Anchored in Melchior & Day 5 (+3 hours)

1030Z 18JAN22, anchored in Anderson Harbour, between Zeta and Eta Islands, Melchior Islands, Antarctica

Day 5 plus 3 hours, Drake Passage.
27 hour progress: 144nm, 5.3kts avg SOG.
Passage Information: 646nm, 5d 3h (123hrs), 5.25kts avg SOG, 19.7h on engine
Casualties: anemometer & hem in Chilean courtesy flag (both occurred at anchor off Lennox Island, Chile)

Day 5 was tough. The first 8 hours remained close hauled. We made the final call that we wouldn't make landfall at Pitt like we had hoped and would instead aim for Melchior. For the afternoon the winds calmed, we shook out a reef and we relaxed to a close reach. We continued making good speed.

We also fretted about weather. When we took this weather window we knew that pushing departure from Wednesday to Thursday set us up to get head winds and then heavy winds from the south west when we would potentially be making landfall. We had hoped we could motor through the head winds and that we would make landfall before the heavy winds. This was not to be. Hope is not a strategy.

We ended up sailing the head winds as they were strong enough and the seas weren't calm enough to motor through them. So we sailed a westward tack, before turning south southeast. While we sailed well and comfortably, we lost about a half day's forward progress (compared to moving along the rhumb line at 5kts). This was good in that it saved fuel and got us west enough that we could ultimately make Melchior, but bad in that it meant we had about 4-5 hours through those 50+kt winds. We knew it was going to happen which helps, but it still was daunting and challenging.

We reefed down to our 4th reef on the main, and ended up with a handkerchief worth of genoa. This kept our speed around 5-6 kts on a good course and was comfortable and manageable. The seas were big and they pushed us around a little. However, it was all safe enough. Just tough. In some ways it is good that the anemometer failed as we can make up how much wind it was!?! Ah, it will be a good sea story now that we are safely anchored.

The weather continued to be overcast, gray and cold. However, as we approached the Antarctic Peninsula the clouds cleared and you could see the outlines of some combination of clouds and mountains. It was impossible to know which was which in the twilight hours of "darkness". As daylight approached (3:30am), the winds hadn't died off really, the white behemoth mountains towered in front of Zephyros and we worried whether things would ever calm to help us to make landfall or if we would just be barreling into the Peninsula.

Of course, things did calm down as forecasted, we rolled out more sail, we motor sailed, then we secured all the sails and motored into the Melchior Islands. We found 2 boats tied into the normal parking spot and it was pretty windy there. We continued on to evaluate additional options and ended up anchoring in a bay to the north where we can free swing until the winds die down enough for us to inflate the dinghy.

In the meantime we are happy to be in Antarctica! We enjoyed a hearty bacon and egg breakfast and are warming the boat with the Refleks heater. Off to do some chores and maybe take a nap…

Next post will probably be in a week to summarize our first week in Antarctica. Thanks for reading and following our progress!

Day 4, Drake Passage Southbound

0715Z 17JAN22, Day 4, Drake Passage.
Current Position: 62 27S / 065 22W
24 hour progress: 133nm, 5.5kts avg SOG. Overall progress for the passage is 502nm, approximately 130nm to landfall. Sailing close hauled, 3 reefs in the main, full genoa.

Day 4 continued just like it started. We had 24 hours of sailing hard, as close hauled as we can manage, bashing into big seas. Close hauled is a tough point of sail - you are heeled over and pounding into the waves. Cooking, really doing anything below, is challenging. Basically you hang on for the ride on the freight train. Day 5 looks to be much of the same. We are pressing on and resting the best we can while off watch. The boys continue to stand a little watch which also helps.

The weather was overcast and gray. And cold. Cold outside, but also cold inside. The sea temperature is just above freezing and the air a few degrees above that. We are looking forward to getting the anchor down and the heater going. Everything is cold and damp!

It appears that we have around another day to get to Melchior, longer to get to Pitt but those angles just don't seem possible. We are already doing all we can and pointed just slightly south of Melchior.

