A Travellerspoint blog

Antarctica

The Drake Passage (Heading North to South Georgia)

The big ...big... blue sea! Oh and some Icebergs

snow -6 °C

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As part of the trip we were due to stop off at Elephant Island, where Shakelton and his compadres had walked and sailed to as part of their heroic adventure.

Unfortunately for us... the weather wasn't nice enough to allow us to drop anchor and get ashore and funnily enough the captain told us that in the previous three trips, they'd never been able to land on the island and as a result they were contemplating removing it from the schedule. Not really a good thing, however as we'd been at sea for two days already to get us to the island... we were already realising that it would result in 8 days at sea before we'd spot land again!

We waved goodbye to the inhospitable island and headed North into the Drake once again.

Funnily enough the weather was pretty good and the water temperature started (ever so slowly) to get warmer day by day. We were still south of the Antarctic convergence (which is where the cold water of Antarctica and the warmer waters of the South Atlantic "converge") so the weather was still damn cold though!

The watch was at 11 people (almost a full complement) however, as per usual, some of the others that had been fine for the whole Antarctic peninsula seemed to have forgotten their sea legs and wound up downstairs in their bunks...ill..... apparently!

This was really starting to wind Steph and I up!

-6!!!

Minus feckin 6 degrees !!!

That's what the temperature was last night and we were stood out in it on watch !

Talk about cold !

Taking into account the wind chill on the bow it worked out about minus 15 !!!

The watch is now down to 6 people... Steph had to bail last night and the rest of the guys are feeling a bit worse for ware!

Funnily enough I'm on good form and am starting to enjoy thing on board (even if it's freezing and windy and the seas rough!)

Makes you wonder how those poor soles in Shakelton's tiny boat coped with this weather and how all sailors in the olden days coped! We at least had nice coats and gloves etc....

The weathers getting worse! The cold water also means that the water making machine (reverse osmosis) isn't working as efficiently as expected, therefore fresh water reserves were down to a minimum. The Captain had banned showers until the water levels recover.... which of course was met by the expected contempt from those amongst us who more and more we're beginning to believe that “sailing the Southern Oceans in a sailing ship” was to be a cruise liner style journey only suddenly (to our great joy) to find things….. a little bit more uncomfortable to say the least! Idiots !!!

We on the other hand don't mind the lack of hot water and showers for a few days as those amongst us that had already began to conserve water by showering already smelled.... what did we care :)

We had a DVD player and big screen TV on board so most of the time we spent down stairs or in the deckhouse, however, as one of the guys pointed out, the deck house was beginning to look like a geriatric hospital more and more each day and since the faces in there weren't grinning when you entered... it wasn't a happy place! People started to hide in places around the ship and Steph and I found ourselves either outside (for as long as possible) or hiding in the library to get away from the incessant moaning of the other passengers!

This trip is doing one thing though.... it's teaching us restraint and patience that's for sure !

Dolphins.... "Comet Dolphins" as one of the guys on board labeled them ! They were fantastic and funnily enough, with a bit of persistence you were always rewarded with some fantastic sight by the ocean every now and again!

They were Hourglass dolphins, however, it was pitch black and the only way we could see them diving in and out of the Bow waves, was because they lit up the water as they shot through it as Phosphorescent algae and small squids etc. would light up the water as the dolphins passed through. It was beautiful and they continued to do this for a half hour or so. They'd disappear and then suddenly three or four comet trails would appear in the water and shoot across the bow.... Beautiful isn't the word for this and those of us that remained on watch were certainly grateful for the show we'd been privileged enough to just witness!

The Wind is beginning to pick up over the past few hours and the captain has asked that we are particularly vigilant during our watches as there are "Bergy Bits" and "Growlers" (Small chunks of Iceberg that don't show up on the radar as the majority of the iceberg is under water) in the water....

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We were heading through Iceberg Alley and having completed our watch successfully navigating through the icebergs we handed over to the other watch and went to bed.

CRASH !!!!

What the Feck !!!!

We've hit something. I was jolted awake as something hit the ship and I heard the remnants of whatever it was creaking down the side of the ship.... What was happening!

