Week 1, Antarctica 2022 Expedition

Highlights - Penguins, Whales & Buddy Boats

We arrived to Antarctica and the Melchior Islands on the morning of Tuesday, 18 Jan. It was a beautiful, sunny day. We could see a couple of humpbacks feeding in the bay which is always a nice treat. It felt great to be back in Antarctica. It was still a bit windy, and as there were 2 other boats in the normal tucked in mooring spot, we found a place to drop our anchor that was a little bit exposed to the winds, but not too bad; it is good to have solid anchoring gear. While we had experienced a rough night making our way to Melchior, the good weather kept us going working on chores. The wind quickly settled down, and Jon spent most of the day outside working on getting the dinghy re-inflated and the boat back into our coastal cruising configuration. They say that cruising is fixing boats in exotic locations - well, this week definitely had a bit of that. When we went to mount our servo pendulum wind steering (back up to autopilot) in Lennox, we found that it had seized up. So the first repair project had Jon continuing to work on loosening it with los of teflon spray and patience.

Dinghies from both of the other boats - LifeXplorer and Spirit of Sydney - came by to say hi and have a socially distanced talk about their Antarctic experiences. They were both set to head back north, across the Drake, the next morning. We discussed ice levels and things that cruisers to Antarctica discuss. What a different world than last year when we were almost completely alone. We finished off the day and enjoyed a wonderful, peaceful full night of sleep.

Wednesday turned out to be another fairly nice day. We went for a cruise in the dinghy under light gray skies with a little bit of wind. We were able to watch some humpbacks eating and we cruised around Melchior. We tried to go down a small inlet / passage but the tide was too low. It made for an interesting adventure surrounded by ice cliffs where we alternated between paddling and the engine. In the end we almost made it through, but had to turn around and go back the way that we came as we didn't fancy carrying the dinghy across a very shallow flat with fast moving water. We probably could have gone through easily at high tide. Another interesting and lovely Antarctica exploration.

Later in the evening the sun was out and when we were having dinner another sailboat motored close by - Bouchard - who we knew of from Puerto Williams but had never met. We had seen his boat before the pandemic very briefly in Puerto Williams and Ushuaia, but when the borders closed he ended up stuck in Ushuaia while we were stuck in Puerto Williams. It was nice to finally meet him, if only for a couple of minutes. We had a quick chat across the boats. He was planning to head back north across the Drake the following day. Melchior is an interesting cross roads as it is a popular place to enter or depart Antarctica.

Thursday we decided to head south to Port Lockroy. We had texted Sea Wind and Cool Change, boats we knew from Puerto Williams, that we were planning to go to Lockroy. We were happy to hear that was their plan as well! We moved 45 miles for the day. It was overcast but we were able to watch some humpback whales feeding and see a little bit of the impressive mountains of Antarctica. As we departed Melchior, we realized that we had actually broken something quite important on our crossing. Our autopilot, nicknamed Nike, is a very important crew member - she faithfully steers Zephyros along allowing us to sit in the comfort of the pilot house and push buttons to alter our course. Well, when we headed out from Melchior we realized that Nike was no longer engaging. Nike wasn't moving the helm and investigation into what was wrong was necessary. Jon quickly discovered the hydraulic ram arm was no longer attached to the steering gear and that we had sheered a rather specialized 20mm diameter bolt! Crap. That must have been a tremendous amount of force, and it is not something that we had a spare for. The bolt must have sheered in the heavy weather over the last night of our crossing and held on for some time by a thread until finally coming off right outside of Melchior. In hindsight, there had been an indication that Nike didn't want to steer anymore entering into Melchior, but we were tired from the crossing and hand steering into the anchorage anyway so hadn't really processed the full extent of the issue. Ok, a new challenge to overcome. We went into hand steering mode doing about an hour at the helm each. Not a big deal, we just rotated to make sure neither of us got too cold. The bigger issue was thinking through how we would fix Nike and where we might get a replacement bolt. One of the things about sailing that keeps things interesting and rewarding, is problem solving. You get to play MacGyver a lot and when you succeed in solving those challenging problems it is very satisfying.