We are all well aboard and getting excited for our arrival in Antarctica. We are looking forward to seeing what day 5 brings.

Day 3, Drake Passage Southbound

0715Z 16JAN22, Day 3, Drake Passage.
Current Position: 60 40S / 068 00W
24 hour progress: 121nm, 5kts avg SOG. Overall progress for the passage is 369nm, approximately 275nm to landfall.

To start day 3, winds became lighter, as forecast, and by 0530 we were motoring with 1 reef in the main and no genoa. We had entered the Drake Lake section of the passage. We pointed just west of where we want/hope to make landfall and motored along directly into light head winds.

It was another good weather day and we warmed up the boat with the engine and some sun in the pilot house. We also did housekeeping stuff like cleaning dishes without worrying that they would fly across the boat, made some water and enjoyed tuna melts for lunch. Everyone was in good spirits and a nice dinner seemed promising and was thus planned.

In the afternoon, we watched a light-mantled albatross and a number of small storm petrels and prions frolic around the boat. They all looked like they were considering landing on Zephyros but none did. The albatross would soar around us, land next to us, float back along our track, take off and do it all again while the petrels and prions followed along without landing in the water.

The forecasts suggested that we might have to motor for 24-36 hours until we got wind from a good direction to sail. Well, as the day played out we actually only motored for about 14 hours and found ourselves in very sailable winds, from a not great direction, right as Megan was finishing up dinner preps. As is often the case, dinner time meant increased winds and the anticipated calm dinner prep turned more challenging. But it all got in the oven and then, as Jon was napping and Daxton was standing watch, Megan unfurled the genoa and secured the engine setting us up close hauled on a port tack. (This means everything in the boat shifts the opposite way and wasn't exactly expected for our southbound transit of the Drake where the winds normally blow from the west.)

The course over ground was ok for awhile but the winds turned to be more southerly and a bit stronger. Jon added a reef to the main with Ronan on watch while Megan slept. We sailed on at a nice clip but nearly due west when we want to actually go south. The age old problem of sail - you just can't head to where the wind is coming from. (And motoring into the wind means uncomfortable bashing in these conditions.)

We finished out day 3 adding another reef (so back to 3 reefs) to the main with a full genoa and tacking back to starboard. The course still isn't where we would like it to be, but the boat is leaned over in the expected direction and we are moving at a good speed.

We are sailing as close to the wind as we can (which isn't especially close compared to some other sailboats) and hoping the wind moves more westerly so that we can go more southerly. It should eventually turn according to the forecast - some on Sunday, more on Monday. However, we already believe we have more wind than forecast (hard to know for sure since our anemometer is broken) and we just aren't sure if it will turn enough to point us where we were hoping to make landfall. We might have to go to the back up option. Not a big deal, but we were (are) hoping we can make landfall decently far south this year. In the meantime we sail on and do what we can with what we have.

Day 2, Drake Passage Southbound

0715Z 15JAN22, Day 2, Drake Passage.
Current Position: 59 13S / 066 17W
24 hour progress: 119nm, 5kts avg SOG. Overall progress for the passage is 248nm, approximately 350nm to landfall. We continued making a good course, sailing a beam reach to close reach.

To start day 2, the winds became lighter and by early morning we were sailing the full genoa, with 3 reefs in the main. We continued making a good course and decent speeds. Overnight things continued to lighten, both winds and seas, we then shook out 2 more reefs in the main and continued sailing to wrap up day 2. By the end, the course wasn't perfect but we were still sailing with ok speed and calm seas.

The big surprise of day 2 was a large iceberg north of the Antarctic convergence zone. We spotted it in the afternoon, roughly at 58 11S / 066 48W. This is quite far north to see ice and a good reminder to keep a good watch / lookout. We passed about 4nm west of it and were glad to see that it showed up on radar. Also, we are now far enough south that while the sun sets it is pretty much twilight for the whole night which also helps the lookout.

