Posted on Feb 14, 2016

Port Lockeroy, Wincke Island

Yesterday night passed without surprises, the wind as expected fell completely, letting us enjoy a well-deserved, short rest. In fact, we wake up at 4:00h for frugal breakfast and after which we were ready to sail..

94 miles were waiting for us without a dribble of wind and we had no choice but to face them by motor.

In these cases the dilemma is always the same: one or two engines? With a single engine, in conditions of absolute absence of wind, we can maintain an average of 5 knots of speed at 2,200 rpm, consuming about 5 liters of diesel per hour. Thus, to cover 94 miles, we would have used 19 hours/ 95 liters of fuel.

Using two engines we can instead maintain an average of 6.5 knots at 1800 rpm, consuming about 4 liters / hour per engine, covering the distance in less than 15 hours and consuming about 120 liters.

The second option was less efficient, but it would have allowed me to get to Port Lockroy with sun light, an aspect that for me is of primary importance. So I went fot the  twin-engine option.

Today's route has seen us navigate the Strait of Gerlach, a long arm of sea, which connects the Strait of Orleans with the Strait of Bismarck. What fascinating names, I find perfectly marry the austerity of these places. I dare not imagine which names we would have neen given to these areas of the Planet if they had been discovered today.

A lot of ice today on our course, which has not slowed our progress too much. For the most part small blocks adrift, more annoying than dangerous to our navigation, but some were really gigantic. I am not able to quantify the size specifically, but I think that at least 3 or 4 of those encountered far exceed the size of the San Siro stadium.

Many Icebergs in these parts are not only bigger than the one that sank the Titanic, they are not only bigger than the Titanic itself, but they are bigger than the country that built the Titanic. The Iceberg B15, one of those under observation by a research group of the US base Murdock, has a front above the sea level 50 meters high, which means that under the surface it has at least 350 more! The amount of water imprisoned in its ice could feed the Nile for 75 years. And B15 is considered a medium-sized Iceberg !!

Today we have spotted at least three cruise ships in the Strait of Gerlach, all of them heading north. A nice traffic considering that we are at 64 ° Latitude south.

Once we reach the northern end of Wiencke Island, a narrow passage, partially obstructed by an iceberg, allowed us to enter the Neumayer Channel, which separates Wiencke from Anverse Island. The wind, for this time, had left the set and the sea offered its services to yhe black & white peaks and emerald glaciers which continued to speculate in search of the best pose to offer to Valentina's camera.

Once out from this set only 4 miles separated us from Port Lockroy where we anchored at 20:00h.