I lay awake in bed hearing people scurrying above board and listening to the shouts going on.... however... they weren't to panicked and the ship hadn't stopped or anything.... We must have hit something I thought and went back to sleep.

We had hit a Growler and luckily for us we'd hit it head on (Which is the strongest part of the ship!)

The watch hadn't seen it approaching and by the time they did... it was too late and we hit it square on!

A Small hole was punctured in the bow which was quickly patched up by the engineer and some mastic or whatever and other than that (Having had one of the crew hanging of the Bow sprit with a torch) everything looked fine.

Morning broke and it was then that the damage was identified....

We'd lost our lady.... our head cast... Our wooden cast of the lady that was fixed to the front of the ship! This was not a good omen at all I thought and we still have about 30 days sailing ahead of us!

That night a few of us made a small offering to Neptune and hopefully he'll watch after us better than he had our lady :)

The next two days sailing were pretty uneventful. The winds picked up... icebergs started to get larger but further dispersed and the watch numbers started to increase again as people began to rediscover their sea legs (or the weather got warmer.... hmmm... I know which one I thought)

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Finally land is spotted and we sail through between Bird Island and the mainland of South Georgia. We've made it !!!

Steph found this quote in the book she's reading whilst we're under sail.....

"Passengers get sea sick, grow quarrelsome, don't sleep at night, do not enjoy themselves much as a general thing; - No, I never go as a passenger" - Herman Melville's "Moby Dick"

I can honestly say that Both Steph and I (especially Steph) are not passengers any more and as each days sailing progresses we both are becoming more confident and more helpful to the permanent crew.... It's a good thing and the journey is far more enjoyable as a result!

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Posted by Taffski 03:09 Archived in Antarctica Tagged boating Comments (0)

The Antarctic Peninsula

The South Shetlands to the Peninsula and our furthest point South !

snow -1 °C
View The Three A´s on Taffski's travel map.

We've made it.... or so we think....

We've actually hit the South Shetland islands which are to the North East of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Weather worked up a storm last night, but luckily we'd managed to get some shelter(although we dragged anchor twice and had to move further along the coast. Klaas the Captain seems to know what he's doing... which is a great thing !

In the morning the weather has totally changed and having not known whether we'd get to land on the islands last night, it's a definite by the morning.

We jump into one of the three small boats (well... two Zodiacs and "Sloopy"... a nice little wooden boat) We're given our life jackets and head over the water to the Island.

We're greeted by a Weddell seal, sunbathing on the beach and by Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins! It's our first "One on One" encounter with these little ice butlers... however.. they're great and totally fearless.... it's as if they've not seen anyone ever before and curiously start trying to eat our boots etc. They're great little animals and I think both Steph and I have instantly fallen in love with the little buggers!

The Photo sessions had begun and all of us simply sat about and took hundreds of photo's of the Penguins (something which was to be repeated numerous times during this trip!)

We were then invited to go for a walk to the other side of the island so in single file we were asked to follow one another to limit the damage we did to the mosses etc. on the island (This was an IAATO regulation... antarctica treaty thingy which regulates where people can and can't go etc. for the greater good of the continent.. quite a good thing I thought...anyway.....)

You've to remember that the number of people going to antarctica each year is increasing and as a result the mosses and lichens that haven't had any human impact for thousands of years are suddenly being trampled all over and so to limit the damage done we were asked to remain in line and watch where we were standing!

Not a difficult request you would think eh ????

OK... Old People... pretty much like young kids...

i.e. tell someone old that they can't do something.... they instantly (much like a teenager) want to go and do it !

Some of the older generation seemed to think that they'd fought a war or something to protect these lands and therefore it was their god given right to go and trample where they wanted and wonder wherever they wanted !

feckin Idiots !!!

I felt really sorry for Tully (our guide) as he had to cope with a load of geriatrics (although there was only about 10 of them) wondering off into the hills and over the streams and mosses etc. as if in search the swimming pool or hotel where they'd find the cocoon which would keep them young forever!

Or of course they could just be a bunch of stubborn old gimmers that needed strapping together with a rope. (In my opinion shouldn't even have been allowed on a sailing ship around Antarctica.... however... that's just my opinion!) Over the next 50 days or so I'm sure both Steph and I are going to be pushed to our limits by some of the people on the ship! Anyway... I digress.

