Onto the Peninsula

IMG_006802 FEB 2016


Having set anchor just outside of Hope bay (we couldn’t find hoofing and guaranteed landing bay) it was a night of mixed fortunes. Some watches were both peaceful and stunning, sitting in the amber and yellow glow of an Antarctic night at 0300 watching shoals of penguins skipping through the water on their way home from a successful fishing trip (mine and Josh’s); to finding the boat getting pushed and pinned by a fairly sizeable berg, that said, this was not surprising when it was noted it occurred on the doom watch (Emily and Dan)!

We were up and certainly not bright eyed and bushy tailed by 0800, the weather was calm, peaceful, clear, perfect conditions to be able to land on the Antarctic peninsula.  A plan was hatched over breakfast, which included working out how to get a precision and unique, not to say inexpensive, chronometer (36kg) from boat to shore in a small rubber dingy (Zodiac) in one piece! We decided to use the finest minds the Royal Navy and Marines have to tackle this difficult issue, however after searching the boat high and low we were forced to settle for the 11 on board, plus a wayward penguin (one tried to jump on in the night) and what appeared to be a disinterested fur seal!  The result of this collaboration was that the penguin had a snooze, while it turned out the fur seal thought he was at an Antarctic ComiCon, which is understandable considering the company he was in and the fact he was convinced the penguin was the star of a Batman movie!  However, we did come up with a plan, in fact so cunning you could cover it with a blanket and call it an Antarctic fox (review Blackadder if this makes no sense); and that was to be very, very careful and don’t drop it, particularly as we passed it over the side with 27 meters of uncharted waters below us, sensational planning – the Seal looked unconvinced!

After an hour’s worth of frenetic activity getting the Zodiac engine out of the forepeak (storage area in the pointy bit at the front, for non-boaty people) and recovering and repacking all the mountaineering kit, we were ready for the off!  The only final decision that needed to be made was to decide from within the team who was going to have the privilege of stepping onto the Peninsula first?  This was decided in the now traditional AE16 means of decision making – rolling the dice.  After nearly 36 years in the Corps, sitting around, generally lost, cold and miserable waiting for someone in charge to throw a double six for a decision; blow me Penguin over mate, Emily only went and did it, double six, first ashore, she was clearly very chuffed and excited at the prospect.

The transits went smoothly, we took great care of the chronometer and it made it ashore in one piece; there wasn’t a rush forward at any point to be one of the blessed individuals tasked with being extra careful!  Stepping onto the Peninsula was a surreal and emotional feeling, truly strange and humbling; everyone shook each other’s hands acknowledging this moment after two years of training and finally making selection.  At the landing point we were greeted literally by two Adelie Penguins, completely un-phased and no more than 5 feet away, they seemed quite intrigued by these strange creatures in rubber boats and carrying aloft a box with what appeared to be a very, very big watch in it!

The sky was blue, clear and crisp, to one side a glacier falling into the sea and a turquoise bay with ice bergs, nestled in the middle of which our current home, the Xplore. To the other side of the landing point was the Antarctic Sound, calm blue waters with penguins swimming and a seal sunning itself on an ice berg, as we took this in an ice berg floated into view jam packed with penguins; why that berg, was it a party or the Penguin equivalent of Carnival Cruises, who knew, who cared it was stunning anyway!

The team then went into what can only be described as a period of Photo Frenzy; I’m not sure who took what, or who was in whose photos?! I think there is a very good chance that people were taking photos of them taking photos of them – you get my drift!  Once the Doc had issued out some doses of sedatives and a reasonable balance of normal human behaviour was restored to the team, it was time to do some mountaineering revision and make best use of the weather.

For the next few hours we readjusted the excellent and top notch kit supplied by Mammut, ran through roping up and crevasse rescue before taking a short trip while roped up.  Once we dropped over the far side of the ridge we could look into the beautiful Hope Bay itself and see the Argentinian research centre.  On return to the pickup point we bid farewell to the two Penguins, who continued to look at us with some confusion while we departed their snowy land, they didn’t even ask for the time!


