Category Archives: Captains log

Shackleton’s Bath: Nov.15 to Dec. 25

Captain John Bardon at the helm of Shenandoah

Captain John Bardon at the helm of Shenandoah

Introduction

The 145ft schooner, Shenandoah of Sark – for those of you that do not know the yacht – was originally built in 1902 in the USA to a design by Theodore Ferris. During 1996 the yacht was given a total rebuild by McMullen & Wing in New Zealand. I joined the yacht in the spring of 2002 as master.

Whilst anchored off Portofino in the early summer of 2003 the owner returned to a subject that had first raised its head during my meeting with him when being interviewed for the master’s position. “Do you think that Shenandoah is a suitable boat for going to South Georgia?” My reaction, having sailed in the Waters of the Falklands in my youth, was to hesitate and then comment that there was no reason why she should not go. She was almost new, she was steel and she was strong and as many old timers know many an exotic voyage is spoken about but rarely are they undertaken!

This one became fact.

“Do you think that Shenandoah is a suitable boat for going to South Georgia?”

Heavy seas on our way to The Falkland Islands

Heavy seas on our way to The Falkland Islands

Departure

We sailed from Palma de Mallorca on the 15th November with an ETA in Port Stanley of December 25th. The yacht had been stripped of all unnecessary hot Weather gear, which we shipped to Antigua t0 await our arrival after South Georgia. Of course a great deal of cold weather gear was brought on board including skis, poles, tents, boots, sledges, provisions, ice axes, ropes, crampons plus a 300 kilo anchor. A John Munford designed, owner modified, gimbaled table was also built by the Astilleros Mallorca shipyard which, when put to the test, worked incredibly well.

Suffice to say the 7000-mile trip South did not pass without its drama and many changes of plans. We were twelve in the crew divided into three Watches. The watch officers were myself, the mate and the 2nd. The chief engineer did not do watches and neither did the chef. My eldest daughter, Sophie, came along as a supernumerary to be dropped off in Mar del Plata in Argentina Where she was to stay with a friend for a while before returning home.

Commerson's Dolphins in The South Atlantic

Commerson’s Dolphins in The South Atlantic

I wanted enough time in hand to have a couple of spare days in Port Stanley but we were running behind schedule. We needed that time just to prepare the yacht for guests and for the crew to have a quick run ashore. As things turned out there was a fairly major change in the plan when the boss called the yacht to say that he had taken a fall and had broken his shoulder. The broken shoulder had required complex surgery and the doctors had forbidden him to sail on the yacht. The schedule had changed and with the pick up date for the guests now put back to the 3rd January We found ourselves with a day or so in hand and with the pressure off.

Port Stanley

Things had definitely changed since I sailed out of the port in my 38-foot gaff cutter in 1978. There was no doubt that Port Stanley looked prosperous, the result of a bonanza in fishing license fees and cruise ship tourism. The day after I sailed out of Port Stanley with Jenny Wren in 1978 I sat down and made a list of all the people that I had met in the back of the logbook. Once our clearance was completed l handed this list over to the Customs officer for an update. It was to be expected that after 25 years some had left the Islands and some were still there and quite a few of them were dead.

“Lying out at anchor in Stanley means being on constant alert for the weather…”

Lying out at anchor in Stanley means being on constant alert for the weather, as while it is a fine anchorage it is shallow and there is a good fetch from the West from where the wind comes with great force. For the general relaxation of the crew it was going to be better if we could get alongside for the holiday period. The only berth was on the Falkland Island Company jetty, which was all piles and tractor tyres, and no way that we could fend off in the case of a blow. We had no choice but to wait until the inter-Island ship run by the Falkland Island Company, came in. It was in the late afternoon of Christmas Eve when we shifted across the harbour to go alongside Tamar.

Port Stanley in sunshine

Port Stanley in sunshine

There was not a breath of wind and we could hear the sound of the carol service coming from the Anglican cathedral. Some of the local lads were having a barbecue on the jetty in the late afternoon, a cheerful affair attended by the crews of the Tamar, the Falkland Island company launches and Shenandoah. After it was over and feeling that maybe Christmas was passing us by three of us went to the evening mass in the Catholic church where we were joined by the chef and the second mate followed shortly by the Philippine engineers. After the service I decided to skip the secular activities in the Globe Tavern and went back on board.

“…we needed an adventure and as the weather was fine, we took off in the RIB…”

Merry Christmas

Christmas Day was a day of excess in both food and drink. Being unable to stand the pace I persuaded the mate and the stewardesses that we needed an adventure and as the weather was fine, we took off in the RIB. We went down to the East end of the harbour and boarded the Lady Elizabeth, a three-masted barque that dragged her anchors many years ago and has being lying beam to the weather ever since. Unlike most of the wrecks or hulks in this part of the world, she is not covered in tussock grass and shags nests with a rotten deck through which you can fall, probably because in an Easterly gale the seas break right over her. There did not seem to be much change in her condition in the last twenty-five years, a bit more rusty and probably a bit more dangerous but at least there was no one there to wave us off.

The rusting hull of the Lady Elizabeth

The rusting hull of the Lady Elizabeth

Boxing Day arrived and we had time on our hands now that we are respecting all national holidays. Tamar – having decided, in view of the lashing rain, to have a barbecue in one of the Falkland Island Company’s warehouses – invited us along. I ate and drank my fill and then went off to the races where it was cold and damp. £8 lighter after four races I decided to walk back to the yacht. I met a friend from my Jenny Wren days and invited him on board for tea, after which went to visit Jerome Poncet on his yacht Golden Fleece. Jerome has been sailing in Antarctic waters for years and his name appears in many of the credits for films made there.

Shackleton’s Bath: Dec. 27 to Jan. 5

The Guvernor's House, Port Stanley

The Guvernor’s House, Port Stanley

SATURDAY 27TH DECEMBER

Log extract. Gale-force winds. Gusting to 50 knots. Fine. Wind down by 1230. Cleared away from Tamar and went to anchor as Tamar due to sail in the PM.

Most of us had been off walking in the hills during our time in Stanley either on our own or in groups. I had been out in the hills to the North West of Stanley where some hard fighting had taken place. The Argentinians had laid minefields everywhere in the area as that was where they expected the British to land; they were wrong as it happens.

“Most of the minefields had been cleared away…”

Most of the minefields had been cleared away and those areas where it had been impossible to sweep were very clearly signposted. Even so I never felt comfortable walking in the hills unless I was stepping from rock to rock or walking in the track of some heavy motor vehicle. After all an anti-personnel mine is not much bigger than a tin of tuna – how could they be sure that they had found them all?

Most of the crew had digital cameras and in the evening there was usually a show of the day’s take. There was universal horror watching one of these shows when we realised that one of our number, not understanding the significance of the signs – as they were not in his native language –had gone into minefield to photograph the penguins. I sent him up to the mine clearance and advisory office the next day to have a look at some of the anti personnel mines they have on display along with the pictures of legless cows. In retrospect I should have had a premonition at this stage that it was not the passengers that I had to worry about but the crew.

SATURDAY 3RD JANUARY

Guest arrival day and the yacht is washed and polished to a Mediterranean standard, flowers in the cabins and the weather is overcast with a light drizzle. Eight passengers came on board in the late afternoon of which only two had not been on board Shenandoah before. We gave the guests a safety briefing and I emphasised that their participation in the sailing of the vessel would greatly enhance their enjoyment of the adventure to which they all enthusiastically agreed.

SUNDAY 4TH JANUARY

A practice day sailing from Port Stanley, Falkland Islands

A practice day sailing from Port Stanley, Falkland Islands

With a departure for South Georgia planned for the next day a bit of a live practice seemed like a good idea. We had a great sail in and out of the port in a fresh breeze and we all enjoyed ourselves. While in the Falklands I had tried to get information about ice distribution in the South Georgia area. It was very difficult getting anything precise; in fact everyone was extremely casual about the subject. In the Falklands no more thought is given to a vessel going off to South Georgia than a vessel in Antibes heading off for Sardinia. In the British Antarctic Survey there were no satellite photographs showing ice distribution available.

“…I had tried to get information about ice distribution…this is the best available, Good Luck!”

I then sent an email to Tim and Pauline Carr, the curators of the museum in Grytvicken, and got a satellite photograph by return showing three icebergs aground off South Georgia which, when they had been joined up, were bigger than the island. Attached was a short note saying, ‘this is the best available, Good Luck!’ In spite of my apprehension about ice, I kept a cool exterior and decided to start worrying in the vicinity of Shag Rocks, which is where I expected to see the signs of ice.

MONDAY 5TH JANUARY

It was midday Monday before We finally got under Way and cleared the harbour. It is always a good feeling to be clear of the land and have nothing but open ocean ahead. Well at least for a while. The distance to South Georgia is less than 800 miles and we would probably cover that distance in a bit over three days.