Anyway, after gathering up the geriatrics we were able to walk to the other side of the island and were greeted with a great panoramic view of the Surrounding islands and also a massive Elephant Seal and his harem sun bathing on the beach! This guy was massive and kept an eye on us always! He'd often open his mouth to gesture to us that he could quite easily fit my entire body in his gob.... the gesture seemed to work as even the Geriatric brigade toed the line and avoided wandering too close to him!

We were also being reminded by the odd fur seal that we were on their territory every now and again as they often ran up to you growling like a dog... however... much like a "shit-su" or whatever little yappy dogs you like... their bark was worse than their bite... although a few people did get close to getting bitten over the course of the trip.... best to wave your arms in the air, however, we've heard since that growling back at them seems to work best !

The following day we passed along the Bransfield strait and towards Trinity island. It was early morning, the sun was shining and the sea and snow looked amazing.

We were suddenly joined by a family of Hump Back Whales. They were fantastic to say the least !

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This time of the year they would have been getting ready to start their migration Northwards and would have been full from feeding on krill in the Rich water of Antarctica for the previous five months !

So with a full stomach... they were very playful to say the least !

The stayed with us for about an hour and began to surf the side of the ship on their sides with their fins out of the water.... we even got a couple of breaches from them off the stern of the ship... they kept passing under the ship and eye popped loads of times as if curious as to why this old vessel was here.... It was brilliant and definitely one of the most amazing whale experiences of our lives so far!

After and hour the captain wanted to move on... however, the whales stayed with us for another 20 minutes until eventually they got bored and wandered off! Absolutely Brilliant!

After we arrived, We went for a Zodiac trip through the Ice Berg Graveyard and enjoyed the fauna, however, it was cold and even with all our layers, thermals and two pairs of gloves we were still absolutely frozen by the time we got back on board ! Hot chocolate was waiting for us.... damn this ship's good !

The following day we went along the Graham Passage. It was a cold morning and Steph and I were on watch.. The sea was pretty still and blue and the snow and ice was beautiful.

This place is amazing! You hear people talking about the place... however... and I know it's corny.... but you're never quite ready until you actually see it up close. It should be a definate MUST GO place on everyone's list of places to go... regardless of the price!

That afternoon the winds picked up to a force 8... which even in the Graham passage (Which is relatively sheltered) meant the seas got rough and sails had to be furled.... I was up the masts, of course, in the howling wind.... really loving this sailing malarky!

Not sure Steph's too keen on me hanging on ropes in force 8 winds... however... I think she's getting used to it! Well I'm sure she will by the time we arrive in Cape Town.

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We arrived in Neko Bay the following day. It was time to step on the Continent proper!

With my Welsh Flag in my bag and Steph's little red car... we were ready to hit the continent. We jumped into the Zodiac and headed for shore. En Route as we navigated through the almost totally ice filled shoreline we realized that a couple of Leopard seals had decided to stalk the zodiacs. We were chased all the way to the shore and the crew had to use the boat oars to shoo the seals if they got too close. This was highly amusing and fortunately.. they never had to actually beat a seal off the zodiac or more importantly... the seal never got to the Zodiac ;)

We made it !!!

"I proclaim this land New North Wales"

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The obligatory flag and car photos were taken and we then looked around and saw how beautiful this place was. It was covered in Snow... with a smattering of rocks and Gentoos. The Gentoos were youngsters and with the Leopard seals hanging around they were all out of the water... luckily for them ! It must be hard though !

We took some great photos of the Glaciers that just seemed to hang about on the edge of the continent (although we did get a few avalanches every now and again)

We were amongst the last to leave and fortunately, the leopard seals had decided to move off on the way back!

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We then moved off to Paradise harbour further along the coast line and saw some Minke whales on the way down. We set most of the sails and since Europa was looking so good, Steph and I went into the Bowsprit (The Netting at the front of the boat) and took some pictures of the Ship. She looked beautiful with her white sails matching the whiteness of pretty much everything else around apart from the bright Turquoise of the Ocean... which wasn't that far below us ! It was brilliant!