On return to the boat we have devastating news, the latest weather report show a stonking storm on its way, 50-60knt winds, in a small boat in this area of the World that news is something to take seriously.  To that end we have adjusted the plan and are dashing back to South Shetlands (70 miles, ice permitting) to seek a relatively sheltered anchorage to wait out the storm before the next weather window.  While starting this transit, as I write, we just saw a pod of Orca 30 feet on the starboard side shadowing us, 5 adults and a baby, it just gets better and better – until the storm, then it doesn’t!  Comms will be difficult so if you don’t see a blog for a few days or without pictures that’s the reason why, we will be safe, just stuck playing dice and spoof with the Penguin and Seal until the next leg of our adventure.



Into the Weddell Sea

01 Feb 16

The anchorage off Penguin Island proved restless for some; although ice free it was much more affected by the swell of the Bransfield Strait, resulting in some being rocked to sleep and others being kept awake by the rocking, creaking and banging going on around the boat.  Importantly, Stephen and the yacht had a better night of it, ready for the next challenge: getting to Antarctic Sound and finding out how far the ice would let us go.  Surprisingly, the penguins appeared to need very little rest, as they were noisily active throughout the night.

Everyone was up for a quick breakfast before preparing the mainsail for hoisting and starting to raise the anchor.  We set off for Antarctic Sound  with just the mainsail, reduced in size with 3 reefs, but once clear of the icebergs on the south shore of King George Island we were able to set the headsails and get ourselves up to 8½ – 9 knots in 24 knots of breeze.  We had a fabulous sail across the Strait, with many of the team getting used to steering round bergy bits, guided by 2 others acting as look outs; this fast developing teamwork in a new and challenging environment is a key element of adventurous training.

It is certainly a new and challenging environment out here for us all – each mile seeming to introduce yet another extraordinary sight and experience.  We were confronted by increasingly massive and awe-inspiring icebergs – initially resembling a very slow-moving English Chanel shipping lane for super-tankers and super-carriers only, giving way to leviathans the size of small cities and then islands in their own right. We were all treated to flypasts by acrobatic Cape Petrels and majestic Southern Giant Petrels and the entertaining antics of the Adelie Penguins both on land and in the sea.  Some of the team were also lucky enough to catch glimpses of a whale and some seals.

The Antarctic Peninsula appeared in the distance like a mirage above the clouds, until the mountains became more distinct and eventually the coast could be distinguished behind the ice bergs.  Still sailing at a great pace in a choppy sea, soup for lunch proved to be a challenge to keep in the bowl and then in the spoon, especially for those who chose to eat on the upperdeck.  As we entered the Antarctic Sound it was as if we had been transported to another world.  The recent strong winds had shifted all the ice into the north eastern side of the water, but this had been replaced by an unearthly stillness under the loom of ice and rock and a clear blue sky.  It soon became apparent that the conditions were about as good as they could ever get in this region, so we made the decision to carry on towards the Erebus and Terror Gulf to see if we could make it into the Weddell Sea.  After a trouble-free passage down the Antarctic Sound we had to pick our way carefully passed bits of berg and sea ice littering the Fridtjof Sound, between the mainland and Andersson Island. Shortly after 10 tonight we arrived in the Weddell Sea – the starting point of the remarkable survival story of Shackleton and his men a century ago and the inspiration for this whole project.  We celebrated our achievement with a glass of champagne as we quietly drifted in the sunset; for me a double celebration of the end of 4 year’s preparation and my birthday (the only one during the expedition).

Keen to avoid getting stuck in there, we turned back the way we had come to find a suitable anchorage on the coast of the Peninsula.  While on this final leg of today’s extraordinary journey, we all enjoyed a late dinner of a leg of ‘Barbara’ (except Emily of course, as she maintains her largely vegetarian diet).  A tired yet elated team got to bed well after midnight, with the prospect of anchor watches and another memorable day to come.


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Martel Inlet

Church parade
Sunday Service; singing the Naval Hymn: Tony, Tim, Josh, Donald and Stephen










This morning we were still at anchor in Martel Inlet and the day started for some at midnight keeping watch on the upper deck to prevent floating ice from hitting the yacht. The conditions were not kind to us with winds of up to 40kts, sideways rain lashing those on watch and constant battles with mini- icebergs of various sizes.

The watch of Emily and myself known as “Doom Watch” (the record for emergency engine starts to avoid hazards) had the fun of manoeuvring the yacht whilst still anchored to the sea bed to simultaneously avoid three icebergs, each the size of the yacht. Having successfully avoided one of the icebergs the other two were caught by the wind and outgoing tide and made a move more akin to a pride of lions closing in on a helpless water buffalo.

