Category Archives: Preparations

Antarctic Light

I just came across some interesting figures. During our three week adventure to the Antarctica peninsula, the sun will be in the sky for about 16 hours each day. But it will change dramatically during our three weeks.

On February 2, the day we depart from Ushuaia, there will be approximately 18.5 hours of sun down there, while three weeks later, on February 22, there will be a mere 15.5 hours of daylight, a three hour difference in a three-week period.

We’ll miss December when the sun never sets, which could be fun to see, but we’ll also miss June when the sun never rises over much of Antarctica around the time of the solstice. That’s OK with me. Rather than me posting someone else’s pics, you can just Google “Antarctica Sun” if you want to see what it looks like or wait a month and see mine.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the light does to the colors of the sky, water and ice at a high latitude and how that will translate in the photos. Since I’m fairly new to digital photography (go to The Adventure and scroll down to Camera), I’m both interested to discover, and a bit concerned about selecting, the camera’s White Balance. I know enough not to set anything on Auto, but will it be Daylight at 5200K or Shade at 7000K or just what. With the longer, at least I’m assuming longer, dawns and dusks, should I be going more for Sunset/Twilight at 6000K or even lower? Will there be an extended golden hour down there? Digital cameras can be a bit complicated, but I guess I’ll find out.

I’ll be capturing in RAW as well as the smallest jpg so I should have enough information in the RAW files to play around with when I return.


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What does penguin taste like?

One of the questions I get asked a lot is “Are you going to eat a penguin?”

No. But I do respond with a comment from Dr. Cook, ship’s surgeon and colleague of Roald Amundsen on an 1896 voyage to Antarctica: “If it’s possible to imagine a piece of beef, odiferous cod fish and a canvas-backed duck roasted together in a pot, with blood and cod-liver oil for sauce, the illustration would be complete.” Basically the crew found them to be inedible.

Fortunately, both for us and them, the little cuties are off limits. That said, a number of Antarctica cookbooks and penguin recipes can be found on Google.

The eggs can be a bit weird also, with the whites of certain species remaining somewhat translucent and gelatinous and in other species turning a bit green. I thought it best not to include any photos with this blog. Use your imagination.


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Rounding the Horn

We won’t. We’ll be sailing past Cape Horn, or Cabo de Hornos in Spanish, but we won’t be rounding it.

To officially Round the Horn, we would have to start north of 50˚ south latitude on either the Atlantic or Pacific side of South America, sail south of 56˚ to go around the island, and then back to north of 50˚ latitude and end on the other side of South America. That’s a passage of at least 1,000 miles.


But we may, weather and conditions permitting, anchor at the island and go ashore. There’s a lighthouse on the island along with a keeper’s house for the Chilean Navy Lighthouse Keeper and his family.


If we do go ashore, you’ll get a full report. Stay tuned.


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The Southern Ocean

To get to the Antarctica Peninsula we’ll have to cross at least 600 miles of the Southern Ocean, the fiercest body of water in the world, which separates the tip of South America from Antarctica.

There is some debate as to exactly what the Southern Ocean is or whether it really is a separate body of water or simply an extension of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Most people consider it it’s own entity since the salinity is greater than the abutting three, it’s colder and much deeper, averaging over 12,000 feet deep. It also extends non-stop around the globe.

What this means to us, and all other sailors who navigate the Southern Ocean, is that the winds and waves continue to circle the globe unimpeded so the waves build and build until, well, they’re huge. While it averages two miles deep, our passage south crosses the shallowest area, sometimes only 600 feet deep. Those of you who surf know that what means. Long rollers in deep water hit the shallows and “trip” forming shorter and steeper waves that can break. Perfect for surfing; not that great for sailing.

There are reasons why sailors call the winds at 40˚ south latitude the Roaring Forties, the winds at 50˚ south the Furious Fifties and then at 60˚ the Screaming Sixties.

Should we worry? No. With modern up-to-the-minute weather information available, our Captain can choose the right weather window to make the passage with the most comfort for us and safety for the boat. Does this mean we’ll not get beat up? No, but the chances of encountering extreme conditions can now be easily avoided. We have many islands between Ushuaia and the Peninsula where we can hide out and explore while we wait.

If you’re interested, I recently found a fascinating site that shows the world’s wind patterns and strengths in real time. Open, click on EARTH and explore the various options, from sea level to the jet stream to the stratosphere. Click and grab the globe to change its position. Click on any point to see the lat and long and the conditions at that place.

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Above is a screen shot from January 11. The “cowlicks” circling Antarctica, dancing across the Southern Ocean, are low pressure areas, some well formed, others forming or dissipating. Each is an area to avoid. The tighter the spiral, the worse the weather.

Before modern weather tracking, sailors were at the mercy of the conditions and had to accept what was thrown at them. One famous story is of a 1905 passage around the horn by the steel hulled square rigged ship British Isles. She had an uneventful passage until she started to go ” ‘Round the Horn.” It took her 71 days to get from the Atlantic to the Pacific and during that time she lost spars and four of her crew. She at least made it. Many didn’t.

Which brings up the question of fear. There are two things I try never to bring aboard: a schedule and fear. Trying to meet a schedule can cause one to take chances and when you take chances you run the risk of putting your vessel and yourself in danger. Leave the schedule ashore and take, instead, some trashy novels to enjoy while anchored, waiting out the bad conditions.

I’ve always tried to prepare my boat for the worst so if anything unexpected does happen, I know the boat can take it and bring us through safely. I also try to prepare myself by being in shape, well rested, properly dressed and having a game plan in mind before I go on deck. Does that mean I’m never apprehensive? No. Apprehension, or whatever you want to call it, is good since makes me more aware, alert and cautious. Fear, on the other hand, causes one to freeze, and then you’re in the position of letting yourself down as well as your shipmates and the boat.

One hand for the boat, one hand for yourself is an adage that’s so true. Two hands for the boat and you might be lost, two hands for yourself and the boat might be lost. In both cases both can be lost. YIKES! That’s way to philosophical for this blog but a few people have asked me if I’m afraid, so this is my answer: No. I trust myself, I trust Pelagic Australis and I trust my crewmates.


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First crew meeting

The full crew met for the first time at Peter’s on January 3rd for a run-down of last minute details. Peter, in his usual well organized manner, had the agenda and topics down, but the best was sharing, in person for the first time, some of the little details that make a big difference when sailing or in a tight situation.

Most of us seem to have the clothing issues under control. One concern was over dressing, leading to sweating, a real concern in cold climate. A related concern was bringing too much gear. Yes, three weeks of living in long johns seems to dictate bringing the suggested six pair, but is there a real need for the three pair of fleece pants I planned on packing? I’ve got to rethink that.

If we can survive this current Maine weather, with temps hovering around zero F, we can survive on board and ashore.

Eye protection was another topic. Glasses that fit tight around the face are a necessity to keep out the UV light. A pair of ski goggles might be the answer.

All of us have fallen in love with our Muck Boots.

The range of experience varies from some serious blue water sailing to casual coastal cruising, but that’s not an issue. Our combined experience is what matters as well as being on a well founded vessel with an experienced high latitude captain and mate.

We’ll have way too much fun!


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