is the first reddish stripe on the horizon.

An hour later, the wind picks up and we drift towards the island at 1.5 knots. So we wake up Pyotr, start the engine and sail into a sunrise that is so colorful it’s almost too kitschy.

Alan has started his watch, we are enjoying the spectacle of the early hours when orcas appear, a whole family is in the bay. Two of them suddenly appear right next to the boat, dive under it several times before we become uninteresting and they leave us again.

Several times I thought it couldn’t get any better. And every day, nature tops our adventure with yet more magical moments. This explains the permanent happy grin on the (sometimes tired) faces of the crew 🙂 !

Summit happiness

Beak island

The idea was to get our legs moving, explore Beak Island and combine a love of hiking with a spirit of discovery.

So we set off to explore the small island, whose sheltered bay offered us a good anchorage.

It is home to a number of seals and a few individual penguins, but above all, Beak Island is skua country. The large birds nest here as ground breeders. The young have already left the nest, but are still sitting around and are protected by their parents, who try to keep us away with screeching and attack flights. One or two skua come threateningly close to our heads. We try to keep well clear of the young and protect ourselves by holding up walking sticks.

Our group splits up after a while. Some want to take their time to look around and take photos, Karen and I want to walk to the highest point, Jan joins us.

It takes us just over an hour to climb up the scree of the mountain flank. Here we have a magnificent panoramic view of the island, the inlets and the surrounding mountains.

The summit is only just under 400m high, but the steep ascent, the steep cliff sloping down to the sea and the windswept peak with summit markings give us the feeling of a real summit success. We are happy and of course we take a photo at the summit.

Back on the boat, another highlight of the day: showers 😃!

Everyone took advantage of this wonderful offer and the feeling afterwards, clean and wrapped in fresh underwear, was heavenly. It’s also fascinating that 11 people leave our mini wet room clean in less than an hour. Why do we actually need large baths, hours-long sessions in the bathroom and large quantities of water at home when it’s so easy?

Drake II

Team spirit

I love life on board with this crew!

The watch system works really well and everyone is reliable at their post, always keeping an eye on the others. I’ve never been so kindly provided with tea, coffee and cookies so many times a day. Delicious porridge with fruit in the morning and at least one hot meal from the galley team (always two other crew members, part of the watch schedule).

The mood is almost always good and we have a lot of fun together. Individual peculiarities are the salt in the soup and are tolerated with humor.

Thank you Neptune!

We have mastered the Drake and are now on our way to the Weddelmeer.

The dreaded waterway was pretty tame, we had to sail half the miles with engine assistance. We had good winds for about 24 hours and the Selma proved to be a magnificent boat that runs wonderfully under sail.

We had our first whale sightings, dolphins accompanied us, we saw swimming penguins, a curious seal and, of course, various seabirds.

Weather-wise, there was sun and rain, and the first icebergs emerged from the fog in an appropriately mystical manner.

On Friday, February 9, we reached Robert Island on the port side at around 18:00 and thus the Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula.

Thank you Neptune for your safe conduct!

Changing plans

Plans are one of those things. Especially down here, deep in the south. Here, man is just a tiny little cog in the infinitely larger course of nature. You have to be flexible and react when external circumstances change. Of course, we expected this – having to adapt to the weather, the wind and the sometimes harsh whims of nature. That’s why there was and is only a rough route and an approximate schedule that we want to follow, just as the Antarctic would allow us to.

However, we didn’t expect that a virus would be one of the things that would thwart our plans. Unfortunately, this is the case with the highly pathogenic bird flu virus.

It was already clear at the beginning of the year that the detection of the virus in South Georgia and its spread would affect our plans and our ability to land and move around in South Georgia. Even in “normal” times, it is not easy to obtain a permit to visit this unique sub-Antarctic island and is subject to numerous conditions.

Following the outbreak of the disease, which is devastating for numerous seabirds and marine mammals, the authorities reacted quickly and clearly, uncompromisingly putting nature, the island’s unique wildlife and its protection above all else and – in response to the outbreak – gradually closing more and more regions to visitors, first partially and later completely.

By the end of January, almost all landing sites were already closed and it became clear that we would have to change our original plans. The historical sites, the traces of Shackleton, his final resting place … just as inaccessible as the wildlife on the island. Sailing 800 nautical miles through the Southern Ocean and from there to the Falklands and then hardly being able to go ashore, or possibly nowhere at all, doesn’t really make sense.

Accepting this was difficult and is still not easy. After all, South Georgia was a central part of our plan. We went back and forth a lot about how to deal with it. But as is so often the case, there are two sides to every coin, something positive can also come out of negative things, or simply put: every shit is an opportunity.

In our case, this opportunity means Weddell Sea and / or further south. On the one hand, because we can now use the time elsewhere and consider other destinations. Secondly, because this year’s ice situation actually allows us to penetrate this part of Antarctica on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula due to the difficult ice conditions – usually thick pack ice far to the north. A region that can only be visited and sailed very rarely. The sea that was the undoing of Shackleton and his expedition, whose pack ice trapped the Endurance, crushed it and ultimately became its grave. The side of the Peninsula where there are numerous rarely visited places and much that is still unknown to discover. And which is also historically associated with other big names besides Shackleton, such as Otto Nordenskjöld and his Swedish Antarctic expedition with the Antarctica (1901-1904).

