Mid paasage across the Drake

Sunday 24 February

After lifting anchor and stowing Xplore’s Antarctic gear of heavy mooring lines , the Zodiac dinghy and the anchor below deck, we set course yesterday morning north, north west for Cape Horn, about 580 miles as an albatross might fly. Gusty winds off the mountains were our parting gift from Antarctica, as the land of rock and ice faded slowly in the distance. A true sea breeze soon set in from the south west helping us on our way. Between the South Shetland islands and Antarctic Peninsular the sea depth is shallow, about 250 metres or 800 feet, so with the west setting current meeting the prevailing wind the sea built up , crest and blowing spray atop the ocean swell. The breeze built to a steady 30 knots, gusting to 38 knots at one point. With declining visibility , we took down the mainsail and sailed out at a good pace under the two forward sails, sometimes reefed. Passing from the continental shelf to the deep ocean, with depths of three or more miles reduced the sea and improved the motion of the ship.

Just we before we left, we heard by email that someone from another sailing vessel had fallen into a 20 foot crevasse on Hovgaard and been injured, but fortunately rescued by a climber from a different boat, and was under care. Some of us and our French friends from Petit Prince had been on that hill a few days earlier. The incident is a continuing reminder of the lurking perils of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, magnified by remoteness.

A long night gave us a Southern Ocean moon, a sighting of probably our last iceberg and easing winds and sea. Shortly after dawn the girls watch ( Debbie, Ellen and Richard T) raised the mainsail, with Xplore responding with a lively seven and a half knots compared with the rather sedate six knots we had slipped into. We head north on a steady, westerly wind, cold but not unpleasant.

By 1500 on Sunday we have reached 60 degrees 30 minutes north, 66 degrees west, with about 320 miles to run to the Horn. Once we have seen the famous cape, weather permitting, we will then turn east up to the entrance to the Beagle Channel, for the final run of some 50 miles to Ushuaia, hopefully late on Tuesday.

All is well aboard, though some rumblings have been heard about a possible shortage of marmalade; the bananas have definitively all gone!

We are in good spirits though the skipper is being given the run around by the heater: no doubt he will knock it into shape.

Team Xplore

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