Cape to Cape Ocean Sailing and the Antarctica Exploration – Georgios Ardavanis (PhD)

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I recall watching a video about sailing the Drake Passage and the Cape Horn region in the late 1990s. This body of seawater has a reputation for being the hardest in the world. Yes, I thought the documentary was amazing, brave, meticulous, and most of all, daringly insane. The documentary’s creative fusion of story, music, photography, and video nourished my dreams and piqued my imagination.

After about twenty-five years, I had the opportunity to take part in and undergo an even more intense expedition. This included traversing the harsh Drake Passage, touring Antarctica with ten stops, sailing from Antarctica to South Georgia, then sailing from South Georgia to Tristan da Cunha, and lastly sailing from Tristan da Cunha to Cape Town. A 52-day sailing journey and expedition covering an approximate distance of 8050 kilometers.

The passage from Port Williams of Chile to the frozen Antarctic through the Straits of Magellan, Cape Horn, and the Drake Passage, and thence to the South Georgia Islands, Tristan da Cunha, and then to Cape Town of South Africa is considered by the most demanding and XTREME sailing missions on the planet. Sailors experience extremely dangerous sea and weather conditions. Sailing in the Drake Passage is known for its incessant storms and accidents (broken masts, torn sails, broken rudders, deaths, and serious injuries) due to the strong convergence of the seas. The collision of cold seawater from the south and warm seawater from the north creates powerful eddies in the Drake Passage, which are combined with strong winds and strong storms. Also because there is no land in the area, this results in currents at this latitude encountering resistance and waves reaching a height of 12 meters. The Southern Ocean is widely regarded as the roughest ocean in the world with ferocious waves reaching up to 15 meters. Located in the southernmost region of Earth and sometimes referred to as the Antarctic Ocean, it surrounds Antarctica. The crossing from Antarctica to the islands of South Georgia and Tristan da Cunha was also full of icebergs, cloudy skies, and non-stop rain mainly between Tristan da Cunha and Cape Town. The icy waves flooded the entire upper deck, while the sea swell varied from three to seven meters. Every day we were faced with inhospitable bad weather and there is no doubt that the rigors of this XTREME expedition did not offer any taste of fun sailing. Although the expedition took place at the end of the Antarctic summer, there was little sunshine, very gray and dreary skies, and impassable icebergs that made crossing and exploring Antarctica extremely dangerous. Also, the interpersonal dynamics in such a small and confined space for fifty days, combined with the rough ocean weather and sea conditions, during the crossing, created extremely difficult moments of coexistence with the participating sailors with the result that some of them developed into unpredictable and problem behavior.

Our first stop was Cape Horn. On the clifftop of Cape Horn, the Chilean Armada has erected a small settlement which is usually inhabited by a soldier and his family for two consecutive years. The living quarters for the soldier and his family also include a small church, a lighthouse, a small museum, and a helipad. Each month, food supplies arrive by warship and are transported by boat to the coast of the cape. Children of military personnel can attend their school classes online.

Antarctica is a unique continent with no significant fauna and no native mammals, reptiles, or amphibians. There are no polar bears in Antarctica. Polar bears live only in the North Pole. However, many species of migratory birds, seals, sea lions, and penguins make their nests on its coastlines. Few people dare to enter this vast wilderness and even fewer people are willing to endure the daily hardships of taking on critical roles during sailing and exploration. Today, most people visiting Antarctica choose to travel on large and luxurious cruise ships that are equipped with personal assistants, chefs, gyms, helicopters, and all the comforts of the 21st century. These passenger ships, which have a limited visiting time and high cost, are subject to specific international conditions and can accommodate up to 500 passengers. I believe that this huge influx of tourists to certain Antarctic coasts is extremely invasive to the natural environment and disturbs the peace of penguins, seals, birds, and other wildlife. It is sad that on the one hand, the Western world is sounding the alarm about climate change, and on the other hand western businessmen are flooding Antarctica with their ocean liners and at the same time their bank accounts.