Continuing on our trip south, we found via the AIS that we were about 10nm behind Sea Wind and heard from Cool Change that they were traveling with Sea Wind. The Neumayer Channel was beautiful even though it was a bit shrouded with clouds. We passed by feeding humpbacks a few times which always prompts a slow down and hope that they will be curious enough to come closer. Sometimes they do, sometimes they dive down or swim away. We are always happy to enjoy whatever part of their day they decide to share with us. As we approached Lockroy we could see that there was a Royal Navy (UK) Survey Ship, the HMS Protector, outside of the bay. As we turned the corner we saw the large ship with a huge crane. We looked at each other and said they would definitely have a 20mm bolt! Soon after, they called us up on the radio to have a chat. It seems like the military ships always want to get boat names to report back to the Antarctic Treaty Organization to ensure that sailboats spotted had gotten the required treaty authorizations and additionally to just pass information about ice and conditions back and forth. We were happy to have a friendly little chat with them and then asked if they might happen to have a 20mm bolt. They kindly went to look and called us back to tell us they had a bag of a couple of options and we were welcome to send a dinghy over and they would lower the bag down to us. Sweet!

By this point we had anchored in the bay and Cool Change had come by to say hello. So Jon jumped aboard their dinghy which has a bigger engine than ours and they headed out to HMS Protector to pick up the bag. After that was all sorted, with Cool Change's help to secure shore lines, we moved into Alice Creek to join Sea Wind and Cool Change. So Thursday saw us with an impromptu Micalvi gathering in Port Lockroy. It was crazy to be back together again, enjoying Antarctica together!

Friday we enjoyed some nice sunny weather. We took a dinghy explore to cruise around Lockroy. We saw a seal swimming and then went walking with the penguins. It is always entertaining to hang out with them and to watch them from the boat or see them swimming past. This year there are people at the facilities at Port Lockroy to do some maintenance, do penguin counts and check on things. Actually, they had just been delivered to Lockroy by HMS Protector. Unfortunately, the site is closed to visitors while the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust's maintenance team is on site. We were especially happy that we had the chance to walk around the site last year when nobody was there, but the site had been opened by the UK ship, the James Clark Ross. Its too bad that it is closed, but the people were nice on the radio and it's good to know the facility is getting attention this year.

The rest of the day, Jon worked on Nike. It turned out that getting the bolt, while critical, was only half of the problem. Getting the sheered off section free from the ram arm was proving quite difficult. We borrowed a gear extractor from a motor yacht, Moonshadow, but that didn't really help as it proved to be a little too large. Their engineer came by and made a suggestion that helped inspire the eventual solution. We then went over, along with Sea Wind, to Cool Change for the evening where we were treated to a delicious taco party. It was a wonderful little gathering of our Micalvi bubble in Antarctica. Sea Wind also brought by a smaller gear extractor for Jon to try.

Before the end of the evening, there was also a charter sailboat called Ocean Tramp, in Alice Creek with us and another charter sailboat, Global Surveyor, out in the bay. The latter of which found themselves on some rocks and requiring assistance from dinghies from Moonshadow and Cool Change, before moving further out in the bay. For those that have been reading the blog for awhile and counting carefully, we did indeed see more ships and sailboats on Friday alone than we did during the whole of our 2021 Antarctica trip.

Saturday turned into a bit of a hectic day. We all knew that there was supposed to be precipitation and some wind, but we ended up with quite a bit of strong wind. It must have been a little microclimate with the glaciers and ice cliffs. Global Surveyor asked for assistance, and Cool Change headed out to help them recover their struggling dinghy and a wayward scientist. Meanwhile the wind really started gusting, hitting most of us in Alice Creek on the side. We watched as Sea Wind started really heeling and blowing into Cool Change a bit - all while Cool Change was out helping somebody else. We got dressed to go help and to add a windward line for ourselves. By the time we were out the door, Cool Change was back and Sea Wind and Cool Change looked to be mostly sorted. We added another line and found that a large rock that we were using to anchor a line was moving a bit. This rock also had a line from Cool Change around it so we helped put that in a better spot as well. It was a wet and busy afternoon! By the evening the wind was back to a light breeze and we were all able to sleep and recover.

