Day 1, Drake Passage Northbound

1500Z 19FEB22, Day 1, Drake Passage Northbound. We departed from our weather window resting spot in Yankee Harbour at noon (local time).

Current Position: 60 09S / 059 34W
24 hour progress: 151nm(!), 6.3kts avg SOG, just under 11h of engine time, approximately 515nm to Stanley Harbour in the Falklands. We are sailing a broad reach, with winds aft of the beam and moving well. The main has 3 reefs in and the genoa has 3 as well. Around sunrise the winds picked up a bit (as forecast), but with the winds aft of the beam we can still sail pretty hard, pretty much directly on course. The seas are large but following, and we have this train moving down the rails.

Prior to pushing off, we started the day with new snow dusting everything and very gusty winds in the anchorage. We find this more disruptive than steady strong winds. It causes the boat to jerk around a bit and there isn't a rhythm to it that you can block out to sleep through. (Not that it is easy to sleep in strong winds, but if you are confident the anchor is well dug in, you can turn off your mind to the howling winds and sleep reasonably well.) With the gusty winds it is more difficult to get restful sleep as the mind is often aware of the changes in sounds. It didn't help that there were some decent sized chunks of brash ice blowing into the hull every so often. All this to say, we didn't sleep especially well and the wind was still going (but more steadily than gusty) as we got up and worked on final preparations before departing.

The plan was to take advantage of a forecast lull in the wind and to try to make slack tide at the passage between islands. Tides in Antarctica are tricky. There isn't a lot of data and the station that was closest to us was a bay over so wouldn't necessarily be exact for us. Add to that this station had two entries in our tide tables that showed low tide an hour apart. Which one was right? And did we even want to try the pass if the winds were high? Going around would mean an extra 25+nm, we would be further east and oh, by the way, that spot also experiences strong tidal currents as it is also a tidal choke point (but wider) between islands.

So lots of balls in the air, and we were doing our best to juggle them all. The wind came down and off we went. In hindsight we probably should have worried less about the wind coming down and just started for the strait at 11am like we had thought from the tide tables. After all, "Time and tide, wait for no man." Then if the wind hadn't come down we could have discussed bailout options while being in a good spot to make the strait if they did come down.

All was well as we started off across Moon Bay towards the strait. A bit rolly, but winds were 10-15kts and we made good progress. We were chasing an Argentinian supply ship and we thought perhaps he was going to travel the pass too, but he turned around, which made more sense, before reaching the narrows. As we approached the narrows the turbulent water was churning with eddies and washing machine waves and our speed was reduced. All was still fine, but we were starting to look like perhaps we were late and had missed slack water. The other thing that happens in choke points is that slack water is often an hour or so different than high or low tides and the turbulent areas can be before or after the choke point. We aren't great guessing how these tidal affects will present without solid data and they remain challenging "growth areas of opportunity", but then again experience and local knowledge is how these things are dealt with.

As we proceeded, we bumped up the throttle and looked at the chart to see the narrowest spot. We continued to move ok with steerage and adjusted the helm (glad Nike is on duty again!) with an eye to the turbulence, the narrows and the chart. We lost speed again and pushed the throttle higher, but we were pretty close to what should have been the worst part. It briefly looked like we might not make it if the current grew any stronger, but we were still clawing our way through so we kept pushing forward. We put out a bit of sail to give ourselves a little more help. And slowly, slowly we started gaining ground and then gaining some speed. Whew! That was a tough one.

After we got through the narrowest part we kept the throttle up and kept pushing. The churn gradually lessened and the ocean swell arrived. We wound our way through the rocks and small islands and headed for the deeper southern ocean. We did pass another basalt formation which was interesting. We weren't especially close to it and we all deemed the other one "better" (which may mean it was just easier to get to, to get close to and the day/light was nicer and not really be indicative of anything).

As we were pulling away from the South Shetlands and the water was getting deeper we had some whales pass in front of us. This was a nice way to say goodbye to Antarctica. We hadn't had a day with lots of whales like we had a couple of times last year. So it was nice to see about 10 or so spouts and backs and tails crossing our path. They were difficult to see in the rolly swell until rather close, but there were quite a few. Always enjoyable to witness. There were also penguins and sea lions that frolicked around the boat to see us off. The last sea lions said goodbye about 25nm out. Now we just have the birds soaring around us and skimming the churning waves.

North of the South Shetlands, the wind was indeed light at around 5kts (yay working anemometer!) and we motored along at normal rpms, with the main up at the 3rd reef, and set course for Stanley. We began to settle into passage routines, Daxton got sea-sick (there was a bucket by him this time! But he still managed to get a significant portion out of the bucket while also getting some in the bucket so Megan grumpily cleaned up) and Megan made dinner.

Jon took the first night watch and was able to secure the engine around 10:30. We were sailing and making decent speed, not too shabby. Though we were not missing the noise, we were quickly missing the engine heat inside the boat. Brrrrrr!

We have been sailing hard ever since. The sun has come out this morning and we are all in good spirits. Everyone is a bit low key with the large waves and finding our sea legs. But the ride is decently comfortable. Both boys have gotten sick, but that is typical and they deal well with it - sleeping, resting and eating. Jon is still holding strong so far. And Megan still wears that iron stomach crown. The winds should calm a bit this evening, and we can have a bit more genoa out again. Hopefully we can keep up the good speeds with some continued, current assistance.

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