All is well aboard. Everyone is feeling a bit better and finding their sea legs. Still lots of sleeping but everyone is eating again. The boys also stood watches.

We saw dolphins for a bit early in the day and some albatrosses and storm petrels, throughout the day. While the soaring albatrosses will forever be mesmerizing and beautiful, the storm petrels always impress us - so small and so far from any land.

Day 1, Drake Passage Southbound

0715Z 14JAN22, Day 1, Drake Passage.
Current Position: 57 16S / 065 46W
24 hour progress: 129nm, 5.4kts avg SOG, approximately 470nm to landfall. We have been sailing a close or beam reach with 4 reefs in the main and 3 in the genoa, direct to our desired landfall position. The seas have been large but are starting to settle out in the deeper water. Wind has probably been mostly 25-30kts, but without the anemometer we don't exactly know.

We departed from our spot at anchor in the northern bay of Lennox just after 4am local time. We motored south and circumnavigated Isla Terhalten in lovely, sunny weather. There were penguins and seals to watch through binoculars. After that we set sail towards Cape Horn and secured the engine. We even saw another sailboat out sailing - presumably headed to Antarctica. Some dolphins also came to say hello for a short while.

Before we started the passage, we spent almost a week in Lennox. We finished up the last tasks, like deflating and stowing the dinghy, and topped up fuel from an extra jug. This year we have a 400L fuel bladder secured to our foredeck. Besides the voyage to Antarctica, we plan to make some big miles this year so we bought it in hopes that we would worry less about fuel this year than we did last year. We also have a 200L drum strapped into our cockpit. So we have doubled our internal fuel capacity and taken more fuel than we did last year.

We found ourselves waiting and waiting for weather in Lennox. The opportunities that seemed like they might be ok, closed up and looked too windy by the time they arrived. But eventually it lined up so that we could depart Thursday morning. Additionally it appeared the winds would be light enough that we could go directly past Cape Horn. We skipped it last year on our way out and stayed offshore. And on our return it was far too stormy to even think about. So, as this was our goodbye to Chile and our 3rd time passing Cape Horn, we were happy weather was going to allow us a trip close by this sailing pinnacle.

All in all, it was a wonderful day for the first 10 hours. Beautiful weather, great sailing in easy seas and some gusty winds. Then as we passed Cape Horn, the clouds rolled in, the winds picked up and the ocean swell hit us. The next 14 hours have been adjusting to the Drake and making Zephyros comfortable.

We are all doing fine and adjusting back to passage making. Lots of sleeping and a good amount of queasiness. Daxton came up to see Cape Horn and promptly threw up all over the stairs into the boat. Pretty sure this is a repeat of last year. Megan cleaned it all up and has vowed to make him have a bucket with him until he has his sea legs.

We were off - but only to wait for weather at Isla Lennox

On Friday, 7JAN22, after final goodbye's and chatting around Zephyros with our fellow sailors at Micalvi, we successfully extracted ourselves from our Micalvi parking spot. It was a calm, light wind day and we motored along with the current on flat seas with a very light headwind. When we left we weren't sure how far we would go. The point was more that we left the port after a bunch of difficulties getting checked out. However, it was a pleasant enough day, so we decided to keep going. We even got a couple of hours sailing in after we exited the Beagle and pointed south. It's always more enjoyable to have the engine off and to save the fuel, even if we started out close hauled before relaxing to a close reach.

We knew there was weather coming and the next chance to move would be Sunday before more weather rolled through. In the end, we decided to go to Lennox, which is an easy departure anchorage. This would allow us flexibility to take a weather window to get closer to Cape Horn or even to head off, depending on the forecasts. It didn't look great, but it would put us in a position to grab good weather, if it materialized.

Being able to have the short sail also turned out to be a good little shake down. We decided to change a couple of things before we head offshore. It's actually been awhile since we raised the main and we spotted one of those "about to happen / about to become an issue" items and replaced some failing bungee links with new line. As we knew it was supposed to get windy, we went ahead and made the changes Friday after anchoring when all we had was light winds to raise the main. Yay, something quickly sorted out!

