12,300 nautical miles since we’ve set the sail in Cape Town
S/Y Katharsis II at: 063º28’03″S, 051º24’34″E
We are embarking on the 13th week of our journey around Antarctica as we continue sailing non-stop from Cape Town in South Africa to Hobart in Australia. Reaching the vicinity of Antarctica on 5 January 2018, the Katharsis II has been navigating across Antarctic waters, or south of the 60th parallel, for 72 days. Polish crew members have covered more than 97% of the loop circumventing the Earth’s coldest continent.
Lowdown from skipper Mariusz Koper
Located between the 30th and the 50th parallel east, the Antarctic Cosmonauts Sea is one of the smallest seas lapping Antarctica. It was the twelfth sea navigated by Katharsis II and the last one before we entered the Commonwealth Sea. All this time we were hoping that the long-anticipated storm we were unable to avoid would not be as dangerous as suggested by weather maps.
The storm hit on 14 March. It was triggered by a barometric low which unlike most weather fronts in the vicinity of Antarctica was not moving eastbound, but it was heading towards the continent – targeting between Riiser-Larsen Peninsula and Cape Kolosov in the Cosmonauts Sea. It became fiercer as it approached the Antarctic coastline. The mainland became a natural obstacle as the energy of the weather front built up. As it drew near, the pressure in the centre of the barometric low slumped from 960 hPa to 928 hPa in merely 24 hours. It’s a bona fide record as we have never encountered such a deep low before during our journey. It definitely commanded our respect and the ultimate focus.
Several days before the storm, we were arduously trudging northbound to avoid powerful opposite winds expected along the mainland. I decided to take the shortest route to the heart of the barometric low where the wind dies down alike in the eye of the storm. To get there, we had to boldly sail on against stormy winds, fighting our way across the western half-circle of the low weather front. I wasn’t sure if Katharsis II would be able to rise up to this challenge. Sailing with nothing but the front staysail, we were unable to continue upwind in very similar conditions during a storm that hit us in January on the Davis Sea. This time, to carry on upwind, I decided to resort to our main sail, but reduced to the size of the blanket, which means that we relied exclusively on the deep fourth reef. The combination of sails featuring the fourth mainsail reefing point and the front staysail works wonders with winds reaching up to 40 knots. Our speed becomes too high with more powerful gales, and the yacht begins to dangerously fly off the tops of breaking waves and plummet into the trough ahead. If we use just the staysail, we are able to drift in storm, but we are not moving ahead fast. Sailing upwind with the mainsail provides us with many more possibilities.
The tactics we opted while struggling with the raging storm has proved ultimately successful. Our yacht was trudging forward despite surging waves. Around 6 p.m. the readout of the wind gauge would indicate more than 40 knots, with speed exceeding 8 knots. In stormy weather this is definitely too much for a yacht that weighs nearly 60 tons. Careering Katharsis II is able to drop down from the wave into an abyss, hitting water that feels like concrete. When we reefed the staysail, the yacht decelerated to 4-5 knots to keep us on the safe side. Later, the wind exceeded 55 knots after dark and brought whipping snow that reduced visibility to zero. In such conditions, the effectiveness of the second thermographic camera dwindles. The only extension of our eyes was the radar that alarmed us of an iceberg along our route. We instantly reduced the speed of the yacht and approached the line of the wind even closer. Finally, we managed to keep bergs at bay again as such encounter could be truly dangerous in this place and in such conditions. Hours that followed were a harrowing experience for everyone – crew members who had to brave the snowstorm and gales on the deck and the rest keeping the watch under the deck.
Finally, the wind began to subside. We were in the heart of the barometric low. In the turbulent waters of the stormy sea, the usually navigable 20-knot wind was not strong enough to fill the sails which began to flutter. We were swaying back and forth in all possible directions. After another exhausting twelve hours of our struggle with waves and feeble winds, we reached the northern limits of the barometric low and were greeted by fairer weather. Strong western wind eventually made it possible for us to sail in the desirable direction – to the east. We spent the next two days sailing fast off the wind.
What was forecasted as placid and sailing-friendly passage between two gathering weather fronts unfortunately turned out to be a foray into windless space. The weather forecast was inaccurate again. Thick snow covered the entire deck of the yacht with a fluffy white layer. Saturday, 17 March, or St. Patrick’s Day had the look and feel of Christmas Eve rather than a festival that heralds the coming of spring. After the violent storm came dead calmness we have never encountered before during our expedition. The perilous sea was transformed into an expanse of calm and windless waters. Is it possible that the Antarctic wants to keep us for longer?
We need to cross 300-400 nautical miles before we circumnavigate Antarctica. The ultimate distance also depends on the parallel where we will intersect our trail from early January. It seems so little and yet so much…
Cheers to everyone!
Keep your fingers crossed for us – we will definitely need it.
And then there is a long way to the port. We need to cover 3,500 miles before we reach Hobart.
– Mariusz Koper and the entire Katharsis II crew