On March 20th, we were working in Foyn Harbour, our latest station, and completing the sampling. Everything is fine, and now the team’s work has reached an optimum in terms of fluidity and efficiency. But the time has come to leave. With Ben, we are keeping a close eye on the weather forecast, and the time is right to head back to the mighty Drake. First, we were planning to leave on the next day, but then we felt it would be best to set sails earlier, late afternoon or in the evening at the latest. This was a bit earlier than anticipated, but very strong westerlies are forecasted in a few days, as well as headwinds towards the end of the crossing, next to Cape Horn. No time to waste anymore. After a last dive in Enterprise Islands (right next to Foyn Harbour), on a shipwreck, we pack all our gear and get ready for the crossing. Done in a little more than an hour. We prepare the ship, and by the time we are ready to go, snow starts falling heavily, significantly reducing the visibility. We still need to cross the Gerlache Strait, and pass by the Melchior Islands to make our way to the open ocean. Not that easy with no visibility, icebergs and reefs all around us. The radar is our eyes, and we sail very slowly… At 0:30, we hit something, and the familiar noise of the hull against ice sounds really loud. Close encounter with a big iceberg. The hull of the Australis was spared this time, but not the anchor, properly bent.
But we manage to reach the Drake Passage at the end of the night and start the crossing. A long crossing again.
The Drake Passage gives me this strange impression of being in a time capsule. Everybody gets ready and braces for the crossing. Our bodies go in standby for 3 days. I’ve spent most of the time in bed, probably seasick. Any normal life task is very demanding and you struggle to get your ideas together. The final part of the crossing, once we’ve reached Cape Horn is tricky as well: the ocean is still rough, and we get the false impression that the crossing is over, when there is still a full night of navigation, this time closer to land, closer to rocks.
At that point, and this is why I called this blog “Through the eye of the needle”, we checked the weather again and realised that 2 hours behind us, the storm was closing the path with very strong winds, the kind you don’t want to find yourself in. Lesson is, and probably for the rest of the expedition: always listen to your instinct. When it tells you its time to leave, leave!
The Beagle channel brings serenity after the crossing, and we reached it at the end of the crossing, enjoying a very peaceful ending to the expedition, reaching our final destination, Ushuaia.
Final relief for all.
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The B121 expedition in a few figures:
22 sampling days
226 gear deployments
38 scuba dives
4280 l of fuel