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?).

Drake Passage Northbound, Day 4

0800Z 27FEB21, Day 4, Drake Passage Northbound. It was, indeed, a windy, tough day. The weather was gray, dreary and drizzly. We left Cape Horn way, way off to port.

Current Position: 55 47S / 064 55W
24 hour progress: 117nm, 4.9kts avg SOG. 4.75 hours of engine time in the past 24 hours. Overall progress for the passage is 545nm, approximately 115nm to Puerto Williams.

We bashed into large seas and high winds all day as close hauled as we could get, which was really more of a close reach. Our progress was slow, steady, northeasterly and safe. We were making good progress and an ok course until we saw gusts around 50kts. Then we put in the 4th reef and changed to the inner staysail. This slowed us down and pushed our course rather more easterly. We sailed this way for about 14 hours in 35-45kt winds, with rare gusts above 45. Zephyros does not sail particularly well to windward (she's not a deep keeled racer) especially reefed down in big seas. We kept things as comfortable as possible and when back to winds consistently 35 or less, we shook out reefs (back to 3 in the main and back to the genoa - reefed and then eventually back to full) obtained better speed and a slightly more northerly course. We wanted to be east of the steep shelf rise near Cape Horn to avoid the resulting waves, but we ended up 75nm east of the Horn which was at least 45nm wider than planned.

We expect the wind to die off, switch on the engine and point directly towards the Beagle Channel soon. We have a lot more easterly miles to undo than we had intended.

We are all doing well and happy to be warmer. It has been gradually getting warmer inside the boat as well as outside. We are, of course, excited to be close to the Beagle, and anxious to be back in Puerto Williams! We think this has been the passage we have all most wanted to end - we are glad to be successfully through day 4 and all ready for sleep and showers. We still plan to stop in a good anchorage before returning to civilization. We could go straight to Puerto Williams but we prefer to sleep hard at anchor before pulling out fenders and lines, not to mention the mental work of trying to tie up to other boats while under slept. We'll be fine tuning a plan based on progress, options, weather and timing through out the day.

Drake Passage Northbound, Day 3

0800Z 26FEB21, Day 3, Drake Passage Northbound. We were making crazy, good speed, until we weren't and then turned on the engine. The weather was mostly sunny again with occasional cells with rain or hail and some gusty winds. However, they were easy to see and we could act preemptively.

Current Position: 57 37S / 065 44W
24 hour progress: 171nm, 7.1kts avg SOG! (This may be a record for Zephyros and it still doesn't capture, IMO, how hard we were pushing. We sailed with well over an 8kt avg for at least 18 hours in huge seas. We rarely see 8kts and to see 7.5-9.5kts for 18+ hours straight was crazy.) 2.5 hours of engine time in the 24 hours. Overall progress for the passage is 428nm, approximately 110nm to Cape Horn.

We were on a beam reach all day with winds slightly aft of the beam. Until the wind moved forward of the beam and then died off in the early morning hours. We sailed with 3 reefs in the main and 3 reefs in the genoa. Of course, we rolled out all of the genoa to sail for a few hours before turning on the engine as the winds fell and turned north. Ah, a short respite and taste of Drake Lake.

It was a fast day with strong winds and big seas. We are pushing hard to try to avoid some potentially strong winds that are forecast to come day 4. We know it is a possibility, we have a solid plan, and are ready. But we also are trying to limit our exposure, get into the lee of Cape Horn and get out of the Drake as expeditiously as practical.

It was also a strange day. We had been getting bashed with lots of water over the deck for this passage and knew there were lines washing into the water. We also noted that Watt&Sea, our hydro generator, wasn't making her normal whine as she bleeds off power. We went outside to check on her and found a line around her arm. Also, the pin that holds her down had fallen out in all the bashing. Jon freed the line and redeployed W&S, accidentally losing hold of the line in the process. He then went forward to clean up all the lines that were in the water. He successfully retrieved all but one - the one that had been around W&S. Not good. We were still screaming along and he left it as it wasn't easily fixable and didn't seem to be causing issues. The worry was that it was around the prop shaft. We discussed the potential problems and solutions for different cases, but agreed that we'd wait until the winds lightened / we slowed down.

In the meantime we continued our shifts and resting. While Jon was sleeping, Megan realized a crazy, huge wave was about to break over the stern. It was impressive and there was no time to do anything but scream. The wave knocked us pretty hard and things flew from the port side of the boat to the starboard side. Our dominoes box swapped its contents, picked up a loaf of bread and spewed dominoes everywhere! We were all fine. Megan's scream alerted everyone to hold on. The boys saw the crazy wave out R's porthole. Nike (our nke autopilot) said "what?" and then was back at it. Zephyros was back on her feet right away and back to hauling away at 8+ knots. She is always stronger than us. We cleaned up inside and laughed at all the crazy places individual dominoes went. We will surely find another stray or too when we clean up after the passage.

Before sunset, we decided to take another look at that line. We also had to clean up the cockpit from that rogue wave - yep more lines in the water, but all easily retrieved. It soon became clear that the problem line (reefing line) was stuck on something further back than the prop shaft, which meant it was probably back on the W&S. Jon pulled up the W&S and freed the line. All good.

