White Nights Are Over. Watch: “THE SEVEN SEAS” (video)
18 February 2018
Weddell Sea
5 March 2018

Cape Horn and the Antarctic Peninsula

Satellite coverage from the deck of s/y Katharsis II, position: 62°25’S, 50°32’W
65th day of the journey, 9,350 nautical miles from the port of departure

Katharsis II has begun her 10th week of uninterrupted voyage from Cape Town, Republic of South Africa, to Hobart, Australia. Sailing with intent to circumnavigate Antarctica, for the past 50 days she has been sailing waters of the Antarctic, i.e. south of the 60th parallel.

After 10 days of onerous sailing into the wind on the Antarctic Bellingshausen Sea, on Tuesday, 20 February at 08:28 yacht’s time (UTC-5), Katharsis II crossed the Cape Horn meridian, a place of legend, commanding respect among sailors since time immemorial. Notorious heavy storms, high seas, and opposing currents have harassed many yachts in the past. While well south of the Cape at the time, it merely seemed to have no impact on our passage. We were approaching the Antarctic Peninsula – a mirror image of the Horn. Here is where the distance between Antarctica and any other continent is the smallest: weather patterns moving east shelve over the Peninsula. North-eastern winds, unfavourable to our passage, are more persistent here than anywhere else across the entire Antarctic area.

Rounding the Antarctic Peninsula became our Horn. Opposing winds were gradually rising – expecting a storm, we intended to avoid it by sailing into straits between the Peninsula and the Palmer Archipelago. Choosing such route allowed us to enjoy views of steep, snow-capped peaks, which rose directly out of the water. Simply sailing along the majestic landscapes is a feast for the eyes. While some of us visited the area seven years before, most of our crew were discovering the magical place for the first time.

We saw the Antarctic Peninsula’s ice-covered mountains from a distance of 60 miles. Yet we had little time to admire the view. In rising winds, we sailed into the narrow Neumayer Channel. The storm travelled as far as the Straits, reducing our visibility. When reefing our mainsail in the Gerlache Strait, we suffered damage to the mainsail batten. A piece of track was ripped out of the mast at the junction of two battens. The damage prevented us from raising the mainsail or dropping it fully. The wind, in gusts up to 45 knots, prohibited us from any repairs in open waters – we had to find a save haven among islands. Melchior Islands offered shelter from the surge. In their shadow, after a full night’s work in storm conditions, we replaced the ripped batten with a new one, and could resume our journey after 14 hours.

There was no shortage of ice “surprises” in the Gerlache Strait. To avoid nocturnal manoeuvres amongst ice growlers, we were forced to choose a route beyond the Palmer Archipelago. Regrettably, this disallowed a meeting with captain Wojnowski and his crew on s/y Lady Dana 44. We made contact via satellite phone, Katharsis II in the Bransfield Strait, Lady Dana 44 in the Gerlache Strait, more than 60 nautical miles apart. This was a small pleasure – two yachts conversing and greeting each other at the end of the world.

In the night of 23 February, we entered the Weddell Sea riding a stormy wind. This is the ninth Antarctic sea of our passage. White nights are definitely over. We are surrounded with deep blackness for up to six hours a night. The adrenaline rush is surging, during nighttime sailing in particular. On the one hand, we wish to travel fast – on the other, we are aware of the lethal threat of colliding with a growler. People on night watch are on the constant lookout for peril. We are also using state-of-the-art navigational aids. During the night, we use our small furled staysail or drop sail altogether if winds prevent the use of a thermal imaging camera. We continue east at a distance of no less than 20 miles north of the dense pack ice. So far, the Weddell Sea has been polka-dotted with single icebergs we see on the radar every couple of hours. Bergs are considerably less frequent than we had encountered in January on the Davis and Mawson Seas. Yet any thought of high daily runs has to be abandoned, for the time being. Slower nighttime sailing is affecting our daily run totals. Safety first.

We have covered two-thirds of our planned loop around the Antarctic. A few weeks more and we will be able to turn into the stormy yet safer waters of the Southern Ocean, heading directly for Australia.

We thank you for all the wishes and greetings.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Mariusz Koper and the crew of Katharsis II

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