A woman’s world…by Sylvie Jambu
What does a girl do when the captain takes a boys break. —— “Go sailing Antarctica of course”.
Antarctica is a spectacular wilderness. A breathtaking voyage of frozen landscapes and abundant wildlife. How magnificent it was surrounded by penguins, with our boat perched in a sparkling flat southern ocean between bobbing icebergs.
I was on the French Sailing Vessel Le Boulard with six other crew and skipper/owner Jean Menzo, a Maestro of Antarctica. Le Boulard is a beefy 42 feet aluminium sloop but with a bare minimum of comfort. Water was limited: we used ice sea water to wash the dishes, flush the toilet, and the shower was a no-go zone. We shared small cabins, but the atmosphere was stimulating, and we were happy to be living this incredible adventure together.
Crossing to Antarctica
We left the Argentine continent following French tradition with six legs of lamb hung behind our sailboat.
The French call this “ Gigot Cap Hornien”
We sailed from the charming town of Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego on 1st February 2018 and reached as far as Faraday Island located at latitude 65*15’ south, a journey of 28 days.
On the third day, we ventured into the beautiful Beagle Channel, but the entrance to the Drake Passage was impossible for a little yacht like ours. The deep depression was right up our butt. So the captain decided to wait it out again, this time at Hogger bay in Chili. We needed special permission from the Authorities to stop in the Chilean waters. The day after the weather cleared and it was a relief to at last start our crossing of the mythical Drake Passage.
Our five-day passage to the Antarctic Peninsula was hard. All of us had to do 3-hour watches every 7 hours. Daytime was ok but the nights were freezing, and the temperature kept falling as we approached the first icebergs. The sea was rough with a considerable swell, and the sky was always grey and threatening. Twice our autopilot failed when I was on watch, and I needed to steer by hand in icy weather while Jean tried to fix it. My fingers kept the memory of it. During the crossing, we saw a lot of penguins and dolphins, but the birds we had hoped to see were a rarity, although we were lucky enough to see a couple of Royal Albatros.
My reward for this crossing was when I glimpsed the first icebergs at sunrise on Day five. We had finally reached the white paradise.
The frozen world of Antarctica
The world changed. Our eyes were not big enough to take it all in. We sailed between seals, whales, penguins and blue icebergs.
We were all exhausted when “le Boulard” dropped anchor at Melchior islands where two Australian yachts were already anchored. I recognized one that I had contacted before signing on with the French team. At this time “Australis” was fully crewed, a shame because there had been a possibility of diving with research scientists. Doesn’t matter, I was pleased to be traveling with my great team and sharing lots of French jokes.
The pristine waters of Antarctica are unique in the world. Environmental protection is paramount. Jettisoning rubbish in the sea is prohibited, and everybody felt very concerned about the wildlife.
We left the Melchior Islands to go deeper into the peninsula. Around these latitudes, the weather often changed very quickly. A lovely sunny morning could quickly become a whiteout in the afternoon.
We left Picton, Anvers islands, and the French Mount to reach Cuverville island which was covered by thousands of seals and Gentoo penguins. Whales and fur seals permanently swam alongside our boat. This landscape was a dream; we walked between young penguin chicks, fur seals, and Skuas birds. It was challenging to keep the mandatory distance of a minimum 3m between people and animals.
With the weather changing so fast it was essential to find a safe anchorage for the night. Often we needed to stay two days or more in the same place. Sailing in good weather is crucial.
Visiting our first Antarctic base station
We discovered the narrow Lemaire channel at the entrance into the cemetery of icebergs. A lot to see between the towering mountains. We dropped the anchor at Water boat point in Paradise Harbor, a Chilean Antarctic base. The name of Paradise Harbor comes from the first Whalers in the nineteen century. Two glaciated slopes surround the entrance of the bay where a big part of the ocean surface is frozen and never melts. What a magnificent vista.
As everywhere in Antarctica, this little island was inhabited by Gentoos and Chinstraps Penguin breeding colonies. We expected strong winds so rafted up to the already anchored French sailing yacht “The Cardinale” plus secured our boat to the coast with long ropes. Sharing the evening with friendly sailors was good. The next morning, we appreciated the fresh bread made by Jeanne, the skipper’s wife of “The Cardinale”.
When the weather improved, we continued our journey, always surrounded by the wildlife.
Pleneau was our new anchorage. We met a couple with a boy of 10 years old. They were five weeks into their adventure on board “Petrushka”. also flying the French flag.
Our spartan navigation then took us to Vernadsky, also called Faraday island. A Ukrainian base. There, the weather turned terrible. During the night, we got lots of snow, and the chilly weather stayed with us most of the next day. We met another little family, sailing on board “Le Libertaire” which rafted up to us. I was impressed by this lovely young couple who left St Malo in Brittany in 2016 with two small girls of two and three years old. Everybody enjoyed the long walks on the snowy land.
Sailing yachts are The Princes of Antartica. Less impressive were the big cruise ships when a hundred people at a time would land— that being the maximum number of people allowed on each island at the one time. We missed a walk at Peterman island because too many ships dinghies were taking passengers back and forth all the day. Instead we needed to sail to Port Charcot to find a safe anchorage. It turned out very well as the scenery was terrific; We had lots of fun walking to the top of the hill and were astonished to see seals and penguins high up on the slopes.
The last night in this frozen paradise was in Port Lockroy. It’s an English base where just seven young women work together for six months of the year gathering data from the local penguin colonies.
Then it was time to leave this majestic country to once again venture into the gloom of Drake Passage. The return was similar to our first crossing. Twice we had crossed Cape Horn but had never seen it very well because of the strong winds.
We had planned to rest up by returning via Chili, but the Chilean Authorities refused our entry. We will never know why.
We arrived back tired but filled with the wonder of our experience and the satisfaction of completing a unique challenge.
By Sylvie Jambu
World sailor, and first mate/master diver to the MV Flash Dancer Coral Sea.
For a link to our Antarctica vessels web site click here.
For a link to dive center at Tierra del Fuego click here.
For general information on the continent of Antarctica click here.