Posted on Feb 13, 2016

This morning we woke up at 7:00h, we had breakfast and immediately after hoisted our sails. More than 70 miles of navigation awaited us to reach our next anchorage, Mikkelsen Harbor on Trinity Island.
We want to reach as soon as possible, Vernadsky Station, the southernmost point of our cruise south of the Antarctic Polar Circle, thus to put your bow back to the North and take advantage of every possible chance of winds from the second and third quadrant (with a south component) predominant in these latitudes, especially in this season.
Unfortunately we can not sail at night and this involves splitting these 250 miles into several stages.
The risk of sailing at night is not represented by large icebergs, but rather by small blocks of ice not visible by the radar that if hit at 8, 10 knots could seriously damage our boat.
Another serious problem of navigating in these waters is the absolute lack of guides suitable for small boats, with annotations, GPS points and detailed drawings useful both for navigation and especially for the search of well protected anchorages. We little captains are left to rely on instinct, experience and, better, the community.
Who, like us, spent few months between Ushuaia and Puerto Williams, certainly ends up meeting skippers   with great experience in the seas of the Antarctic Peninsula and obtain not only useful information, but above all a series of notes and drawings that from the Damien times reach the white continent collects and then shares.
So we also got from the skipper of an Australian charter boat, a collection of really impressive notes and drawings. However, the Australian friend warned us not to rely on all the indications contained, because the weather conditions in these parts change rapidly and a secure anchorage in a specific condition could turn out to be a hell under different conditions.
We left our anchorage around 08:00h with about 25 knots of wind from East, North East, which forced us to tackle for about an hour to get out of the great natural basin of Deception Island through the narrow passage of Neptunes Bellows, but once in the open sea the same wind has allowed us to keep an angle of about 100 degrees and a comfortable navigation despite the wave formed.
The temperature remained around -2 ° throughout the morning but the perceived was much lower.
Around lunchtime the wind raised up to 35 knots with gusts up to 45.
We reduced the sails until leaving the main sail with 3 reefs, still pushing Angelique II at 9/10 knots (17 the maximum of the day). Despite the total absence of the sun, the dominant gray of sky and sea contrasted by the white of the palaces of ice we used to slalom, gave the landscape a fairytale atmosphere and not at all gloomy.
I think this is one of the most unique aspects of this planet. The sun shining in a clear sky adds neither color nor charm to this immense scenography staged by nature, although I do not deny that they can affect the comfort level of the observer.
At  18:45h we were already south of Trinity, across Borge Point, ready to lower the mainsail and motor towards the harbor of Mikkelsen Harbor.
Based on the precious notes transferred to me by the Australian skipper, the only possible anchorage on this route that can be reached by Deception avoiding night navigation are Mikkelsen Harbor, a bay on the south coast of Trinity Island and Spert Island, an anchorage in a small isthmus which separates Spert Island from Trinity.
Looking at the nautical charts and drawings notes I had no doubts about betting on Mikkelsen Harbor.
The notes indicated the precise coordinates for the anchorage, a depth between 5 and 16 meters, all supported by a reassuring comment in French: "tres beau" !!!
Unfortunately, once we reached the indicated GPS point, our echo sounder marked 65 meters.
We have sounded the coast of the entire bay for about 2 hours but the depths remained prohibitive unless moving few meters from the glaciers which the shores of Trinity.
AThe only alternative left was the anchorage at Spert Island. We covered the 8 miles in about an hour, just in time to anchor with the last lumen of light.
The notes and sketches in my possession suggest three possible scenarios: a slalom between rocks and icebergs to reach the isthmus between the two islands, an anchorage with lines ashore and a third solution swinging on the anchor.
The forecast predict very low wind fron North starting by midnight so I decided for the third scenario in the menu.
I drop the anchor in 12 meters of water releasing 80 meters of chain and checking that there was enough space to rotate avoiding to end on rocks.
Obviously we set an anchor alarm again and a radar alarm on the 100 meters to spot any icebergs.
In the saloon the temperature was already at 18 degrees, tropical compared to the outside and a delicious chicken curry with coconut milk accompanied by pilaf rice, waiting for us as. A well-deserved reward for the achievements of this day.

Posted on Feb 12, 2016

Port Foster, Deception, South Shetland Island

Despite the 4 degrees C° in the cabin, today's awakening has been greeted by a clear sky and a distant sun that peeks out from the snowy crown of Deception Island.

Fuel consumption is certainly one of our biggest concerns. We can count on just 800 liters of diesel to reach the Falklands and the false start added 4 unforeseen days to the already long period in which we will not be able to refuel. We turn on the heating syste, in the morning when we wake up to turn it off as soon as the temperature reaches 18 degrees and then restart it only in the evening for a couple of hours before going to bed.

Whenever possible, we try not to use the engines, hoisting the main sail even before lifting the anchor and take them down only when the anchor is dropped back in the water. Likewise we are very frugal with the use of the generator. We start it only when the voltage of the batteries dedicated to the utilities is lower than 12.5V and once we run it we try to use, if necessary, all the on-board utilities which requires 220 V, such as the watermaker.

In addition to the cold, the great enemy of these latitudes is humidity. The difference in temperature between the internal and external surfaces generates an incredible amount of condensation that collects in the bilges. Although we have prepared Angelique II by placing insulating panels (Armaflex) of 1.5 cm in all the hull and providing every single porthole or manhole of a double glazing, in 5 days at sea we have generated about 25 liters of condensation for each hull!! Also our bodies  generate so much moisture. The difference in temperature between the surface of the mattress and the support on which it rests generates a significant amount of condensation. Also in this case we have equipped each cabin of wooden slats (purchased from IKEA and then modified) so as to leave an air cushion between the mattress and the supporting surface of the same, but despite this precaution after a few weeks you need to dry well staves to avoid the appearance of mold.

