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?).


  1. CONGRATULATIONS! It's been a joy to follow you, the weather and every morning wake up with "Where is Zephyros now. I have, quite a while ago, heard all the podcasts of "Ice Coffee", so now I'll just have to wait for your pictures. Thank you, so much, for doing the blog, which have been keeping my dreams alive in this covid lockdown, being separated from my boat, time.
    Have a great rest. Really very well done, guys!

  2. Congrats on the southern trek, and glad to see you safely back in Chile, what a great experience. it's been awesome tracking and looking up locations on Google Maps.

  3. Congratulations! I'm so happy you got to experience Antarctica and I'm equally glad you are back safe and sound in Tierra del Fuego.