In the course of his first two expeditions, Captain James Cook attempted to prove the existence of a mysterious continent, the Terra Australis – to no avail. The history of Cook’s quests and discoveries became the inspiration behind the fifteen years I spent sailing aboard Katharsis and Katharsis II and visiting the places he had: the picturesque islands of the Pacific, the Great Barrier Reef, the New Zealand sounds. Yet Captain Cook’s heroic search for Antarctica and his struggles with the icy and stormy Southern Ocean had tweaked my imagination to the point where I was seized with desire to circumnavigate this most mysterious continent of our planet.
Such is the goal I had set for myself, my yacht, and my faithful and proven crew four years ago. I wanted the loop around Antarctica to involve the continent’s presence, its visibility well-nigh within our sight. This is why we have decided to accept a challenge no sailor has ever mastered. We intend to complete the entire cruise within Antarctic waters – south of the 60th parallel.
The very thought of polar regions has always been sending an emotional thrill down my spine. Their bleakness is a source of terror – and a lure. My wish to see Antarctica began blossoming during a journey to Spitsbergen in 2001, then aboard Mahina Tiare III. In 2004, I had planned to reach Antarctica aboard Katharsis – an Oyster 485. Yet en route across the Pacific, we experienced major damage to our rigging: I had to wait another few years.
In 2011, aboard Katharsis II, a robust Oyster 72, I summoned the courage to take a yacht to the Antarctic for the first time, and to cross the Antarctic Circle. The subsequent two polar expeditions to the Arctic and the Antarctic became an exercise in escalating challenges: for me, for my yacht, for my crew. They enabled us to gain valuable experience in sailing among icebergs and ice fields, learning more about the capacity of the vessel and her crew. During the North-West Passage in 2012, we were icebound for the first time in the Greenland harbour of Ilulissat; later, we had to push against swiftly drifting ice in the straits of the Canadian Arctic. In the course of our 2015 journey to the Ross Sea, we were forced to break through dense pack ice – the sentry to the doors of the area – and faced numerous storms on the Southern Ocean, flanked by icebergs and fighting the ice buildup on the yacht.
We are making our final decision to circumnavigate Antarctica now: following the experience of our previous three expeditions. I am well aware of all obstacles. Yet it seems to me that we are ready to face the music.
According to the original plan, we were to sail from Cape Town, Republic of South Africa, around mid-December 2016, to reach the Antarctic waters in the vicinity of the 85th meridian east, and – having circumnavigated Antarctica – to finish the journey in Hobart, Tasmania. The route was consulted with the WSSRC/ISAF (World Sailing Speed Record Council/ International Sailing Federation), with the start and finishing lines specified with great precision, judges authorised by the WSSRC supervising. It had seemed to us that our plans comprised reactions to all and any emergencies imaginable for a three-month journey across the world’s most difficult navigable region. In November, we had the yacht inspected in great detail at the Cape Town shipyard. We ordered all our crewmembers to undergo medical examination in Poland.
Suddenly, something I could not have predicted happened. In the course of medical examinations, one of our crewmembers, Hanna Leniec – second officer of the expedition and my life partner – was diagnosed with breast cancer.
We had to revise all plans. Hania’s life and her health are of course of vital importance. Hania has begun treatment already. She underwent her first surgery on the day we were to originally sail for the Antarctic. All who know Hania realise that she does not give up easily. To quote her own words, “I will take no stowaway on my journey to Antarctica.” The entire crew of Katharsis II will be supporting her in battle. We intend to dedicate our expedition to the prevention and treatment of female breast cancer.
We need time to fight the disease. Since it is necessary – Antarctica must wait. We are analysing all options in co-operation with physicians, and with the WSSR Council in London. We fully intend to act on our plans and make our dreams come true – but we will do it together, as a team.
The works on our yacht in Cape Town are over. I am now on my way to the Republic of South Africa. I will shortly inform you of our final decisions. In closing, I have a request: please watch the attached film with a message from Hania and her doctors. It is very important.
– Mariusz Koper, skipper, s/y Katharsis II