After breakfast we organized in two teams, one in charge of cleaning the interior and the other in maintenance activities.So today's first activity was to get rid, as far as possible, of the moisture accumulated during the crossing of the Drake, not only in the bilges but also in mattresses, pillows, sleeping bags, etc. The team in charge of maintenance had to a control of the rigging, the levels of liquids in the engines and the generator and  the alignment of the rudders.

After breakfast we headed to the Spanish Base on the opposite side of Port Foster, just 3 miles from our anchorage. When we reached the Base we contacted them on the 16 VHF channel. After a few minutes of waiting they put us in communication with the Commander Alberto Salas Mendes responsible for the base to which we asked permission to go ashore for a visit. Permission granted with an unmistakable Latin warmth and half an hour later we were already on the dinghy ready to land.

To welcome us the Commander was his second in charge, Lieutenant Fernando Rodriguez Alfranca who, after the ritual presentations, was our guide during the stay on the base. The Gabriel de Castilla Base has been inoperation since1985, acting as summer base between the months of December and February.

The responsibility of the base and of the safety of those present is entrusted to yhe Spanish army, which every year send to the base a team of 13 soldiers, all volunteers and it looks like it is very difficult to get this kind of job.

The scientific staff, is not necessarily Spanish, rather it is usually international and rotates during each annual "campaign" with stays that on average can vary from two to five weeks. The research projects here at Deception are mostly related to volcanology, the study of lichens and algae and the observation of penguin colonies and sea lions on the island.

The energy requirement of the base is supported by two large gasoline generators, while the water is taken from a crater a kilometer upstream through a plastic pipe through which a resistance passes to ensure a temperature inside the pipe around the 2°, thus avoiding the freezing of the same. The voice and data communications are instead entrusted to two large satellite antennas, housed in huge glass fiber containers, one for civil communications and the other for military ones. The base, like all the bases here in Antarctica, is also equipped with a small waste incinerator. The staff, paper and some types of plastics are processed on site.
The rest as well as the ashes generated by the incinerator, are transported by sea to land, in Chile in Punta Arenas or in Ushuaia in Argentina.
In fact, the agreements envisaged in the Antarctic Treaty, foresee that the Chilean and Argentinian Navy  have the logistic responsibility of the support to all the scientific research stations in Antarctica as well as the SAR operations (Search and Rescue) that should become necessary.
After completing the tour of the base we were invited to have a coffee which, as was easy to imagine, soon turned into cerveza y hamon serrano.
At 20.00h, Commander Mendez told us that it was time for the evening briefing and that if we wanted we could attend. At the 20:00 Briefing, all the staff present at the base, both military and civil, take part.
The session is opened by the Head of Base announcing the weather forecast for the next day and assigning the various common tasks. In fact here at the Gabriel de Castilla Base the common activities such as cleaning the premises, are responsibility of everyone, from the youngest of researchers to the Head Base.
Forecasts for tomorrow gave 25 knots of wind for which the Commander Mendez announced the suspension of any field research activity suggesting laboratory activities.
Many of the research activities, in fact, take place in places accessible only by sea.
The base is equipped with 6 large Zodiac managed by the military who always accompany the researchers in their outings at sea and every passenger, before getting on board, must wear a survival suit, a kind of waterproof suit, but much more robust and comfortable to wear.
Finally, the Head of Base informed that on Sunday they would have as guests for lunch the neighbors of the Argentine Base who would also challenge in a Rugby match.
Before saying goodbye our cre member Matteo asked the Commander if it was possible to obtain some diesel.
In fact, on board several times we had joked imagining asking the bases for a few liters of diesel and Matteo went straight to the point.
Once again without any hesitation Commander Mendez replied: how much fuel do you need?
70 liters, or those that we could stow in the only empty jerry cans we have on board.
Half an hour later we greeted our lovely guests, while the dinghy returned to the boat, happy to have visited our first Antarctic base and to enjoy a few more hours of heating.
Tomorrow the 25 knots mentioned by the Base Commanderin the briefing will arrive from the North, Northeast excellent to continue our descent to the south.

