This was the trip that made my nerves quiver, the trip that gave me goose bumps and the one that I had lost hours of sleep over. We had talked about this trip for a year prior, and it had been on my mind since then and apparently I was not alone.
The isolated Island of South Georgia lies just over 800 miles south of west of the Falkland Islands. The predominant winds are westerlies and almost always strong westerlies. So to get there is normally an easy run its the return that is the concern. No one likes to beat into a strong head wind for the whole 800 mile return journey.
The trip there – After a two and a half days delay waiting out a strong gale in Stanley harbour the time finally came for us to slip the dock lines and start on this epic round trip. It was Tuesday 7th January. You could feel the anticipation and excitement on board. Those two and a half days was a real eye opener as we had watched in awe and I will be honest and say in fear at how strong the weather could be here in the South. We saw over 60 knots of wind and was heeling like crazy right there on the dock. The harbour was white and not at all inviting. So as preparations were on the way to get moving absolute terror filled my body. I don’t think I have ever been that scared leaving a dock before. My imagination ran wild as I thought of the conditions outside in the open southern ocean after the last two days of horrid weather.
As we proceeded out of the harbour my nerves started to settle. The six of us on board had all agreed we were going to take this trip nice and slow. No one wanted a breakage so early on. The first few hours out we had a good wind and a running sea. The sea was impressive in its confused state but you could see as the afternoon progressed that the conditions were starting to calm down.
As night fell the wind started to die and before dark the engine was on as we got tossed around in the still slightly confused sea. No one imagine we would be motoring the majority of the way to South Georgia, but these were the conditions that were delivered to us, so we took them.
Day two was completely different as we were engulfed in a thick fog. The fog would stay for the remainder of the trip as the wind became variable and allowed some gentle sailing. Day three the wind shifted more aft and picked up slightly and the sailing became a little more comfortable. Day four was a motoring day. Unbelievable.
It felt strange to be sailing without seeing more than a few meters around us. There was only the briefest of moments during those days where the density of the fog would lift only to build our hopes up and then to roll in thick again.
With the fog came the damp cold air. Night watches were the most excruciating as time seem to drag on and the chill seemed to set right through to the bone. Often my hands and feet were numb from the cold.
As we progressed west we watched as both the air temperature and sea temperature dropped.
As we got closer to the island penguins and seals were all around.
Our arrival to South Georgia was a calm one. Very little of the island could be seen as there was a thick cloud cover and the fog didn’t help. Still we could clearly see we had arrived somewhere pretty special.
The return – Our return came a lot quicker than any of us had hoped or wanted. However when you are given a forecast of SE and NE winds from South Georgia you have to take it, with our tight schedule there was no other choice.
The conditions the day before had been from the N so our first day out was a little lumpy and again overcast and cold. It was never not cold.
The wind grew stronger and the sea built with it. We were well reefed but moving along nicely.
We had a fair share of technical issues on this leg, but nothing that Morgan could not fix and luckily things seem to go wrong on his watch.
We got extremely lucky and had three days with running conditions before the wind shifted and became on the noes….24 hours on a beat was a lot better than any of us could imagine this trip would deliver. We pushed on and was happy when the Falkland Islands once again came into view on Monday 20th January.
The passage we had dreaded for so long was over and we were all very happy that with the right weather window we made it to and back safely from one of the most spectacular islands in the world.