We are all doing ok. Everyone is keeping food down, though there isn't much eating. We are looking forward to celebrating the end of this passage with a steak that we have saved! We plan to anchor somewhere before Puerto Williams to get some sleep and clean up the boat for a night or two, depending on when / where we arrive and how the next day or so goes. Hoping to have a clearer picture and be nearly finished with this slog by tomorrow's log post.

Drake Passage Northbound, Day 2

0800Z 25FEB21, Day 2, Drake Passage Northbound. We've been making good speed and the weather has been mostly good though windy. It is still cold and we are all looking forward to higher temperatures. We saw the sun quite a bit, but also got some rain/snow/sleet. We had a couple of dolphins that kept us company for awhile. We were surprised with how far south they were. There have also been lots of the usual birds - albatrosses, giant petrels and storm petrels.

Current Position: 60 21S / 065 02W
24 hour progress: 146nm, 6.1kts avg SOG! Overall progress for the passage is 257nm, approximately 275nm to Cape Horn.

We were on a beam reach all day with winds slightly aft of the beam. Zephyros does like a reach and we are moving well. The main has 3 reefs and we are making adjustments to the genoa, staying between 1-3 reefs based on winds. We do change point of sail 10-20 degrees and need to adjust the sheets occasionally too. Otherwise we are largely inside in the pilot house, staying warm, pointed to Cape Horn, and starting to dream of things like hot showers, fresh fruit and veggies. We expect to keep this point of sail for most of the next day or so. The winds are high and the seas continue to be quite large. The wave direction seems to be slightly more comfortable or maybe we are just getting used to it.

We are all doing ok. The struggle to find sea legs continues, but seems to be arriving bit by bit. The boys are keeping down food and starting to feel hungry again. We are all hoping that day 3 will be the magic day - it is the typical day where everyone starts feeling better. The Drake Shake is real, this passage is definitely uncomfortable and it is a tough ride to adjust to for all. At least it isn't too long so if sea legs never come it is ok. This will soon be a distant memory where it won't seem like it was that bad. And the sail is indeed, fast and good!

Drake Passage Northbound, Day 1

0800Z 24FEB21, Day 1, Drake Passage Northbound. We departed from our spot at anchor in Two Hummock Island at 5am (local time).

Antarctica gave us a few last views and a beautiful sunrise as we moved north through the last of the sheltered waters. There were also some whales and penguins that swam by to see us off. We were sad to be leaving and also so very thankful for the experience!

We soon entered the ocean swell and were straight into The Drake Shake (before even technically being in the Drake). We raised the main and were able to sail some, then the winds died and shifted so the motor came back on. The clouds rolled in, the sun went away and the snow started. Then we found we had enough wind to be sailing on the other tack which was a bit messy since we (ok, Megan) assumed and planned for only being on a port tack the whole way (Jon believed the weather forecast and figured we would be sailing earlier than Megan). We got everything cleaned up and made good, on course, progress for awhile. Eventually the winds died again, the engine was back on and we waited for the winds to shift back to the west and fill in. They did almost exactly like forecasted which is always a bit reassuring. It was a busy night with both of us working the needed sail changes and adjustments.

Current Position: 62 38S / 063 33W
24 hour progress: 111nm, 4.6kts avg SOG, about 11h of engine time, approximately 415nm to Cape Horn. We are now set up on a beam reach, winds slightly aft of the beam and moving well. We are pointed to Cape Horn and expect to keep this point of sail for the next couple of days. The seas have been large and lumpy. They have improved in the deeper water, but they are still quite uncomfortable.

We are all doing ok and adjusting back to passage making. Everyone is really searching for their sea legs. Jon and the boys have been sick. Apparently the anti-seasickness medicine isn't really working for Jon anymore. Megan hasn't been sick, but she didn't even think about making any food for anyone to eat on day 1. "This too shall pass."

Week 6 of Antarctica

Highlight for all of us:
Sooo many humpback whales & a nice last week!

This past week has been very calm, but still quite wet. We have had rain and then snow. Not as much as last week's rains, but the snow is starting to make us feel like the Antarctic Summer is closing and we should be heading north. We also had a delightful day of sun.

We got moving Tuesday, and travelled 35nm to the north. It was not a very clear day, but it didn't rain/snow too much and we were able to see a number of interesting changes since passing through the area 2 weeks before. There had been a lot of snow melt (thanks to all that rain) and there was less small ice in the water around Port Charcot. The winds were as predicted and we enjoyed the opportunity to sail more than half of the trip. The winds were good and then they built and became strong and gusty before dropping off to just about nothing. We saw a Sei whale near Port Charcot, seals and some birds, and then approaching Paradise Harbour we saw lots of animals - seals, penguins, more birds, and a number of humpbacks. We drifted around in the middle of the humpbacks for a bit before heading to the anchorage.

