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Spell of South Pole

Aggiornamento: 13 nov 2023

Vernadsky Research Station, Galindez Island

After the yesterday long night, we decided to set sail a bit later on in the day to allow few hours more of rest.

By 12:00h the anchor was up and we headed towards one of the most spectacular stretches of sea in this cruise: Lemarie Channel.

Leaving Wiencke Island, we had Butler Passage in front of us, a stretch of sea just 10 miles long.

The wind, as expected, was around 15 knots on our port side garden, so I decided to hoist the Code 0 to increase a bit our speed. 38 miles separated us from our next anchorage and I want to be sure to cover them with daylight, also because I knew that once in the Lemarie we would have to deal with the continuous presence of ice in the sea.

Despite the weather forecast predictions, a white halo on the mountains on the horizon was a clear sign of snow swept away by the wind. Within 20 minutes the wind started to turn towards our bow, increasing up to 25 knots.

Prudently I decide to roll the Code zero and hoist the Genoa. Half an hour later the sea had turned into a great mass of white water, with 3, 4 meters breaking waves and the wind gusting up to 50 kn.

We have reduced the Genoana up to 40% and 3 reefs on the main, but the speed still high (10 knots) and the entry of the Lemarie Channel closer and closer.

An annoying thrill ran through my back: looking at the enbtrace of the channeli trough my binoculars it seemed to be obstructed by a series of Icebergs.

The idea of ​​not being able to get in and having to put the bow back to the hell we were going through did not make me feel comfortable. The information I had collected from the boats returned to Puerto Williams and Ushuaia from the Antarctic, signaled this season as a year with an exceptional presence of ice.

We arrived at the entrance of the Canal around 16:00h. The situation was not as dramatic as it appeared trough the binoculars. the access to the canal was not blocked by icebergs, but a long strip of large blocks of ice passed through it completely. We took down all the sails to approached these obstacle by engines.

An annoying wave still arrived on our ster, pushed by the inertia developed with the strong wind encountered in Butler Passage. The ice strip was only about ten meters wide, so we chose an area that looked less dense and we started to cross it. The engines were practically at zero rev and the one knot of speed we had was more deu to the wave and tidal current than to our two propellers. The two hulls started to make their way trough the ice pack and in 5 minutes we were out of the nightmare to enter a dream.

The wind was completely gone, the sea a dark blue table in which the most extraordinary Icebergs sailed in the same direction under the watchful control along both sides of the highest black peaks surrounded by glaciers that turned from white to the bright blue.

6 miles and 2 hours in a fairy-tale setting, I would not know how else to describe today's experience, which alone is worth these 14 months and 12,000 miles spent to get here.

We were heading to the Ukraine Vernadsky research station, a all year round base.

The base is located in Galindez Island in the Argentine Islands archipelago, whose access passes through a narrow channel. Once at the waypoint marking the entry to the narrow passage, we reduced the speed to just one knot.

Ijri and Dave on each bow and Matteo in the middle ready to point out any potential sign of shallow waters.

The map we have shows in large letters "UNSURVEYED AREA", that is an un-investigated area, meaning not sounded. We had the base at the port side and an arrow on a buoy indicating "Vernadsky Station Here.

But our paper, however unsurveyed, showed a series of "x" in that area, which on a nautical chart indicate rocks, even if present high tide subtly hid them from view.

Despite the inviting signal I preferred to continue, circumnavigating the "shoals" and try a passage with less "x".

Leaving the area on the port side, we again had the base at the bow where a sailing ship was clearly at anchor.

We approached the ship when the crew signaled us that the area in fron of us was clear from ice.

We then proceeded in a narrow passage between Winter and Galindez called Stella Creek, where an inlet large enough to accomodate our hulls was waiting for us.

The anchorage with a boat the size of Angelique II I does not offer enough space to drop an anchor and the mooring is done by placing 4 lines ashore. The problem is that at Stella Creek, like everything else around here, the soil is under few meters of snow. Ijri and Matteo climbed a snow wall, at least, 8 meters high to secure our lines on rocks. Before leaving Puerto Williams I bought 24 meters of 10 mm steel chain that I cut into 6 pieces of 4 meters each to be used to secure our lines to rocks, avoiding chafing.

The operation was not easy, especially because the area is full of Antartic Shag nests, large birds with big beak, which annoyed and perhaps worried by our presence, started attacking our two heroic crew members.

After setting up the mooring we sat down to enjoy time and comment the fantastic landscape offered by the Lemarie Channel.

Few minutes later, the skipper of the yach anchored in front of the Ukrainan Base came to visit us. A lovely French girl who showed up with wearing her technical overall and at her feet a pair of crocs without socks!

The yacht she is skippering has made over 40 cruises in the Antarctic but this one is the first with her as a skipper, with 6 customers and no deck hand on board: brave girl.

She asks me why I have made the wide round to reach the anchorage instead of going directly to the side of the Base. I answer that the map reads "UNSURVEYED AREA" and is also full of x.

She assures me that passing very close to a buoy to the east of the base there is no problem and that the depth is always above 8 meters. I recorded the message.

She will leave tomorrow and she is heading Melchior Island and from there to Ushuaia.

We greet her with great sympathy and admiration.

What French super sailor!

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