We made it! Finally we have arrived at Port Lockroy and all systems are go. It is hard to believe that two weeks have passed since meeting up at Heathrow and checking in over 300 kg of luggage between us. How many bags can you get on one trolley? The advance party consists of Helen Annan, Base Leader, Tudor Morgan, helping out at the start of the season, and Andrew Graham-Brown and Ruth Peacey of AGB Films who will be based at Port Lockroy this season making a documentary for BBC Natural World. Penguin Post Office will follow the life cycle of the resident gentoo penguins with a backdrop of the daily activities of this busy historic site.
The yacht Pelagic is supporting the production of Penguin Post Office and it was with some nervous excitement that we boarded her on Wednesday morning after flying into Ushuaia the evening before and meeting Dave and Bertie, skipper and mate, for the obligatory Argentinian steak dinner. Many thanks to Roxanna for helping with the logistics of transporting us and the mountain of bags from airport to hotel and back to the marina the following morning. We motor sailed to Puerto Williams in Chile and after clearing customs and immigration set off at around midnight for a peaceful cruise towards the Cape Horn archipelago.
The next day found us saying farewell to land and heading off into the Drake Passage surrounded by wildlife – porpoises, albatrosses, petrels, prions. It would have been even more enjoyable if it hadn’t been for the first qualms of seasickness for some of us. And as we headed further south it wasn’t going to get any better! Dave had been trying to get us south of a low pressure system that was due to pass through the Drake on Saturday so we made all the speed we could. We set up a rota of watches, 2 hour shifts throughout the night, which quickly fell apart when it became apparent that Dave and Bertie were on their own, with only one remaining helper able to stand – Ruth, the only one of us to have done no sailing whatsoever before! The winds rose to a sustained 50 knots plus, with gusts of over 60, and in the small hours Dave decided the sensible thing to do was to heave to and sit it out. The motion of the boat eased somewhat and we managed some rest. Those who were able to sit in the doghouse keeping watch during the night were mesmerised by the size of the waves, great spray-topped walls of water bearing down on us. Pelagic rose superbly to the occasion – literally! After being hove to for 15 hours the winds eased during the following afternoon and we set sail again for south.
Monday was Ruth’s birthday, and it had been her long-held dream to see penguins in the wild as a birthday treat. We entered the Gerlache Strait and spent a magical afternoon sailing through drifts of sea ice with porpoising penguins on either side. And this was after a 4am wake-up call to view a pod of minke whales, breaching and swerving across our bow. What a day. However it wasn’t to continue so tranquil. A forecast 20 knots of wind sprang up, but then increased rapidly to gale force which forced us to run for cover where little was available. A tense night was spent motoring back and forth across the strait, with either Dave or Bertie helming and a watcher standing by with a search light keeping a look out for ice. Not easy among the white caps, spray and waves, and with the sea spray freezing on contact with glasses, goggles and clothing it was a cold and uncomfortable experience. In the light of day we were astonished to see the incredible build up of ice on the rigging, rails and deck of the ship, some 6 inches thick. The strong wind was coming from exactly the direction we wanted to go so even with the engine revving we made slow progress until reaching the entrance to the Neumayer channel which provided some shelter. It was a relief to be moving faster again and getting closer to our destination. But rafts of pack ice slowed us down once more, and we traced our way through them, trying to avoid the bigger chunks and wondering what we would find when we got to Port Lockroy.
11 Nov 2013