Tag Archives: Skip Novak

Ocean Navigator, Encore

Ocean Navigator magazine just published a second short article by me about our Antarctica adventure last February. (WOW! Almost a year has passed since our sail.) This time the editor wanted to know how Peter Plumb, the driving force behind our voyage, selected Skip Novak’s organization and the boat Pelagic Australis. Below is the story.


Snacks and drinks awaiting us after climbing to the top of Danco Island.  L to R: Chris; Wyatt; Thomas, First Mate; Rupert, Cook; Magnus, Captain; Peter P.

Snacks and drinks awaiting us after climbing to the top of Danco Island.
L to R: Chris; Wyatt; Thomas, First Mate; Rupert, Cook; Magnus, Captain; Peter P.

Adventure Chartering in the Antarctic

In February of 2014, eight men from 56 to 73 years old, mostly from Maine, chartered Skip Novak’s 74-foot sloop Pelagic Australis for a three-week sail from Porto Williams, Chile, to the Antarctic Peninsula.

The idea came from Peter Plumb, who wanted to sail to Antarctica for his 70th birthday. Many of us had sailed with him to the Caribbean, around Newfoundland, or up the west coast to Alaska and back, so we trusted Peter in his choice of shipmates. No rookies or duffers allowed since, at our age, we needed to have confidence in one another’s abilities.

Plumb’s criteria included a steel or aluminum hull, purpose-built and certified for high-altitude sailing; a skipper and crew with extensive experience in the Antarctic on our chosen route; a vessel that could take eight to twelve guests and was available when we wanted to go. The vessel had to be fully found, somewhat comfortable but not a “cruise ship.”

Pelagic Australisin the Iceberg Graveyard. Captain Magnus piloting us through the bergs.

Pelagic Australisin the Iceberg Graveyard. Captain Magnus piloting us through the bergs.

We were, after all, experienced sailors able and willing to stand watches, reef sails, help in the galley, and do what was necessary. Plumb’s prime criterion: to be able to tell our wives, children, partners, and friends that the vessel and crew could bring us all back in good shape.

He started his search online and got responses from “we no longer do that” to “not this year,” along with two positive responses. Next he checked “word of mouth” contacts, which led him to Skip Novak’s Pelagic Expeditions. Plumb checked references and was impressed with Novak’s experience captaining four around-the-world races from the late ’70s into the ’90s and other long-distance ocean races. Novak and his vessels are certified by Det Norske Veritas, have a Marine and Coastguard Agency (UK) certificate for carrying passengers, and are CE marked. His boats have the permits required by the UK’s Antarctic Act, and he is a member of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, which has established protocols for safe environmental conduct on this fragile continent.

When we boarded a boat taking us from Ushuaia, Argentina, to meet the Pelagic Australis in Porto Williams, we were not impressed with the condition of a few of the boats tied up there. Granted, most of them take guests up and down the Beagle Channel or out to the Horn, not to Antarctica, but boat-keeping was not as Bristol as I might have expected. However, as we boarded the PA, our concerns fell away. She was immaculate on deck and below. “Shipshape in Bristol Fashion.”

Pelagic Australis set to ride out a gale near Vernadsky Station. Anchor is set and mooring lines run to shore at each quarter. Note the

Pelagic Australis set to ride out a gale near Vernadsky Station. Anchor is set and mooring lines run to shore at each quarter. Note the “shipshape and in Briston fashion” condition of the vessel.

To help us prepare for the voyage, Novak sent us information on clothing, medical and insurance requirements, and what we could, and could not, expect once we got underway. One minor hitch: Most medical evacuation policies do not cover anyone over 70, so it took a lengthy search to find one that would cover all of us.

With the exception of the foul-weather gear supplied by the boat, we had to have all our own gear, including seaboots and heavy outerwear to wear off the boat. This meant careful choices and compression bags to get all the gear into our seabags. Since water was limited, eight guests and four crew living 24/7 in long-johns needed frequent changes and sponge baths. Novak’s recommendations were right on, but I could have eliminated a few layers of fleece.

We had a cook but took turns assisting with meals and cleaning up. One of us baked fresh bread almost daily. (The alternative was a Chilean white bread that did not change in any way over our three-week voyage. It’s probably still unchanged!)

Captain Magnus presenting our options at the horn in the large pilot house.  L to R: Thomas, Magnus, Chris, Wyatt.

Captain Magnus presenting our options at the horn in the large pilot house.
L to R: Thomas, Magnus, Chris, Wyatt.

Very few sailing vessels cross the Southern Ocean to the Antarctic Peninsula; we saw only three charter boats and two private vessels. Peter’s choice was probably on the high end in terms of cost, but it was also on the high end in terms of design, condition, and crew. We all agreed with Plumb: “We got what we paid for.”

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Closing thoughts; open to comments

whale

This will be the last post for a while. I’m home, settling back in and trying to deal with the sudden temperature change from 70°F on my last day in Buenos Aires, where I was walking around in chinos and a polo shirt, to 10°F here in Maine. I unpacked the Antarctica gear first and have been making use of lots of that fleece. Not good. Spring is supposedly here. I wanted to see dandelions blooming when I came home.

If you are seeing my blog for the first time, welcome. Obviously, you are seeing the last entry first. So, if you want to go chronologically, head to the bottom of the third page and scroll up. However, since I posted all three weeks of the Antarctica sailing adventure at once, they will work down. I know, but it makes sense to us.

I’m beginning to download all the images, close to 4,000, from the trip and starting to sort out the work. I expect it will take me a while to gather what’s there, make sense of it and decide what direction to go with it all. The next post will hopefully announce to you what’s up.

I’ve added a number of photos to the body of the Antarctica section, First Leg of the Trip: Antarctica, January 30. I had difficulty sending images from Ushuaia, for some reason, so here are more.

We, Lori, my blog adviser, and I, decided at the start not to include comments as a part of this blog since it would have been difficult for me to monitor and respond to any comments while the trip was in progress. However, now that it’s over and I’m back in the comfort of my own studio, with a real computer, not the iPad, we’ve decided to open the blog up for comments. Let me hear what you have to say.

There have been over 3,800 views of these posts from people in fourteen countries around the world. I’m curious about who you are and how you discovered my blog. Switzerland? Mexico? Chile? How did you find my blog? Hope you enjoyed reading about my voyage and thanks for following.

Finally, and importantly to me, I’ve gone through the text and made corrections to a few glaring mistakes. Here they are:

In The Adventure:
Skip Novak is actually an American from Chicago, not a Brit like I assumed due to all his racing on British vessels. Never assume….

In February 3:
Bertie’s last name is Whitley, not Whatley. I tried to correct it from Peru, but it didn’t take. Sorry, Bertie.

In February 10:
The name of the Norwegian whaling factory ship is the Governoren I, not the Gouvenorden as I wrote.

In Big Boats and Little Boats:
It’s Saratoga, NY, another serious horse town, not Sarasota. Different state.

Sorry if I missed anything else.

 

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