Once at Paradise Harbour (Although the Paradise a few of the guys were expecting... i.e. a beer laden, palm tree lined jaxuzzi filled with naked women wasn't anywhere to be found) it was still a beautiful harbor! We went on a quick zodiac tour and then anchored up for the night!

We arrived at Port Lockroy which is where we were expecting to send postcards from and get our passports stamped... It was closed !

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Well... not exactly closed, but the guys who were normally at the station had already left for the winter... so we let ourselves in and decided to leave our postcards there until they returned... in six months time... which meant our postcards won't arrive anywhere soon.... some time in December was the suggested arrival date ! :)

It's a small British Antarctic base, but it was like a museum in that nearly everything there was antiquated in some way or another from expeditions or research over the past 100 years or so. There were old food stores from the 40's (we reckoned) however, a few favourites were spotted (Notably Horlicks, Spam and Tate and Lyle Syrup)

Once again we were greeted by the smell of Gentoo Penguins and their associated "Odour" on the island. Later in the day we moved to the other side of the island to see some blue eyed Shags and the bones of a few whales that had been washed up onto the beach.

We returned from our little hike to the other side of the island and were given a panoramic view of some fantastic cliffs surrounding the base called the Seven Sisters. They were sprinkled with Fresh Snow and just peeped out underneath the forming cloud. It was yet another Beautiful Landscape and Fauna Show from the Peninsula.

This was to be our furthest point south and before we headed back up North... a drink was given to us by the captain on the deck outside, to celebrate this fact and the ships horn was sounded to signal this to one and all.

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The Horn on the Ship is absolutely massive and Tremendously load.... so much so that when we passed a Russian cruise liner... her horn sounded more like a bicycle bell's tinkle, while ours was more of a Concorde breaking the Sound barrier Noise (Well not quite.... but you get what I mean !) This made us men beam with pride.... the Women thought we were being childish... however.... it's always nicer if your horn's bigger than the other guys....... um............ anyway..........

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OK.... North here we come and we've got.... hmm.... quite a few days still to go! At least it gets warmer from here on (or so we thought!)

Posted by Taffski 07:30 Archived in Antarctica Tagged boating Comments (0)

En Route to Antarctica

Into the Drake Passage

snow 1 °C

We were woken up at 4am !!!! Ouch !!! This trip was going to be a bit more testing than we'd thought!

EVERYONE... and I mean EVERYONE on the previous watch had gotten Sea Sick as we'd passed the shelter of the Beagle Channel and had hit the rather more testing waters of the Drake Passage.

Now to say that this is one of the most testing and dangerous stretches if water in the world is somewhat of a slight understatement to say the least! God knows how many ships have sunk rounding Cape Horn. however, we were heading south and were pretty much against the wind and the waves and the currents! So the Smooth sailing of the previous night was no more and Whilst bouncing around on deck we managed to survive the 4 hours with neither Steph nor I being sick.... I was happy and quite enjoying the Experience! We had a nice sunrise and Even though it was 8am... headed back to our beds for some sleep (Steph was starting to feel the effects of the Sea and once downstairs again... started to feel a bit worse... however... she Braved through it and we were woken up at 2pm for our next watch! This was a shorter 2 hour watch for the afternoons so that this would mean that each watch would rotate four hours each day... so no single watch would have the same watch as the previous night! i.e. we were due to go on at 12am til 4am tonight! Ouch.... During the course of the journey this watch was regularly referred to as any of the following rather colourful terms... The "Dog", "Bitch", "Bastard", "Twat" or even the "C**t" watch.... which sort of gives you the right idea as to which of the watches turned out to be the least preferred :)

So We were woken by the remnants of the previous watch (which was now down to 4 remaining members standing... from an initial 12!) Trainees and even crew were falling fast and as we moved into day 3... we assumed our positions around our vessel.

The purpose of the watch system was to ensure that we avoided other ships... icebergs or any other potential hazards in the water, whilst also being available to assist with the Sailing when the Captain or the first mate saw fit to change something. We soon found out that Captain Klaas (Or Captain Nemo as I'd nicknamed him on accounts of his long white beard and hair and obligatory ear ring!) was fonder of changing things than the First Mate. Sails were tweaked... lines tightened... lessons were (apparently) being learned by the trainees as the night progressed.