The first night saw us rocking in some swell. It's something that doesn't happen much at anchor in the channels but happens plenty in other parts of the world. We spent the night adjusting and figured it helps to gain the necessary sea legs. By Saturday morning the wind had moved more to the west and we no longer had any swell. We got blown around a bit, but the anchor holding is solid so it was all fine. We watched weather, secured some more items for sea and hung out. The Sunday window no longer looked to be great and it appeared that we could get caught in the strong gusts forecast for over Cape Horn. While the boat can deal with it all well, Zephyros is loaded with extra fuel, so the prudent course, is to avoid heavy weather as much as practical. Plus we don't have those sea legs yet, so right into big seas and high winds is always challenging. We decided to give the closing Sunday window a pass.

However, because Sunday was indeed calm off of Lennox, we moved Zephyros down closer towards the Alcamar. Alcamar's are Navy control posts that monitor traffic, a bit like a light house and marine traffic control with a keeper but no light. They typically have a family stationed at them for 1-2 year tours. It seems like quite the interesting opportunity. We also know there is a king penguin that likes to hang out by the Alcamar house at Lennox, so we were hoping to have a walk and catch a sighting of the infamous penguin. Unfortunately the penguin also decided to get out and about in the nice, calm weather so we missed him. However, we still enjoyed the land time and chance to stretch our legs. We were also able to say "hello" on the radio to the family at the Alcamar with their two young children, and to wave as we went by. We had a nice walk to see some beaver dams and the beach despite missing the penguin.

The weather showed the winds would again have some north to them so we decided to move back up to the northern bay off of Lennox for better protection over night and to wait out the heavy winds forecasted for Monday and Tuesday. We also took advantage of the calm evening to deflate the dinghy and store it as we didn't want to do that in heavy winds. With everything tidied up we are feeling really ready to go, just obsessed with weather now.

Monday 10JAN, found us indeed seeing strong winds and glad that we weren't out in the Drake. We continue to watch for a weather window but the next one is closing up and has issues too. We are trying to calculate the safest compromise. Meanwhile our anemometer (wind speed indicator) stopped working, it seems to have worn out a bearing after 4 years of faithful spinning. It was reading properly in the morning, but is now reading way too low. This provides some challenges. We are hoping the auto pilot will still pilot us efficiently with the apparent wind angle and gyro readings, even if the wind speed is wrong and not responsive to gusts. It won't affect our backup Windpilot self-steering in any way. The problem will mean that we don't have the ability to have the computer tell us the winds are building or dying off, and we will have to manage our sail plan by the feel of the wind which we should certainly be able to do, it is just more challenging, particularly for our young watchstanders.

We continue to sit and wait. Hoping a weather window materializes while we work on sourcing a replacement part. We are anxious to set off across the Drake, but we didn't wait for the correct window only to push on into a tough one. Fingers remain crossed that we will have something this week. Sitting in Lennox listening to heavy winds through the rigging is getting a bit old. But we are making the most of it too - resting and pushing through school work with the boys.

We will start the daily log posts after we get going, but thought we would do an update since we have been sitting here a few days. Thanks for following along!

Zephyros’ Antarctica Expedition Complete!

2400Z 27FEB21, Anchored in Caleta Banner, Isla Picton, Chile. We have returned to Chile!

At the start of day 5 the winds fell off, as expected, the engine went on and we pointed directly towards the Beagle Channel. We weren't sure what kind of speed we would make, so weren't sure if we could get to a desired anchorage before dark. We had plenty of fuel left so we pushed our engine a little and shook out all the reefs giving us a full main to motor sail. We potentially had enough wind to sail a couple of times but pushed on motor sailing anyway. (Did we mention we wanted this passage over and had that goal of dropping the hook before sunset?!?)

The weather was sunny and warm—it rose to about 25C! We could see Tierra del Fuego just about all day. A weird fog bank rolled over us for a couple of hours, but then it was back to sun with land off in the (far) distance.