“The gimbaled table proved to be a great success…”

The forecast was reasonable but with a strong gale coming in from the West by the Weekend, by which time I hoped to be tucked up in Grytviken. The gimbaled table proved to be a great success once the guests had got used to the movement. All agreed that it was a huge benefit to life on board though in the first days the apparent movements made some of the guests feel quite seasick.

The watch system was based on three watches with three or four people to a watch. The weather was not especially cold, though miserable enough while it was raining. Mr Musto kept us dry and warm while the gloves that we bought in the Falklands kept our hands dry. Later on some of the crew wore goggles so that it was impossible to recognise anyone. We always had sail set and the engines were started if the speed started to drop below eight knots. We found that even with our shortened Sail plan it was easy enough to keep up 9 or 10 knots.

“…we were likely to find ourselves still surrounded by bergs when nightfall came again.”

We passed to the North of Shag Rocks late on Wednesday night and picked up two targets on the radar at the end of the 24 mile range, at first I thought that they were squid fishermen, later it turned out that they were icebergs. The next day, Thursday, we found ourselves completely surrounded by icebergs. The Wind was West North Westerly, about force four, and the visibility was less than two miles. Trying to find a passage through the bergs by radar proved illusory. A gap would appear and we would lay off for it only to have another target come up as the range shortened. There did not appear to be any smaller bits floating around where we were and it became clear that if we carried on this way, we were likely to find ourselves still surrounded by bergs when nightfall came again.

“As the mass of the berg came out of the mist, you could only be thrilled by the sight.”

I decided to attack, after all dozens of whale catchers had worked these waters up until 1961 and they did not have half of the navigational equipment that we had. I found a big berg on the radar that lay across our course and headed straight for the weather side. The visibility was still around a mile or so and the breeze had not increased. As the mass of the berg came out of the mist, you could only be thrilled by the sight. Nothing can prepare you for the sight of an iceberg in the flesh if you have never seen one before. It was magnificent. It was huge and every shade from ice blue to the palest emerald, a range of colours that I never seemed able to catch on film.

Keeping an eye out for icebergs!

Keeping an eye out for icebergs!

The swell was breaking along the base of the weather side and there was a bit of brash drifting off to leeward. Everyone was on deck to see the sight and now that we had seen at close quarters, what had been so worrying in the mist and fog and imagination, I made the decision to head straight for the South Georgia coast. We doubled the lookouts port and starboard and in no time at all you would have thought we had been sailing these waters all our lives.

A good lookout was essential as the growlers were numerous but in general they all seemed to be in the vicinity of where the larger bergs were. By the late afternoon we were close to South Georgia, the wind had died away and there was little or no swell. By the time that darkness came we had stopped the engines and were drifting slowly East in a flat sea having stopped in the lee of a stranded berg that looked like an office block. It was calm enough so that we would have probably picked up any smaller blocks of ice on radar at the half-mile range. I came on watch the next morning at 0200 to find dense fog and a very light Westerly breeze. I rapidly became bored sitting around peering into the murk and so, with a gentle Westerly, we laid off on starboard tack with just the mainsail and a headsail and started heading for Grytviken once more. The fog started to lift as the breeze filled in and by 0900 we had a near gale up the aft end.

“…the fog continued to lift until inside Cumberland Bay when it rose like a theatre curtain…”

Double lookouts on deck, but most of the ice that we saw was aground. Navigating with the benefits of radar and GPS we had no worries as to where we were. In the late morning we started our turn to the South into Cumberland Bay, the fog was starting to lift and the wind was now a full gale out of the West. As we closed the land, the fog continued to lift until inside Cumberland Bay when it rose like a theatre curtain and there was South Georgia ahead, crystal clear from the top of Mount Paget to the mighty Nordenskold Glacier at its foot. It was spectacular and quite awe inspiring, so much so that I barely noticed the wind dropping off as we sailed deeper into the bay. We rounded up in the lee of Shackleton’s monument and handed sail and then at half ahead we motored slowly through the relatively narrow entrance to King Edward Cove, passing the British Antarctic Survey base on our starboard side and up to our anchorage off the Grytviken Whaling station.

The stunning panorama at Grytvicken

The stunning panorama at Grytvicken

In my briefing chat to the guests I said that the cruise would consist of three stages, the voyage out, the cruise in South Georgia and the Voyage back. With our safe arrival on Friday the 9th of January, stage one had been successfully completed. As soon as the port formalities had been dealt with, everyone was ashore to visit the museum and the post office and to generally run around in a new strange land. Tim and Pauline Carr, curators of the museum in the Grytviken whaling station came to dinner. Tim was to sail with us as pilot, wildlife expert, ski guide and mountain expert for a week or so.

“…we soon found that there was a problem with our charts.”

Once we started to sail around South Georgia we soon found that there was a problem with our charts. The charts we had were all new, however the areas that were regarded as inadequately surveyed were left blue with no soundings or anything else, just plain blue. Some of those areas turned out to be quite large and we always seemed to be sailing through them. Tim’s words at those times, that he had never seen or heard of anyone hitting anything in those areas, were quite comforting. My personal feeling was that the whale catchers and sealers had been working around South Georgia for so long, particularly on the northern coast,  that they must have found the majority of rocks by now.

Arriving In South Georgia

Arriving In South Georgia

It was not until 1961 that Salvesen abandoned the whaling and then they just walked out and shut the door behind them. With no one to look after the whaling stations, they were stripped of valuables and started to fall down. The Argentinian scrap dealers helped in the ruination and the wind and the weather took care of the rest. The general depredation was ably assisted by the army – they used the whaling stations for training exercises as well as for live fire practice.

“The fear is that some hapless tourist from a cruise ship gets decapitated by a sheet of flying metal…”

The katabatic winds, that can screech over the mountains at over a 100 miles an hour, can do extraordinary things to a sheet of corrugated iron that is no longer well fastened to the roof. The fear, as always these days, is that some hapless tourist from a cruise ship gets decapitated by a sheet of flying metal – and so the whaling station at Grytviken is being dismantled.

Most of the station will be removed as scrap and those materials that cannot be removed will be buried forever. At £4 million reputed cost, the whaling station will be no more, apart from the church, the museum, the curator’s house and a large collection of artefacts as well as a couple of ex-catchers converted to sealers. The museum is charming, small yes, but well filled with things of interest for anyone who has taken the trouble to visit the Southern Ocean. The museum is also a credit to the curators, Tim and Pauline Carr, active restorers who are always in pursuit of new projects and challenges.

Shackleton’s Bath: Jan. 10 to Jan. 14

Icebergs were a constant danger

Icebergs were a constant danger

SATURDAY 10TH JANUARY

This Saturday, most of the guests went off walking while in the surrounding hills trying to take a photograph of Shenandoah from the same angle as a photograph taken of Endurance just before she sailed for the Antarctic in December of 1914.

SUNDAY 11TH JANUARY

On Sunday morning there was a great spurt of activity and all the guests were up early digging out the ski gear for a trek to the snow slopes to ski down a glacier. The deck was covered in gear: poles, skis, skins, boots, the lot. By the time they had got themselves sorted out and ashore it was gone eleven. They all wore their ski boots ashore, which must have made walking across the bog quite hard work. Tim Carr had gone with them as a guide so I felt confident in their safe return. The rain started in around midday and the shore party carne back at about three in torrential rain. They were all soaked and frozen, 3 hours climbing for 15 minutes downhill. Well, to each their own etc.

“3 hours climbing for 15 minutes downhill.”

MONDAY 12TH JANUARY

The bad Weather continued throughout the day and night until three in the morning when it went calm and we took a turn around our anchors. Using the RIB, we turned the boat round, the wrong way the first time, and finally the chains clear and port anchor up and down. It was obviously not going to break out in a hurry so I turned in and left it to the watch. By Monday morning it was blowing hard again, gusting over 50 knots, and once again both anchors were down. However by midday the wind was backing off and there was pressure to get under way. It was very clear that we were going to get the maximum possible out of this holiday as we were not likely to come this way again and that the pressure was on to get as far as the Drygalski Fjord in the South East end of the Island. I would have preferred to make our trips with shorter hops and more time to explore but that is not the way of things these days. Tim came on board in the early afternoon and we got our anchors and departed fromKing Edward Cove. It was a funny feeling departing Grytviken after only three days, but it felt like leaving civilization, home and safety.

Gavin at the helm with all of his teeth

Gavin at the helm with all of his teeth

Our destination was a beach landing near the Nordenskold glacier where we were to put a party ashore for walk across a neck of land to Ocean Harbour. This was to be our first beach landing in South Georgia and while we managed to get all the guests ashore with dry feet the same could not be said of Tom. There was a slight sea breaking on the boulder beach as the boat came in and Torn jumped over side to hold the bow. The beach, unfortunately, was quite steep too and there was a swell up the transom of the RIB. Tom disappeared under water still holding the painter. He was wearing waders but that’s not much help when the water is up to your shoulders. We quickly realised that in a lot of circumstances the smaller inflatable with a 10-horse motor was to going to be a lot more practical.

“We’ll run through the brash and hand sail in the lee of that berg.”

