Satellite coverage by s/y Katharsis II skipper, Captain Mariusz Koper.
04/05 January 2018, the Southern Ocean
Position 57° 59.98 S, 054° 12.25 E, speed at 9.5 knots @ 117.92°
Since start in Cape Town: 2,100 nautical miles
It’s been nearly two weeks since we set sail in Cape Town. The days on the sea are passing very quickly. Looking from the outside, one could assume that life on the sea is drab and that time stands still here. You couldn’t be more wrong. Time simply flows differently than on land. No matter what we do, it takes more time. Rocking on waves, the yacht triggers forces you need to confront, flex your muscles and try to attain balance. In such conditions, simple tasks like preparing lunch for a nine-strong crew take two or three hours to complete despite the fact that we often rely on ready-to-use ingredients pre-cooked in the harbour. But when the wind gets violent and huge waves are beginning to surge, you need more time to rest. While our journey continues, you need to factor weather conditions into an even a simple repair which often takes up a whole day.
For several days, we have been sailing south in favourable winds, although the wind tends to be weaker than I expected while analysing weather charts before the start. As a result, we cover less miles each day, but the current weather is easy on the yacht and the crew. It took us 12 days to cover the first 2,000 nautical miles. Days are passing rather fast and we’ve clocked in five days with more than 190 miles covered. Three days have given us average mileage compared to the capacity of our yacht that is able to cover around 170-190 nautical miles a day. We also had four slower days with less than 170 nautical miles, including the memorable first day of the expedition with exceptionally feeble wind and glorious sun.
Katharsis II crew members were also pampered by weather on New Year’s Eve. Just before the sunset a glowing sun appeared on the horizon. We said farewell to 2017 with picture-perfect coloured sky and ocean in the backdrop. Gentle waves and a relative stability of the deck enabled us to safely prepare a scrumptious dinner. On top of that, there was no risk that our tableware would unexpectedly slide off the table. It was genuine luxury. Obviously, we ventured into the dance department, but the party did not last until the small hours. We are all aware that this is a special place and situation. We also know that we must be ready anytime to face any situation. If that wasn’t all, weather forecasts warned us that there is a storm ahead. We exchanged wishes, mainly wishing ourselves luck, and scattered into our cabins.
The first major storm during this expedition hit us on the night of the 1st and the 2nd of January. The sweeping low extended from the shores of Antarctica to Africa. It additionally collided with a stationary high south-east of South Africa. The first blaze of northern wind came from this direction.
Before the ocean surged, we managed to prepare and test the first data buoy designed to examine the composition and the temperature of water in the area close to the Antarctic continent. While our voyage continues, we are conducting the “Antarctic Laboratory” project in cooperation with the Institute of Oceanology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Sopot, contributing to an international research programme ARGO. Aboard the yacht, studies are coordinated by one of our crew members, also known on land as a Professor of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Piotr Kukliński. Long before we set sail, we selected a number of sectors, each with an area comparable to the territory of Poland, where such devices have practically not been launched. Buoys were delivered to Cape Town and put into the hold before the start. With the powerful wind and high waves, the conditions in which we activated and safely placed data buoys in the water were pretty unforgiving. In line with instructions, buoys may be launched only when the yacht is sailing at less than two knots. We aligned the yacht to direction of the wind to reduce the speed. When we decelerated to 2 knots, we finally managed to drop the buoy. It first plunged and disappeared beneath the surface, but re-emerged after a while and was rocking in the water in a goodbye to our disappearing ship. If everything goes well, data generated by the device will be transmitted via satellite to scientific research centres over the next two years.
The storm that hit the ocean really managed to get under our skin. We lost a traveller mounting the sail to the mast while reefing the mainsail. To prevent it from tearing at the second batten, we were forced to give up on it, what means that we braved the storm with only headsails on. The wind was gusting up to 55 knots. Fast forming waves seemed to be toying with the yacht, but luckily they caused no further damage. When the ocean calmed down a bit and we managed to replace the mainsheet traveller, the mainsail was put back to work.
3 January 2018, the 11th day of the expedition – the first iceberg is looming on the horizon. It’s true that several days earlier our radar detected a massive echo pinpointing something “huge” within a distance of more than a dozen miles from us. We assumed that it may a giant iceberg, but we were unable to confirm it as the yacht was blanketed in thick fog. But we are well aware that icebergs are able to drift far away beyond Antarctic waters. What we saw left us with no doubts – we were looking at a mammoth-sized slab of ice floating on water with our very own eyes.
We also know that icebergs will be a frequent sight during the next weeks on the sea. We need to pay attention to each and every shadow on the radar. It would be best if Neptune send us less fog and pitch-black nights, as such conditions are not helping us in detecting obstacles. But I know all too well that at this latitude fog will be a frequent companion every second or even third day. Luckily, in several days, dark nights should subside and give way – even later during the day – to summer light. And yes, we do know that dark nights are coming back in February.
The Southern Ocean is able to form extremely perilous waves. Feeling respect for their power, I opted for conservative navigation techniques. For the time being, we are testing various sail settings. Recently, we started using a heavy spinnaker, custom-ordered for this expedition, and all possible combinations of sails we’ve got in wing-to-wing setup. We want to be ready for changing conditions in the deep south, south of the 60oS latitude where the wind tends to abruptly change its direction. The closer we get to Antarctica, the colder and thicker the water is around us. I also get an impression that it takes less time before the sea calms down after storm. Another storm is well underway. But we are ready to face it…
I would like to thank you for all your wishes that are reaching us on Katharsis II.
Cheers to everyone, keep rooting for us,
– Mariusz Koper and Katharsis II crew.