Satellite correspondence by Captain Mariusz Koper, aboard Katharsis II directly from the Antarctic Belingshausen Sea.
On 14 February 2018, after 53 days and 10 hours, having travelled 7,975 nautical miles since leaving Cape Town, Republic of South Africa, Katharsis II crossed the meridian halfway point on her voyage around Antarctica, the finishing line set for Hobart, Australia. The latitude of 97o07’E was the meridian in question. Four days before, Katharsis II, continuously sailing south of the 60th parallel, crossed one half of the 360 meridians required to close the Antarctic loop. Since crossing the 60th parallel south, that is since entering Antarctic waters, crossing one-half of the Antarctic loop took us 35 days and 20 hours. During the first half of our journey, the average daily run totalled 149.3 nautical miles, much higher on the leg from Cape Town to the 60th parallel (171.7 nautical miles), and lower in the Antarctic between the 60th and 70th parallels (141.8 nautical miles). Navigating eastward on Antarctic waters is observably slower than sailing eastward on the Southern Ocean, further away from the Antarctic.
Such are the statistics to date for the first half of our voyage. Our basic challenge remains unchanged: navigating as close to Antarctica as reasonably possible. During the second half of our voyage, we will be travelling further north, yet continuously south of the 60th parallel; waters of the Southern Ocean lie ahead, hopefully free of ice. Regrettably, white nights will no longer help us over the days to come – the austral summer is slowly drawing to an end. In iceberg locations, during dark nights and with limited visibility, we will have to slow down considerably, even down to a drift, to avoid collision with icy hazard. I am counting on more favourable weather patterns from now on. Final days of the local summer should bring stronger winds – and with them a promise of swifter passage.
The coming weeks will show whether our statistics can in any way be improved. I am keen to sail as speedily as possible, yet not at the cost of safety. When taking on the challenge of circumnavigating Antarctica exclusively on the white continent’s waters, an uninterrupted Antarctic loop had been my primary challenge. No sailor has ever navigated the route before. This is a challenge in itself. Two attempts to circumnavigate the Antarctic I am aware of, by experienced sailors and on waters south of the 60th parallel, resulted in both journeys being terminated. During the first attempt of 2005, the Russian sailing yacht Apostol Andrey lost her rudder blade on the Ross Sea; after makeshift repairs, the crew were forced to set sail for Wellington, New Zealand. The second attempt of 2012 by a mixed Russian and Ukrainian crew on sailing yacht Scorpius terminated in the D’Urville Sea. In the wake of damages caused by heavy storm, forced by the necessity to repair their vessel, the crew set a course for Hobart.
There is a case of a successful circumnavigation of Antarctica known to the history of marine sailing, yet the route was set north of the 60th parallel south – beyond Antarctic waters and with few iceberg obstacles encountered. Fedor Konyukov, the speed record holder on sailing yacht Alye Parusa, spent 102 days, 0 hours, 56 minutes and 50 seconds circumnavigating Antarctica. His voyage – Albany, Western Australia, as the harbour of departure and arrival, with the Antarctic circumnavigated between the 45th and 60th parallels south, was duly recorded by the World Sailing Speed Record Council (WSSRC). The Council recognise Konyukov’s time elapsed as the fastest journey around the Antarctic. Last year, Australian sailor Lisa Blair attempted to beat the record, but had to terminate her voyage to repair a broken mast in Cape Town.
This is our 9th week at sea on the journey around Antarctica. Having weathered the storms of the Ross and Amundsen Seas, we are now navigating against the wind on the Bellingshausen Sea, the Antarctic Peninsula is its eastern flank. Sailing against the wind could be avoided by travelling far north – yet the western winds we would have favoured may only be found beyond Antarctic borders, and we have no intention of crossing the 60th parallel to the north. Having analysed the weather conditions, I have decided to continue sailing along the continent’s shores. Ever since February 10th we have been navigating against the wind, constantly following upwind angles most advantageous to our direction – and the winds pushed us beyond the Antarctic Circle. Sixty-five miles from the shores of Peter I Island, we turned north-east, and began travelling in parallel to the Antarctic Peninsula to reach the Southern Ocean; nonetheless, true to our expedition assumptions, we have constantly kept south of the 60th parallel.
On 15 February we experienced our first dark nocturnal hours. The later in the season, the longer the time spent in darkness will be. The Bellingshausen Sea is the least ice-infested of all the Antarctic reservoirs we have visited – yet this is not to say it is ice-free. Solitary icebergs appear on the horizon every fifteen miles or so. We need to be constantly on guard.
We are slowly approaching the Cape Horn meridian. This will be the third of the Great Capes on our expedition, after Cape Agulhas (Cape of Good Hope) and Australia’s Cape Leeuwin, the navigation classic triad. I hope winds do not drive us north towards the Drake Passage further away from the Antarctic Peninsula, and we will be able to enjoy the sight of land before entering the next Antarctic reservoir en route – the famous Weddell Sea. We have an exciting week ahead of us.
Warm regard to All –
– Mariusz Koper
Watch “THE SEVEN SEAS”, the most recent video news footage from the deck of Katharsis II, on her passage across one Antarctic sea after another, on the first leg of the journey around Antarctica: https://youtu.be/3tKjZ_oLOTk