Night thoughts

Only 100 miles to go

It’s two o’clock in the morning. I’m sitting outside on deck, having just taken over the night watch from Unda for the next four hours. I have the first two hours to myself, then Peter joins me. I enjoy these lonely hours alone with the night and the sea every time.

The clear night has spread over me, the moon has already set again. A sparkling starry sky stretches out above me, the now familiar Southern Cross tickles the top of Selma’s mast as always. Only in the southwest do clouds color the already dark sky a little blacker.

Something is moving in. Whether it’s a full-blown storm or just strong winds will become clear in an hour or two. The weather models were divided on this. The wind is whistling from the south-west at just under 20 knots and is on the increase. The mizzen sail is still set and we’ll wait and see. With the rudder turned 11 degrees to starboard, we drift north towards our destination at a speed of 1 to 1.5 knots.

There are still around one hundred miles to go to the Falklands. Only!

If it’s a rough ride, that’s eleven or twelve hours; if it’s a good one, we’ll be there in twenty hours. This would be my last watch, at night on the deck of the Selma. Not a nice idea, because to be honest, I don’t want to arrive yet. Because Port Stanley means the end of our journey, or at least our sailing adventure.

Sure, we still have a week to explore the Falklands. But we have to say goodbye to the Selma – to Piotr, Voy, Ewa. The thought alone is incredibly difficult for me. I don’t even want to think about leaving this fine boat that has become a home and these dear people. It’s usually hard to say goodbye, and it’s even harder to leave, especially after such a long, intense time. I’ve never liked that. And not only once have I toyed with the idea of simply staying on board, letting the Falklands disappear without me in their wake and sailing the Selma back to Ushuaia. An extension, so to speak…

On the other hand, after such a long time you naturally look forward to coming home again, to family and friends. To some of the comforts, some of the luxuries that have become commonplace and taken for granted that a trip like this doesn’t offer. A warm bath, a fresh bed, something special to eat, the smell of the awakening spring, sprouting greenery… but actually, we haven’t lacked anything during the last seven weeks, I haven’t missed any of these things. On the contrary: I had everything I needed, everything that was important for the moment. More than that. My days and nights were lively and fulfilling and that’s exactly how I felt: alive and fulfilled.

I was able to explore a world that had fascinated me since my childhood, a world that I had never seen before or had only seen in stories, reports, books and films. I discovered breathtaking landscapes and a rich animal world that impressed, thrilled, enchanted, overwhelmed, surprised and delighted me every single day. I was in places that I had dreamed of seeing and sailing to for years – I was fascinated and deeply touched by them.

I shared all these experiences with ten wonderful people who I was able to get to know a little during this time. We enjoyed this adventure and had fun together for all those weeks, were able to rely on each other, looked after each other and still look forward to the next day together every morning, to the next watch together.

That’s why I would love to turn the rudder around, turn the course back to the south and sail on with the Selma and this very crew. South, east or west. It doesn’t matter. Wherever, the main thing is to keep going. The main thing is the sea.

The Drake has shown itself to be as ambivalent and torn as I feel at the moment over the last few days. This actually wild ocean passage in the Southern Ocean, notorious for the violent storm lows that blow through at short intervals, especially now in the fall, has surprised us. And also a little disappointed.

As was the case during our first crossing on the way from Ushuaia to Antarctica, it lacked precisely the wildness attributed to it. It denied us huge wave crests covered in white spray and a full-blown storm – or spared us, whichever way you look at it.

Why is that? We don’t know. Everything changes, especially here. El Niño could be one of the reasons, because overall it was warmer, more changeable and wetter here in the far south. There were fewer and less pronounced low-pressure areas moving from west to east, so there was also much less strong wind, or wind at all, which we noticed throughout the trip. Unfortunately, we had far fewer sailing days than usual.

The past six days at sea

Six days ago we set off from Elephant Island. These six days were an unsteady mix of either strong winds or calm. Alternately, we could sail really well for a few hours, a day, a night in 20-25, sometimes 30 knots of wind, only to wake up the next morning to oily, sluggish, glassy seas and glide into an almost windless day, bobbing around in 4-6 knots of wind and hardly any speed.

Sometimes the Selma was rushing through the choppy sea under full sail at 11 knots and you really had to work at the helm, sometimes the sails flapped when the wind suddenly died again. And instead of us, Mr. Perkins had to take over.