While the shore party worked their way over the hills, we were to sail around and meet them in Ocean Harbour. Once clear of the shelter of Cumberland Bay the wind came in fresh 35 to 40 knots from the West. Our course took us though one of the plain blue sections of the chart, which was not encouraging. The approach to Ocean Harbour was made difficult by the large number of stranded bergs in the entrance. Visibility was moderate in rain, failing light and a strong wind up the stern, the conditions on deck were generally miserable. We had help from Tim who was with the guests and who, from where he was on the mountainside, could see the gaps through the bergs. Instructions from Captain to the mate, “We’ll run through the brash and hand sail in the lee of that berg”.

We dropped the RIB and felt our way into the harbour where we dropped both anchors, which turned out to be a mistake. Spectacular anchorage, very well protected, mountains all around and wild life everywhere: caribou, seals of all sorts and birds. Also the wreck of the Bayard, a three-masted barque built in Liverpool in 1864, which had been used as store ship and which had broken away from her moorings and gone aground. The anchorage was still and the barking of the seals comes clearly across to the yacht, as does their very particular smell. In some of the anchorages there are hundreds of seals so that while the bark of individuals can be heard it is against a background that is almost a continuous roar.

It might look peaceful, but it echoed to the constant barking of hundreds of seals

It might look peaceful, but it echoed to the constant barking of hundreds of seals

TUESDAY 13TH JANUARY

A small group of us went across to the Banyard in the morning and scrambled on board. Easier said than done as the deck is covered with a few generations gooey guano. Once on board the danger starts as the deck is covered in tussock grass fertilised by the guano and great care has to be taken not to step or fall through the layer of dung. The ship itself is amazingly intact with the three lower masts still standing. We kept the visit short, as there was pressure to get under way for the next stop.

Back on board we started heaving up. The fisherman came up first, it felt heavy but we could not see a reason why until it broke the surface. God knows what was happening during the night but for a start the anchor was down, it was solid with kelp and it festooned with bights of its own chain. One thing was obvious and that was we had to get the anchor the right way up first before we could start clearing the chain. Someone was going to have to go in the water and pass a line through the ring.

An appeal for volunteers was put out and Nick Atkinson stepped forward. Nick is a mountaineer and physically tough.I had seen him swimming round Shenandoah in Stanley harbour on arrival there. I told him to put on a wet suit and get ready to go overboard. He was back a minute later to say he was ready to go. I thought to myself that that was rather quick and I turned around to see him standing there in nothing more than a little pair of black swimming trunks. I told him that he was mad but the sea was calm and the temperature was around four degrees and if he reckoned that he could do it why not. He went over the side with a two-inch line, dived on the ring and was up and out and back into the RIB very quickly. Our two doctors on board were horrified and said the lad risked a heart attack and worse, however I think it depends on conditioning and I well remember a photograph of my cousin swimming in a melt hole on an iceberg While he was in the Antarctic with SirVivian Fuchs back in the sixties.

“I turned around to see him standing there in nothing more than a little pair of black swimming trunks.”

We started heaving up at ten and it was close to 1300 before we were finally underway and threading course through the icebergs at the entrance to Ocean Harbour. The blubber spades that we were recommended to take were invaluable as no matter how clear the space when you let go, the chain always gathered up the kelp. Our next destination was to be an open anchorage off the beach in a place called Gold Harbour where one of South Georgia’s biggest King Penguin colonies is established. Because of the lost hours in the morning we motor sailed down the coast.

The weather remained clear and in the distance to the East We could see one of the giant tabular bergs that was aground off the coast – the face of the berg visible to us was probably about 30 miles long. We made the anchorage off Gold Harbour by the early evening. I never was a one for an open roadstead and while there was better shelter inshore. We were too big and too deep to take advantage of it and so we laid well offshore and rolled quietly while all the guests went onshore. The weather was line with the wind off the shore 25 to 30 knots. It fell away later and then turned to come in from theEast, which turned us around so that our head was out to sea, but at least we rolled less. Chef tells me that we are a little short of flour and could I tell the guests to eat their bread instead of just taking a snap or two out of the corner and throwing the rest away. We will have to plead with the British Antarctic Survey supply officer for a few kilos on our way back.

King Penguins posing for the camera

King Penguins posing for the camera

WEDNESDAY 14TH JANUARY

Half of the crew were up and ashore at 0530 this morning for a chance to get ashore to the penguin colony before departure. I usually get out of my bunk early in the morning the only reason being that I like to have my breakfast on my own in peace and quiet. This morning it was especially quiet. The weather was fair in the morning, overcast with a light Northerly breeze.

Drygalski Fjord was the objective. We ran down the coast, the only chart covering this area was one that comprised the Whole Island so that it was a bit short on detail. One of the few things that you can count on is that where there are rocks below the surface there will probably be an iceberg stranded on the top of them. Maybe not true for every year but it was certainly true of our visit. As always on our coastal runs – which we always did in daylight – we kept lookouts to port and to starboard and thankfully the guests were always willing to help. Growlers were the worst, as they would often appear to be quite small until a swell passed that would make them rise up out of the water like an emerging Kraken, for those that ever read the novels of John Wyndham.

“until a swell passed that would make them rise up out of the water like an emerging Kraken.”

Off Drygalski Fjord there were numerous very large bergs that blocked the view of the entrance but there was space enough for us to thread our way through. The weather was quiet and we carried on up the full length of the Fjord until we came to the brash from the face of the Drygalski glacier.

Three glaciers exit into the Fjord and the ice was everywhere. At this stage I had two lookouts on the bowsprit, the one on starboard would point his finger for me to go to starboard and the one on port would point his finger for me to go to port. As we were moving very slowly with barely steerageway I just kept on going straight ahead. It was not until we were back in Antigua and were cleaning up the damage to the paintwork done by the anchors that someone pointed out a nice round dent on the starboard bow. I don’t know where it came from, but my guess is that it came from our trip up the fjord. We put the RIB over the side and the photographers went away to the West side of the fjord to climb ashore and get some superb pictures of the yacht with the glacier in the background.

Feeling cold and small at Drygalski Fjord

Feeling cold and small at Drygalski Fjord

There was no wind and no noise and in the stillness the noise of the glacier was like the sound of heavy artillery and the amount of ice falling down the face of the glacier seemed disproportionate to the volume of sound. To say that we were lucky with the weather would be an understatement as for the rest of the time that we were in that area the wind was coming down the fjord in tremendous blasts. Photographs taken, we headed back down the fjord to the entrance to Larsen Harbour. Larsen Harbour is another fjord where I hoped to get a stern too berth as there was a mountain climb as well as a ski excursion and penguin visits planned before the weather broke at the weekend. The reality of the berth we were searching for was difficult to see on the chart but in fact there was a bluff about twenty metres high with deep water right up to its foot.

The first time we went in I dropped to far out and ran out of chain. We got it right the second time round and ended up with starboard anchor out in the fjord, port anchor pretty much straight ahead, lying a short way off parallel to a rocky beach covered in seals from where the snow covered ravines rose straight from the beach to the mountain tops, a height of two or three thousand feet. We had four lengths of 7 X 19 Wire rope with eyes at each end and these were wrapped around any handy rock for the stern lines.

“…the wind was coming down the fjord in tremendous blasts.”

It was a better berth than the IYCA, just a bit short on facilities. The open ocean was invisible to us and all around was snow and ice, rocks and mountains and everywhere seals. We felt very secure. The guests were all ashore with Tim in the afternoon to hike in the mountains and visit a penguin colony. My log does not record which sort of penguins they were. The excitement, the adventures ashore and the exercise were all having a wonderful effect on the guests appetite for both food and drink. The chef was a happy man in South Georgia as compared with the guest appetite in the Mediterranean summer when the menu never seems to go much beyond a little grilled fish and a bit of salad and an occasional sorbet all washed down with carrot juice.

Shackleton’s Bath: Jan. 15 to Jan. 19

A seal sleeps contentedly while we all roam ashore

A seal sleeps contentedly while we all roam ashore

THURSDAY 15TH JANUARY

Guests all away with Tim to climb the glacier and then to ski down. Once the ships work was done the crew wanted to go here and there exploring. An order had to be set so that any person leaving the ship had to say Where they were going and what time they would be back. We carried two portable Iridium sets but one of these was wrecked on the climb on the glacier in the rain at Grytviken. The other we reserved for the biggest of the guest parties. Satellite communications remained good throughout the voyage and even tucked into Larsen Harbour

We were still getting our forecasts from both Meteo Consult and fromCommander Weather, our routing company. The owner’s brother had a penchant for going off in the RIB on exploration trips by himself after having dropped off the shore party. The area was so mountainous that we lost VHF communication immediately as soon as he passed the bend in the fjord. In future I made him always go with the chief engineer and a full set of spares. The number two boat was kept for emergencies and for dropping off shore parties in the immediate vicinity of the yacht.

“I could hardly see any of my chums being to keen on transporting a rusty harpoon with a live head back to Mallorca.”

