Thursday, 5 March 2015

26 February - BOOM!!!

Yesterday ended up a near disaster. The only words on the tip of my tongue were MAYDAY MAYDAY!

A blizzard started up and so we all decided it was better to stay anchored where we were. Yvette and I made dinner and we all shared some wine. As I am the only white wine drinker (and I had had a bad day) I drank close to a bottle to myself. Everyone else polished off the last of the red supplies.

After dinner it was decided that we would all need to be on Anchor watch again. The main issue was that we had anchored fairly close to the shore to allow for shallow waters. However, the rule when anchoring is that you have to let out 4 times as much chain as the depth of the water. This will stop the anchor from dragging (if you're lucky). However, it also allows swing and that is fine as long as the wind is blowing in the right direction. On this occasion (as with others) we had to be close enough to shore for the shallow waters and so this left us open to wind direction. If it changed we could end up grounded. The only sure thing about the weather in Antarctica is that it changes EXTREMELY quickly. This is why we needed anchor watch.

I was first and it was decided (after some debate) that we should run in pairs given the circumstances - The circumstances being that it was dark so you had to watch the monitors and we had all been drinking and could therefore easily make a mistake or fall asleep. Yvette was on watch with me. We were told that nothing should change as it all looked good.

After one hour of everything remaining constant the conditions suddenly changed. The monitor
showed us swinging in the opposite direction and further out than before. The depth, which had remained at a contestant 30 metres was quickly dropping. By the time it reached 18 we were ready to call the skipper. That is when the alarm sounded. It seemed the system was of the same mind. Olly got up instead of Cath and agreed we needed to take action quickly. The wind had changed and we were now in eminent danger of being beached.

Quickly we got our wet weather gear on and got on deck. Pete and I took the anchor up. Pete on deck and me in the anchor locker, feeding the chain in to place. Once the chain was up Olly had to act quickly to drive us forward, ensuring he didn’t lead us in to shallower water.

Cath got up and took over the steering, at first in the wrong direction. She had no bearings and was driving us further in to the shore. Olly shouted from the aft and soon we were safer in to deeper water with only one navigational light (thankfully) to guide us. By now everyone was out of bed and on stand by.

 The decision was made to move on (not much choice) and try to find another anchorage a few miles away. This meant navigating in the dark of course through challenging waters. If there was another boat moored in this area we may not see it and we had only the radar as our visuals. This doesn’t pick up EVERYTHING!

Eventually I went to bed and left the second watch keeping an eye on things. It made sense to get some sleep while I could otherwise we would all be sleepy. Shifts were important.

At 3.30am (or there about) Cath came running in to the forward cabin. The 4 of us in there were deeply asleep.

“Steph, Sally, Xavi we need you on deck”

I was amazed at how quickly I responded from a deep sleep. Instantly I replied “Ok” jumped out of my bunk got my wet weather gear on and was out of the door. Sally and Xavi were close behind and awaiting further instructions.

I was expecting to pull ropes in or feed them out but the next instruction sent a shiver down my spine…

“We need you to climb on to the boom guys”

We had done this once before so I knew what this meant! It meant we were stuck on rocks and we needed to get the weight over to one side to see if that freed us.

Myself and Xavi could only find our crocs and the deck was covered in snow. It was a real blizzard now and it was laying thick and fast! We were sliding all over the place. There was no time to find our boots and so between us we managed to climb up on to the roof of the pilot house and then up on to the boom. Here we huddled together, held on the the ropes and waited. Olly swung us out  at a 90 degree angle to the boat. We sat there and waited for the jolt as we heard “OK hang on guys”.

We dangled over deathly icy waters at 3.30am as they drove forward trying to free us. There was a real risk of the boat lurching sideways and spilling us in to the sea. We were not tied on and if we fell there would likely be no coming back!

Nothing! No movement. The only thing left to try was pushing the aft over with the Zodiac. The water was rough but Cath climbed in and got to work. Again we sat there waiting for the jolt to come.

It funny the things you think as you are shivering on a boom in Antarctica wondering if you are about to go in…
“I haven’t cleaned my teeth. My mouth feels furry!”
“I’m wearing pink crocs. I don’t want to die in pink crocs!”
As we huddled closer together I said
“We are definitely having a hot chocolate after this!”. The shivering was now severe and uncontrollable as our bodies tried to deal with this sudden drop in temperature  - From asleep in bed to sitting on a boom in a blizzard in 10 minutes flat!).

I looked around me. Disorientated. I tried to assess how far we were from shore and what the chances of rescue were. Would a Mayday call be heard? If so could they get to us quickly enough? This was a tidal spot and the tide was working against us. If we didn't get off these rocks soon then there would be no chance of getting out at all. I felt extremely vulnerable and extremely cold!

Cath pushed the boat and we moved around but we were definitely stuck in the middle somewhere. We were just pivoting around. Cath moved to the bow and we were swung out over the other side of the boat.  It seemed everything was against us. The tide, the time, the dark and the roughness of the sea. We had to work quickly. I have no idea how long it took! Perhaps half an hour, but eventually we came free. We were swung back in as Olly tried to get us in to deeper water. We carefully climbed back down and got inside  huddling up under a sleeping blanket as we drank our well earned hot chocolates. “Well done guys!”

The decision was made to stay in deep waters and drive around until daylight until we could navigate to a safe anchorage. Third time lucky!

By 6am the anchor was down again and a stern line was put out. This was still not ideal though. There was another boat sheltering from the blizzard in the one spot that allowed for a 360 turn. All we could do was keep watch and hope the the wind didn’t take us towards the shore or the other boat. Of course within a few hours it did just that and we had to move again! Two hours later and once again we had to move. This was like musical anchoring! The snow is still falling and all we can do is keep moving a little at a time until the weather clears and we can make our move to King George Island. Our chartered plane will not wait for us. It leaves on the 28th. It is now the 26th. This blizzard was not forecast and so we are wary! We dont want to hit the open waters again until we are comfortable that we have a chance of making it.

Spirits are surprisingly high although we are all very tired. Food helps. Bacon and eggs for breakfast helped and tasted better than ever before!

We all agreed at that moment that it was better than sex!


  1. This is fantastic stuff,Steph, but it maybe reminds us how amazing Shackleton was all those years ago.

  2. Amazing story, but scary as hell I expect.
    2 wheels under our seat and we can handle almost any situation.
    Anything else gets us out of our comfort zone real quick..


  3. lucky you do not mind heights. you did well, a lot of people would have panicked.well done you.xx