It’s a cliche but I’m going on the adventure of a life-time.
Eight elderly gentlemen, all sailors, most from Maine, will be chartering a 75 foot aluminum hulled sloop and sailing from Ushuaia, the southern most city in Argentina, and therefore the world, to the Antarctic Peninsula for three weeks in February. We will be aboard from the 2nd to the 22nd.
After disembarking in Ushuaia, I will fly to Lima, Peru, to meet a friend so we can explore the Inca lands around Cuzco for another two weeks.
I will be blogging from now until I return. However, I will NOT be uploading any blogs while on the boat due to the extremely high cost of satellite transmission from the boat. When I return to solid ground, February 22, I’ll upload all my daily logs that I’ll be writing while at sea.
The First Leg of My Trip: Antarctica
Who’s Going and How This Came Together
The common thread in this adventure is Peter Plumb, a lawyer from Portland, an avid sailor and who each of the eight of us has sailed with at one time or another. Some of his adventures, adventures that he has invited us to join in on for various legs, have been to the Caribbean, around Newfoundland, with a hop over to Labrador, up the British Columbia coast into Alaska and now to Antarctica.
I’ve known Peter and his wife Pam since the early ’70s but really got to know them well when we discovered each other in the Bahamas in January of 1999. We met up again while anchored in Iles des Saintes, a small group of islands between Guadeloupe and Dominica in the Caribbean at the divide between the Windward and Leeward Islands. After a few days of hiking and sharing meals there, we moved south to Portsmouth, Dominica, for a delicious Easter dinner prepared by Pam aboard their boat Boheme. The next day we hired a boat boy to guide us up the rain forest river.
My next adventure with Peter was a passage from Baddeck, Nova Scotia, in the Bras d’Or Lake, across the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Newfoundland. We slowly sailed up the west shore of Newfoundland before making a hop across the Strait of Belle Isle over to Labrador to check out the old whaling station at Red Bay. Then back to Newfoundland, picking our way through the bergy bits, where I was dropped off in St. Anthony.
Peter’s next adventure is this one. Sailing to Antarctica.
The crew, above, at Peter’s house, consists of l to r John Sanford, Wyatt Garfield, Christopher Hart, Peter Plumb, Paul Murray, Peter Murray, Joel Tranum and me, front. All are experienced sailors who have sailed with Peter on one leg or another of one or more of his voyages.
The boat is the Pelagic Australis, a purpose-built sloop for high-latitude exploration. She will have a captain and one crew so we will be expected to stand watch, do the cooking and clean up. No luxury cruise for us. An indication of the lack of luxury is that each of us will be allotted 2.5 liters of water per day for our own personal use. No showers with that. Three weeks? Ten men? No showers? Hmmm…
All previous trips with Peter have included wives and girlfriends, kids and grand kids, but for some reason none of the women wanted to go on this adventure.
The whole show is run by Skip Novak, a very experienced American sailor with a number of round the world races to his credit as well as close to two decades of Arctic and Antarctic exploration. On his website, you can also get a sense of our Antarctic Peninsula voyage. The Pelagic Australis Position Tracker will show our daily position as we cross from Tierra del Fuego to the Antarctic Peninsula and back.
While on board, I will be keeping a daily log. However, the cost to upload from the boat is phenomenally expensive, so I will not be adding to this blog until I return to Ushuaia. Ditto for photographs, which are even more expensive than text.
February is summer in the Southern Hemisphere, equivalent to our August, so life won’t be that bad. Since the peninsula sticks the furthest North of any point in Antarctica, it has the mildest temperatures. It traditionally has many days above 0˚ Celsius. We’ve been told to expect +2˚ to -5˚C temps in Antarctica, not unlike Maine right now.
I’ve been walking Crescent Beach, in Cape Elizabeth, for years but since September I’ve been doing it with a more serious purpose. I’ve been walking not only to get in shape, but also to test out the various layers and combinations of gear to see what’s the most effective.
One of the most common questions I’m asked is: “What are you going to wear?” So here goes:
Most days I’ll start out with a base layer of Grundens poly wicking Fiske Skins, top and bottom, from Hamilton Marine. On top, I’ll add a mid layer of a light weight fleece and I’ve found a White Sierra top to be great. Inexpensive, well made and warm. Next comes heavy fleece pants, again White Sierra, and a heavy fleece top. Socks are a light weight poly wicking inner sock with either a wool knee-high boot sock or the same in alpaca.