A major climbing trip was planned but a scheme to camp on the glacier was scrapped on the recommendation of Tim. The weather is too unpredictable in South Georgia as many people have found out and anyway the forecast was not good. While walking on the foreshore next to the yacht I found a whale harpoon that must have been fired at a whale but the explosive head that contains half a pound of black powder had not discharged.

Even if I had got it back to Antigua I could hardly see any of my chums being to keen on transporting a rusty harpoon with a live head back to Mallorca. I gave it to the museum instead, actually I never did ask Tim if he really wanted it in his museum, at the worst it will give the army something to do the next time they are around. I was walking in the snow above the beach where I found the harpoon and came to a place where the snow reached the foreshore. It was an irresistible opportunity. I sat down on the steep snow bank, laid back and threw my legs in the air gracelessly to the foreshore. In the afternoon I climbed the mountain on our starboard side.

A long slug up steep broken rock and then through a couple of snow fields, round two lakes then again up broken rock until finally I had a view out over the Antarctic Ocean to the South.

The treacherous scree slopes around Larsen Harbour

The treacherous scree slopes around Larsen Harbour

The view was magnificent. To the North West the view was of snow covered mountains and glaciers and to the South and East the ocean and icebergs. Coming back down the mountain I half destroyed my leather sea boots as I slipped and slithered down the scree. One of my onshore occupations in South Georgia was collecting seal teeth of which there seemed to be quite a few left in the skulls of dead animals. It turned out to be quite a useful pastime as when the weather closed in with gales and rain I could tinker with scrimshaw projects in the quiet of my cabin.

“…none of us realised just how far he had fallen…”

Late in the afternoon I had the dreaded knock on my door to be told that Tom had taken a fall and he needed stitches in his head and his shoulder is dislocated. Thank God for the guests who were doctors on board. They did a nice job of stitching up his head. When it came to the shoulder Tom seemed to have his own ideas of how to get it back in place from a previous experience. The salon table was locked in the position and Tom lay on it facing aft with the dislocated shoulder hanging over the inboard side. Dr Brambilla gave him a shot of morphine and while waiting for it to take effect there was a lot of talk about what to do next. I am not quite sure who it was that popped the shoulder into place, it could have been Jacobo the mountain guide, it could have been one of the doctors. Whoever it was, they were very quick.

While Tom was not seriously injured he had obviously had a bad fright but none of us realised just how far he had fallen until we were sailing out of Larsen Harbour a day later. Nick pointed out the scree slope where Tom was sitting when he came around at the pick up time. Tom must have gone down well over a hundred feet when he slipped on shale and slithered down a slope until he went over the edge of a cliff. Then he bounced twice on protruding rocks, only stopping when the small stones on the steep scree slope absorbed shock of his fall.

SATURDAY 17TH JANUARY

“I went off down below as I didn’t like to watch their turns on the face of the snow.”

Lashing rain and a full gale blows overhead. Too wet and cold to go out so everyone is sitting around totally bored. The weather eased off in the afternoon to the point where Andrea and Jacobo took their skis and climbed the snow on the steep face of the ravine on our port side. I went off down below as I didn’t like to watch their turns on the face of the snow as they swung their skis over to start the next diagonal of their climb. They did eventually give up and skied down in great style and only had to walk the very last part to the yacht. As usual in this sort of weather all the pressure falls on the chef, as there is nothing else to do but look forward to the next meal.

SUNDAY 18TH JANUARY

The rain continued through the night that so that in the morning much of the snow had gone. The skiers would have had a problem in repeating the previous days exercise as where there had been snow the day before there was now bare rock.

We spent a lot of time reading the weather reports and eventually decided that Commander Weather were being pessimistic. While the weather did not look good it had obviously changed and we decided to get out and see if we could make it to Stromness about 70 miles to the North West. It was after lunch before we had got all our gear back on board and then we still had to pick up the guests who had gone off to look at penguins.

A Gentoo penguin with two chicks on their stone nest

A Gentoo penguin with two chicks on their stone nest

Overcast and drizzle with the Wind howling down the Drygalski Fjord. Brash and growlers were everywhere. Brash ice makes the most extraordinary noise, it and crackles in the water like an enormous gin and tonic poured on very cold ice. Double lookouts were posted and we our best to follow the same track that we had sailed down the coast. What wind there was, was on the nose and it was cold and wet. Those that were not needed on deck needed little encouragement to dive below. The ice had all moved about during the last couple of days and there were now some very large bergs close to the coast that were very useful as they provided a lee at least for a while. I admit that we had become quite blasé about icebergs as we realised that they did not pose a problem in daylight and clear weather and it was possible to pass very close without danger. We made the anchorage in Stromness with the last of the light and let go in 50 metres. There was a slight swell but nothing to trouble us.

“…the handle gave Gavin a whack on the chin…”

The port cable lifter had always been a problem as the chain jumps and twists. We had developed a short cut for taking the kinks out of the chain using a one metre long winch handle which fitted into the chain links and then with someone else operating the power the chain could be straightened back on to the cable lifter. Quite what happened I do not know, but the chain must have slipped and jumped, or maybe because we usually did this exercise in daylight and in relatively shallow water, the result was that the handle gave Gavin a whack on the chin which knocked him out and shut his mouth so fast that he broke numerous teeth in his head.

There was not a lot to be done so Gavin was given a lot of painkillers and put into his bunk. He had almost no external damage at all, just a nick on the underside of the chin it seemed hardly possible to have done so much damage to the inside.

MONDAY 19TH JANUARY

Gavin was still in a lot of pain and is being fed on painkillers. All the guests were up at 05:30 for an excursion to the factory at Leith. This was the last of the whaling stations to close down in 1965, though I believe that the Whaling itself stopped in 1961. They were all back on board and eating their breakfast by seven. Next on the day’s agenda was to get all kitted out to cover the last part of the Shackleton Walk. This was the part where Shackleton and his two companions, Tom Crean and Frank Worsely, walked across from Fortuna Bay to Stromness. The manager’s house is still there and so is the bathtub where Shackleton had his first bath in twenty-nine months.

“…the bathtub where Shackleton had his first bath in twenty-nine months.”

As all the buildings are in danger of collapse Tim Carr had asked me if we could get the bath tub out of the house and take it from there to the museum at Grytviken. Now who could resist a challenge like that? So while the guests started their walk to Fortuna Bay, myself and three other crew members were busy trying to get a cast iron bath out of a bathroom and down some very rickety and rotten stairs and out on to the beach. It was not helped by having all the Windows in the house nailed shut against the storms that meant we were working in almost total darkness.

The old whaling station at Leith Harbour

The old whaling station at Leith Harbour

The destruction at these Whaling stations is astonishing to see, as apart from the robbers, the army, the salvagers and the weather there are also the seals. The seals love the houses and the ruins. They are in the cupboards under the sinks, they are in the sheds, they are tucked in among pieces of abandoned machinery. If a door is left open they are up the stairs and into every room in the house. Most are fur seals but there are also large numbers of elephant seal cows. The elephant seal cow is gregarious and likes to get as many into a shed as will fit and there they lie in an ever-deepening puddle of excrement and urine, I suppose until the liquid level gets up to the nose. With Sir Ernest’s bathtub safely lashed down on deck, we got our anchor and headed for Fortuna Bay to our guests.

Elephant seal squatters

Elephant seal squatters

This, the Western end of the Island is a lot colder and it is not for nothing that among the charter yachts that Work the coast from Grytviken to the South East it is know as the banana coast. It was snowing when the boat went ashore for the pick up, managing to find shelter under the lee of some rocks. As soon as the guests were on board we set off for the Bay of Isles. There were two objectives, the to Visit the King Penguin colony on the beach and foreshore at a place called Salisbury Plain and the second to visit the Albatross nesting ground on, logically, Albatross Island. We made the anchorage off Salisbury Plain in a gale of wind with snow flurries. Even from the anchorage you could see the penguins, they covered not only the foreshore but also the low hillside behind, maybe 100,000 of them.

Outnumbered by penguins!

Outnumbered by penguins!

The guests and some of the crew went ashore, I went in with the pick up boat and again we had problems with the big RIB. Running it on to the beach, so the guests could board, made it impossible to launch the boat back through the surf, it was just too heavy and the end result was that we all ended up thoroughly wet. From the beach the boat would be lost to view in the rain and sleet. The Albatross Island anchorage proved to be difficult as it was deep with indifferent holding and the wind was still gusting hard. I would have been better using the Fisherman anchor as it would have held better than the Danforth, but as I wanted to make it to the Prince Olav whaling station before dark I was looking to save the time that handling the Fisherman would take.

The Albatross Island visit was a great success and photos were taken of the albatross’ mating dance, so the guests were all happy. It was a short run back to Prince Olav Harbour and we dropped anchor there at eight fifteen, bitterly cold but not much wind. The doctors settled down in the evening and had a go at fitting caps to Gavins teeth using the contents of the dental emergency kit. Gavin was looking better but still in obvious pain. Tom had improved and though still full of aches and pains was looking to be put back into the watch routine again.

