South Orkney Islands to Greenwich Island

We headed off around 6am on the 27th. The first anchor had been pulled up the evening before as they were expecting the wind to shift into the east and didn’t want twisted anchors. Sure enough, it had shifted and we could tell from a little swell making its way into the bay. Once clear we passed through between Signy Island and Coronation Island – the most spectacular channel. It is difficult to describe. Describing it as bleak is true, but belies the incredible beauty of the environment. We were surrounded by icebergs and growlers, but the islands themselves gave the most incredible backdrop. The glaciers on Coronation Island were perhaps the largest we have seen yet and it was mostly snow and ice covered. This contrasted with the harsh stone of Signy giving a very different feel depending which way you looked.

The wind was blowing around 20 knots from the east so we started under mizzen and staysail, nevertheless making a good pace, if rolling a little in the short seas. Gradually the seas eased and we settled back into the routine again. Over twenty four hours or so the wind eased a little and gradually drew ahead so we sheeted in until on the wind. This lasted another few hours but eventually the wind died, if not the sea, so the engine went on and we carried on under engine, reefed mizzen and staysail. Even that was too much though after a while as the wind died further and the mizzen came down to avoid it slatting around. So, back to motoring …. The wind was forecast to veer to the north as another depression came through and it started to do this just in time to enable us to tack to avoid the largest iceberg yet. This one was about four Vatican Cities in size – we measured it as four miles on the radar. As we approached it we could see that it had a gap in the side and looked almost like it had a harbour, but not surprisingly we didn’t try it.

The amount of wildlife has been increasing again with Antarctic fulmars, cape petrels and storm petrels being joined by black-browed albatrosses – all flying close around the boat. One of the most exciting spots though was fin whales. We had one group fairly close and one even went fairly close round the bow. We have even started to see chinstrap penguins porpoising around in the water.

Having been heading more west because of the southerly wind, we were now able to start to make some southing and for the first time in ages we even had a little sunshine. Around 10pm on the 28th the other watch spotted land again. This was Clarence Island and during our night watch on the 29th we left Clarence Island to port and headed between it and Elephant Island. Wild Point where Shackleton landed is on the northeast shore, so we didn’t see this but we did pass the Endurance Glacier. It would be an understatement to say that nothing round here looks very hospitable and we are here in summer! By this time it was blowing around 20-25 knots from the northeast and with the seas funnelling down between the islands, things were once again quite rock and roll, so there was no chance of stopping at Elephant Island, so on we went.

From there on the wind and seas built up and within a few hours we had around 30 knots from on the quarter. The seas then started to build to match. While on watch at the stern you could see the seas looming up behind the counter and though the Tecla lifts to them and rides them beautifully they are still quite ominous. On lookout at the bow seeing the bowsprit pointing down into the troughs was equally disconcerting, but it was an exciting and fast ride, so we made good progress. The wind gradually shifted into the east and so allowed us to head round towards the gap between Greenwich Island and Robert Island. Around 2am on the 30th we caught our first sight of the mountains on Greenwich Island and were accompanied close to starboard by fin whales – a beautiful sight. By 4.30am were rounding the spit to anchor close to the Chilean naval base. Rounding up made us realise the strength of the wind as the full force hit us while we packed up the staysail and mizzen. Taking your gloves off to manage the ropes was something you did quickly if you wanted to end up with the same number of fingers you started with! The beach shelves steeply here so we ended up tucking in quite close with the stern in around 20 metres of water while the bow was in just 16 metres.

A celebration arrival beer at 5.30am seemed quite normal though perhaps not something that should be habit-forming! We then headed back to bed …..

In the afternoon of the 30th we were contacted by the Chilean naval base and given permission to head ashore. We landed on the beach to be met by three naval personnel, one driving a caterpillar-tracked quad bike. They took us round to the base, apparently manned by 51 naval staff, and offered us coffee and some snacks. Conversation was in a form of Spanglish, though one of the officers had been seconded to Portsmouth with the Royal Navy and so was able to translate fairly well and avoid any misunderstandings. We were sat in their lounge area with a huge television showing some old film with Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston and Nicole Kidman. After so long without television, this was a slightly surreal experience. The Chilean sailors clearly like their luxuries despite being posted to Antarctica!