We anchored in the south bay of Paradise Harbour and enjoyed a quiet evening and night. It was amazingly calm. We decided to do a dinghy explore on Wednesday. We had hoped to see more humpbacks, from the dinghy, but we didn't. Even so the explore was still good fun. We all got a bit of land time on the continent. We have actually been going ashore on islands so we wanted to be sure that we officially, technically touched the Antarctic continent on the Peninsula rather than just the Peninsula's Islands. Realistically there aren't a lot of places to go ashore on the continent as it is a lot of mountains, glaciers and ice cliffs right up to the water's edge so this was a good opportunity to check the box. There is also an Argentinian base - Almirante Brown - on the northern side. We dinghy'd around near it. It doesn't seem to be manned (other than by gentoo penguins) for the summer this year which we suspect is the case for most summer bases. We also did some glacier watching in the dinghy while still hoping to see whales.

Thursday came with rain and snow, but it remained very calm in the anchorage and we were content to stay put for another day. By the evening we started to see grease ice - the slushy first signs of icing into a floe. We had some jokes about being iced in - and really, really hoped they were indeed, unlikely and jokes.

Friday, we awoke to low clouds but good visibility, snow on the deck, a slight breeze which had dissipated the grease ice, and we planned to move on. We got dressed, in all our gear, Jon swept the deck clear of snow and we prepared to get moving... However, things changed and the dark gray sky, very low visibility and snowfall led to a discussion as to whether or not we REALLY wanted to move on. We decided the trip could wait a day and that we weren't feeling like we HAD to go.

Saturday, we again woke to new snow on the deck and decent visibility and light. We made our preparations to get underway with Jon clearing the deck and even building a small snowman. We were set to go and then it grayed over, we lost visibility and the snow started falling - again! This time we decided that we would really like to move. We also figured it would be occasional snow showers with diminished visibility and then back to clearer weather (which was basically what it did on Friday and the weather forecast suggested Sunday and Monday should be clearer weather so that also, hopefully, meant the weather would be improving). We weighed anchor with huge snowflakes falling and grease ice starting to form again in the very still bay. There was one last discussion about whether or not we REALLY wanted to go again, but by the time we were exiting the bay, the visibility was back and the snow had lightened significantly.

We passed the Argentinian Base and soon spotted a humpback. We enjoyed watching him for quite awhile. We were able to parallel his course and see him eating quite well. We moved on from there and saw a number of humpbacks all throughout the area. We even saw a couple that where sitting still, sleeping at the surface. We then passed the Chilean Base - Gonzales Videla - at Waterboat Point. (Waterboat Point has some interesting history, 2 British Explorers spent a year there in an overturned waterboat. A waterboat is a flat bottomed wooden boat used by the whaling ships to bring water from the glaciers out to the whaling boats. They aren't especially big and were often just left behind on the shores after whaling season.) The Chileans hailed us on the radio, recorded our information and invited us to visit them. It isn't the easiest place to stop and we had planned to continue on so we politely declined and wished them a good season (though we did regret that we didn't stop, and due to how completely calm the day was, we likely could have found a spot to day anchor for a few hours). After Waterboat Point we continued to see more humpbacks and enjoyed more whale watching. We continued on past Danco Island (the former site of the British Base O) and anchored on the southern side of Cuverville Island. As we dropped anchor, in lots of small ice, with no wind, huge snowflakes began to fall and we felt like we ended the trip just in time and very much like it began - though there are gentoo penguins to see, hear and smell in Cuverville where there were not any in the southern Paradise Harbour anchorage.

Sunday we awoke to blue skies and sun! We went ashore in Cuverville for a last walk with penguins. The gentoo babies were mostly big now. The juveniles stood around in nurseries with a couple of adult birds keeping them in line. They squawk a lot and the skuas were swooping through nearly constantly. There was a lot of molting, most of the nests (piles of small rocks) were gone and adults were standing off to the sides, also molting. We enjoyed the land time and seeing these later stages of the penguin land cycle.

We returned to Zephyros and weighed anchor to move north some more. It was a 25nm day with clear weather and very light winds. We saw some humpback whales as we moved over to Wilhelmina Bay and then quite a few more whales in the bay. A lot of them didn't want anything to do with us, but we stopped where one was not too far off and he ate near us for a bit. He came right up next to us and again a bit behind us. We could even see him moving up in the water column. It was quite amazing. Later we watched some more whales with a group of 3 pretty close to us again. Eventually we pulled ourselves away and headed into an anchorage off of Enterprise Island.

We finished off the day making preparations to cross the Drake. Jon worked hard outside with some help from D, getting things re-configured for passage making. He noted how much easier it was in the sunshine and calm weather than 6 weeks ago when we arrived at Deception Island. It was also nice to listen to the whales blow and the glaciers calve. We were watching a Tuesday weather window and planned to use Sunday and Monday evenings to get everything prepared and stowed while using the days to take in our last Antarctic memories.