Two courting albatross put on a fine display

Two courting albatross put on a fine display

Shackleton’s Bath: Jan. 20 to Mar. 4

A mating pair of Petrels

A mating pair of Petrels

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.

Stromness, bleak but beautiful

Stromness, bleak but beautiful

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.

A King Penguin colony

A King Penguin colony

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.

Mission Accomplished: Captain John Bardon with Shackleton's bath lashed safely to the deck

Mission Accomplished: Captain John Bardon with Shackleton’s bath lashed safely to the deck

Dodging Giants to Cumberland Bay

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Captain Russell Potter in full cold weather gear

The Voyage to South Georgia was one of the most adventurous that I have taken in my life. What an experience.

Departing from Port Stanley at midday on Monday we arrived in the wee small hours of Friday. The first three days were pretty monotonous to the point where the only thing that we could find excitement in was watching the sea temperature slowly decrease. It’s gone from ten at Stanley to two degrees here is S. Georgia. The journey itself was quite efficient with very favourable winds and bearable sea conditions. At one point we averaged twelve knots over a six hours period, which is pretty good going for a 360-ton ship purely under the power of the wind.

“A floating piece of ice…the size of the Isle of Wight”

Things started to get interesting on the fourth day when we received a satellite photo of the southern Ocean around S. Georgia. On it there were three icebergs, two to the southwest who’s area was actually greater than that of S. Georgia and one to the north east at half the size. Let me put this into perspective. A floating piece of ice moving around in accordance with the winds and current, forty miles long of which only one fifth is above the water, the area of which is size of the Isle of White. Fortunately we were not going anywhere near the bergs but as we approached S. Georgia we started to see the effects of them.

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Giants worth dodging!

As night fell on Wednesday a few targets started to appear on the radar. They were not ships. If fact we have not seen another ship at sea since we left Argentina three weeks ago. These targets were pieces of ice that had broken off from the larger bergs. At first there was just a few that did not coincide with our course but as we progressed so did the number of bergs until the radar screen looked like it had a serious case of measles. I would guess at worst there were over a hundred bergs in a 24-mile radius.

It felt like we were doing slalom in the southern ocean (the most dangerous in the world) with bergs similar to that which sank the Titanic, very surreal. What made it even more entertaining was that dispersed amongst the large tabular bergs there were small conspicuous cheeky little bergs just as likely to sink the ship as the large ones.

The tension was high on deck but the atmosphere one of amazement for wherever you looked you were surrounded by uniquely beautiful sculptured bergs with opaque ghost like floating mannerisms that demanded respect for they were the rulers, the gatekeepers to the island of our destination. Like tanks lined up ready for battle one after another they floated by with us keeping a watchful eye. This lasted throughout the day then started to ease off as we got closer to S. Georgia.

“popping their heads up like aquatic meerkats”

Along our passage through the bergs we spotted thousands of seals that seamed to slip through the water with ease occasionally popping their heads up like aquatic Meercat’s curious about the ship that was passing them. The other treat that we saw were two Humpback Whales, which came alongside the ship then dived under the hull lifting their tales poetically in the air as if to wave goodbye then disappeared into the abyss.

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Commerson’s Dolphins

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A soaring albatross

 

The sky to was full of life, the most impressive of all being the Wandering Albatross, the largest bird on the planet. With their commanding presence in the air these birds looked like giant living gliders, hardly ever flapping their wings to gain height they just use the breeze and pressure of the wind against the sea for lift. Watching these birds elegantly swooping to and fro with such freedom and style was breathtaking.

As we began our approach to Grytviken on Friday, dawn was breaking but not to the reassurance of sunlight but to the claustrophobia of sea fog. At times the visibility was down to less than a hundred metres and with the previous days iceberg fiasco this meant that again we had some cautious and careful navigation to carry out.

With only thirty five miles to run we meticulously picked our way through the fog to see the sight of land. As the terrain started to become more defined its fantasy put the whole crew in a state of ore. Mountains over three thousand metres high surrounded by glacier leading into the sea with an inhospitable landscape and almost vertical gradient mystically appearing through the fog was something I will surely never forget.

Handing sail en route to Cumberland Bay

Handing sail

We handed sail and started engines then rounded up into a little bay called Cumberland Bay, where the old Whaling Station used to be and now is the home of the British Antarctic Survey. Dropping the anchor we all had the relief and gratification of arriving in a country far from civilisation, a land full of unremitting beauty and a place so abundant and diverse with wildlife that wherever you look you see nature going about its business the way that evolution has dictated.

“…it is a place like none other, a different planet within ours…”

This is now going to be our home for the next few days as we are expecting some extreme weather to pass by this weekend. It is far from what you would call home but I’m happy to call it that for at our grasp is an opportunity to explore a natural wonderland, a land untouched by mankind, and with it, the beauty that accompanies. I am truly unable to explain South Georgia’s splendour to do it justice, it is a place like none other, a different planet within ours, a land that no picture can portray. I feel blessed.

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King penguins out for a stroll

360° astonishment

Shenandoah of Sark in the Drygalski Fjord

Shenandoah of Sark in the Drygalski Fjord

The past week here in South Georgia we have been working our way toward the southern end of the island.

Last Saturday, the day after arrival, I took some of the guests to visit two of the glaciers on the island. In all, there are around two hundred glaciers here that have sculpted the landscape – changing it slowly and continuously, eroding away the rock in all the valley’s making them deeper and more defined.

A shipwreck in The South Atlantic

Rusting hulks

The short tender ride to get there was adventurous. We wound our way through barriers of kelp and reef that had taken the life of two ships who’s hulls were left aground, beaten up and dilapidated by the driving swells. One of the two ships had in fact been ripped into three pieces and was sprawled out over two hundred metres, rusting away profusely as if the sea was dissolving the memories of its once useful existence.

It was some ten miles to the base of the first Glacier from our anchorage in Grytviken and most was spent facing the glacier on our approach, its size and power becoming ever more noticeable as we came closer. The actual base of the Glacier met with the sea where pieces of the ice were falling off and drifting out into the channel leaving a bed of broken ice different shapes and sizes.

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Drifting ice seen from below deck

“…the water changing colour from a deep ocean blue, almost black, to a light turquoise that shone pearlescent in the sunlight.”

My senses began to register the characteristics of being in such a place. My eyes saw the water changing colour from a deep ocean blue, almost black, to a light turquoise that shone pearlescent in the sunlight. My ears registered the sound of the mass of melting ice, a mix between the noise that Rice Crispy’s make when milk has been poured over them and the sound of the backwash from a wave that is returning to the sea through stones on a pebbly beach.

We started to slow as the ice became thicker until the boat was forced to create its own channel through the blanket. Keeping a safe distance from the base we stood there and took in the magnificence of the ice. It’s height over one hundred feet and width about one mile this Glacier was of average size for the island. On our starboard side another glacier had appeared around an emerging headland, this one was a little smaller but by no means less impressive.

A close up of two King Penguins

King Penguins

Between the two natural monuments there was a colony of seal, which drew our attention. We motored over and saw around twenty Elephant Seals a few Fur Seals and some King Penguins all mixed together in a strange but agreeable harmony. The cubs were playing among the ice that had fallen off the Glacier, jumping in and out of the water and fighting amongst each other just as puppies do in adolescence. In was really entertaining to watch them, almost like it is watching the monkeys at the zoo, but this was real and in an unbelievable setting.

“A sheer cliff stood in front of me which was of such immensity that it left me speechless.”

On the beach at Golden Harbour

On the beach at Golden Harbour

During the early part of the week we travelled to two more anchorages, one called Ocean Harbour and the other Golden Harbour. At Golden Harbour my imagination was again surpassed. Here in front of us as we dropped anchor was a Glacier of towering proportions. A sheer cliff stood in front of me which was of such immensity that it left me speechless. The height was around a thousand feet and on top of this sat the Bertrab Glacier. The most impressive thing about it all was the icefall. When we arrived it was late afternoon and most of the day it had been sunny helping the ice to become weak and more susceptible to collapse. During that afternoon I saw four icefalls. Just try and imagine the spectacle. Great areas of ice falling a thousand foot into the sea below – on its way vaporising and turning into a white cloud of destruction that emitted a sound like an earthquake.

The next day we left Golden Harbour and headed to our current anchorage, Larson Harbour – a part of the Drygalski Fjord (the largest Fjord on the island). Either side of us are mountains towering over six thousand feet and  we are surrounded by four glacier. It is ruggedly picturesque. We have been here since Thursday and will probably stay here until the next depression passes through. Already, as I write, the wind is gusting seventy knots out in the bay, whisking up the surface water and making it appear like a thin layer of fog. Fortunately we have good shelter here with two anchors out ahead and stern lines attached to the cliff holding us securely in place.

An elevated viewpoint down to Shenadoah's sheltered anchorage in Larsen Harbour

The view from above Larsen harbour

Yesterday I had some time off the boat to go for a walk up the mountain. It was a well-deserved break after the past weeks. I chose to attempt a fairly straightforward mountain with our vulnerable isolation in mind. It was called the Slossarczyk Crag and was two thousand six hundred feet high, not too big but it gave me enough height to be able to take in the island from another perspective.