The ocean around us was anything but rough and wild. It was more like a large, calm lake, sometimes blue, sometimes gray, depending on the sun. Only the constantly high and powerful swells, their crests and troughs, which caused Selma to rock and roll wildly, or the albatrosses that accompanied us from time to time, reminded us that we were at sea.

The albatrosses, which sail so incredibly elegantly and with such ease, are able to gain a little lift for their weightless flight from every wave crest and trough, even when there is virtually no wind. Watching them is wonderful.

But that’s also being on the move and sailing. We couldn’t do more than take it as it comes anyway, so we were happy about every knot of wind, every hour of sailing, every wild ride over the impressively high waves. And we also embraced the calm: we enjoyed the peace and quiet, the sun, the warmth, the idleness. We sat or danced on deck in the sun, aired our clothes, celebrated Karen’s birthday, cleared the ship… one morning we even dared to jump into the 4.5 degree cold Southern Ocean. A refreshing pleasure – long-lasting tingling and a big grin included. 3,500 meters of ocean beneath us. And who can claim to have bathed in the wild Drake Passage?

Now it’s four o’clock, the sky is completely overcast, the dark clouds and the weather have reached us. The wind – which had picked up to almost 30 knots in the meantime – has turned to the south and dropped back to 15 knots.

Time to make a coffee and wake Piotr. To look, to decide. Maybe set more sails, maybe just drift on for a while … We’ll see.

For my part, I have time and am in no hurry to arrive. On the contrary.

Sunrise at Lake Drake

Neptune and Aiolos, the gods of the sea and the winds, seem to be asleep, as is our crew. It’s 6 o’clock in the morning and I’m sitting on the deck of the Selma, which is rocking in the swell. Mostly gently, but sometimes it rumbles and rattles loudly in the cupboards with the cups and glasses. We have been bobbing in the Drake Passage for 36 hours, drifting a little through the blue. In the weather images, we are stuck in a blue hole, a zone without wind. That’s unusual, usually one low after another passes through here, the Drake is notorious for its storms.

Now it is a large gray-blue lake, with a few white cloud mountains on the horizon in the west, while in the east the sky turns yellow and orange for the sunrise. Albatrosses and petrels pass by and suddenly a single penguin splashes next to the boat.

Saying goodbye and letting go

It is so beautiful and so peaceful that I feel melancholy. These are the last days of our long, wonderful, eventful journey. I would like to stay in this magnificent landscape, with these magical people, on this faithful ship. Just keep sailing, stay in the moment.

That’s why I agree to this break that the weather is giving us and enjoy the sunrise, the inactivity, the brief pause in the middle of the ocean.

Around 8 a.m., things get livelier on board, coffee and tea in the morning sun, later an extensive breakfast. We’ve rarely taken this much time so far; we’ve usually been busy with the watch schedule or with shore leave and excursions.

Waiting for wind is idleness and so it doesn’t take long for the restlessness of liveliness to present an idea: “Let’s go for a swim in the Drake!”

This plan is crazy enough to find instant supporters. The captain also gives the green light and just wants to know when we want to get into the water so that he can prepare the small bathing platform and a safety line.

Swimsuits are pulled out of the furthest corners of the cupboards and the skeptics get their cameras ready to document the event.

And then a courageous jump into the 4.5 degree cold water. The “Drake dip” is a rather short, but very refreshing experience with a long, tingling aftertaste and a good dose of happiness hormones.

To celebrate the day, everyone has the opportunity to take a shower and Paula creates toast Hawaii in the pantry to match the bathing weather.

At 2 p.m. a light wind comes up and at 6 p.m. we set the mainsail. We rush through the waves on the port bow, enjoying the finest sailing.

As darkness falls, we can see it glistening in the water. Bioluminescent organisms sparkle next to the boat, inspired by our encounter. It is always magical for me to watch this.

This day is like a mirror of our long journey: crazy and lively, adventurous and funny, moving and exhilarating.

Being flexible and accepting what is at hand, absolutely supported by the common ‘we’ of our small community.

We continue our journey towards the Falkland Islands. Less than 400 miles separate us from the final destination of our journey.

We will have to let go and say goodbye – to the Selma and to each other. Our hearts and heads are full of countless wonderful memories of our fantastic journey.

But it’s not time yet. We still have a few days, a few miles, a birthday to celebrate, wind, calm, sun, waves…

Course Elephant Island

Two days ago, on Sunday, we weighed anchor at four in the morning, left Deception Island and set course 060 for Elephant Island. There are a good 200 nautical miles between these two islands, both of which belong to the South Shetland Islands. We kept to the coast on the west side of the Bransfield Strait and gradually passed the island chain.