Monday we awoke to gray skies, but got moving to make more north. We put in 35nm which included a detour through Graham Passage. This was a passage that we transited on our way south but the clouds and snow descended making it so that we barely saw anything. Well, the weather seemed like it might cooperate with much higher clouds, so we headed that way. We were treated to a number of humpback whale sightings and enjoyed the trip. The passage was beautiful and must be even better with the sun shining. As we were leaving the passage we were able to watch a small humpback for some time. He was eating near the shore and showing his mouth and back a lot without showing his fluke. He seemed significantly smaller than many we have seen (other than ones that still seem to be with their mothers).

From there we pointed to our planned anchorage at Two Hummock Island. We saw more humpbacks and a few were waving flippers all about which was fun to see. The weather was deteriorating with the clouds descending and some snow, but still very little wind. We crossed the Gerlalache Strait in calm seas and with diminishing visibility. It was a lot of gray, but there were also lots of humpback flukes flashing - everywhere. We soon found ourselves crossing their paths and must have passed through more than 20. A few were quite close and lots of fun to watch. We went to idle when some came in front of us, they then turned and surfaced near us and then came towards us again. It was really cool to see them moving through the water. These humpbacks included some quite large ones and were mostly in groups of 2s or 3s. It was another special experience with the whales. After passing the whales, the visibility continued to decline and the snow fall increased. We made our way to the anchorage, tucking in for the day with gray skies, low visibility and more snow. This anchorage is supposed to be quite impressive on a clear day with a view back to the peninsula, we did not see the view, but appreciated the safe spot for the night anyway.

Jon knocked out the rest of the outside preparation tasks, in less pleasant but still calm weather, including deflating and stowing the dinghy, with some help from R. Megan and the boys worked on the inside of the boat and making dinner. We did final weather checks, ate and got to bed, closing out week 6.

It has been an amazing experience! We don't quite feel ready to say goodbye to Antarctica, but do not see another weather window developing so know that it is, indeed, time to head back north to Chile.

[We are currently underway, headed towards Cape Horn, which delayed this posting. We plan to post daily 24 hour passage notes starting tomorrow.]

Week 5 of Antarctica

Highlight for all of us:
Other people & Adélie Penguins

This week has been largely dictated by unfriendly weather. We had approximately 1.5 days of nice weather. The rest has been quite windy with lots and lots of rain.

We pull weather data via our satellite connection 1-2 times a day and our lives are planned around the weather information that we receive. We have also learned while sailing that sometimes you regret leaving a safe anchorage.

Well, the Stella Creek anchorage that we worked hard to get into last week paid big dividends. We ended up there for 8 nights. After having already visited Wordie House and the base, it felt kind of disappointing to be in Antarctica and not moving or seeing anything. Also a bit strange to know that we were near people at the station but not interacting with them. They have their work and we are comfortable in our home, plus the weather was not at all nice for moving around in dinghies. All in all, it was nice to know that if we needed anything they were there, and that we were very safe in the protected arm of the channel. While we had hoped to move on, the weather forecasts kept looking pretty bad without a lot of opportunities to move north without driving into strong headwinds, and what chances there were, were followed by more high winds and precipitation.

After seeing where we were with fuel, the week of strong northerly winds and some information on ice to the south we had decided that we were not going to venture further south than Vernadsky Station. What initially seemed like a bit of a disappointment, turned into a week that felt more like a little break from Antarctica and isolation.

We received emails from Orionde and Kotik that the weather was indeed like forecast both north and south of us, and that they were working hard to move around and find good shelter. So we were further happy to know that staying in our secure shelter was the right call for us. We aren't in a huge hurry and have about another week's worth of exploring that we would like to do. We have plenty of food and will begin looking for a weather window back up to Puerto Williams. It sounds like Orionde may head back this next week and Kotik, like us, is hoping for the end of the month or the beginning of March.

We did use the nice half day (Wednesday) to dinghy around the islands near Vernadsky. We walked around Skua Island a bit and the boys played in the snow near Wordie House. We saw a good number of seals and skuas. We also used the quickly melting snow / lots of rain to gather water for our water tanks (Wednesday and Thursday). We were not generating any power because there wasn't any sun and because our wind generator was sheltered from most of the winds that were blasting through the top of our rigging as they passed over the cliff to our north. Our watermaker continues to work fine (a bit slow due to how cold the water is, but we knew that would be the case here), but free water that didn't cost our precious resource of power was worth the effort - we were able to run a hose from the falling water straight to our tank. This kept us topped up and we can go back to three hour stints of watermaking every few days while moving (generating power) that has become our habit. The water, heated by an engine run, allowed for nice showers for everyone and then we topped up the water again (Thursday).

The week provided down time for school work, rest and games. We also did a lot of baking. We opened up a large pumpkin so there was pumpkin pie, pumpkin risotto, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread and pumpkin soup. And there is even still a section of pumpkin left for another meal. Plus there was the usual cooking of meals, bread baking and snacks.