“…I felt that I would merge into a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s  2001: A Space Odyssey.”

On my assent it was so barren and deserted that I felt that I would merge into a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey 2001. I imagined I might come across two monkey’s smashing stones together, turn around and the boat would be gone and I’d find myself in a parallel universe. Strange feeling, I’m glad it did not materialise.

The views from aloft were impressive, out to sea I could see the ice bergs scattered all over the place and part of the massive ice shelf that had broken off from the Antarctic continent. Inland I could see a couple of Glaciers and many of the southern mountains with their vast and hostile features. Three hundred and sixty degree astonishment.

A panoramic view of mountains and icebergs

A memorable view

Are We In The Movies?

Shenandoah of Sark anchored off Bora Bora

Where else would James Bond come aboard but Bora Bora?

“The name is Sark. Shenandoah of Sark.”

Today we picked up James Bond from the Bora Bora hotel, a most dignified and established hotel here in the South Pacific. He introduced himself with great confidence, a firm handshake and a suave sophisticated smile. Stepping on board the tender without delay, we ferried him out to the yacht at a swift secret agent pace, his stylish quiff blowing in the wind, his shirt undone at the top showing off his trademark Bond chest hair. We were headed to the only large sailing yacht anchored here in the harbour and it was gleaming magnificently in the late evening light.

As you may well imagine it felt a little surreal to escort James Bond, Pierce Brosnan, to a famous, flamboyant and wildly expensive super yacht in the beautiful and exotic setting of Bora Bora. I felt like I was in a real life scene from one of the movies. Perhaps the stereotypical one that comes to mind is where the bad guys henchmen take James to see the bad guy himself. I couldn’t help but smile to myself.

As we approached Shenandoah, Pierce hopped of the tender with appropriate ease and ascended the boarding ladder to greet the owner in perfect character, fitting of a true British gentleman. He was a delight to have aboard – polite, appreciative and although he seemed to act the part a little, he was nonetheless down-to-earth.

To The Rescue Near Sumatra

Shenandoah crew with rescued fishermen

The crew of Shenandoah with the fishermen they rescued – set centre of the front row

It was a true tropical morning at sea, sun blazing, humid and little breeze. I had just woken after running the red eye watch. It was around nine thirty in the morning and Ben gave me a call from deck in a typical aussi twang. “Russ, come take a look at this!”

I was up on deck in a shot and as a gazed over the starboard bow I saw what looked like a small vessel that had been de-masted adrift about two miles away. Ben passed me the binoculars and said “I think it might be a mayday situation”

 I was thinking that if it were a small yacht surely they would have tried to call on channel 16 over the radio and as I took the bino’s off bed and looked off into the distance the reality was a little clearer. I saw black and white waving flags from what looked like a small fishing vessel. At the time we were two hundred and forty miles East of the Northern tip of Sumatra and that made much more sense.

“…after all you have to be careful of pirates in these waters.”

I called the Captain; we started our other main engine, alerted all the crew and prepared to launch the tender. As we motored closer toward them we saw that they were two young guys that clearly looked in distress. Luckily the weather was being good to us and the swell was slight so launching the tender was not an issue. Dan, Romy and I jumped into the RIB and off we motored to take a closer look, after all you have to be careful of pirates in these waters. As we got closer we saw that these two guys were early twenties and judging by their continued flag waving even after we had clearly come to their assistance and their facial expressions; one of despair, the other of what seemed like hallucinogenic indifference, these two men were not a threat at all.

The boat itself was an 18ft common fishing boat, no protection from elements whatsoever. As we pulled alongside and took hold of the fishing boat the older of the two guys was screaming fairly traumatically. We took a quick look into the boat and judging the situation saw that they probably had gone out for a fish in their boat and run out of fuel. They looked hungry, dirty and in dire need of assistance. They both jumped straight across to our tender and the elder who was about 5ft 8in of medium build and typically rugged Indonesian facial characteristics grabbed my hand crying and moaning, I guess he was thanking me but I could not understand a word. I have never seen a face as grateful as that moment. He was pretty happy to see us and so emotional that it felt a little disturbing to be there.

“I have never seen a face as grateful as that moment.”

The other guy was very quiet. He was quite a bit smaller and skinner. About 5ft 4in and of more Indian smooth facial characteristics than the elder. He did not make eye contact and was a little dazed, I guess he was suffering from dehydration but it was difficult to ascertain as we clearly found out that neither of them could speak a word of English. So we proceeded with a little game of charades as we tied their boat to our stern and motored back to Shenandoah. On the way we managed to work out that they had been adrift from Sabang in Northern Sumatra, which was about 240 miles away and judging there state and character along with the West setting current we thought they had been lost between ten days and two weeks.

As we pulled alongside Shenandoah all the crew were waiting with concerned and curious faces. Both guys climbed the boarding ladder and quickly went for the shade and safety beside the cockpit. We gave them fresh water to drink and let them wash the salt off themselves with soap and water. At this point the elder guy called Iskandar was still very emotional, kissing people’s hands and letting out this shallow moan of desperation and happiness.

We then shipped our tender back aboard and set up a tow line for their fishing boat. As we were doing this we gave the guys some crew uniform so that they felt at home and laid out some beds for them in the deck cockpit. With a little more food and drink, life started to appear in both Iskandar and Mulhadi. We left them to rest as we altered course back to track. All in all the operation only took about 45 mins, and what amazed me was how, in one of the most busiest shipping lanes in the world, where we counted an average of sixty five ships on visual per day no vessel stopped for them in almost two weeks. Don’t you just love humanity!

Obviously the adventure became the talk of the day and the paperwork followed. We spoke with Search and Rescue for Indonesia, the MRCC (The Marine Rescue People) and then decides to alter course north of track to Sri Lanka. Cool I thought, another country on the list and a good deed done. At that time we were three days away so there was plenty of time to catch up with the guys and continue the charades and Pictionary to get some more information from them.

“…another country on the list and a good deed done.”

It turned out they were at sea for ten days. Iskandar was 23 had a wife and two children, aged 5 and 3. Mulhadi was only 18 and was single. They were cousins and went out fishing for the day, got lost and ran out of fuel. After a day they ran out of supplies but had fish to eat. After two days they stated drinking seawater but fortunately they were visited by a large container ship on day three. They did not pick them up but lowered some food and drink down to them, which they had a little left over when we met them on day ten. Amazing how large shipping regards these people as a nuisance to their schedule.

Three days latter we arrived in Sri Lanka to meet the Navy and officials.  They were going to take the guys to the Indonesian embassy and hopefully then send them home to see their families. Both Iskandar and Mulhadi were reluctant to go and very emotional again when they had to say goodbye. If only we could have understood what they had to say. Waving goodbye  was a touching experience, but it was the right thing to do.

We have their contact details so I will keep up to date with their progress. As for the boat we all decided that it would be too expensive for them to ship it back to Sabang and if we handed it over to the Sri Lankan Navy you know if some corrupt official will get their hands on it. So their fishing boat is on the starboard aft deck of the big Shen. Its 18ft long, has a 25hp two stoke engine and is only five months old (probably part of a Tsunami relief package). We’ve given it a good scrub and it looks great. The plan is now to take it to the Seychelles where things are very expensive, so we should get a good price for it. Then, somehow, we’ll send the money to the fishermens’ families in Sabang

Adventures In Central America And Around The Pacific

A traditional dugout canoe on Belize

A traditional dugout canoe on Belize

Shenandoah’s late ‘Noughties’ itinerary took her to Central America and around the Pacific islands. It was an 18-month adventure before going in for a major refit in mid 2009. Here are some excerpts from Captain Gavin Reid’s log:

The sunny coasts of Belize and Honduras were the first leg of Shenandoah’s voyage.  Entry into the most of the outer atolls was impossible, so the ship often had to lay outside the reef, hove-to under sail for days while the guests explored by tender.  Friends on another super yacht heard about this and remarked, “Some boats have ‘Dynamic Positioning’, you guys have ‘Positioning’ – I thought that went out in the days of Capt Cook!” The wildlife in both countries was varied and unusual; sloths, toucans, monkeys and parrots…

“…I thought that went out in the days of Capt Cook!”

A Galapagos sealion photographed underwater

A friendly but curious resident of the Galapagos

The San Blas Islands were the next leg of the voyage, leading into a passage through the Panama Canal with the owner and his guests. Then, on our way across the Pacific, came the Galalpagos where the crew met many locals of the four footed, two winged or aquatic variety.

After a majestic 14-day sail under spinnaker and Gollywobblers, the scent of rich loam and damp leaves drew Shenandoah to her next landfall.  Nuku Hiva in the Marquises, a familiar stop for Shenandoah, was the most north-eastern island on the 6-week route west through French Polynesia. Landing in Nuku Hiva was a chance to revisit the picturesque waterfall, tranquil village and the glossy black sand beaches. A delightfully restful escape.

