TUESDAY 20TH JANUARY
A rather bleak morning, the chef, Nick the cold water diver and I slipped ashore to visit the Wreck of the Brutus lying half sunk off the whaling station. Built in Glasgow by J Reid in 1883, she had been used as a store ship for many years before sinking. The Prince Olav Whaling Station had an attractive look to it and seemed to be well sheltered from the West Winds, however staying around was not on the schedule. The only gear that the guests brought that had not been used was the camping gear and they seem determined to use it. Fortunately after a lot of indecision the decision was made to return to Grytviken where we would drop off Tim Carr and take Gavin to see the base doctor for the British Antarctic Survey as she had more dentistry kit than we did. We got under way immediately and once clear of the bay found a heavy swell and a West wind that rose rapidly to Gale 8. Conditions became very rough as we went down the coast and Shenandoah became quite hard to handle at one point as we ran down into Cumberland Bay.
“…we off loaded Gavin into the arms, metaphorically speaking, of Jenny, the base doctor.”
Safe once more in King Edward Cove, we off loaded Gavin into the arms, metaphorically speaking, of Jenny, the base doctor. Tim jumped into the arms of his wife and with him Went Shackleton’s bath and the harpoon with the live head from Larsen Harbour. Grytviken was changed completely as a huge ex Smit Tug had arrived from Chile to lift both of the half sunk Sealers and empty them of fuel oil. They will be put back, half sunk as they were, but not in the same place. Also a lot of the scrap will probably be removed when the tug and its barge return to Chile. A decision about when to depart was being forced upon us by the weather. A weather window was coming up in the next day or so that would give us mostly Northerly winds back to the Falklands after which it was predicted to turn westerly.
There were not really a lot of options open to us and the doctors both preferred to get back to the Falklands and maybe go for a cruise there, rather than miss the once a week flight back to Santiago. Both had long lists of patients waiting for operations once they were back in Milan.
WEDNESDAY 21ST JANUARY
Bright clear and warm the plan is to head to the West and try and stop in Elsehul and from there make our departure to Stanley. Gavin has been with the doctor all morning and there is a lot of pressure for him to stay another day and get fixed up by the dentist on HMS Shackleton who reckons he can sort his mouth out in a six-hour session. I am not very keen on this idea as apart from the lost time I have serious doubts about going under the knife with a surgeon, regardless of how good he is, who may never see you again. The doctors on board can feed Gavin morphine if the pain gets too bad and they can certainly give him enough antibiotics to cut any risk of infection. Against the shore side medical advice we took our clearance and headed for the open ocean.
“The problem turned out to be not dirty but frozen fuel.”
Clear of Cumberland Bay, we started to have problems with the fuel system. Chief thought the problem was contamination and the engines were brought to a stop for a while. The problem turned out to be not dirty but frozen fuel. The fuel had the appearance of liquid candle wax just before it starts to set. I had been asked in the Falklands as we were taking fuel if I wanted an antifreeze additive an my reply was, “What is your recommendation?” The supplier asked where we were going and I said, “South Georgia” and the reply was, “ that if I was not going down to the ice, for this read Antarctica, then I wouldn’t need it”. Turns out he or I was wrong. I was extremely worried for the first time on the trip, as I had no idea how long it takes for diesel to melt once it is frozen and we still had quite a long way to go before the sea temperature started to rise. Chief solved the problem in the end by removing the filter to the fuel pump, as the pump itself was quite happy to move the wax. We shut down all the ventilation to the engine room and keeping the day tank topped up the whole time so that the wax had a chance to melt before going to the main engines.
At the end of the day we made Right Whale Bay. Great looking harbour on the chart, but the reality was that the winds screeched down the mountains and out over the water in ferocious gusts. The gusts never went over 50 knots but the trouble was between them the wind would drop down to ten or fifteen knots, the yacht would then ride forward on her anchors only to be met by the next blast that would send her off on one tack or the other until she fetched up on her chains with a terrible wrench. It was about as miserable an anchorage as I have ever had the luck to be anchored in. When the wind dropped down, the smell and the sound of the seals came clearly across the water. With both anchors down and five shackles aside out we were probably safe enough but the thought of having to leave in the dark was not appealing as there were various rocks below the surface astern of us.
THURSDAY 22ND JANUARY
At 0400 I gave up any pretence of getting some sleep and went forward to make tea and toast. Roused the crew at five and we got under way for Elsehul. Very glad to be shot of Right Whale Bay and I won’t be too bothered not to see the place again. We reached Elsehul in moderating weather and blue skies. The entrance to the harbour appeared to be completely blocked by ice and there was no question of trying to wriggle our way in. The decision was made to take advantage of the weather window and head back to PortStanley. As there was a swell still running in from the West we had to batten down the deck which meant double lashings on the Fisherman anchor on the rail, caulking the hatches to the anchor lockers and generally lashing down anything that might come loose on deck. There was a lot of ice about and a lot of brash, fizzing away to itself as we pushed through it. My concern now was to get clear of the ice off the North West corner of South Georgia as soon as possible and if all goes well we should clear the majority of the icebergs by nightfall. Gavin was up and about but would be better off in his bunk as he looked miserable.
