Thursday, 5 March 2015

28 Feb - Are we there yet?

Our crossing from Deception Island to King George went without further hitches. Arriving though, was not straight forward.

It was choppy and we struggled to get a good hold with the anchor again. Getting the position right is just not easy in these conditions. We also had another boat in the harbour to avoid (He, of course, would be swinging too). Our first attempt at dropping the anchor ended in chaos as the message (through the wind) from the bow came back as “There is a cable stuck on the anchor”. We seemed to be dragging and the skipper could not figure out what to do. It wasn't making sense. The radios could not be heard over the wind and so two of us were shouting at the same time to relay the messages from the bow to the pilot house.

It turned out there was a TABLE on the anchor, not a cable! Can you believe it? An office desk to be precise! Not something you would expect in Antarctica! This is why the anchor would not hold and the reason why we were sweeping back towards the shaw once again! As we tried to move around the boat hit a rock again. This time I did not feel the need to worry. It was a common occurrence by now. We had been hit by ice burgs, come aground several times and battled unpredictable winds. This was not to mention navigating blind out of a bay we could no longer stay in due to poor anchorage and fast moving ice bergs. - At one point sailing her straight towards the shore in the confusion!  The boat was certainly taking a beating on this expedition and I think its safe to say we were all grateful it was a steel boat! Albeit with some pretty substantial new battle scars on the freeboard and more than likely a few on the keel.

Eventually calm reigned once again. The anchor held and we could relax for a little longer.

The blizzard set in for the night and the snow piled up on the deck as we sat below with one ear tuned in, waiting for the dreaded anchor alarm to go off again. It always seemed to go off just as you felt it was safe to relax.

The plane was due the next day and we relaxed with a bottle of wine over our final meal on the boat.
Spirits were high and we went to bed feeling grateful that this would be the last time we would have to squeeze in to these narrow bunks.

Unfortunately we woke up to more bad weather and the news came through over the radio early to say the plane would not be able to get to us today. Although disappointed at first it wasn’t long before I accepted the news and decided to make the most of the day, whatever that would bring. It was just a day after all and it wouldn’t kill me to miss speaking with my friends and family for one a little longer. If I could get ashore later on to one of the bases there would be a chance I could get a message out to let everyone know I was well.

There was also the important business of getting Rhonda on to her new ride.

Cath had managed to arrange to hitch her a lift back with Polar Pioneer - a Russian ice breaker - who would take her back over the drake and drop her off at Puerto Williams where I would fly to meet her in a weeks time.

News came early over the radio. They were ready to receive her and would be sending over two of the crew (both bikers) in a large zodiac to pick her up.

Conditions worsened and by the time they had arrived the wind had really picked up. This was going to be a challenge. I was grateful that the guys who had come for her were big strong men and clearly used to dealing with all sorts of unusual situations. One was an ex Navy Seal. We were in good hands! They did say though that THIS was legendary!   I felt quietly proud as they were clearly not easily impressed! As always, I think everyone enjoyed the fact that it was different!

The zodiac they had brought was much bigger than the one we had become accustomed to and so this was going to help but we had never tried to move her in this wind before. We were going to have to use the boom as a winch again but that would mean turning her against the wind which would put more pressure on the anchor, which we had learnt by now not to trust. We were going to have to be quick.

Together we managed to get her and all my luggage in without incident. I asked Olly to come with me to help deliver her. I was happier to have his expertise with me, having been with me on the last two landings. The four of us set off in to the crashing waves and headed for the ship with Rhonda on her side on the floor. We were soaked in sea water by the time we came up alongside and it was not pleasant to see Rhonda in this state. She was my biggest concern but the guys assured me they would wash her down and stow here away once we boarded.

As we pulled up alongside the ship the waves came relentlessly and things started getting pretty serious. Our Zodiac was in danger of being pulled under and Olly worked hard to try and get the luggage up quickly in to the hands of the waiting Russian crew, falling over several times in doing so. The plan was to get the luggage on board and then get ourselves off and crane the zodiac up with the bike still inside. As Ollie fell over for the third time and Martin grabbed his life jacket to stop him getting crushed between the boats the call was made to just get us out of there quickly. The quickest way was to winch us all up together. The crane hook came swinging down over our heads and it took every effort to grab hold of it and get us hooked on before we were lifted to safety. I was glad to be on board! Rhonda quickly followed! We were safe. (see video below)

The crew were great. Olly and I were invited on board to join the crew for lunch and to enjoy hot shower before we were taken safely back to our boat.

During the afternoon some of us decided to try and get ashore to visit the base and see if we could get some messages out to let people know we were safe. We had learnt by now that the bases were very welcoming and there was a good chance of a decent coffee too!

There were four of us in the Zodiac and the shore was only a couple of hundred meters away. It seemed a pretty uneventful trip ahead. However, as we got to about half way a Leopard seal suddenly popped it’s head up alongside us. Leopard seals are the largest of all the seals over here and look like they want to eat you! They have attitude and they have mass!!! It was not uncommon for them to bite in to zodiacs. There have also been incidents of them killing divers (although this is rare and probably accidental) People generally keep there distance from these guys and treat them with the respect the command!

This particular beast was about the same length as our boat with a massive head!
It’s eyes glared at us. They have extremely big eyes and they use them with attitude. His nostrils flared and he looked menacing to say the least. He was probably just curious but the sheer size alone was shocking with just a bit of air filled rubber between us! He was interested in us and we weren’t sure of his intentions. However, we got the go pro’s out and filmed as he circled us. We stopped the boat and watched, fascinated yet pretty terrified as to what his next move would be. He looked like he wanted to get in the boat. He kept going underneath us and then popping his head back up again then coming at us. I jumped to the other side of the boat, squealing  as he came towards us and put his head on the side. He didn’t look like he was going to stop. Thankfully he did. We made no attempt to leave him behind, although I suggested it several times to be honest! I had so many visions going around in my head and yet at the same time the adrenaline was pumping and the experience was exhilarating! (see video above)

The encounter lasted about 5 minutes before he decided he had played with us enough. The Chilean
officers were on the shore waving us to get off the water! We were laughing and shaking and buzzing from the whole thing! What an amazing creature!

It certainly was a day for excitement!

The Naval officers at the base made us some coffee (as we'd hoped for) and copied the videos we had taken of the Leopard seal. They had never seen one here at the base before and were very interested in the footage. We laughed at the video together as we relived it on an iPad. The footage confirmed I was most definitely the loudest on board!!!!

After a quick game of Chilean pool (strange rules) and a look around the base, we were back on board the Ice Bird and optimistically packing our things in the hope our plane would arrive the next day.

The news came later that day that the weather forecast was clear and it was looking good for us to get out of there the following afternoon.


  1. You will be so bored when you get back to Cymru!!

  2. all works out in the end. nice to have videos of these events,not the usual "do you want to see videos of my trip" type.once you get going again it will soon be a distant memory. hope Rhonda has not suffered to much salt damage when you reunite