We had thought that we would move on Sunday, but given the big fluffy flakes of wet snow falling from the sky when we awoke and the inability to steer from the pilot house while motoring along, Megan resolutely voted that Jon should get back to work first. This turned out to be a great decision all around. It was overcast and blah most of the day on Sunday so we weren't missing any impressive scenic views. It also gave us a chance to invite Sea Wind and Cool Change over for a pizza party. Jon went back to work trying to extract the bolt piece still stuck in the ram arm universal joint while there were other boats around with the potential of different tools available if needed. He finally solved the puzzle by pushing the shaft end of the bolt back into the collar he was trying to remove and filing down the shaft a little before sliding off the collar that held it in the universal joint. Whew! Then he worked on installing the new bolt. The new bolt turned out to be just a little too short so the project became completely MacGyver-like with him filing down a large nut to make a small collared spacer and making the parts available work. The temporary fix should now hold, but we will be watching it closely. We will need to get a real replacement piece at some point, and maybe find a slightly longer temporary bolt in the meantime, but this should get us to somewhere we can do either (or both). Definitely creative fixing of boats in exotic locations!

Sunday night was another fun gathering with our Micalvi / Puerto Williams friends and provided a chance to say goodbye to Cool Change as they were planning to start heading north. We have spent the pandemic with them, and been around for some of their major life changes - a wedding and the birth of their son, Orion. We have shared numerous Asados (BBQs) at Micalvi, attended their wedding, attended Orion's 1st birthday party, worked on boat projects and just generally enjoyed getting to know them. Brandon has entertained Daxton for hours and hours, and even made a sling shot with him. They are incredibly special people. Sailing is often moving through places and meeting people on a somewhat superficial level - not that you don't have friendships, but it takes time to really get to know people. But slowing down for the pandemic and spending two years in Puerto Williams and at Micalvi really did build a special little community and interesting family. It was hard to say "see you later" to them. We are sure we will see them again, but it is hard to know when or where.

Monday morning we set off south bound with Nike steering most of the way (yay!). The weather was clearer and we had a nice passage through Peltier and Lemaire Channels. Both are spectacular channels with high mountains rising on both sides and huge glaciers. As we approached the second channel, there was a French boat ahead of us, Caval'ou, and Sea Wind behind us. 3 little ducklings each about 5 miles apart. After the Lemaire we looped through an Iceberg Cemetery and anchored off of Pleneau Island. The spot we anchored in last year had an ice floe still, but we found another suitable spot to anchor in without too much trouble. We then enjoyed our hot showers thanks to the day of motoring and water making. Sea Wind ended up coming into the same general spot and also found a suitable place to anchor. Caval'ou had tried to go further south to Vernadsky but found it to have too much ice so they circled back to Pleneau and secured themselves into a popular and secure tie in spot. They came by to check on both Sea Wind and us, and to tell us about the conditions in Vernadsky. We are all hoping to head further south so it is always good to have made contact with the other boats and to pass information around. The plan is now to skip past Vernadsky on our way south and maybe stop there on our way back north.

We closed out the first week with a lovely evening aboard Sea Wind with popcorn and a card game. It has been quite strange to be so social in Antarctica this year - even though it is still with our friends from Puerto Williams and inside the bubble we had before departing for Antarctica. Not only is this far more people than last year in Antarctica, it is also far more people than when we have cruised around in Patagonia or the Beagle Channel! A bit surreal to be sure.

We are looking forward to week 2. We are hoping to make it further south and to meet up with Kotik who has kindly brought our replacement anemometer pieces. Thanks for following along.

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