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Drake behind and Antarctica in fron of us

Aggiornamento: 13 nov 2023

Whalers Bay, Deception, South Shetland Island

Anchored in position: Lat 62 ° 58.77'S; Long 060 ° 33.76'W

At 18:30h today (10 of February 2016) we we anchored in Whaler Bay at Deception Island in the South Shetland Islands after 4 days, 4 hours and 634 miles from Puerto Toro on the Island of Navarino in Chile.

A "chocolate salami" (a masterpiece chocolate cake prepared by Valentina), and a bottle of Chilean brut sparkling wine were waiting for us in the fridge to celebrate this moment that I and my traveling fellows have been dreaming of for a long time.

However the first feelings that prevailed in me were not related to the achievement just accomplished, to the amazement for the scenery around me, as to the uncontrollable desire to hug my wife tightly in my arms and yell at full lungs: thanks.

Yes, because it is not that obvious that a wife not only allows you to pursue your dreams, but that she always remain by your side, minute by minute, to support you , even when her dreams would take her to a totally different place.

She is the true heroine of this chapter of our journey, of this year at the end of the world and beyond.

The crossing of the Drake was easier than expected and this thanks to the speed and comfort of our Outremer 55.

On the 8 of February the wind has oscillated between 290 and 320 degrees blowing at an average of 25 knots with gusts of 35, which we have faced with one reef on the mainsail and the 80% Genoa, maintaining an average speed of about 8.5 knots.

By 04:00h on the 9th, the barometer was 972 mb, 12 mb less than 4 hours earlier and the wind constantly at 30 knots. By 10:00h the barometer collapsed to 964 mb and the wind icreased to 40 knots with gusts around 50.

The sea was white, but the terrifying thing was once again the size of the waves. Simply gigantic, nothing to do with any other situation I have experienced before.

At this stage we had only my storm jib, a 7 meter heavy dacron, hoisted to keep the s[eed doen as much as possible (which surfing on the waves easily reached 15/18 knots ) but enough to grant maneuverability to the boat but. It went on like this until the late afternoon, then the wind started to fall and to veer to east. By 22:00h we had just 8 knots of full east wind, the barometer falled down to 958 mb, the lowest pressure that I and my barometer have ever recorded. We were at the center of the low pressure. My young crew asked: and now what will happens, my inexperienced crew asked. It happens that we are about to experience some real stron wind against our course. Depressions in the southern hemisphere move to the east and the wind that from the peripheral areas (the ones with the highest pressure) tries to reach the center (the area with the lowest pressure) runs in a clockwise direction. So our strategy from the start was to ride the arrival of a low pressure that with its winds that turn clockwise (so always with a northern component) would push us to the south until the center of the low pressure would not reach us. From that moment on we would have met winds that, continuing to turn clockwise, would have had a southern component and therefore contrary to our course.

The problem in these latitudes is that fronts pass very fast and this "window" of favorable conditions lasts an average of 48/72 hours. Our window lasted over 72 hours and only 100 miles were missing to our arrival.

Already at 23:00h we had 25 knots of wind on the bow that with our speed exceeded abundantly 30 knots.

The sea lifted by 3 days of wind from the north fortunately continued to have a wave that pushed south.

Ijri and Adela were on watch. I was resting in the saloon.

I had left the task of constantly monitoring the radar to detect eventual icebergs. At one point they woke me up. On the radar they had spotted a large object two miles ahead of us and they were worried because the object kept spinning around at great speed.

Still half asleep I struggled to understand what they were saying, but it was evident that no boat could ever make a 360 around us two miles away in just a few minutes. I woke up to realize that the autopilot had gone on standby and the boat without any control kept turning on itself.

The wind was now about 35 knots and the sea was really big but this time against us.

I had two alternatives: put the stern to the wind and wait for the passage of this phase of the low (according to the forecast about 10 hours) losing at least a 70 miles or to heave which I had never experienced with a catamaran. I decided for this second option.

To heave means placing the sails in a position to stop the boat advancing keeping it forward in the wind. Specifically, the maneuver is carried out by starting a tack in which the front sail is kept cuckled with the windward sheet, so at the neck and in our case, iron-dampened mainsail slightly overturned.

I also decided to keep the upwind engine running at just 1200 rpm.

Angelique II magically stopped and we waited until 6:00hg when the wind dropped and above all returned to the east (we were meeting the first winds of the high pressure that followed the low that in the southern hemisphere turn counterclockwise from the center of the high to the outside).

Our position was more or less the same as 4 hours before, just a couple of miles back. So we hoisted the Gennaker and the mainsail to sail the last 70 miles.

At 10:00h we were abeam of Isla Smith, the sun was already high in the sky and so warm that we all went on deck to admire the welcome the white continent reserved for us. Icebergs as bug as a football satium filled the entire horizon. It is really difficult to find words to express the beauty of these works of nature, some with perfectly regular geometries, as if they were made by a giant pastry chef. A triumph of colors between dark blue and green sea water. And the great waves of the Pacific that had struck us the on the night before, now stopping their runs on these huge ice islands.

After passing Smith Island and Snow Island we continued our slalom between Icebergs for another 40 Miles, until face Neptune Bellows, the passage on the Eastern coast of Deception Island that gives access to the great Island Crater. Deception is in fact very similar in size and shape to the Island of Santorini in the Aegean Sea, a horseshoe in which the only access is provided by Neptune Bellows.

At 18:30h pm we drop the anchor in 10 meters of water in Whalers Bay.

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