Being stuck at anchor has had a strange effect on some, mostly Molly and Josh who have developed a routine for handing over  the iceberg pole, which wouldn’t look out of place at the Tower of London. It involves the oncoming person being challenged by the current person on watch, the pole being passed over and then the off coming person marched down the ladder to the warmth of the yacht. The crowd of penguins at the Brazilian research station didn’t look impressed and quickly swam off on the hunt for food.

Lunch today was an epic affair by a man who will never gain employment as a burger flipper once he leaves hydrography. The preparation took 30 minutes for 12 burgers and the cooking time ended up being 1hr. The end result was 11 hungry sailors delivering abuse to the chef whilst he managed to char each burger so it resembled the sole of a cheap pair of shoes. I don’t think Shady will be cooking the AE16 BBQ when we return.

As AE16 had so far cleared the inlet of 80% of the drifting icebergs, much to amusement of the Brazilian scientists, in the process building arms similar to that of an Eastern European shot-putter, it was decided to attempt to find a new anchorage with less ice so we could prepare for heading further South tomorrow.

After lunch the Brazilian research station radioed to the yacht with an invite for us to go ashore and visit them. Before any of us could answer, the Commander politely declined the offer and informed them we would be leaving for another anchorage. On the way a Polish research out-station radioed us to visit them, the two scientists not having seen anyone else for over a hundred days. The conditions at their cove were not ideal for anchoring so we regretfully bid them farewell and left them to their one hundred and first day alone. It would seem our yacht of 12 intrepid sailors is in demand at this lonely part of the world.

We are now at anchor East of Penguin Island and unsurprisingly the name is a giveaway for our fellow residents.  The island has high cliffs upon which the penguins look down at us from a scene similar to the film “Birds”. When downwind of the island the smell is not the most pleasant; considering there are 11 smelly men and one sweeter smelling woman crammed on this yacht, the yacht still smells much better!

Tomorrow morning ‘Ice permitting’ the plan is to make the dash across to the Antarctic Peninsula and our first steps on the globe’s most southern continent.


Iceberg watch

30 Jan 16

As we arrived into the Martel Inlet of Admiralty Bay, there were two thunderous sounds; little did we know the amount of work this would cause us.

Early on the 30th of January there were loud crashes against the side of the boat. I naturally assumed this was bad news and grew a little nervous. Then I noticed Stephen (the skipper) was still happily in bed which I hoped meant we had little to worry about.

We worked a 2 man anchor watch, which is still ongoing, although it would be better named ice berg watch. It turned out the loud noises the night before where huge chunks breaking off of the Stenhouse and Ajax Glacier which feed into the bay.

Since 0630 this morning we have been locked in battle with vicious icebergs. We have worked a one hour on and four hour off system, always having two people on deck to fight off the incessant flow of ice. The majority were no bigger than a Shetland pony but some were as big as a Fiat Multipla and all we had to defend ourselves with was our courage, wit, a kelp cutter and a boat hook. Gusts up to 40 kts made matters worse. At one point an exceptionally large berg approached; there was no way we would be able to beat it off. We started the engine and moved as far over as we could without lifting our anchor. The berg made contact but no damage was caused.

For our evening meal, we honoured the Scottish poet Rabbie Burns by having what we hope is the most southerly Burns’ Night. Well, that’s happening tonight anyway.  The absence of a recipe didn’t deter Molly who produced a delicious Haggis, ‘neeps and tatties with a dressed potato skin starter and home-made brownies for dessert.  The “Chieftan o tha puddin’ race” moved Donald to recite Burns’ ode “Tae a Haggis” very enthusiastically.

We will most likely be anchored here until Monday when condition should improve and we can make our way to the Antarctic Peninsula, the mainland.

All in all it was a very blowie Saturday and the struggle with the frosty giants of the deep continues.