We delivered thank you notes to Vernadsky on Friday and had invited them over to Zephyros Friday or Saturday. We had left an open invitation with them last Monday on our station visit, but since they hadn't taken us up on it, we wanted to make sure they knew they were welcome. With the weather and base work schedules, it just didn't work out. Saturday proved to be quite windy through the day so that continued to hinder a visit. However, it didn't prevent a determined Kotik from arriving in the late afternoon. We are good friends with the Captain, Igor, from Puerto Williams (he's been a major resource and help to us). He left Puerto Williams about a week after us and has been further south in Antarctica since arriving. He had been trying to work north from Marguerite Bay all week and we had hoped to see each other in Vernadsky. Saturdays are typically a social night at Vernadsky and they invited Kotik (who they know well and have hosted once this past winter and shortly after Kotik arrived to Antarctica this trip) over and then called to invite us, as well. After hearing from Vernadsky, Igor stopped by for a catch-up chat and to invite us over to Kotik before all going to Vernadsky. It was a wonderful evening. The crew aboard Kotik is an interesting mix of Igor's friends - they came from numerous places to make the trip. With COVID-19 related restrictions, he was sure at least one of them would not be able to make it, but somehow they all arrived in Puerto Williams and have been enjoying their trip to Antarctica - many for the first time, some for something between 4-11 times (not to mention Igor who has been around 40+ times). We enjoyed meeting everyone and learning about them and their adventures. We were also appreciative of their willingness to speak English with us as this Kotik crew runs in French and Spanish. The language is also a bit of a barrier at the Ukrainian Station, as they understand and can speak some English, but other than the doctor at the base, are pretty shy about speaking, which we completely understand and can relate to! Kotik has a Russian speaking guest and she was a great help to the evening as it opened up more communication with other base members to the group. The boys were also very popular and every time we turned around they were eating a new dessert or candy that somebody had brought to them, or doing exercises with someone, or getting help to play on the Xbox, or...well you get the idea. It was amusing to realize this was by far the most social we have been in six months (we went to an outdoor wedding back in September, before that it is well over a year since we've been at a big, inside gathering) and it was in Antarctica! It was also a strange escape from the world of COVID that we have all been navigating. We felt amazingly lucky.

Sunday morning we woke up to nice weather and confirmation that the window to move north still looked pretty good. We got moving, said our goodbyes over the radio and waved to the people from Vernadsky Station that kindly came out to wave goodbye. We headed over to the nearby Yalour Islands were we had heard there were Adélie penguins. We anchored Zephyros and headed in. They were so cute! They seemed quite fuzzy. The babies were getting pretty large and there was a lot of wing flapping. We watched them for awhile and then headed back to Zephyros. It was a nice excursion and we were happy to confirm we have seen all three brush-tail penguins of the Antarctic Peninsula.

From there we started north. We had planned to stop at Pleneau Island which is just south of Port Charcot. We had skipped it on our way south figuring we would catch it going back north. It is also supposed to be well protected and the weather said there would be another couple of windy days/nights. We saw Kotik out in front of us and followed them north. It was quite strange to be underway with another sailboat! We went past Petermann Island together and had a radio chat. They had decided to take the weather window and use it to move north all day. They are hoping to get to Deception Island so making a big move yesterday should allow them to escape the wind we will still be in for a little while longer, and to continue to see things and move north over the next few days. Later this week it looks like we may all be back to really calm weather.

We decided not to make the day stop off of Petermann where there is an Argentinian hut and Charcot spent his second winter (he spent his first winter in Port Charcot). We broke off to the west and Kotik continued north. We got settled into the Pleneau anchorage and took advantage of the sunshine and calm weather. We dinghy'd around and took a couple of nice walks. There were quite a few seals around and more gentoo penguins. They are quite hilarious now running about and chasing each other. We saw a group of three on one rocky island out cropping and investigated a bit closer realizing it was an adult gentoo with a baby gentoo and baby adélie. How strange! Also, we were under the impression that the babies didn't swim until after they molted, but D has a new theory that maybe they do practice and learn with baby feathers in shallower, protected waters. We all continue to enjoy watching, learning and making new hypotheses.

Sunday night did end up windy and continued into Monday with winds and rains. We were all quite glad we explored the area in Sunday's nice, calm, sunny weather. Week 5 closed out much like it started - windy & rainy, but the weather forecast still looks good for us to move around more this next week.

Week 4 of Antarctica

Highlight for all of us:
Sunshine, vistas & history

This week has featured a nice amount of sunshine. We enjoyed some amazing views of the peninsula and the islands. We toured around, watched more wildlife and enjoyed the adventure. We even closed out the week around other people.

Tuesday we awoke to sunny and calm weather. We moved from Dorian Bay around the point to Port Lockroy. We took a dinghy adventure around the islands in the bay, walked around a bit and toured the historic Base A. It is typically manned by a couple of representatives from the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT), but this year it has been left unmanned. The UKAHT seems to have come through on Voyager or Explorer (both National Geographic ships) (or possibly the James Clark Ross, a British Antarctic ship) to open up the buildings or at least check on things. There have been some visitors to these sites from all 3 of these ships, plus some Chilean Navy visitors and a couple of sailboats. It is quite amazing that we are able to tour the sites and we are so thankful they are open. How different it must be when they have a constant stream of cruise ships! The boys were sad that they couldn't buy a souvenir in what looked to be a pretty extensive gift shop.