And so it is with a heavy heart that we give up South Georgia. Instead, we want to seize this unexpected opportunity when it presents itself and set an expectant course for the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctic Sound and the Weddell Sea. After all, we are here to explore – and what could be more exciting than inaccessible and lesser-known parts of the world?

Drake the Lake and Drake the Shake

We’ve made it!

After four days and nights, the Drake Passage lies behind us, a good 530 nautical miles in our wake. This notorious ocean passage between the Pacific and the Atlantic has welcomed us graciously, presenting a gentle and harmless side with blue skies and sunshine, but at times it has also shown its claws and made us feel for a day and a night that it can get really uncomfortable here.

Standing outside at the helm, thickly clad, heavy, choppy seas and a high swell, almost 40 knots of wind in your face, rain and a constant shower of salt water pelting over you … but at the same time it’s a great feeling to stand alone at the helm, to feel the Selma under full sail (jib, main and mizzen) under your hands, to let her run into the wild waves that keep hiding the horizon, out into the wide ocean, to the south, into the night. Almost as if she knows where we want to go, the Selma finds her own way.

Day 1

We set off in the sunshine, passed the famous Cape Horn just under 16 nautical miles to starboard and then left it behind us in our wake. Albatrosses appeared again and again and circled the ship for a moment. They glided so elegantly and effortlessly over the crests and troughs – a dream of flying and a joy to watch. At some point it started to drizzle out of the initially blue sky and the weather changed, as did the condition of one of the crew, who spent the passage seasick in his bunk. The rest proved to be seaworthy.

Fortunately, the change in the weather also brought a decent wind. We changed course from 180 to 140 degrees and headed for the Shetlands.

Day 2

Wednesday was uncomfortable, after four hours on watch everyone was happy to crawl back into the warmth with a hot tea, coffee or warm soup in their hands. However, thanks to the tireless attention of Piotr, our skipper, Wojtek, Ewa and the respective galley team, this is always taken care of.

It remained rough on Thursday night, and although it was warmer and drier in the bunk, it wasn’t necessarily any more comfortable than at the helm. Especially in the foredeck, directly at the mercy of the ship’s movements, we rolled and bounced with the Selma on, in and over the waves, while it rumbled a lot when the bow crashed into a wave or a powerful wave crashed over the deck. Sleep was out of the question. Around midnight, we crossed the Antarctic Convergence and it became noticeably colder both outside and inside the boat.

Day3

Thursday brought sunshine and biting cold, but unfortunately the wind also dropped, so that in the afternoon we unfortunately had to use the engine to help with only 12 knots … we really didn’t expect that in the Drake Passage.

As a consolation, we made an attempt at a sheet cake from the porridge left over from breakfast the last two days – we quickly christened it Drake Cake.

In the evening, we spotted the first iceberg on the horizon at 60.44 S 062.33 W. From now on it was time to keep an eye out.

Day 4

The last leg on Friday, sometimes under sail, unfortunately again with the help of the engine after the wind dies down, brings us the first harbingers of the Antarctic: we spot the first whales – the blow just before Selma is followed a little later by the corresponding fin whale right next to the ship, where it then dives. Again and again, penguins jump in and out of the water next to us, followed by a few seals. It gets foggy, more and more icebergs and smaller growlers cross our course. And at some point, the first land mass of Antarctica emerges from the fog like a shadow. First just a small rock called watchkeeper, then Heywood and Table Island, more rocks than islands … and then we sail between Robert and Greenwich Island into the Bransfield Strait.

Now we have arrived in Antarctica!

We can’t yet see much more than a narrow strip of coastline, dark rocks, snow and glacier edges in the haze. But this will certainly change in the coming days!

Drake I

Wednesday, February 07, Morning

Cape Horn and the Drake Passage. I had imagined it to be wild and rough with meter-high waves and heroic sailing. After all, the crossing from Tierra del Fuego to Antarctica is considered the stormiest waterway in the world. Instead, we motor through a calm and the good Selma rocks through the swell. Challenged by seasickness, she finds a victim. The rest of the crew have so far proved to be seaworthy.

3 days in Puerto Williams

The previous days in Puerto Williams were filled with various activities and final preparations for the trip and a wonderful opportunity for the whole crew to get to know each other better.

After clearing in with the authorities in Chile, we went on a hike up Cerro la Bandera, enjoyed a fabulous view of the Beagle Channel and the surrounding mountains and the feeling of having moved our legs properly once again.

On the Selma, Wojtek gave us a safety briefing, Ewa gave us an introduction to the kitchen and organization on the boat and, of course, Pjotr gave us our first lessons on handling sails, lines, winches, etc.

The mountaineering team checked the equipment, did the final shopping and took a last shower.

“Don’t stop me now” (Queen)

😃 And we discover: our crew can party!

After a pisco sour in America’s southernmost bar, the watch schedule was quickly sorted out. While we toasted to our adventure and told each other stories on the first evening, the second evening saw us dancing wildly and full of joie de vivre to our favorite songs until well after midnight.