Posted on Feb 11, 2016

Pendulum Cove Deception, South Shetland Island

This morning we allowed ourselves a few more hours of sleep, we all needed to recover the energy spent to face the 4 days of navigation in the Drake. Around 10:00h we all met up in the living room to have breakfast.
Outside it was pitch gray and the deck totally covered with snow. The wind blew from the North to around 15 knots. At 100 meters from our stern a sailing yacht at anchor, most probably arrived at night.
Despite weather we decided to go ashore to visit the ruins of the old whaling station that has also recently hosted an English research station.
The Norwegian whaling station opened in 1911 and was closed in 1931 due to the collapse of the market price of whale oil, but already in 1944 the structures were occupied by the British who established a scientific base there.
Unfortunately Deception hosts an active volcano that severely damaged the base in 1967 and later in 1969, when the British finally abandoned it.
In 1995 the Ruins of Whalers Bay were declared Historic Site of the Antarctic Treaty.
On the black beach small sulphurous steam clouds run swept by the wind and it is sufficient to dig a few centimeters on the shoreline to find hot water, even at 40/50°.
It was snowing and the wind, now above 20 knots, made the visit very uncomfortable. So we decide to go back on board to entertain ourself with more pleasant activities in the kitchen.
Around 14:30h, absolutely unexpected and in a blink of an eye, the wind reinforced up to 35 knots, too many for Whalers Bay. In fact, anchoring, despite the excellent grip, is in deep waters. The sea floor degrades quickly and already at 100 meters from the shore it is over 30 meters deep, too many to make me feel comfortable with our 80 meters of chain. Deception Island offers two other anchorages, Telephone Bay and Pendulum Cove.
The first from the nautical chart seems to be very well sheltered, it is in fact a small harbor designed on the northwest coast of the island with a very narrow access. The problem is that from the size of the bay I understand that there is not enough space to swing.
Pendulum Cove is also located on the north side of the island, but on the eastern shore and compared to Whalers Bay is better protected. So we decided to move heading towards Pendulum.
Meanwhile the wind is refreshed up to 40 knots, snowflakes looks like projectiles and visibility is reduced to less than one hundred meters. Fortunately, Port Foster, the name of the great spire formed by the Deception Island caldera, is free from dangers.
We entrust the Radar and our cartographic program with the responsibility to bring us in "port".
We walk the 4 miles that divide the two berths in little more than half an hour and we drop the anchor in 15 meters of water, this time dropping also a second anchor and all the 80 meters of chain and cable that we have on board.
Completed the anchoring we take refuge in the saloon to prepare something hot to drink. Meanwhile the wind reaches a topp speed of 53 knots, we listen on the VHF radio a conversation between the yacht we had spotted in the morning and another obviously sheltered in Telephone Bay.
Our former neighbor asked the other skipper about the situation in Telephone Bay and about the possibility to enter the bat and anchor aside the other boat.
The skipper's answer, without hesitation, was come inside with caution and we wil find a solution.
The wind continued to scream all afternoon and evening and only around 23:00h decided to let us rest quietly, collapsing, at the same speed with which it had arrived, at just 10 knots.
Forecasts for tomorrow foresee light winds from the south/south east that will turn to the east on Saturday.
So we will wait the day after tomorrow to resume our descent to the south.
Tomorrow, if the weather will allow, we would like to dedicate the morning to maintenance and cleaning work and in the afternoon we would like to visit the Spanish Scientific Research Station Gabriel de Castlla here at Deception.