The historic building, Bransfield House, is latched but unlocked and we were able to tour the very interesting site at our leisure. The area (bay) was discovered in 1904 by Charcot; used by whalers from 1911-1931; and the British established it as a base in 1944. Bransfield House was built in 1944 and after WWII the site was turned over to researchers and used until 1962. It was primarily used for ionospheric research and was instrumental in understanding High Frequency (HF) radio. There was a lot of information to read, quite a few rooms to look at and a nice chance to imagine what it might have been like to spend a year or two on the peninsula at a small research base back in the 50s or 60s.

Outside of the buildings, there were more older gentoo babies who are really starting to chase the adults around for food. According to our book this is the normal way of things - the parents make them chase them for food in order for them to gain needed coordination, and they use this time to gradually orient the young closer and closer to the water where they will soon need to go in order to get their own food. To us the parents seem quite exasperated and unwilling to give them food because they are getting so big (about the size of the parents) and so demanding (not unlike constantly hungry teenage boys?). Either way, it remains quite entertaining.

Wednesday was sunny again but a bit windy with winds from the south - the direction we wanted to go. So we hung out on the boat. Around lunch time, we looked out of our window and saw another boat coming in! It was the French sailboat, Orionde. We have been in email contact and knew they were around. They also came from Puerto Williams. We both kept to our continued isolation but had a nice chat on the radio. They had come from the south so they shared information from the south and we shared information from the north.

Thursday was nice and sunny again so we got moving to take advantage of the nice day and very light winds. Orionde had already done the same and headed north. We saw some humpbacks as we left Port Lockroy, then some Sei or Fin whales in Butler Passage. Later another set of humpbacks swam right under us, and finally we saw some smaller whales or big dolphins (probably Minke whales) as we entered the Port Charcot anchorage.

This was the clearest day that we had moved around. The views to the peninsula and across the islands were incredible and extremely expansive. As the weather was so clear and nice, we went through the Lemaire Channel. WOW! It was indeed spectacular with high cliffs, mountains, glaciers and just raw, rugged beauty. It was very calm in the channel which made for a lot of ice but it was easy enough to pick through it slowly while enjoying the views. In this channel, we saw lots of penguins swimming and quite a few seals drifting around on bergy bits and growlers.

Friday was again sunny with some wind from the south. We went ashore in Port Charcot and walked quite a bit, post-holing in the snow. Well, that was largely Jon breaking ground with Megan and R largely staying in his footsteps, while D ran all around - enjoying being lighter and tending to stay on top of the snow. He did also fall through a bit, but that was fine too as it consumed some of his seemingly endless amounts of energy. We could see that the northern anchorages on Booth Island were definitely the right choice as the winds from the south had completely filled the southern anchorages with brash ice (small to medium sized pieces of ice). We also had nice views of an "iceberg graveyard" from the hill and sunny views all around. It is such a stunning place.

Also on Booth Island, we saw more gentoos and enjoyed watching them some more. There are supposed to be Chinstrap and Adélie penguins there as well and we were on a quest to find them. We saw a handful of chinstraps but are still searching for the elusive adélie. We tried to hike up to where the chinstraps might be but decided we couldn't tell and that we didn't want to disturb all the gentoo nests along the way. We retreated back to the dinghy and took an explore all around the bay. We continued to see gentoos and enjoyed the dinghy explore, but decided that we were finished looking for adélies when the seagulls repeatedly tried to dive bomb us, attempting to poop on us. The kids enjoyed that Megan squealed and got angry at them. They were letting out quite a bit of poop! Thankfully their aim was poor or at least they were not accounting for the wind in their aim so we escaped un-pooped-on.

Saturday was back to overcast, with some wind from the north. We pulled ourselves together to get moving 20nm south. We saw a lot of bergy bits, icebergs and growlers. Soon after leaving Port Charcot we passed some ice and saw some whale spouts. There were 3 humpbacks eating right around the ice. They came up in unison at one point and we didn't quite know what we were looking at until we realized we were seeing the underside of 3 mouths. The water here is very rich in krill so hopefully the humpbacks are doing well feeding this year. We are thankful that we have been so lucky to see them so well. We had a pretty easy trip south even though the sky was getting darker behind us.