As the day drew towards evening we were finally close to the mouth of the Beagle Channel—it sure was a lot of extra easterly miles to undo! There were no clouds in the sky. Dolphins frolicked with us, leaping out of the water. Albatrosses floated and soared everywhere, occasionally running across the water as they lumber to take off (it gives us a laugh as we cheer them on, every time!). We passed rocks covered with cormorants. We marveled at the green and trees, but were a bit shocked not to see any white on any mountain peaks (the mountains/hills aren't especially high here). The air smelled so amazingly fragrant - evergreens and sweet soil. Apparently 2 months of no real smells other than penguin rookeries, meals and ourselves makes the smell of land quite intense and wonderful. The breeze was warm; it felt incredibly strange and great. As the sun began to set, the cloudless sky gave us an incredible 360° view with Tierra del Fuego showing off all the colors of the rainbow. The cloudless sky was simply aglow all around us. It was a pretty special return to our adopted "home".

We pulled into Caleta Banner at 9pm local, just after sunset and in the fading light. We talked, over the radio, with the control station that is in the Caleta, and dropped our anchor down in the bay in flat calm waters.

As we knew that our arrival was likely to be right around sunset or later, we decided to wait on that steak dinner. Megan worked on a major pizza party while we were motoring all day. Ada (our sourdough starter) has shown a new vigor in the building warmth and Megan mixed up a good sized batch of dough which she turned into 4 pizzas. We enjoyed some while underway and some more while blissfully sitting outside enjoying the anchorage with a bottle of bubbly, stars on a clear night, and the full moon rising. Antarctica was absolutely spectacular, but it is also great to be back in Chile in the southern hemisphere's Austral summer.

Passages like this one across the Drake are hard. The conditions are challenging and intense. Concentration and flexibility are required before you're in a good sleep pattern. One can surge for maybe 48 hours with limited sleep, but your sharpness falls quickly after the first 24. The passage isn't long enough to get settled into a good sleep/eat/watch rhythm and adjusted to life at sea, so we never get into that groove where we enjoy the passage making experience. When everyone's stomachs are settled and folks are ready for regular meals, reading time, and the like, the passage is suddenly over. It's too long, yet too short.

The Drake Passage is particularly hard as a new low rolls through about every 4 days. The swell and winds are last impeded by land when they pass New Zealand. The seabed rises very steeply for several thousand meters near Cape Horn. Detailed weather predictions are pretty good these days, but only to about 5 days. If you're going south, this gives you a decent window to make it down to the protected waters of Antarctica before things deteriorate. Heading north, you reach the Cape Horn crucible just as the weather is no longer anything like the weather you committed to when you got underway. It only makes one appreciate, all the more, that it wasn't long ago that mariners were doing this without anything but poorly understood seasonal weather predictions. The mariners and explorers who regularly sailed freight around the Horn, whaled the southern ocean and opened Antarctica were truly mad, courageous, and hearty souls.

We plan to move 10-15nm west tomorrow. We have information that the orcas are back hunting in the Beagle and that they killed a whale the other day. (We saw them kill 3 whales last year about this time.) We plan to go near where the latest whale was left and to see if we can see anything. We plan to anchor again for the night, and then make the final 10-15nm leg back to Puerto Williams on Monday.

That's likely it for the blog for awhile minus an expedition wrap up that will take a little while to assemble. We'll be back online soon and will work through getting pictures posted to Facebook and hopefully the blog too. We have collected several thousand photos and hours of video over the last two months; we should really do something interesting with it all. We'll come back to this again, but if you're craving some Antarctica in your day or week, check out the "Ice Coffee" podcast by Matthew Alan McArthur (warning: there is some colorful language).

Passage Information: 632nm, 4d 16h (112h), 5.6kts avg SOG, 34.3h on engine (nearly half of that was yesterday), minor casualty from the passage: some pulled out stitching on a portion of the cockpit sun shade (Dawn Treader: could you please drop by with your sewing machine next week?).