M.BMore Icebergs


If yesterday marked our formal passage into Antarctic waters, today we began to understand the privilege we now enjoy.
The first iceberg was sighted at about 5 miles range at 0610 in the morning and heralded the beginning of a truly remarkable day in nature’s Ice gallery.  Initially thick fog meant a heavy reliance on radar to identify the huge floating bergs of ancient glacial Ice. The fog leant a certain ghostly feel to the early watches and strained the nerves a little, particularly as we started to pick up much smaller ‘bergy’ bits of ice emerging from the gloom at mere hundreds of meters, requiring constant vigilance and swift course changes.
As the morning morphed into the afternoon the wind picked up the pace, driving us remorselessly down towards the South Shetland Islands and the far side of our dash across Drake Passage. Approaching the NE corner of King George Island with a sheltered anchorage just 30 miles away and the red contacts on the radar screen multiplying alarmingly, somewhere just beyond our sight and concealed by a thick damp fog, an army of icebergs gathered across our path. It wasn’t long before the vanguard was revealed to us in the form of a phalanx of bergs emerging out of the moisture laden air. Almost in response to a silent cue the fog dissipated and nature threw open the doors to an extraordinary gallery of ice sculptures, the horizon filling with towering masses of ice, of every conceivable shape and size, with a stiffening 30kt wind on our beam we raced through the labyrinth of bergs with one masterpiece after another being revealed in a seemingly endless procession. The grand scale of these natural ice sculptures dwarfed Xplore amongst stadium sized blocks of chiselled blue ice. In truth, I lack the skill to capture the majesty of this afternoons’ private viewing of natures ice gallery. Suffice it to say, we are a privileged few to have been afforded the opportunity.
As ever the brief night draws in, the bergs recede into the gloom once more and we seek out a sheltered anchorage in the aptly named Admiralty Bay on the southern aspect of King George Island. Local advice from the isolated Polish research base perched at the entrance to the bay suggests the western side of Martel Inlet, and as midnight approaches we feel our way up the ice shrouded inlet in search of a safe anchorage below the glacial headwall in which to weather the gale force winds anticipated in the morning.
What has been a special day all round is capped by Matt Hoey and his own culinary masterpiece; Home made mozzarella stuffed meatballs and pasta followed by nutella drenched pancakes……who says you have to eat badly on an expedition……?!
Position: 62.05’.1S 58.23’.3W

Sixty degrees South

We are now into day 3 of our Southern ocean crossing, and overnight tonight we will reach a milestone by crossing 60 degrees South and officially entering Antarctic waters.  The weather is turning and we are now in a race to get to a good anchorage to wait out the next storm – we are aiming for Admiralty Sound, King George Island in the South Shetland Islands.
This afternoon Port Watch encountered the first iceberg, not by eye (due to the fog that has lingered all day) but on the radar.  It came within 4 miles of the yacht which is close enough!
So how does the watch system work?  It is similar to defence watches in Royal Navy ships, where half the crew are up at any one time (mostly up on deck keeping watch, unless one or two of them are down below cooking dinner, cleaning, or making one of the many rounds of wets – hot drinks for those non-matelots reading this blog).  Port Watch consists of Shady, Donald, Molly, Josh and Matt B.  Starboard Watch is Tony, Matt H, Dan, Kris and myself (Emily).  The watches are 6 hours during the day and 4 hours overnight – though there really isn’t much darkness this far South at this time of year.  One Watch will do 0700-1300, 1900-2300 and 0300-0700 whilst the other will do 1300-1900 and 2300-0300, swapping the following day.  Stephen and Tim work opposite each other to keep an eye on progress and provide an additional mind to any decisions that need to be taken.
Tonight we tucked into the last of the travelling food – cottage pie prepared back when we were waiting out the last storm in the Falklands, so all that was left was to put it in the oven.  The good thing about being on a yacht with 11 carnivores is that there is usually someone willing to swap veg for the meat in my meal!
Position: 59.30’S 057.30’W
– Emily
The iceberg spotted on radar during the Afternoon Watch, 28 Jan 16

