No 64 - 17/01/02
Published to web
18th January 2002
62° 51 W
View the up to
satellite picture of the South Atlantic Ocean....
without sails, John Laing was making no ground to windward and,
downwind, was accelerating up to 6 knots under bare poles as driving
horizontal snow reduced the visibility to almost nothing
for the delay in despatches - it has been a busy time and the latest
anchorage we have found is a satellite free zone it would appear.
Communications have therefore become sporadic but John Laing is safe.
I was also about to type that all the crew are well. On the whole
they are but it would not be entirely true. Climbing any peak is not
without its hazards and, paradoxically, in Sarah's case it was the safety
rope designed to prevent injury that caught around her thumb as she took a
little tumble and slide down a snow slope (not vertically I'm
pleased to report) on Jabet Peak overlooking Port Lockroy which left her
with a small broken bone at the base of her thumb. I suspect I am
breaching no medical confidences to report that the injury is certainly
not life threatening and, back on the yacht at Port Lockroy, was soon
splinted and secured. But
Doc wanted to be convinced that his handiwork with the plaster cast had
indeed re-set the bone to its original position so we set about tracking
down an X-ray machine. This is not as difficult task as it might
seem even in this most remote of stamping grounds. Many of the cruise
ships that now ply Antarctic waters are extremely well equipped to the
extent that several carry full surgical facilities to reassure and tend
for their passengers. The other lesson we have already learned from
our month down here, is quite how readily everyone in the area is prepared
to assist one another
- in the Solent one wouldn't hear the Master of a 59,000 tonne vessel
pausing to initiate a
radio chat with a 73 foot yacht en passant. Sadly our timing was
wrong however and the particular vessels in the area at the time had no
functioning X Ray facilities (although were extremely forthcoming with
offers of other medical support that might be necessary).
next alternative was to seek advice from one of the shore stations in the
vicinity - We are usually loathe to distract these important hives of
scientific research. Much of their work is time limited; by weather
and environment and by the sheer cost of supporting research in this harsh
environment. So it was with some trepidation that we radioed
the United States National Science Foundation's Palmer Station some 15
miles around the coast from Port Lockroy. Their response could not
have been more supportive, without hesitation offering Doc use of X-Ray
facilities and the assistance of their own medical officer.
Furthermore an invitation was extended
to the remainder of the crew to be shown around the station whilst Sarah's
hand was being examined and photographed. And so it was that two days ago
we took a short detour around the southern end of Anvers Island to Arthur
Harbour (or perhaps I should say Harbor) where the Base is to be found.
is the smallest of the United States' three Antarctic Stations. With
a capacity for around 50 personnel it is but a fraction of the several
thousand who can be accommodated at 'Mac Town' (McMurdo Station) on the
other side of the Antarctic continent or the complement of Amundsen Scott
Base at the South Pole. The small number of personnel in the station
means however that a visit of any kind, particularly a yacht of 16 crew
causes a disproportionate disruption to the Station's normal programme.
Nevertheless, the station visit could not have been more comprehensive and
the cookies, fresh fruit and real coffee served in the canteen a bigger
treat than any of the Palmer residents will have realised. Even
Sarah took time out from her medical ministrations for a Diet Coke to
satisfy the craving she
has reminded us of continually since leaving the Falklands. Many
thanks to all the staff of the
Station for their time, hospitality and the medical assistance.
To reciprocate the favour, Dick played his
pipes (some might contest whether this was a positive contribution!) and
we gave a short illustrated presentation on the Expedition's activities to
interested staff members.
Palmer, first stop for John Laing was the much heralded Lemaire Channel, a
spectacular 10 mile cleft between Booth Island and the mainland Peninsula
where 3000 foot cliffs flank either side of a narrow deep water channel.
Sadly, the Expedition's first real disappointment was to discover that our
visit coincided with horizontal visibility reduced to only 200 metres and
only the first 100 feet of vertical
cliffs distinguishable in the murk. Despite hanging around for
several hours (a chance to do some more rock bashing for the Geology
programme) it was not to be and we set off north towards Port Lockroy once
more. This time our visit was to be but fleeting; inspired by
a message that, true to the Station's Post Office role, there was a
package waiting for us to collect. Enthused by the mystery of who
might have been sending us presents (and indeed who might have known where
to send them), it was with considerable anticipation that we made the
short hop north to discover the nature of the package. It could not
have been more welcome. Left behind for us by the cruise ship
Explorer was a small but well filled box of confectionary. Explorer
had been chartered by Mr and Mrs Mars (whose family company's products
need no promoting by us!), loaded with a party of American
schoolchildren and then packed out with a generous helping of sweets and
chocolates and despatched for the Antarctic on an educational expedition -
Some school field trip! Thank you Explorer for thinking of us,
Mr Mars for your generosity with your products and Port Lockroy for acting
as intermediary. Sarah, a self-confessed chocaholic, had by now
completely forgotten any thumb discomfort; such is the powerful pain
relief potential of distraction therapy (the rest of the crew were not
not to hang around and to maximise the potential of our last days in this
area of the Peninsula, we made for departure into a rising breeze.
Within 5 miles we were punching into the teeth of a severe gale.
John Laing has been through worse but probably not coupled with the
hazards of being without sea room, in a narrow rock bound and ice strewn
channel with limited maneuverability. Even without sails, John Laing
was making no ground to windward and, downwind,
was accelerating up to 6 knots under bare poles as driving horizontal snow
reduced the visibility to almost nothing. Windy Gale, Si Holman and
Si Goldby slugged out the stints at the
helm as, out of the gloom, ice and bergs would appear like a vast game of
dodgems (without the rubber bumpers) and it rapidly became apparent that
it would be prudent to find somewhere safe to lie low for a while.
Suffice it to say that it was not without a degree of relief that an hour
or so later we secured a long line ashore under a perfectly sheltered ice
and rock cliff and retired below to relax, turn on the small cabin heater
and warm up as the wind abated outside. No rest for the wicked
however, and within minutes (and with no warning whatsoever), the wind had
backed through 180 degrees and increased back to gale force. Thank
goodness the anchor
watch were on their toes because the anchorage was immediately untenable
and it was
into the fray. It was over an hour
later again that we finally managed to secure the yacht to yet another
shore anchor, in the lee of a small island, and once again take the chance
to relax; now less than a mile away from Port Lockroy from where we had
set out over seven hours previously!.
weather can turn bad quickly around here but it can improve equally
dramatically too and with similar rapidity. And so it was a
few hours later when, all of a sudden, the skies cleared, the wind dropped
to nothing as if a tap had been turned off, the waves subsided and the ice
seemed to have disappeared (pushed north by the wind through the night).
Into these glorious conditions we once more set sail for a short (30 miles
or so) passage to Paradise Harbour. No sail we have experienced so
far has been finer. As
the sun kissed the summits of nearby
Mount Luigi and the distant Plateau showed its tops above the
extraordinary cloud formations seen in the area, John Laing sailed proudly
north. It was a magnificent privilege to experience such conditions
and more so given the "houlie" of the preceding night.
more to tell to catch up completely - of HMS ENDURANCE the Royal Navy's
Ice Patrol ship; of finding and entering hidden coves, of successful
outings by the climbers up Mount Banck at the mouth of Paradise Harbour,
of geology sampling in the rock buttresses that flank us and much, much
more. It has been a busy time and the pace of the Expedition's
activities has not slowed.
Joint Expedition Leader
& Web Design by Tim Hall
(Roll mouse over photos for captions)
It's cooler on the
John Laing than at Rothera Point!
temperature at Rothera)
67.6° S 68.1° W