Steph fell asleep in the Deck house at 2am and by 4am we were all shattered and headed straight to our bunks!

Days began to melt into one another and we found ourselves quickly living by the watches and that life onboard quickly changed to become entirely meal and watch orientated.

Breakfast 7 - 9am
Lunch 1pm
Tea 7pm

These were the times where you would see people other than those on your watch and it quickly became apparent that a few of our fellow passengers were "apparently" suffering from sea sickness... however... it seemed strange to me how some of the afflicted stayed in their bunks at night, got up in the day and still managed to eat at meal times.....
hmmmmmm.........
Some of our watch were also ill...
however, they managed to drag themselves upstairs to get some fresh air and, even though they weren't well, they bravely managed to survive through each consecutive watch with green faces!

Opinions of people were starting to change at this point and Steph and I found ourselves changing our opinions of people who on the first two days we'd thought were "nice". Once again.... first impressions don't tell you Shite!

We'll give the others the benefit of the doubt Steph and I thought and continued on our watches...

It was now Day 4 and Steph and I (I have to admit) were starting to feel the toll of the Drake.

Engines were now being used as the Wind had swung around and we weren't making good progress. (You can check the Europa's web site for exact Way points etc. if you're interested!)

Anyway, I was in the deckhouse and I decided I'd try to read for a bit...... whoops.... mistake..... five minutes in and I ran outside for a "minor" Vom! Only a minor one... however a Vom all the same ! Feck ! I'd been sick and Steph Hadn't.... so much for never having been sea sick before..... damn !!!! I was well pissed off and Steph knew it.... so I was wound up about it (deservedly I know) but it seemed to help Steph (who also wasn't feeling well)

What a nice guy I am.... ;)

Why the hell are we on this trip..... ????

I'm sure a few of our fellow passengers were thinking this.... it was windy... we weren't moving much in the water (at one point we had to pull all the sails down as we were almost going backwards when the wind suddenly changed), it was getting colder by the hour (it was down to about 2 degrees Centigrade by now and getting colder!), The waft of sick buckets wafted downstairs and there seemed to be no end in sight! Even some of the full time crew members were taking ill and peoples personalities (or lack therewith) were starting to surface.

Whales....... We spot Whales..... a whole pod of them..... and they're big whales too !!!!

About 6 massive Fin Whales swam along side us en route to Antarctica also it seemed ! They were huge animals (The Second Largest Whale after the Blue) and they effortlessly sailed past us... as we were still on engines.

The Whales were soon followed by a pod of hourglass dolphins playing in the bow wave of the ship. These were beautiful animals and so far have to be some of the most beautiful dolphins I've seen!

They're black and white (much like Killer Whales) and the white is in the form of hourglass shaped stripes passing down their bodies. They were brilliant animals and had nearly everyone (that was still alive) hanging on the bow of the ship to get the perfect Dolphin shot... The Water was a Brilliant Blue and the Black and White of the dolphins combined with the White of the bow waves were brilliant.

This was definitely what everyone needed as a quick reminder as to why we were all on this journey and helped gee up some of those that were beginning to question the trip.

Steph and I were happy however, as those "sickies" downstairs missed all the fun... ha, Ha !!!!

It was now day 5 and the Dolphin and whale sightings had been pretty much the only thing that had happened on the journey so far (apart from going backwards in the night when the wind changed again... which was fun!)

There was plenty of Sail handling and we were given a map of the ropes (or Lines) on board so we'd have a better idea as to which lines to pull to either set or remove a certain sail!

I'm enjoying this ! The whole Sailor thing is really quite appealing and both Steph and I (or so she says!) are enjoying the Sailing aspect of the journey at the moment.... god knows there's a lot more to come in the next month or so so we might as well get used to it!

I went up the Mast today to go and "Furl" (Wrap up) a sail to the Yard arm.. (The horizontal bit of wood on the mast)

OK.... we've been sailing for a while and the sailing terms are already becoming part of our vocabulary! This is what a Training Sailing ship should be about ! Learning how to sail and certainly Steph and I are determined to get learning whilst we're here! For those of you that aren't familiar with sailing terms etc... I'll try and put in "Idiots Guide phrasing" for you every now and again (as above) ;)

So I'm hanging over the raging Drake passage, stood on a rope with a harness and my hands being the only thing stopping me falling to certain death.... I'm loving Sailing ! This is fun !!! However, the cold is now starting to set in and it starts to snow whilst I'm on the yard arm.... Gloves are a requirement.