A picturesque waterfall on Nuku Hiva, The Marquises, French Polynesia

A picturesque waterfall on Nuku Hiva, The Marquises, French Polynesia

The Tuamotus are always a challenge for Shenandoah; narrow channels, fast currents and unmarked bombies make getting inside the atolls tricky – especially for a 54 m yacht with deep draft and no bow thruster. Many atolls such as Rangiroa and Fakarava were familiar transits from previous visits. More challenging were Apataki, Kauehi, and Makemo with look-outs aloft in the rig, tenders ahead in the water, and guests and crew at attention.

Shanandoah anchored off idyllic Rangiroa

The idyllic Rangiroa atoll

Shark diving in the Fakarava channel

Shark diving in the South pass of Fakarava

The reward for these passages on tenterhooks was the glassy waters of the inner atoll offering idyllic reflections of ship and sky. Diving was a daily activity in the Tuamotus and one of the top spots was, as always, the South pass of Fakarava. Flying through this pass on the incoming tide as hundreds of sharks waited patiently for their next hapless meal to pass by was an exhilarating and unforgettable experience. Not to be outdone, the dolphins of Rangiroa escorted our divers amidst Manta rays and pelagic fish into her atoll at dawn.

“…the inevitable answer is ‘Next time around the world!’”

Continuing west, several weeks were spent taking in the scenic pleasures of Maupiti, Tahaa, Bora-Bora, Huahine, Raiatea and finally Moorea and Tahiti. A tour through French Polynesia is always a nostalgic voyage for Shenandoah. In many of the villages throughout French Polynesia, people who meet guests or crew share their memories of Shenandoah’s past visits and always enquire when she will be back. The inevitable answer is “Next time around the world!”

Residents of The Marshall Islands spill onto the beach to welcome the guests and crew of Shenandoah

A warm welcome greeted us on the Marshall islands

‘In September 2008 Shenandoah sailed to New Zealand, via another familiar favourite, Tonga, for some diving and whale watching. Then it was through the spectacular Marshall Islands for a feast of swimming, diving, snorkelling and sun bathing on completely untouched beaches.

Shenandoah of Sark under sail towards Micronesia

On our way to Micronesia

Shenandoah then continued west into the Federated States of Micronesia – stopping first at the ruins of Nan Madol, an ancient stone complex built on the reef and often referred to as the ‘Venice of the East’; then Truk Lagoon, a place with a reputation for danger. Here lay 34 sunken wrecks of the Japanese fleet from WWII in its lagoon, easily some of the most spectacular wreck diving in the world.

“…easily some of the most spectacular wreck diving in the world.”

Palau was reached in March 2009; possibly the most fascinating stop in the North Pacific with gorgeous geography and a culture that draws elements from the Pacific, Philippines and China. Palau has several larger islands surrounded by hundreds of small rock islands. The base of these tiny coral and stone islands has been eroded away over centuries so most of the islands appear to be grey mushrooms with bright green jungle caps.  Beneath these corroded edges is a world of caves, corals and extraordinary sea life. One of the islands of Palau has a freshwater lake with a population of peculiar jellyfish that migrate around the lake following the progression of the sun. Swimming amongst this pulsing swarm of non-poisonous jellyfish in the hazy turquoise waters of the lake is a surreal glimpse into an alien world…

The incredible island formations of Palau

The incredible island formations of Palau

The Superyacht TransAt Race: Preparing For Takeoff

Shenandoah on the way to Santa Cruz de Tenerife and the start of the Superyacht TransAtlantic race to the BVI

Leaving Palma de Mallorca on the way to Santa Cruz de Tenerife and the start of the race

Good evening from Santa Cruz de Tenerife, or “Buenas tardes” as we say around these parts.

My name is Will and I’m the Bosun of S/Y Shenandoah of Sark, a 55 metre three-masted gaff rigged schooner built in 1902. We’re entered in this year’s superyacht and maxi Transat race from here to Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands; this is a pre-race précis of our preparations for tomorrow, to give you an idea of what it takes to get a big classic yacht ready for ocean racing. As of today we have 22 people on board. We also have three masts, miles and miles of rigging, halyards and sheets, two propellers, two engines, two generators and lots of other toys to feed, service, nurse and repair. Sailors are hungry animals and stuff breaks on boats all the time

“Sailors are hungry animals…”

Meeting the guys and gals who are crewing Shenandoah, we will do in more detail as the days go by, but here’s a brief overview. The permanent crew are a healthy mix of Europeans, antipodeans and South East Asians. Captain Russell is English as are the Bosun (Me), the Chief Stewardess Abi, the Chef Gareth M and the Chief Engineer Gareth H. From elsewhere in Europe we have the second stewardess Ieva who is Latvian.

From down under is first officer Tim and our new engineer Andy, both of Aussie provenance, and deckhand Denis is from across the Tasman sea, from Greymouth on the south island of New Zealand. Last but most definitely not least are 2nd Engineer, Thanny and deckhand Bryan, both of who are from the paradise islands of the Philippines.

We also have hired guns, extra crew we’ve brought in to help us sail the yacht in a race. We have four watches of four people with the Captain, First Officer and Bosun leading one each. The fourth watch leader is one of our imports, Chuck Demangeat, who is a bit of a legend and a long time veteran of many a season on the classic circuit. If you see a big silver mop of hair, moustache, sailing gilet, pair of jeans and clogs walking down the dock, it can be only Chuck. Also on the team sheet we have a couple of Aussies in the form of Jesse and Alan, Kate who is English and Gemma from the west of Scotland.

The story so far

To get to the night before the start gun has taken a huge effort on everyone’s part. A couple of false starts were had in Palma de Mallorca, where we failed to leave a couple of days in a row, largely due to electronics boffins who turned out to be more Buffoons than boffins. If you don’t know your port from starboard, forward from astern, and on from off, you’re probably in the wrong trade guys! Anyway, with our propeller pitches finally sorted we set off. We had a fairly uneventful trip down through the Med with the exception of a fair bit of sail training, one tuna caught, and quickly eaten, and a very interesting stop in Gibraltar for fuel bunkering and a whistle-stop bit of sightseeing.

The crew of the Shenandoah in late 2012 – all sporting facial hair for Movember charity fundraising

The Shenandoah Crew sporting their Movember facial hair. All facial hair is genuine except for Gemma’s Marx Brothers special, and Bryan’s leather tache. L to R; Mate Tim, Jesse, Alan (front), Bosun Will (back), chef Gareth, Bryan and Gemma.

Also figuring large in the preparations is facial hair. November becomes ‘Movember’ in Australia, and it’s a charity facial hair challenge which is taking over more and more of the world every year. The big Shen are fully involved with some fairly strange arrangements including super-hirsute Tim’s ginger effort, which he is lengthening with every shave, and has now almost reached his belly button. Engineer Gareth is out of punching distance of his long-suffering wife Becky and so is feeling brave. Unfortunately he’s decided to go for a thinnish, pencil looking sort of a deal, which makes him look like a cross between Craig David and Uncle Fester.

That’s all for now. Will.

The Superyacht TransAt Race: The Graveyard Shift And Progress

members of the Shenandoah crew hand stitching a torn mizzen sail

Stitching the torn mizzen

Bobbing Around on the Graveyard Shift

Morning all. 0500 Tuesday, 17 hour into the race and a beautiful moon in the sky at the moment, which will be full tomorrow night, and it’s like having the lights on. Very bright moonlight.

That’s the exciting news out of the way as we’re going nowhere fast. There’s very little wind to speak of and we’re just bobbing around watching the other boats on the tracker carting along in double figures.

Our plans to lure the opposition in to a false sense of security are working perfectly. We’ve gone up against five modern boats in a big old schooner and headed south where the others went around the top of Tenerife. Furthermore, we tore the leech on the mizzen sail yesterday during hoisting and we’ve had a team working throughout the night to hand stitch it back together.

The reason for sailing south was to avoid the big swell up north. Shenandoah may be a big schooner but we have to treat her with love and care. Hopefully we’ll be out of the wind shadow soon and into some freshening breeze.

Making Progress

It’s all been happening on Planet Shenandoah in the last 24 hours and the last time I posted I was bemoaning the fact that we were still having no luck with the wind. That lasted until about fifteen seconds after I hit the enter key at which point the wind started to build, and before you knew it, we were barrelling along, touching 12 knots at times.

“…just feeling comfortably numb when disaster struck.”

Down below, Chef had prepared us a sumptuous monkfish curry, which I over-stood on. It was so good I had seconds and was just feeling comfortably numb when disaster struck. A call to get on deck and not five minutes later I was out on the bowsprit with Bryan and Thanny getting ready for a jibtop drop. It all went well though and a night of great moonlit sailing in fair swell was to follow.

In other news, the sail repair program is going well and the mizzen should be ready to go again tomorrow thanks to some yeoman work and brave endurance stitching today from several members of the crew. We flew the Reacher 3 for a while this morning with the Trysail which gave the helmsman a hard time.

