Weddell Sea
5 March 2018
The storm on the Cosmonauts Sea
18 March 2018

Katharsis II, the Antarctic: Lazarev and Riiser Larsen Seas

s/y Katharsis, position: 65º 32′ S, 026 º57′ E;
79 days, 11,500 nautical miles from the port of departure

Katharsis II has begun her 12th week of uninterrupted voyage from Cape Town, Republic of South Africa, to Hobart, Australia. For the past ten weeks, she has been sailing waters of the Antarctic, i.e. south of the 60th parallel, as close as possible to Earth’s coldest continent. Polish sailors have covered over 90% of the Antarctic loop.

News by satellite from the yacht’s skipper Mariusz Koper

After one week of exciting travel across the Weddell Sea, time has come to enter the tenth of our Antarctic seas: the Lazarev Sea. Two consecutive low pressure patterns allowed us to sail closer to the continent and re-cross the Antarctic Circle to the south. So far south, we can also save miles in a faster count of all the meridians crossed by the Katharsis II. The distance between meridians gradually shrinks as we move south. The distance of sixty nautical miles between meridians along the equator is halved at the Antarctic border, dropping to a mere 24 miles at the Antarctic Circle. Given the abundance of ice and less predictable winds, sailing in the area becomes more difficult – yet may be worth the effort.

The sea owes its name to a Russian captain who took part in an 1819-1821 expedition under commander Bellingshausen. The purpose of this expedition was to prove the actual existence of Antarctica, nearly 200 years ago. While Antarctica had been circumnavigated for the first time nearly 50 years before, during James Cook’s second expedition, the sailors had not actually viewed the continent whose existence they suspected. In the years 1772-1775, Captain Cook covered the entire Antarctic loop on Resolution in three legs, with two stopovers in New Zealand. While the Resolution was the first vessel to sail that far south – beyond the Antarctic Circle – land was not seen, existence of the Earth’s next continent remaining unconfirmed.

Half a century later, Bellingshausen and Lazarev – sailing the Vostok and Mirnyi – circumnavigated the continent in two legs, their only stopover in Sydney, Australia, forced by heavy storm on the Somov Sea. Towards the end of their journey, they discovered a remote Antarctic island they named after Peter the First. Commander Bellingshausen also spotted mountain peaks on Alexander Island, nearly flush with the continent. Ever since, commander Thaddeus Bellingshausen has been the recognised discoverer of the Antarctic continent. Subsequent great Antarctic explorers focused on reaching land and discovering it segment by segment, or on reaching the South Pole. We aboard Katharsis II will forever associate Bellingshausen and Lazarev with Antarctic waters they gave their names to. We spent a long time sailing both seas in tedious upwind travel.

The Lazarev Sea welcomed us with an uncharacteristic slow-moving low pressure area, the pattern a forecast of storm headwinds. Most patterns travel at high speed around the continent – this one moved at a velocity slightly above ours, allowing us to journey in mild gusts along its perimeter. While gaining sufficient time to move north of strongest low pressure winds, for the next four days we were forced into wearisome upwind sailing.

This is how we arrived at the Riiser Larsen, eleventh on our list of Antarctic seas visited. We are now attempting travel in a direction minimising the effect of another heavy storm we shall be facing in another few days. For over one week, we have been following the progress of a weather pattern, watching it closely on our satellite forecasts: charging from the north west, it will hit us like an artillery shell mid-March. There is no escaping it. We are travelling away from the continent, extending our route to avoid difficult upwind sailing in storm conditions. Will we make it? Coming days will show.

On 10 March, we crossed the Cape Town meridian – Cape Town: our port of departure on 23 December 2017. We have completed our first southern loop around the globe. We did not celebrate: conditions below deck are severe, the crew exhausted both physically and mentally. Yet celebrate our crossing of the Antarctic loop we shall. We began circumnavigating the continent on Antarctic waters (south of the 60th parallel) on 5 January 2018, at 05814’ E. We have less than 1,000 nautical miles to go. If we succeed, Katharsis II will be the first yacht to have recorded such achievement. No mean feat, given the oncoming storm and ice hazard. We hope our final days within the Antarctic Circle will not bring anguish. We will breathe a sigh of relief when entering the stormy yet calm waters of the Southern Ocean.

Keep an eye out for our next news piece to find out.
Keep your fingers crossed.
– Mariusz Koper and the crew of Katharsis II

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