However, pulling and tying knots in ropes whilst dangling over the sea aren't really conducive to wearing gloves... so I take mine off and my fingers are freezing.... After 15 minutes I finish my one bit of a single sail... my first furl and Colin (A crew member) and I manage to drag ourselves down.... I'm the first of the trainees to go up the mast and furl and I'm ecstatic... I have a funny feeling as the weather and the conditions get better the remainder of the trainees will follow suit... so I decide to help the crew out as often as possible whilst the conditions are somewhat more testing !!! :)

We finish our watch and it's back to bed.... we're shattered ! /Land shouldn't be far now though as the Captain tells us that it should be the following day and Tjalling (pronounced Tully, who was our resident naturalist/guide come Entertainment manager) started a competition for a bottle of wine to see who would spot land first and also at what time.... Enthused since we were on the 4-8am watch and it was likely our watch could be the first to spot land... we went to bed after tea ready for land.... LAND..... Goddam LAND !!!!! seems like a year ago since we left and it's only 6 feckin days !!!!

PS... we've not been allowed to Shower for the past 4 days as the weathers too rough !!! we smell nice... NOT ! Steph's about ready to flip but other than that we're managing well (ish) ;)

Posted by Taffski 05:45 Archived in Antarctica Tagged boating Comments (0)

The Bark Europa

Our Trip to Cape Town begins

overcast 10 °C

We checked out of our hostel and walked down to the quay side to check that the boat was there.... which is was! We walked through the customs offices and went to the quay side.

The Europa was on the right side of the dock with her starboard side up against the concrete. The main and fore masts towered some 120 feet above us and even thought she had some dents and bruises from the previous four months of sailing to Antarctica, she still looked splendid.

Steph and I met some fellow passengers (sorry, fellow trainee sailors!) in the dock and were shown to our bunks where we dropped our bags off. We met our cabin mates and then headed upstairs to the deck house for a drink and to meet the other trainees and the remainder of the crew. Klaas the captain gave us and introductory speak about safety etc. whilst on board and then we were told that the ship would be leaving the following morning (as the weather was better). We were informed that we could spend the last night on shore if we wanted.... so a few of us headed off to the Irish Pub in Ushuaia for a drink or three. We got back to the ship about 12ish and passed through customs somewhat easily as the guards were having a River Plate Vs Boca football clash... on the play station which was very amusing!

Day 1 - The Beagle Channel March 1st -

Happy St Davids day.... I spent most of the day explaining to the assorted nationalities who, what, how and why we Welsh chose to celebrate this day.... which worked better with some Nationalities than others!

With our rather impressive Horn blaring out we left harbour at 10...ish (Laid back Dutch as usual!) and sailed all of 10 minutes... to the fuel dock to get some fuel! Bit of an anti climax, but soon enough we were off again into the Blue cold Abyss!

Sailed were hauled and all the trainees got (for most of them) their first real go at sailing a square rigger! Ropes needed pulling and so nearly all of us grabbed the nearest rope when ordered and pulled enthusiastically! We had dinner and a glass of wine and a beer from the bar on board (Hallelujah!) and then the trainees were all split into one of three groups. Steph and I were split into Blue Watch and we were informed of the Watch system whilst on board and that we happened to be the first watch... Doh! However, since it was already 7pm we only had an hour of our shift left... Yeah!)

We went to bed early as we were due to be up at 4am for the 4 to 8am watch that morning.

The day was almost over... the weather was fine... the sea calm... the sailing good... and we'd already made some friends on board.... a good start and everyone was expectant of the forthcoming 52 days on board! If they all turned out like this then the trip would be easy.....

Unfortunately.... Neptune was to see to it that in the coming months.... the weather would test us all and whilst some of the trainees would fall by the way side... Steph and I were both determined, prepared and ready for the effort ahead!

Posted by Taffski 05:15 Archived in Antarctica Tagged boating Comments (1)

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