 A bit of up in the air action today too with myself, Alan and Bryan taking a mast each for a full rig check.

Over and Out. Will

The view from the top of one of Shenandoah's masts

Rig checks up a mast are not for the feint-hearted

The Superyacht TransAt Race: Mid-Ocean Excitement

Shenandoah crew members hanging from the end of her mizzen boom

Hanging from the end of the mizzen boom

Getting the Mizzen plugged in

Good evening all from the Big Brother Shenandoah, where we have had an action packed and exciting day today, culminating in a gybe about an hour and a half ago.

On the sailing front, apart from changes from night to day and vice versa, little has changed since we cleared the Canaries and got some wind. The swell is ever present and the only thing making an otherwise very comfortable sail a tad less pleasant.

That was, until we gybed of course and now it’s all change. We were getting pushed further north by a NE breeze which veered more E every ten minutes, but we’re now on a course of 225 or so.

“…I spent an hour of the afternoon hanging over the sea at the aft end of the mizzen boom…”

Sail repair news is all good as we now have a mizzen sail, with the mammoth hand sewing repair job all done and dusted. We have no way of reefing the mizzen however, so it’s all or nothing! The clew got lashed back on this afternoon and AL and Andy finished the foot rope finished so it’s all good to go. We currently still have the trisail set. A big afternoon in the harness for me as I spent an hour of the afternoon hanging over the sea at the aft end of the mizzen boom helping Bryan with the mizzen clew lashing.

Apart from that life goes on. The tea is flowing, the yacht is carving her way inexorably towards the Caribbean, and it’s feeding time at the zoo, and my window is coming up, so I’m going to sign off.

Fairwinds. Will.

The Shenandoah making good headway in the mid-Atlantic

Making good headway

A Massive 24 hours

Well, what 24 hours is has been on the big blue bus! It’s all happening on here, as you’d expect by now. It all started with another big night of sailing and us making good headway with the three lowers, two topsails and four headsails up, bearing away when the apparent wind got a bit hot, and getting back on our SW heading when we could. We had some pretty impressive torrential squalls at times and gusty wind with them.

“We had some pretty impressive torrential squalls at times…”

It all started to happen at around 5.30 am when Tim, heading to make his pre-watch heart starter coffee, noticed the main topsail sheet had blown. It hadn’t made a sound out of the ordinary either when blowing or while flogging in the wind. So, we had that down.

I headed below and stood by as it was touch and go as to whether we could hold the jib top. The fore topmast was having a bit of a hard time of it with the sea state and sail so it was decided to drop. Out into the net for me and Bryan and Jesse at daybreak and we got it down.

Back below and looking forward to going to bed, I’d just got mine and Gemma’s wet weather gear hung up to dry when we got another call to arms! We had to drop the foresail, which had a tear top and bottom of a panel six feet up from the foot.

Brian re-leading the main topsail sheet

Brian re-leading the main topsail sheet

Not 24 hours after finishing the mizzen repair, they were involved again. Denis and Kate were stood on the trunking when I came up on deck, going for glory with needle and thread. Gemma and Alan took up the baton for the last mile and the foresail was stitched and ready to go by late afternoon. We dropped the main topsail and hoisted the foresail, finishing my watch off with a bit of overtime when we dropped the outer jib in pretty big swell which made for an exciting ride out on the bowsprit.

Cheerio. Will.

The Superyacht TransAt Race: Atlantic Squalls And South For Winter

A message in a bootle being 'posted' in the mid-Atlantic from the deck of the Shenandoah

Heave-Ho! There goes the message in a bottle

Mid-Atlantic Squalls

Evening all at the end of what has been a momentous day’s sailing.  Loads happening on the Big Brother Shenandoah schooner so I didn’t check in yesterday but here’s all the news updates from me and team.

 Sailing news. Well, the mizzen sail is back in the room, as is the foresail. The fore was put straight back up as soon as it was re-stitched and we kept our powder dry on the mizzen until the wind was suitable.

We’ve got all the toys up at the moment except for the Jib-topsail and are going on nicely thank you very much.

“We’ve got all the toys up at the moment…”

We had our first flying fish of the trip this morning gliding through the air only to find his landing pad a little harder and dryer than expected. We got him back in the drink and no loss of life ensued. Not much going on in the sea of late. It must be the electric pace we’re setting.

Jesse has put quite a lot of work in his ‘message in a bottle’ a bottle of 43 rum to be exact, although he assures us he didn’t down the contents before filling it with paper. Check out the action shot of him giving it the heave ho! Over the side, although as someone pointed out, he’d have been better flinging it overboard in sight of land for more immediate results!

That’s all folks ! Will

Heading South For Winter

Unfortunately we’ve run out of time, well, we couldn’t make the finish line before the cut off and we’ve had to retire the race. Nevertheless we made it most of the way across before we decided to alter course south and head for Antigua, our Christmas destination!

A map tracking the progress of the Shenandoah during the Superyacht Trans-Atlantic Race in 2012

Tracking progress – we nearly made it

Thanks for following and fair winds to all.

Will Jones Out!

Mykonos Meltemi

It was late July in the Aegean and Shenandoah was two weeks into her summer cruise.

Gently meandering down the Islands with the prevailing breeze we made an overnight stop in Oinousses, a small island to the northeast of Chios. The next morning we arose with the anticipation of a fresh downwind sail to Mykonos.

We weighed anchor just after 1000 and set sail in the lee of the island. The forecast was 20kts from the North, increasing to 25 throughout the afternoon. With a following sea to match it was ideal conditions to go for a blast in a 200 tonne classic.

Passing through the lee of Chios we started to gain speed as the wind stabilised and increased. It was around 2 hours sailing between the islands and by the time we had squared away and grabbed a bite we were bearing down between the gap of Mykonos and Tragonisi. It’s a small passage of less than a mile and quite a picturesque transit. With the sea conditions now up to 3m Shenandoah was almost surfing. To our port beam the waves were pounding the windward side of Tragonisi, producing vertical columns of white water. All crew and guests were on deck to watch the transit and prepare for the local wind phenomenon.

In the summer months, the combination of Mykonos’s rocky landscape and the intense heat accelerates the wind over the island (similar to the effects of anabatic wind). This usually brings around 5-10kts more breeze on the southern side. With the added benefit of sailing in the shelter of the island. It’s flat water and big breeze – perfect windsurfing conditions and equally as fun on a 55m schooner.

Clearing the gap we headed up around 30 degrees and as we did this we could see the now flat water turn white. It was blowing; so much so that the wind was lifting the surface of the sea and whipping it up into the air. Everyone was ready for the gusts and Shenandoah was perfectly balanced.

The gusts leaning Shenandoah on to her edge like she was lifting her skirt to go for a run.

It was an amazing feeling as the breeze came on. The helm became light and responsive as we climbed up to 15kts. The gusts leaning Shenandoah on to her edge like she was lifting her skirt to go for a run. The leeward side Caprail was skimming across the surface of the water with the occasional wave spilling inboard, the sea full of energy being transferred to Shenandoah’s her gracious motion. In fairness it was a little too much wind for the sail area but as the gusts came on we bore away to try and keep the apparent wind down. The sense of power was commanding, a perfectly balanced and equally ferocious muscle. Like a champion race horse we galloped to the finish line, our anchorage in the SW of the island.

What was probably only 20 minutes felt like 5 and it was tempting to tack around and do it again but it was time to get the sails down. Not an easy task for a gaff rigged boat, especially when you have to round up in 40kts! First we bore away and dumped the headsails which came down without too much fuss. Then it was time to round-up! The noise was intense with 700 square meters of canvas flapping in the breeze. Working their way from forward to aft the crew quickly handed sail without damage or concern. A sigh of relief for me at the back and happy smiles all round for those involved.

The sigh was not long lived. As we approached the anchorage it was clear that some boats were having trouble holding. On top of that I had just previously received information from the chief engineer that the hydraulics were out of action and it was not going to be a quick fix. Now was to come another challenge. We had to weave our way between yachts sailing at anchor through 150 degrees to find a spot as close to the shore as possible.

It was like navigating through schizophrenic yoyos!

The closer we could get to the shoreline the more the wind dropped but it was like navigating through schizophrenic yoyos to get there. On top of that, we only had one shot to drop the anchor, no problem if we get it right but if we get it wrong with no hydraulics it would be virtually impossible to heave it. We always had the other anchor but dropping two could mean a spaghetti heap on the sea bed! With that in the back of my mind, we carefully weaved our way into a gap on the radar and gradually manoeuvred so that our anchor dropped exactly where we needed it. While this is all happening 30 knot gusts are blasting through the anchorage just to spice things up.

3 shackles, Let go! And with the clattering of the chain running through the hawls pipe it was done. No turning back now, just the waiting game to see if the anchor holds. The ships head sheared off with a gust and as the chain grew to long stay my heart raced and my fingers crossed. She bit hard and we bounced back head to wind to sit proud and comfortable in the head of the bay. It was an unforgettable day on the water and a sign of relief to be safely tucked in.