We arrived in the Argentine Islands in the mid-afternoon. It is an interesting and different spot where you tuck in between a bunch of low islands. The Vernadsky (Ukrainian) Base is here and we were looking forward to saying hello and visiting Wordie House (another UKAHT site). There are two spots that we knew to anchor in: one is a tight spot that requires shore lines in a small arm off of "Stella Creek", which is really a small channel between islands (that is the preferred spot and very secure), and the other is free swinging at anchor. We sometimes have trouble getting into tight spots with our short rudder so we felt more comfortable knowing there were 2 options. Well, the easy, free swinging spot had a large flat layer of sea ice covering it (called a floe) with a couple of seals lying on it - so much for the easy option! We dropped Jon off to figure out where he could arrange shore lines. He had to do a little rock climbing, navigate some snow and steep scree to top the cliffs and find something acceptable. Meanwhile, Megan drove the boat around in somewhat tight circles, up and down the "creek" trying to figure out how to successfully deal with 20+ knot winds coming down the tight channel and the need to move from that environment into the sheltered arm with no real wind but occasional swirling gusts. An inconvenient rock narrows the entrance to the slot, and a decent sized piece of ice decided to float thru and create another obstacle. It was proving to be a challenging spot indeed. After numerous attempts, we decided to take a break. Megan had taken off her gloves because they were getting in the way of her making sharp turns so she had gotten pretty cold. Jon came back to the boat and we anchored in the "creek" where we could look at the intended spot thanks to the wind blowing us straight down the channel. It proved to be an excellent decision. Megan was able to warm herself back up with some tea and grab gloves that she could still steer hard in. Jon was able to see what she was struggling with from her perspective. He was also able to convey what he was seeing from his perspective in the slot on the dinghy. We talked over an adjusted plan a couple of times and some strategies if we continued to struggle. When we decided we were ready, we gave it another go and got right in and settled easily on the first try. It's a good reminder that sometimes we need to take that break, take a step back and reconsider how we are going about something rather than just continuing to push on - becoming frustrated or committed to a strategy that isn't quite working.

Once we were in and settled we said "hi" to the Ukrainians over the radio. We picked up a key to Wordie House and submitted an email requesting a site visit to the Vernadsky Base. In this anchorage we were very securely tucked in with wind at the top of our mast, but nothing being felt on the boat. It felt like we were back tied up in the Patagonian Fjords. It then began raining on us to further the illusion. Overnight the rain turned to snow and we awoke to 3+ inches of snow covering Zephyros Sunday morning - summer on the Antarctic Peninsula!

Sunday morning continued to be snowy, but we got going and went to Wordie House. It is another nicely preserved historic site - size-wise between Bransfield House and Damoy Hut. It was used from 1947 - 1954 for meteorological research and was typically manned by 4-5 people. We also had some fun in the snow, took a dinghy excursion through some slush (grease ice) to see some seals (crab eater, weddell and maybe a leopard or two) laying out on three different ice floes (surface layer of frozen water). There were also some impressive icebergs and growlers that had come to the top of Stella Creek which would have made our previous day's entry and numerous circles much more sporty and challenging. The afternoon became quite sunny and we enjoyed getting some things done around the boat as well as hanging out together.

Monday morning we worked on boat chores, planning and getting the rest of the fuel can diesel into Zephyros' tank. We have just over half of our fuel left so now we need to start focusing on how we will finish up our time in Antarctica. We had also arranged that we would visit the base and headed over to meet the Ukrainians in the afternoon. We had a wonderful tour of their facility and thoroughly enjoyed getting to see a glimpse of station life (it seemed quite a bit like deployment on a Navy Ship to Jon & Megan).

The station has an interesting history having been built by the British as a larger replacement for the Wordie House base in 1954, in 1977 it was renamed Faraday Station, and then in 1996 they turned it over to the Ukrainians for one British Pound. The Ukrainians have preserved much of the historic material and traditions at the base including pictures of every expedition team, visitor log books, and the English pub space. We spent the afternoon chatting, learning about their science programs and daily life, sampling a bit of their homemade vodka and then they even invited us to stay for dinner. It was a fascinating day and very special experience - we are truly grateful for their wonderful hospitality! What a way to close our fourth week in Antarctica and share a day with other people, outside of our family of four, for the first time in over a month.

Week 3 of Antarctica

Highlights for all of us:
Humpback whales feeding & Gentoo penguin babies

This week has been mostly calm weather and adventures. We began the week continuing to hang out next to the wreck in Enterprise Island.

Tuesday was a very nice day and we played outside. We took the dinghy over the wreck to see what we could see and took a dinghy adventure to a nearby island. There were old wooden boats to check out and the occasional penguin to see.

Wednesday we moved south 30nm through Wilhelmina Bay. We were told this was a good whale area and we were not disappointed! Upon leaving Enterprise Island we had a lot of clean up to do - put away lines and fenders - Jon & R were stowing gear while Megan drove. She initially saw whales in the distance. As we got on course it seemed like our paths might converge, so we were able to go into idle and have them come quite close to us. They were feeding and you could see mouths and flippers and flukes. These were definitely humpbacks and we believe there was a very young whale in this group of 3. After they had moved well past us, we finished stowing gear and began moving south again. We continued to see whales throughout the day and passed this same group of 3 (further away this time) awhile later. They move along pretty quickly, even while feeding. We saw lots more whales and feeding activity throughout the day as we made our way to Cuverville Island. The weather was a bit gray and the clouds were a bit low but it was still a beautiful trip.

Thursday we woke to some sun and prepared to venture on to Cuverville to see the Gentoo penguins. We also had a rather large piece of ice come next to us at anchor, but thankfully it continued to float and moved on. The spot was very beautiful with dramatic mountains, glaciers, snow and ice plus large icebergs off of the island. We enjoyed our shore time and saw penguin nests with eggs, very tiny babies and even some older juvenile penguins that were walking around out of the nest. Eventually we returned to the boat and continued to hangout outside. The penguins swam to and fro around the boat and entertained us, along with the impressive views, into the late afternoon hours.