Port Watch

Day 2 of our epic journey found the team 260 miles south of Mare Harbour.
Night brought to our intrepid team of explorers a respite from the slightly rougher seas we’d experienced throughout the previous afternoon. As the early hours of the morning came upon us, the seas laid right down, as did the wind. Dawn came bright and hot; yes, friends, you read that correctly. The golden sun thoroughly warmed the Port Watch as we relaxed on the upper decks,  novels and tobacco pipes to hand. It was a rather an un-Antarctic experience, better suited to the balmy waters of the Mediterranean than to the Southern Ocean, but enjoyed nonetheless.
Wildlife has been a constant source of delight to the team as we’ve watched in fascination both wandering and sooty albatrosses swooping inches above the water in an aerial ballet. The afternoon watch was treated to the sight of pilot whales swimming close by and also of a pod of common porpoises  frolicking in the waves.
Our gallant captain, Stephen, produced a wonderful and filling corn chowder for lunch; it was relished by both watches as we sat on the upper deck enjoying the warm breezes. Dinner consisted of bolognaise, a final gift from Caroline.
And now the evening watch is on deck, the weather has turned as the breeze freshens and the sky fills with clouds. The shanties are playing, wets are to hand; the end of a fine day at sea.
The gallant band of miscreants in the Port Watch enjoying the evening breezes: L to R; Donald, Shady, Molly, Josh, and Matt B. 27 Jan 16 2354 UTC, position 5610.16S 05730.49W

Heading south

That’s us 95 miles South of Mare Harbour

Today was finally the day the whole team and I guess families & friends had been waiting for, we left Mare Harbour at 0615 an early start for most!! The weather had been kind to us and gave us an easy departure; we quickly left the Falklands behind with the whole team on deck. The decision to see what watch would stay on deck and complete the first watch was decided by the throwing of dice. A popular choice in the navy of how to decide things are done, port watch leader Shady threw a 9 as did stbd watch leader Tony, Shady threw a double 6 as did Tony, Shady finally threw a winning combination much to the cheers of stbd watch who went to sleep for the first 6 hours.

Lunch was sandwiches followed by cuppa soups bringing warmth to port watch on deck as the temperature has slowly started to fall as we travel further South. We have seen various types of Albatross gliding across the swell looking for their next meal, As well as penguins jumping through the sea. Dinner was eaten on deck for both watches as it is easier for some of the crew to keep it down with the swell of the sea taking its toll. Beef stew it was simple but warming.

As we sail further South tonight the sky looks amazing with its different cloud formations. The forecast for tomorrow looks promising for sunbathing but not for sailing with clear blue skies and gentle winds, this is not the South Atlantic Ocean I was expecting!


26 Jan 16

Tony, Matt H, Dan, Emily & Kris of Stbd watch enjoying the first evening watch of the expedition  currently at 53 18S 057 36W @ 2359UTC

The wait is over

25 Jan

This morning’s weather forecast gave us the long awaited break in strong winds and big seas for which we have been waiting, so we will be heading for the Antarctic Peninsula across the infamous Drake Passage tomorrow. For those not familiar with this part of the world, the Southern Ocean is the only part of the planet where weather systems can travel round the globe completely uninterrupted by major land masses; typically this allows a series of storms to scurry round one after the other through the ‘Furious Fifties’ and ‘Screaming Sixties’. The Drake Passage is the relatively narrow and shallow gap between the southern tip of South America and the northern end of the Antarctic Peninsula, where the winds get squeezed through and the seas mount up, giving it its ferocious reputation. It is for this reason that we have been waiting for a suitable period of relative calm before heading out on our adventure! We now have excellent conditions in which to make our 3 – 4 day passage to the South Shetland Islands, where we’ll pause to consider our best course towards the Peninsula and Elephant Island.

The day has therefore been spent making our final preparations for our departure. Composing our messages to Patrons, sponsors and families and friends; topping up water tanks; collecting our final load of victuals; transferring frozen food from ashore to onboard; putting on the final washing loads; cleaning through the boat; securing our cabins for sea and putting away our ‘shore clothes’ kept us busy for much of the day. We still found time for some fun with our various photograph poses for our sponsors, which ensured everyone had a chance to look up from their tasks and recognise that there is still an enjoyable aspect to our adventure. The tragic death of Henry Worsley, so close to completing the trek across the Antarctic continent that Shackleton had been aiming to do a century ago gave us all a stark reminder that the region is a place to visit with great caution and our thoughts are very much with his family and friends. Thankfully our forthcoming adventure is not such an extreme challenge, but will undoubtedly be thoroughly worthwhile for all of us taking part.

I’ll close this blog with some messages of thanks to all our supporters – Patrons, sponsors, friends and families. If it wasn’t for that support, we would not be on the verge of completing what will be a most extraordinary journey for all of us. Personally this represents the culmination of 4½ years of preparation and development, joined 18 months ago by a great team that has brought this dream to a reality. We will be able to share our journey with you through regular blogs and occasional photos and hope that you enjoy them as much as us.