I guess there’s no easy way to say this. About 24h ago we suffered an engine problem, more specifically a broken gearbox. Although the crew tried very hard, this is something that couldn’t be fixed on the spot. Very bad luck. We turned around and are sailing back towards Ushuaia. We’re all safe and sound and the weather conditions are fine. The spare parts needed for repairs won’t arrive soon though, so it will be the end of this year’s attempt for our expedition.
I feel incredibly sorry, particularly for our chief scientist and skipper who both worked extremely hard and invested so much to make this happen. Everybody is very sad of course, but we have not given up the dream. If the odds are not with us now, maybe they are another time – we’re already thinking about next year for a new attempt…
Time is a relative thing. We left Belgium only 4 days ago – feels much longer with all that happened. Now, it accelerates again, throttle down and off: last dinner, shower, night, and right now breakfast on land. We got a security briefing yesterday already. Departure within the next hour. Approx. 8h until Cape Horn and then enter the Drake Passage. Drake lake or Drake shake? Either way, here we go!
After two days of traveling we have finally arrived in Ushuaia. Ben (our skipper) picked us up from the airport. Even though we were tired and exhausted, we went directly to the harbour and had a first look at the Australis, the ship we are going to call home for the next few weeks. Stowing away all our equipment and luggage was another challenge, however now is everything is packed and ready. Customs clearence tomorrow … planned departure on Sunday the 25th!!
Getting up at 4.30 to take our last flight. Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. Our whole team is exited to finally see the Australis on which we’ll be living and working for the next month. But first, getting all our luggage back to airport.
We arrived safely in Buenos Aires. After 14h of flight, the warmth and humidity of northern Argentina is giving us a brief respite before it is getting colder again. Having one day to our next flight (to Ushuaia), we are using the time to explore the city, having brief science meetings for some of us (Charlène) and generally stacking up on sun and warmth.
Some gear is already in Ushuaia, the remaining stuff is now ready for our flight from Paris. We checked it in already at the train station in Brussels. That was a good call – we did have a lot of extra bags and weight, especially due to all the diving equipment. My little bag has now a heavy lead belt on top. Hope nothing gets crushed… Next stop Buenos Aires!
The countdown’s ticking very fast… only two days until departure in Brussels. In the meantime our scientific equipment has already arrived and was taken aboard. Hooray! Sending oftentimes valuable, sometimes unique (think ROV, special diving & fishing devices, …) gear half way round the world and back can be challenging, to say the least. A lot of administration and paperwork (and patience) is needed to get everything on track. Luckily our chief has been very persistent and eventually managed to master the bureaucracy jungle attached to the task. So, now it’s there and we have some graphic proof, which is great… but, hey, wait what is that?! What happened to our box (very solid and sturdy aluminum box that is)?
Things rarely go as planned with end of the world exploration. And so our first surprise is an equipment box already punched in before it even got on board. We’re still lucky though. Nothing absolutely crucial seems to be in that box and also while the box itself has definitely changed shape, the content seems largely intact. Phew. Back in Europe our next immediate challenge is to not overload our bags and get everything checked in.
With only 4 days to departure for Argentina and just a week for the planned departure from Ushuaia, things are getting serious. For most greater endeavours I undertake, I tend to start dreaming about it in advance. Same for this expedition; at least for that matter. My dream, as most dreams go, was a bit incoherent, but I do clearly remember being on a sailing ship, which unsurprisingly resembled the ‘Australis’ quite a bit. I was sitting on deck just before the mast and tried to keep my mind off these insanely high waves, which towered over our ship like mountains. In my dream I wasn’t particularity worried … but neither was I particularly calm.
So naturally, as I woke up, the first thing was to check the weather forecast for the Drake: for the next 3 days winds between 9 to 17 m/s, waves between 3 and 7 meters and temperatures around 4°C. Hopefully we will be lucky with the weather and we can proceed with our planned departure from Ushuaia to the Antarctic Peninsula on the 24th.
The duffel bags are (nearly) packed and ready, waiting at the entry of my flat for departure. Last minute preparations are still to be completed. The lion’s share of our (scientific) equipment has already been shipped months ago and is waiting for us in Ushuaia. However, there are always some last purchases to be made. Five days until departure: we will meet at the train station Brussel Zuid (Midi) and together take the train to Charles de Gaulle, Paris. From there we will board the plane to Buenos Aires. Ready for our low-emission expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula!