Angelique II at risk
Aggiornamento: 13 nov
Vernadsky Research Station, Galindez Island
I'm laying in the saloon, I decid eto spend the night here, to check our anchor. I activated both radar and anchor alarm to rest a little, but I can not. The adrenaline that still flows in my body does not allow me.
Today I experienced the scariest 20 hours of my life.
At 03:30h, friends from the Vernadsky Base took Mireille on board to take her, as promised to the Commander of the base, to Port Lockroy. Ijri and Matteo went ashore to realease our lines ashorer and at 04:00h we left our anchorage. The day light began to peep, however both the bows and the stern projectors were on. Flat sea and not even a breeze of wind. I do not know for what damn reason I came up with the suggestion of the French skipper, to reach the open sea passing by the side of the Ukraine base, instead of going trough the course I followed upon on our arrival. I clearly remembered that she had told me to pass near a red buoy to the northwest of the base.
I strange feeling, like discomfort accompanied me, so much so that I asked Mireille to confirm that they really had come from there. Mireille replied that she did not remember exactly.
I asked Matteo, Dave and Adela, to stay on the bowes keeping an eye to to identify any signs of shallow water.
The sense of unease persisted so much so that I decreased the speed to 1.5 knots.
As soon as we got across the buoy, Angelique II hit something which immediately stopped the boat.
I try to go full reverse gear, but the only result I got is to see my port-keel slide aft. At this point I'm sure I hit something big.
I look all around the hulls to realize that we are sitting on a rock no deeper than 30 or 40 centimeters.
While I ask Vale to check the bilges immediately to see if we have water, I call the Ukrainian base via radio.
As in all the Antarctic Research Base, Vernadsky as a 24-hour watch team and within 5 minutes they reach us on board with an inflatable boat. No water in the bilge.
I ask them the about the tide to learn that it is still going down and high tide will be only midday.
We put the dinghy in the water and drop two anchors in the stern in the attempt to add to the propulsive force of the engines the lines from the two anchors, which are now enrolled on the electric genoa winches.
But even this attempt is vain. Nothing else to do but wait for the high tide. Vernadsky's friends invited us to get to the base for breakfast. So while I decided to accept the offer sending most of the crew ashore, I stayed with Ijri to check the damages. The lost (and recovered) keel does not have a structural function. It is a sacrificial keel to protect the rudder and propeller. Shaft seemed to be straight to me, also because when I put the engine back in an attempt to free myself, I had not felt any vibration.
But from a check of the bilges, I realized that in the port aft cabin one of the beam was unglued and just a few centimeters aft of the same beam, the hull had a small swelling, a clear sign that something was pushing under.
The idea that the low tide would increase the load on that point made me shiver at my back.
So I decided that it was necessary at all costs to lighten Angelique II. We started to empty the diesel tanks, transferring the contents into jerrycans.
Then we started to take ashore the 80 meters of chain, scuba tanks, all tools, our bicycles, evaluating the effort in around 1,2 tons. Meanwhile, a light breeze from the north began to reach us. I knew that some strong wind was expected in the afternoon.
On the last trip ashore I went to visit the rest of the crew at the base. The Ukrainian friends prepared for my crew a room equipped wit camp beds and sleeping bags, in an attempt to make us rest and lower the tension.
Meanwhile the wind continued to rise and veer to east. I decided to go back ion board asking Dave and Matteo to join me. Although we were inside the small archipelago, a very annoying wave was already at work, while the wind was pushing threatening blocks of ice against us. In the following 3 hours we had to fight against a huge number of blocks of ice, all intending to hit our injured Angelique II. We jumped in the dinghy trying to catch with a hook the blocks of ice and move them away to avoid the collision trajectory. The wind was now constantly above 30 knots and the task was really difficult. While I was in the bilge to check the evolution of the swelling on the hull, Matteo shouts from the bridge that a big block of ice has slipped between the two hulls and got stuck on the rock below us, with the risk of continuing to bounce between the hulls. Impossible to reach the position with the dinghy, so I wear the dry suit and enter in the water. Fighting with the white beast I manage to move the block away. Returned on board Matteo has prepared a hot coffee but we hear a crash stronger than the others. I fear the worst. I run into the port aft cabin and the swell on the hull is gone. The tide is getting hogh, lifting the port hull just enough to keep the rock from sticking. I realize that at any moment the wind, now at 35 knots, could just release the hull. Around us islets and rocks and two 100-meter lines in the water, connected to our two anchors. Another thrill runs through my back. I try to give clear instructions to Dave and Matteo: when the boat will be released by the roks, let the ropes run to the outer side of each hull and, once forward, secure it to a cleat. Is that clear? Meanwhile, I call the station via radio, asking if they can send a rubber boat to support us in the event that the boat gets unstuck. I do not have time to put down the microphone that at the sound of another crash, the boat is pushed away by the wind. The engines have been on for at least half an hour, ready and warm. While I try to keep the boat to the wind I shout to my crew to start to recover the lines. But one line get dangerously close to the stern of the starboard hull, so i'm forced to put the engine in neutral.