“Very glad to be shot of Right Whale Bay and I won’t be too bothered not to see the place again.”
Tom was on deck but the arm that was dislocated was painful and not of much use. Romy, the chief had a bout of sinusitis and Nick had got sore ribs for some reason that has now been forgotten. In contrast all the guests seem to be remarkably fit and Well.
Our departure from South Georgia was made in weather with a Westerly wind that kept us on a Northerly course. The forecast was for the wind to veer northerly so that we should end up reaching into Stanley. By the end of the day I thought we were clear of the ice. We had seen the occasional big iceberg in the distance but no sign of growlers. At midnight however the radar picked up some icebergs on our track. The visibility was very poor at the time so we slowed down for a while and altered course to stay clear. The rest of the passage to Stanley was made in mostly poor visibility and sometimes, thick fog.
The apparent wind was always forward of the beam which made standing the watch a fairly miserable experience. The consolation was that we were making good speed over the ground and in the right direction. On Sunday the 25th the log records fog and a fresh North Westerly breeze with a very lumpy beam sea that would throw the yacht onto her beam-ends. No problem with this except that it would bring the gimbaled table in the fo’c’sle to the end of its swing with a mighty crash. Part of the problem was my fault, as I should never have allowed the yard to install roller bearings. These were far too efficient, causing the table to gather speed and swing like a bell in a belfry.
MONDAY 26TH JANUARY
We picked up the light on Cape Pembroke just after midnight and at 0300 we had rounded up into Sparrow Cove to hand sail. With all sail stowed, we bore off and headed for the Narrows and the entrance to Port Stanley, by this time it was blowing hard out of the North West. By morning the wind had backed into the West and was blowing a steady 35 knots. After a month or so of dealing with strong winds I found that we just took them in our stride and got on with the cruise except if they were blowing from the direction in which we wanted to go. We sent both Gavin and Tom ashore in Stanley. Gavin made two trips a day to the dentist to have some teeth extracted and the others fitted with temporary crowns. It took a week to get him ready to depart for the sea once more. Maybe we should have sent him home to Australia? But Gavin himself was determined not to miss out on the voyage to Antigua.
“…presented each of the four ladies on board with a scrimshawed seal tooth as a souvenir of their time in South Georgia.”
Tom was examined and X-rayed and pronounced fit – and there was no way that he was going to miss out on the voyage to Antigua either. We had other adventures in the Falkland Islands that are part of another story. On the guests’ last night we found a local lad to mind the yacht and we all went out to dinner. My recollection of the dinner is now a little vague but before the haze came down I made a short speech and presented each of the four ladies on board with a scrimshawed seal tooth as a souvenir of their time in South Georgia. The guests all caught their plane the next day and we were left to clear up the yacht and make her ready for the voyage North. It took a month to sail to Antigua from the Falklands, an easy passage with a fair bit of motoring and a lot of sailing. We finally came to anchor in Falmouth in the late afternoon of the 4th March.
Was the voyage a success? I think that it was, though admittedly, we were very lucky with the weather. It might have been horrible at times but it was never more than we could deal with.The members of the crew were all great. We all got on well together and most of them stayed with the yacht when she sailed for the Pacific. Sarah left to tour South America and Nick Went off cruising somewhere. It was a great regret to me that the owner was unable to sail with us, but he lived the adventure through the photographs that were taken. I wrote to the owner after we arrived in Antigua and thanked him, on behalf of all the crew, for giving us an opportunity to participate in such an extraordinary adventure. We brought the yacht back to the West Indies with no more damage after 16,000 miles than which could be regarded as normal wear and tear.
“It was gorgeous, exhilarating and a great way to finish.”
One of my responsibilities as master of Shenandoah was to bring on the mate to take over the command. After two years, of which at least one year was spent at sea, I felt he was ready to take over. Also, I needed to get back to my abandoned family and farm in Mallorca. As it was, I stayed with Shenandoah a bit longer than expected due to changes in the owner’s plans and because Gavin was held up in Australia having his teeth fixed.
My final sail on Shenandoah was in early May with the owner on board. We cleared the North end of St. Kitts and laid a course for St. Barts. The course was North and the wind was fresh from South of East and with all lowers set we were making 11 and 12 knots with the occasional tropical sea breaking over the ship in clouds of spray soaking whoever was in the way. It was gorgeous, exhilarating and a great way to finish.
For the future I hope to be able to spend more frequent intervals at home and to that end l have joined up with Malcolm Kelliher in Relief Captains (see www.reliefcaptains.com) with the object of putting the relief captaincy business on a more professional footing. The work is mostly with motor yachts so I won’t have the pleasure of standing on deck in the dark in pouring rain shortening sail and wondering if we are going to be a crew member short at the end of the watch. I suspect that most of my sailing in the future will be at the classic yacht regattas.
And of Shenandoah? Well she is now in the Pacific, cruising in the Islands.