Sailing in Antarctica is a unique and exciting experience for many reasons. Antarctica is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent on Earth, and is home to some of the most stunning and untouched natural landscapes in the world.
Sailing in Antarctica allows you to explore this incredible continent in a way that few people ever have. You can sail past towering icebergs, watch marine wildlife up close, and witness the beauty of the pristine Antarctic wilderness. Additionally, sailing in Antarctica can offer a sense of adventure and challenge, as you navigate the icy waters and unpredictable weather conditions of this remote region. It’s an experience that can be both exhilarating and humbling, and can leave a lasting impression on those who undertake it.
Can composite catamarans sail in Antarctica?
Of course! Though few Outremer owners decide to take this route… It requires meticulous planning and preparation.
Composite catamarans are made from a variety of materials, including fiberglass, carbon fiber, and Kevlar, and are designed to be strong, lightweight, and fast. These boats are well-suited for sailing in a variety of conditions, including rough seas and high winds, and can handle the challenges of sailing in Antarctica.
However, before embarking on a sailing trip to Antarctica, it is important to ensure that the catamaran is properly equipped with all the necessary safety equipment, including survival suits, life rafts, and emergency communication devices. Additionally, the crew must have the appropriate training and experience to navigate the often treacherous waters of Antarctica and to handle the unique challenges of sailing in this remote and inhospitable environment.
Overall, with the right preparation and equipment, sailing a composite catamaran in Antarctica can be an unforgettable and exhilarating experience for those who love adventure and the natural world.
What pushed French couple Dominique and Christine?
Sailing projects are made of dreams, fantasies, readings put together and mythical places such as Valparaiso, Rio, Cape Town, Bermuda, San Francisco…
It was a deliberately provocative choice for Dominique and Christine at the time to sail their Outremer 45 Danson, from 2007, in Antarctica. They had purchased this catamaran made more for the trade winds and were preparing a departure towards the East.
Kea had already sailed in icey Alaska, so why not Antarctica! They had blind faith in their boat and a strong desire for Antarctica since an encounter in Brazil over 10 years ago…
Once they left, starting with the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, their journey led them on a path of encounters, opportunities and desires for something different, an adventure that few endeavor. In short, the key word was to get off the beaten track and never be in a hurry.
Many miles were covered before the plan matured: from South Africa to Lake Ontario, from Easter Island to the Aleutians. Kea exceeded 100,000 nautical miles.
The “Covid” stop in Polynesia also favored new encounters with “those who had headed to the far South”. It didn’t take much to push them, the first crew that mentioned sailing in Antarctica immediately convinced the couple. It was possible, even on a catamaran!
How they prepared to sail in Antarctica
Dominique and Christine were lucky enough to receive expert advice from French Vendée Globe racer, Philippe Poupon. He helped them with choices such as marine charts, anticipating security measures, visualizing the route and planning potential anchorages…
They then still had to put together the French TAAF authorization document to be able to sail in the area and start preparing the boat: adding protection to the hull, creating a mobile “shoes” for the bows, semi-watertight bulkheads just in case, changing the hull porthole protections etc… A small reflex heater was already on board and the old “Webasto” installation allowed it to recover the heat of the engines.
It was difficult at the time to think about everything. The preparation of the boat seemed sufficient but inevitably priorities had to be made and the fear of oversights was omnipresent. The weight had to be limited but whatever work you did on the boat would make it heavier. Much too heavy.
Beginning of 2023, departing Ushuaïa
How to apprehend the unimaginable? The crossing of the Drake, the restricted anchorages, the wind, the ice, the cold, the humidity, the fog. So many questions remained unresolved.
Sailing at 7-10 knots, the weather window seemed good though the waves were still rough, making the crossing uncomfortable. There was no question of hanging around in the area.
The wind weakened until becoming practically non-existent as the crew (now of three) approached the “white continent”.
It was late on the third day of sailing when a fog, or rather a mist, obscured the horizon. Then at midnight, the sun had set for a short time.
The night would not settle for long.
The crew scanned the horizon with Melchior only a few miles away.
As the sky cleared, a large white wall seemed to appear. Impressive, unreal, magical. It was impossible to discern the passage in this archipelago, supposedly straight ahead.
Very few anchorages were listed, inviting the crew to be particularly vigilant at all times.
The anchor rarely held well. The mooring lines on land ripped or sheared on the sharp rocks. The wind turned 180° in less than 10 minutes. Ice, in appearance slow-moving, invaded an anchorage in barely 2 hours. It was difficult to feel safe. The crew had to regularly change anchorages, but then where to go next?
Welcome to Antarctica!
The crew’s descent passed by Cuverville, Port Lockroy, Pleneau and Vernadsky at a little more than 65° South. They reached their goal without too much trouble, but with a lot of stress, having to remain cautious at all times.
But what a beauty!
Between icebergs of all shapes, huge glaciers, snowy mountains and omnipresent fauna: one could observe penguins, seals, sea lions, whales and birds of all kinds.
The ascent would be more challenging. The winds had changed the position of the ice, and gathered the growlers. Some passages were made in slow motion to cross ice corridors safely. The stress of accumulating ice between the hulls was very real.
Paradise bay, Enterprise, Trinity island, Deception and South Shetland, always required the same vigilance, always the same precariousness.
A gale was announced. The crew took shelter in a bay near the Spanish base Juan Carlos. A handful of hours later, the wind rose and regularly turned by 180°. The gusts became more and more violent. The anemometer was no longer following. 40 kts already. It showed much more! Too many eddies. The sea was smoking. The sea spray was rising and flowing horizontally.
These were the last 10 hours. 10 hours of worry, stress and questioning!… The boat would either break or literally fly away! The crew could only huddle and wait for the lull, suffering the assaults of the wind. Imagining the worst would have been useless.
The mooring line and the anchor held by miracle. At 3 am, the wind finally dropped. The scientists at the base measured 170 km/h of wind, 150 meters above.
A weather window was then confirmed. Kea would cross again in calm conditions.
Back to Ushuaïa after 5 weeks of an exceptional adventure, enriched by unforgettable memories and the satisfaction of having attempted it. Kea and the crew continued their journey, towards the Falklands…
Antarctica: 1670 miles travelled, Ushuaia / Ushuaia, 39 days, 3 people