Friday saw us moving again, another 30nm jaunt. There was some debate about whether we should stay or go. We plan to be in Antarctica for around 6 weeks total and perhaps go about another 100nm south, so there is not a real hurry. The weather suggested light winds for the next few days. So we looked at cloud cover and precipitation to make the decision. Friday looked to be clearer and less rain / snow so we reluctantly got ourselves going. Some days it's difficult to motivate out of a warm cocoon into all the gear, but the thought of moving in snow or rain eventually convinced us to grab the nicer weather.

On our trip, we took Zephyros over to a cool iceberg and launched the dinghy for a photo op before continuing on our way. Later, we had another cool whale encounter. This time we were nearby when two groups passed by each other. They were humpbacks again, one group of 3 with a very young one, and the other a group of 2, and they were staying at the surface for a long time before diving down. It didn't seem like they were eating (no mouths or flippers) but like they were resting, or maybe they are able to eat at the surface like that when it is really calm? We aren't sure. It definitely seemed like different behavior than we have seen. Another amazing whale watching day!

We then went through Neumayer Channel and onwards to Dorian Bay. Of course, we had decided to move on this day because of that weather forecast. Well, we were reminded that Antarctica does what it wants when clouds rolled in, the snow began falling and the visibility went away - all right when we were approaching the entry to the channel. Things cleared up again, there was even some sun, but we had a laugh about the irony of trying to plan to avoid exactly what we were getting! It was a slow rest of the trip to Dorian Bay with the current and winds against us. Megan made dinner while we were approaching the bay. We anchored and got settled with shore lines and then were all back inside happy to enjoy the warm meal together in a new spot.

Saturday was indeed overcast, low visibility and snowing. We had a waffle morning and played some games. We headed ashore in the late afternoon in snowy weather but enjoyed a visit to the Damoy Hut which was set up in November 1975 by the British Antarctic Survey as a summer transit station to support the landing site on Damoy Point - a 400m ski-way landing strip on the glacier spine for a Twin Otter. The plane would stop for weather information and to pick up personnel and supplies from ships for transfer on to Rothera Research Station on Adelaide Island. This allowed work to start earlier in the summer season at Rothera as the area often remained too icy for the supplies and personnel to arrive by ship. The hut was used until 1995 when direct flights to Rothera were started. It is now a historic building and kept up by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. The door is kept unlocked and you are able to tour at your leisure to see the hut that includes a kitchen and dining area, a bathroom and storage area and a bunk room. It was interesting and in good repair.

We also walked around the area and watched Gentoo penguins and skuas. We walked up a small hill and could see into the bay where Port Lockroy is located. We found some nearly full grown baby penguins and saw more babies on down to newborns and some eggs. It was a nice outing and the weather cleared and lifted a bit allowing us to stay on land longer than we had expected.

Sunday we awoke to sunny weather. A check of the forecast said the weather would change by afternoon so we got going and took another trip ashore. It is nice when we are able to stretch our legs and have land excursions. We enjoyed more penguin and skua watching - the skuas really bother the penguins. We don't know if they steal babies or eggs, but we guess they must at least take the hatched egg shells for anything left inside. We also saw a baby penguin that was starting to molt into adult feathers and one that was nearly complete. We had a good chuckle at him as he was a total mess with feathers stuck out of his beak. We said it reminded us of teenage boys! The surroundings were amazing and it was the first time we could see some of the nearby mountains. Funny how different landscapes can be when the clouds are quite low versus when things are clearer.

We had a nice afternoon back on the boat, but the wind that was forecast to pick up, did and we got far more than was forecast. We were safe and comfortable but not especially happy with the amount of wind and the fact that it was coming from the side with us anchored with 2 stern lines to shore. It was not ideal, but sometimes you just get what you get. Eventually the winds died down, but until then we didn't get much sleep and we fretted a bit. This spot is not said to be a place to sit in a storm, but we found it to have good holding in the end. We would have preferred to be free swinging, but it is a small part of the bay enclosed by rocks so using shore ties makes sense.

Monday was boat chores and more penguin watching. We finally saw penguins on their bellies in snow! So that was exciting. The Gentoos mostly walk and hop about. But there is some snow between the water and a few of the rookery spots. So we saw them on their bellies, eating snow and moving up and down the hill. It doesn't seem to be their preferred method and we haven't seen it much, but it was amusing.

That closes out week 3. Tomorrow marks 4 weeks since we left Puerto Williams. We still have a good amount of meats and cheeses (our fridge is basically running as a freezer with the cold water), but are down to potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage and a few lemons for fruit and veg. Not too bad, but boy can these kids eat (they destroyed an entire crate of oranges in about 10 days)! We still have plenty of food as there are still eggs, flour, rice, pasta, and canned food. Ada (our sourdough starter) is not producing as much bread as the boys would like because it is so cold. We will all be looking forward to some fresh greens, fresh fruit and fresh veggies when we get back to Puerto Williams! The grocers will have surely missed us.