A rock approaches port and an iceberg is less than 50 meters from our stern. I have to go forward engaging to the engine and so I do. I can avoid the rock but giving power to the engine, inevitably going over the line which get stuck and block the propeller. The engine buzzer sounds. The engine is off. The wind now hits the port side. I try to give full reverse with port engine in the attempt to put bow in the wind but another relentless buzzer, warns me that the other line has reached the port side engine. Well we are without engines, without anchors at the mercy of wind and rocks. We bounce on a first rock, than on a second where after a couple of jolts we stop.
Around us threee big inflatable boats one coming from Vernadsky and two rubber from a beautiful three-masted charter boat called Europe. They try to pull me out but nothing to do, we are again well sitting on a rock and always with the same hull. I need to rescue the anchors I have left behind, I go into the water and with a bit of effort I can free the two 18 mm polypropylene lines, still intact, from the propellers.
I entrust the two Dinghy from Europa with the task of following the lines till our anchors and recover them.
I check the bilge everything is OK, once again it does not seem to have serious damage. I know the tide will again reach its mahimum high 24:00h, still 8 hours to go. Meanwhile, we bring back on board our chain to which we assure the main anchor recovered from the inflatable boat of Europe, while the second still arrives with the friends of Vernadsky.
The wind now arrives on our sterm starboard hull and pushes me more and more on the rock under the port side hull. Without the keel to protect it I'm afraid about the rudder, a meter more and the rock will take it away.
I have to secure the boat in this position until the tide is high enough for me to slip out. I ask the dinghies around me to help me placing two lines on a rock about 50 meters across the beam of my starboard hull, one securing the bow and one the stern, and an anchor aft. It is pitch dark outside and the people from Europe tell me that they have to go back on board, but to call them by radio for any need. Vernadsky's friends return to base to change helmsman, but they come back just 15 minutes later. At around 11 pm the wind has dropped to 20 knots with gusts of 25. The boat is completely full of snow. Despite continuing to snow we are in the cockpit while our Ukrainian Angels are still in the dinghy flanked to our starboard hull.
At a certain point we clearly hear that the boat starts to rise from the bottom. The engines are still on and this time I decide to anticipate the maneuver. I ask my crew to cut at my order both lateral and stern lines.
The wind will push me forward where I have water for at least 300 meters and I will use the engines only when it will be at a safe distance from the rocks. Let's wait 5 more minutes and then I'll start. We cut all ropes, we still hear a crunch under us and then nothing more. 200 meters ahead, I put the port engine in reverse and the starboard forward. The boat turns to the port, but a strong vibration comes from that engine. We return at very low speed to the area of our previous anchorage. I can't enter Stella Creek with this wind, without lines and with one engine vibrating this way, so I drop the anchor in 20 meters of water, but without success. I repete the maneuver 5 times until my anchor finds a grip to cling to. Ijri meanwhile reaches the Ukrainian dinghy and goes to recover the three great lines and our spare anchor. Successfully returned I ask him to put a line ashore.
The girls are at the base where the Ukranians have prepared for beds, dinner and much comfort. We reach them by radio and we agree that the best thing for everyone is now to rest.
Today I think I have lived an experience that even in the worst nightmares I could never have imagined.
However, I can assure you that I have not thought, even for a moment, that I could lose our boat.
Tomorrow we will think about how to bring her back home.