At the south-east corner of Robert Island, we crossed Selma’s old track, the one from our arrival in Antarctica at the beginning of February, after crossing the Drake Passage. It feels like an eternity has passed since then and we have experienced a lot.

We made another stop overnight after around 70 miles and anchored in Potter Cove, King George Island off the Argentinian station of Carlini. We will be underway enough over the next few days and nights, so a last break and a quiet night without ice navigation will do us good. As dawn breaks later, you can already tell that we are slowly leaving the south behind us.

On the way along the South Shetlands we were again accompanied by many whales, blowing all around us, sometimes 10 to 12 at a time. This time it was larger groups of sei whales migrating along the coast. Many penguins – Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins – were on the move, also in large flocks, which, when the bow of the Selma came too close to them, took to their heels and shot out of the water like torpedoes. We were also escorted several times by fur seals, in small groups of three or four, leaping, swimming and diving through the water in elegant arcs.

The icebergs are becoming increasingly rare. We look forward to each one, knowing full well that one of them could be the last one we leave in our wake on our journey north. Unfortunately, we won’t encounter the colossus A23A – at 4000 km2, this is the largest iceberg in the world to date and is currently underway between Elephant Island and the South Orkney Islands.

The wind picks up in the evening and we are finally out of the lee of King George Island. The open Southern Ocean welcomes us with a fairly high swell and perfect sailing winds of around 20 knots. The jib glows warmly in the evening sun, wind from 150-160 degrees from astern and the six meter wave pushes us forward. We are only making nine knots with the foresail, the Selma is rushing through the night, a huge wave, topped with white foam, occasionally roaring under us. Then it lifts us far up onto the crest of the wave and we surf down into the white spray. The sea foams and bubbles as if it were boiling. It’s great fun to be at the helm, sailing through the night, with nothing around but ocean, dancing wave crests and later even a few stars in the night sky.

Later, some ice appears on the radar. We are traveling too fast – for the ice conditions and for an arrival in daylight – and switch from the large headsail to the smaller jib.

Later, even this is recovered for two hours, we run without sails in front of the top and rigging, still making three to four knots. Now it’s just wind, waves and current pushing us along. The Selma rolls unbearably from left to right, but at least it does so in line with the course. Even when we set sail again later, we remain the plaything of the high waves. We in our bunks are rolling in the same way, so a restful sleep is out of the question.

However, there are no real complaints about this: after all, after a lot of effort by Mr. Perkins, we are on our way to Elephant Island under sail.

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.

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!

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.


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.

Cast off

And then the time has come: on Monday, February 5, at around 7 p.m., we cast off the lines for good and leave Puerto Williams with Antarctica as our destination. The Sailing SOUTH 2024 expedition can begin.

The last few days have shown that we harmonize well as a team – whether this will also be confirmed at sea and for the long seven weeks in the confined space of the Selma remains to be seen. But the signs are good. The atmosphere on board is great, everyone on deck has a big grin on their face.

We leave the Beagle Channel heading east under engine power, the weather is at its best as we say goodbye and presents us with sunshine and warm evening light. We pass Harberton Bay, where we were just a few days ago. The memory of Pablo, his small hut and the comparatively huge pile of firewood is still fresh. When the second truckload arrives in mid-February, we will be on our way.

We see the blow of two whales from a distance, two penguins emerge from the water right next to the Selma. There is a penguin colony (Magellanic penguins) on an island nearby, the smell gives it away immediately even as we pass by.

Ursula and I share the first watch and thus also the helm. As beautiful and promising as the first few days were: It is so wonderful to finally be here at the helm of the Selma and start this journey, steering our beautiful red ship and us towards our actual destination.

Tierra del Fuego passes us by, Argentina to port, Chile to starboard.

We on the Selma are in the middle of it all, gliding out into the night with the setting sun behind us.

We leave the last Chilean islands in the Beagle Channel, Isla Picton and Isla Lennox, to starboard and then we are out on the Atlantic and change course to 180 degrees south.

The Drake Passage, one of the stormiest ocean passages in the world, lies ahead of us. We are all curious to see how the Drake will receive us over the coming days.

We set sail in the deep night, first the jib, then the main. The Milky Way shines above us, stretching across the firmament from bow to stern, and the Southern Cross occasionally kisses the top of our mast. This moment is simply pure happiness and deep contentment.