A good friend, who lives on St. John, in the Virgin Islands, acquired two teen aged alpacas (alpacii?) one boy, one girl, so needless to say now she has more than two. Anyway, she sent me a few pairs of alpaca socks and they are incredibly warm and comfortable. Alpaca is the way to go! Thanks Carol!
While on the boat, we will be outfitted with really top quality Glacier Bay foul weather gear by the Swedish Company, Sail Racing. But we can not wear that gear ashore so I’ve got a water- and windproof pair of pants, with added suspenders, and a lined parka. The parka has a wind- and waterproof outer shell and a zip in inner fleece jacket. What I like about this combination is that I can separate the inner and outer parts, then safely stow my camera between the two, but more about this later.
Hand coverings is a concern that I’ve not solved completely, yet. I need mittens or better, gloves, that will keep me warm, yet will allow me to manipulate the controls of my camera and allow me to zip and un-zip whatever needs zipping and unzipping. Initially I thought a pair of wool half fingered gloves with a pull-over mitten would be the way to go but I quickly discovered that they are not warm enough at any temp below 0˚C or if there is any wind. I then got a pair of double layered fleece with a waterproof membrane in the middle which seemed great, except that they will not shed any moisture that gets inside, like through sweating. The next time I put ’em on, the insides were way too damp and cold.
So far the best I’ve found is the Gill waterproof offshore Helmsman Glove with a wrist band and a long cuff that can be cinched around my lower arm. Warm and with enough flexibility to manipulate zippers and camera controls.
Remember those cords that your mother would thread through your sleeves and tie to your mittens? Well, I made up two of them so I can easily shed my gloves, if needed, and not have to worry about them going overboard or dropping in the snow. Mom was right about a few things.
Head gear is still an issue. The traditional watch cap is OK, but offers no protection for the lower part of one’s face. A balaclava protects the face but often fogs my glasses. Ideally a balaclava with a visor and a non-fogging mouth vent would be perfect, but I haven’t found one yet.
Then there are the boots. Skip and his crew highly recommend Muckmasters by the Muck Boot Company so I got a pair in September. They’re big, black, and look ugly so they sat in the corner of my bedroom for two month since they, well, just looked too big and too ugly. Then I tried them on a beach walk and I’m sold. They’re light, fit like a glove and are unbelievably warm. I’m afraid that my venerable, 40 year old, Bean’s boots have now been relegated to the back of the closet.
During my search for the best gear I discovered Renys. In my 43 years in Maine I’d never stepped into a Renys store until this fall in spite of many friends extolling their virtues. It’s all true. Good quality gear at good prices and a staff who is friendly and very knowledgeable.
Needless to say, I want to come back with a ton of images, so I had to explore the best photo gear. I contacted my good friend Alison Langley, marine photographer extraordinaire—check out her work—and at her suggestion, picked up a used Canon 5D with a 70 to 200mm stabilized zoom lens and a 28 to 70mm for in boat work. I’m a Leica guy, 35mm lens only, so carrying around this huge body and lens goes a bit against my grain, and even my ethics. Do you know how big that lens is? But ya’ can’t ask the boat to get that close if you’ve only got a 35mm lens.
Extra batteries are a must since the cold quickly saps the energy so four will be going along with me, kept warm in an inner pocket. And since this is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, no second chances, I’m taking six cards. Evenings will be spend downloading to my iPad so I can see the results of the day’s work. My aging eyes will no longer allow me to judge the images while looking at the camera’s screen. Then the keepers will be moved to a harddrive. Back-up, back-up and then back-up again.
And then I had to get outerwear that will allow me to shelter the camera and lens from the elements as well as keep them somewhat warm when not working, yet have easy and rapid access. And enough pockets for all the extra batteries and cards needed—just in case—in the cold temperatures.
The Second Leg of My Trip: South America
But that’s just one part of my adventure. I figure that while I am in South America, where I’ve never been, ever, I might as well check out some other places, so I will be heading up to Peru to spend two weeks exploring the Inca ruins around the Cuzco area. A long-time friend from NYC will be in SA during the time I’ll be sailing, so she’ll be joining me for those weeks. Unfortunately, she will have to return to the city, which will leave me to fly back to Buenos Aires alone and spend another two weeks or so exploring that beautiful city. Blog posts from these two legs should be more regular since hotel wifi and Internet cafes abound. Plus, both of us being in our 70s, we’ve decided that our schedule will be hiking and exploring one day, then sitting around the cafes the next. That’s what one does when one is over 70, no?