Posted on Feb 10, 2016

Whalers Bay, Deception, South Shetland Island
Anchored in position: Lat 62 ° 58.77'S; Long 060 ° 33.76'W
At 18:30h  today (10 of February 2016) we we anchored in Whaler Bay at Deception Island in the South Shetland Islands after 4 days, 4 hours and 634 miles from Puerto Toro on the Island of Navarino in Chile.
A "chocolate salami" (a masterpiece chocolate cake prepared by Valentina),  and a bottle of Chilean brut sparkling wine were waiting for us in the fridge to celebrate this moment that I and my traveling fellows have been dreaming of for a long time.
However the first feelings that prevailed in me were not related to the achievement just accomplished, to the amazement for the scenery around me, as to the uncontrollable desire to hug my wife tightly in my arms and yell at full lungs: thanks.
Yes, because it is not that obvious that a wife not only allows you to pursue your dreams, but that she always remain by your side, minute by minute, to support you , even when her dreams would take her to a totally different place.
She is the true heroine of this chapter of our journey, of this year at the end of the world and beyond.
The crossing of the Drake was easier than expected and this thanks to the speed and comfort of  our Outremer 55.
On the 8 of February the wind has oscillated between 290 and 320 degrees blowing at an average of 25 knots with gusts of 35, which we have faced with one reef on the mainsail and the 80% Genoa, maintaining an average speed of about 8.5 knots.
By 04:00h on the 9th, the barometer was 972 mb, 12 mb less than 4 hours earlier and the wind constantly at 30 knots. By 10:00h the barometer collapsed to 964 mb and the wind icreased to 40 knots with gusts around 50.
The sea was white, but the terrifying thing was once again the size of the waves. Simply gigantic, nothing to do with any other situation I have experienced before.
At this stage we had only my storm jib, a 7 meter heavy dacron, hoisted to keep the s[eed doen as much as possible (which surfing on the waves easily reached 15/18 knots ) but enough to grant maneuverability to the boat but. It went on like this until the late afternoon, then the wind started to fall and to veer to east. By 22:00h we had just 8 knots of full east wind, the barometer falled down to 958 mb, the lowest pressure that I and my barometer have ever recorded. We were at the center of the low pressure. My young crew asked: and now what will happens, my inexperienced crew asked. It happens that we are about to experience some real stron wind against our course. Depressions in the southern hemisphere move to the east and the wind that from the peripheral areas (the ones with the highest pressure) tries to reach the center (the area with the lowest pressure) runs in a clockwise direction. So our strategy from the start was to ride the arrival of a low pressure that with its winds that turn clockwise (so always with a northern component) would push us to the south until the center of the low pressure would not reach us. From that moment on we would have met winds that, continuing to turn clockwise, would have had a southern component and therefore contrary to our course.
The problem in these latitudes is that fronts pass very fast and this "window" of favorable conditions lasts an average of 48/72 hours. Our window lasted over 72 hours and only 100 miles were missing to our arrival.
Already at 23:00h we had 25 knots of  wind on the bow that with our speed exceeded abundantly 30 knots.
The sea lifted by 3 days of wind from the north fortunately continued to have a wave that pushed south.
Ijri and Adela were on watch. I was resting in the saloon.
I had left the task of constantly monitoring the radar to detect eventual icebergs. At one point they woke me up. On the radar they had spotted a large object two miles ahead of us and they were worried because the object kept spinning around at great speed.
Still half asleep I struggled to understand what they were saying, but it was evident that no boat could ever make a 360 around us two miles away in just a few minutes. I woke up to realize that the autopilot had gone on standby and the boat without any control kept turning on itself.
The wind was now about 35 knots and the sea was really big but this time against us.
I had two alternatives: put the stern to the wind and wait for the passage of this phase of the low (according to the forecast about 10 hours) losing at least a 70 miles or to heave which I had never experienced with a catamaran. I decided for this second option.
To heave means placing the sails in a position to stop the boat advancing keeping it forward in the wind. Specifically, the maneuver is carried out by starting a tack in which the front sail is kept cuckled with the windward sheet, so at the neck and in our case, iron-dampened mainsail slightly overturned.
I also decided to keep the upwind engine running at just 1200 rpm.
Angelique II magically stopped and we waited until 6:00hg when the wind dropped and above all returned to the east (we were meeting the first winds of the high pressure that followed the low that in the southern hemisphere turn counterclockwise from the center of the high to the outside).
Our position was more or less the same as 4 hours before, just a couple of miles back. So we hoisted the Gennaker and the mainsail to sail the last 70 miles.
At 10:00h we were abeam of Isla Smith, the sun was already high in the sky and so warm that we all went on deck to admire the welcome the white continent reserved for us. Icebergs as bug as a football satium filled the entire horizon. It is really difficult to find words to express the beauty of these works of nature, some with perfectly regular geometries, as if they were made by a giant pastry chef. A triumph of colors between dark blue and green sea water. And the great waves of the Pacific that had struck us the on the night before, now stopping their runs on these huge ice islands.
After passing Smith Island and Snow Island we continued our slalom between Icebergs for another 40 Miles, until face Neptune Bellows, the passage on the Eastern coast of Deception Island that gives access to the great Island Crater. Deception is in fact very similar in size and shape to the Island of Santorini in the Aegean Sea, a horseshoe in which the only access is provided by Neptune Bellows.
At 18:30h pm we drop the anchor in 10 meters of water in Whalers Bay.