I will always remember Antarctica, the Antarctic Ocean, and the South Atlantic Ocean for the incredible wildness of the sea, the abundance of life, the striking contrasts, the color, and the beauty. Inevitably, Antarctica is surrounded by ice. Large ice shelves create huge tabletop icebergs. Dynamic glaciers that calve regularly create smaller and more complex micro glaciers. Antarctica’s ice-filled bays look like outdoor sculpture parks. Like the snowflakes that created them, each iceberg is unique and constantly evolving. Large colonies of breeding animals thrive along the coasts. Antarctica is alive with color and vibrancy. The subantarctic islands of South Georgia are surrounded by greenery in summer, which lasts from October to February. Due to its location in the southern hemisphere, Antarctica only experiences winter and summer seasons. The continent is reddened with guano and volcanic rock against snowy backdrops. Within the vast terrain, thousands of penguins appear as tiny black dots. A whole new dimension is added to the icebergs and some of them have secret blue pools that are only visible from above. Antarctic biology is primarily marine. The foundation of the food chain is a tiny shrimp-like crustacean called Antarctic Krill, which provides food for a huge population of whales, seals, penguins, and wading seabirds. All of these species have a strong connection to the sea, and those that have not evolved to live primarily in water occasionally come ashore to breed.

Antarctica has a sleeping atmosphere throughout the winter but comes alive with the arrival of summer. In their favorite breeding grounds, many penguins wait for the snowy rocks to be revealed. Those high on the wind-exposed peaks are often the first crags free of snow. Because of this, many penguins decide to build their nests in these high, seemingly inaccessible places. Antarctic summer is a tumultuous time of year. Penguin parents are always busy making repeated foraging trips to and from the ocean, using well-traveled penguin routes, as their young must be hatched before winter returns.

Our Antarctic exploration included the following destinations: Booths Island, Damoy Island, Port Lockroy, Water Boat Point, Chilean Base at Paradise Bay Point, Danco Island, Enterprise Island, Charlotte Bay, Murray Harbor, Trinity Island, Deception Island, Greenwich Island, and Elephant Island. We also explored South Georgia as part of our Antarctic expedition where we visited the following locations: Port Larson, GodtHul, Grytviken, Blue Whale Harbor, Possession Bay, and Fortuna Bay. The last exploration was in Tristan da Cunha with 250 inhabitants who focus on fishing and lobster export. In Antarctica and South Georgia, I saw a significant number of shipwrecks and building installations. Most of these are preserved remains of early explorers and whalers, and others are current, along with some fully operational scientific stations. These buildings come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

The Antarctic Ocean is considered one of the most difficult and dangerous areas for sailing. It is notorious for its rough weather conditions which include strong winds, choppy waves and rapidly changing weather patterns. To ensure the safety of the crew and the vessel seafarers must be prepared to manage difficult situations and make calculated judgments. Since there is no land nearby to offer protection, it is very likely that one will encounter heavy swell when traversing this long stretch of water. The winter season is usually the most intense. The toughest seas for transatlantic sailing often occur in November, December and February.The most challenging aspect of ocean sailing is that it is a dangerously dynamic experience with ever-changing factors. On the human side, my personal experiences included an unexpected fall of two meters from the upper to lower deck, injured elbows, and ankles, bruised ribs, injured hands, and unequal fatigue in raising and lowering sails, trimming, and serving at the helm. The dynamic experience component included, among others, freezing winds, icebergs, huge waves, strong currents, continuous fog, torrential rain, and snow. The icing on the cake was when we dived in the middle of the South Atlantic (in the Tristan da Cunha area). The most challenging aspect of ocean sailing is knowing how to adapt quickly and safely to changing conditions, and it is also vital to keep the sailboat moving. Another demanding aspect of this crossing was teamwork combined with muscle strength, physical and mental endurance, concentration, communication, and alertness for working on board under extremely rough conditions.

I will never forget the epic battles on deck with the heavily wet sails and ropes in the stormy oceans Along with the freezing winds, the snow, the incessant rains, the explorations and landscapes in snowy Antarctica, and above all the direct contact with the wildlife of this frozen and isolated continent. This sailing voyage was an unprecedented life experience and I am proud to be one of the first Greeks to set foot on this side of the world.



Georgios Ardavanis – 19/04/2024

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One Response

  1. Superb Georgios, you are brave and a real explorer. All the best for this fabulous journey. Enjoy the world. Best regards. Olivier Martin.

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