Posted on Feb 7, 2016

Position Lat 57°48.10’S; Long 066°38.90'W

Course: 161°; Wind 25 kn N; Speed: 10 kn

In the end we succeeded. At 06:00 we were ready to take our "train" to the south. But more than a "direct" in reality it was a "local" and instead of the 25 real knots that I expected, the wind for the whole day remained below 15 knots and exactly from the North. I decided to proceed with a slightly narrower pace, setting our autopilot on 135 ° apparent wind, jibing every 2 hours. So we managed to maintain an average of 6 knots.

Outside the temperature was kept relatively high throughout the day, with a maximum of 8 degrees and mostly the sky was covered and without rain with the exception of two small squalls. On board, as usual when weather conditions are not prohibitive, we spend time in the kitchen this time preparing two donuts with chocolate, one filled with custard and the other with apple jam, both obviously "made on board". In the late afternoon, while I was doing my routine check of the equipment, I realized that the sock of the mainsail halyard was sheared at the level of the stopper, leaving the soul uncovered for a length of about 25 centimeters. A nice problem. The mainsail halyard is more than 60 meters long and not having a spare on board, the only one that could be cannibalized is the one of the Code 0. But before killing my favorite sail, I thought I'd try to repair it.

We have therefore blocked the halyard upstream of the stopper in order to open it without the damaged area disappearing inside the mast. At that point I secured both ends of the sock to the core, sewing them with 1.5 mm waxed thread, then covering the entire area with tape. In order to complete the repair we needed do cut a couple of meters of the halyard from the top of the masr, thus to ovoid that the repaired area would sit again close to the stopper. So we lowered the mainsail and asked to Jiri to climb the mast to cut the halyard. Fortunately, JIri is a consummate mountaineer and had no trouble getting up to the mast and to perform the work despite the waves of the Drake. A little bit of wind came along with the dusk. veering to North West and rising up to 25. The barometer  has dropped by 9 millibars in 10 hours, a clear sign that we are on the front of the low  we expected and which for the next 30 hours should push us to the south.

Posted on Feb 6, 2016

Puerto Toro, Chile

We arrived in Puerto Toro on February 5th at 1:15 am, after having surrendered to the Drake with whom we fought for over 48 hours with winds against us and always above 35 knots with gusts of 55 kn.
Unfortunately we were too slow in the first 24h, covering the route that from Puerto Williams took us to Cape Horn and instead of the 160 miles I had imagined we covered only 80.
The wind left us on the first night and we covered only 12 miles in 8 hours.
So we lost "the train" to the south and after 24 hours instead of riding the tail of the low that would take us almost to our destination, we found ourselves with the arrival of the high pressure.
We have exoerienced winds of this intensity upwind in other occasions, but the waves of the Drake are really monstrous. So I desided to give up, turning the bows north, heading again towards the Cape Horn area.
Upon our arrival in the middle of the night in Puerto Toro, Francisco, the officer in charge of Toro, welcomed us. Moored at small but safe pier, we dried the equipment tested by the 48 hours spent in the Drake, rested and especially prepared a rich and tasty eggplant parmigiana that we accompanied with good Chilean wine, to propitiate the arrival of a good weather window and so resume our journey south.
And so it was, this morning the GRIB downloaded there from a window of about 60 hours starting from 00:00 on February 7th, with winds between 25 and 30 knots from the north west that should allow us to cover at least 480 of the 560 miles that separate us from Melchior Island, scheduled landing in Antarctica.
From experience we know that reality then presents a situation with winds of force greater than at least 5 knots but in this case, considering our gait at the garden, it does not worry us.
We will sail around 12:00 from Puerto Toro, to cover the approximately 50 miles that separate us from Cape Horn, where our imaginary START awaits us at 24:00