Antarctica Sailing & South Atlantic Crossing 2013

"Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving." - Terry Pratchett
For 52 days, between three continents, and almost 5700 nautical miles, I sail this square rigger from South America to Antarctica, to Africa.

The exact route is from the world's southern most city, Ushuaia, Argentina through the infamous Drake Passage to the South Shetland islands, to the Antarctic Peninsula, into the Weddell Sea ice, up to South Georgia (the Galapagos of the South Atlantic), up and over to the world's most remote inhabited island Tristan da Cunha, and finally over to one of my favorite places, Cape Town, South Africa.

Some days, some moments are beyond awesome. Yet other days and moments are boring, repetitive, lonely, cold, or tiring. No doubt, the full experience combined is incredible. Sometimes I wonder what the hell I'm doing out here. I'm humbled by the immense power of the ocean. Its definitely an ego check. I'm ecstatic when after nothing but fog for days, a moon pokes through the clouds of a night sky, shimmering a fantastic glow on the rolling sea.

Ice - Antarctica Peninsula & Weddell Sea

The largest glacier we sail right up to is 8 miles long!

Its hard to comprehend the scale of these beasts. They say about 8x of the ice is under the water, so if 100 feet is visible above water, the glacier goes about 800 feet below.

We pass thousands of other smaller bits of ice floating in the Weddell Sea. The ice even drifts up hundreds of miles north of Antarctica.

Sometimes we have really intense and rough seas. Feeling its humbling power really makes us feel alive.

This journey is through a place where life is as pure as it gets. The photos tell a story about beauty and decay, about fear and hope, about black and white.

An ocean crossing on a tall ship like this has all the same ingredients as life. I experience joy and fear. I'm happy and sad. I feel warm one moment and cold the next. I'm lonely one day, and among friends the next.

Sailing the Southern Ocean brings me closer to the thin line between life and death.

I feel this during a storm, harnessed in, bouncing up and down on the bow, while sailing through an iceberg-infested sea during a pitch-dark night. With a spotlight shining ahead through the fog, cold, and wind, I'm on lookout for icebergs.

At 4 am, we'll anchor and go on land in the morning. Its a bit surreal.

Birds - South Georgia


At Deception Island, we sail into the caldera with 50+ knots of blowing wind. We hike for 4 hours up and along the outer edge of the island to see a colony of 120,000 chinstrap penguins. We hit bad weather, crazy winds, snow, rain, as we hop over volcanic ash, glacial ice, and little streams.

Quite a stunning landscape, with the sea all around. We come back soaking wet, but as long as we kept moving, we didn't get too cold. A hot shower feels incredible, and the Indonesian fried rice, Nasi Goreng with a bit of sambal for dinner reminds me of tasty meals on balmy Bali.

We keep sailing further south, making our first landing on the Antarctic mainland, at an Argentine scientific / military base. We finally see other people for the first time in 10 days. About 60 people will stay here over the long winter, as the ocean freezes up all around them.

Surprisingly there's a bit of cell phone signal here (the only place on the trip where there will be signal). At first we attempt to anchor here overnight, but katabatic winds come at 65 knots and we have to heave anchor, and motor further down into the Weddell Sea.

I'm up early at 6:30 am, to go out on deck for cell signal, but since we've already moved away from the base, I'm instead greeted by a stunning scene. Surrounded by icebergs, glaciers, and mountains. The sun is peeking out through a few clouds. We land on shore a few hours later. More penguins of course. A few fur seals, and Weddell seals. I watch a penguin trying to build a nest by grabbing small stones with its beak and bringing them back one by one. The sky clears even more to a bright blue, without a cloud in sight. We motor down through more icebergs, and the water turns even more flat. I sit up on the bow for a while taking in the scenery. We come right up to that 8 mile iceberg.

Weeks later, at Tristan da Cunha, the worlds most remote inhabited island, we're extremely lucky to land. The seas are so rough, and the harbor is so basic, most of the time shore landings aren't possible. We're told we are the first visitors of the season to land, in almost 3 months!


Zodiac coming up fast on the beach, two guys wearing drysuits waiting in the surf to catch us, fur seals swimming all around excited for our arrival, I'm just concentrated on not falling over, nor getting freezing water in my boots.

I swing my legs over the side and wait for the waves to recede before jumping out and scrambling to shore. Its black sand, and after 8 days of sea, I'm finally on terra firma.

I look up, look around, and realize I'm surrounded by hundreds of giant king penguins. I don't know who's more surprised, me, or the penguins. I've seen plenty of penguins, and they are cute, but I haven't seen these king penguins before. They're much larger, much more beautiful, with a silky coat, and delightful yellow-orange accents, they remind me of a tropical toucan from Belize.

Just like me, they are extremely curious, walking close up, craning their neck in all directions, fluttering their eyes, trying to figure out who I am. Hundreds of them for as far as I can see, and I'm told there's about 60,000 breeding pairs just on this one spot called Salisbury Plains.

Slice the Swiss alps, drop them in the ocean, and thats what this island, South Georgia, would look like. Its so remote, so harsh, and untouched by man, its a natural paradise. Snow capped mountains, jagged peaks, monolithic glaciers, and vibrant wildlife. Its hard to imagine these places exist on the same planet as mega-cities. Theres not a visible touch of human for what seems like eternity.

I spend a long time just observing these funny birds, as they observe me, the peculiar creature who's just landed on their beach. Fur seal pups are curious too, as they flop around on the beach, barking, rolling, and surfing in the waves.

Its hard to tell what these penguins live for. What's their purpose in life? They just seem to wander aimlessly. I walk half a mile down the beach, to see the main colony. I pass fur seals, and sometimes they charge me, so I throw my arms up and bark back at them. The giant skuas swoop down to feast on baby penguins.

One afternoon I step out on deck for some quick fresh air after a lecture on the life cycles of ice and glaciers, look over, and see a huge iceberg covered on one side with at least 300 penguins. The captain circles around so we can all get a closer view. Its funny watching them try to jump back on. In the water below, there's at least 50 of them swimming around, trying to propel themselves high enough up on the ice to grab hold of something with their tiny webbed feet. Only a few are successful on any given attempt, and it looks quite frustrating. This time of year the penguins have stopped nesting, so they venture out to sea. Soon, the water will freeze over, becoming a massive 6 foot thick block of ice.


As usual, I packed way more than I need, but having spent most of my time on a tropical beach, I was terrified of the cold and wanted to be well prepared. I've got plenty of hats, plenty of gloves, and all the right layers of warmth, wind, and water protection.

I spent hours researching the best boot for slippery decks while sailing, as well as cold water landings, and short treks on the ice. I had to special order the Dunlop Purofort Thermo+ online, which are a steel toed extreme weather work boot.

I've got the whole set of Gill offshore foul weather gear, which again is probably overkill, but it seems to work well. I picked up some bright green snowboarding pants in Ushuaia, which give plenty of warmth, and a reasonable level of waterproofness. I can always put on a thin waterproof shell pant over them if its really wet.

My first landing is at Deception Island, an abandoned whaling station. Its a caldera island, which broke at a small part, flooding water inside. Through this tiny entrance, small ships can carefully sail inside the caldera.

The brave go for a long trek up and along the edge of the caldera, over glaciers, through valleys, ending up at one of the worlds largest chinstrap penguin colonies, with over 120,000! They go on and on for as far as the eye can see, and their penguin calls fill the air for miles. The weather turns bad, and we're hit with rain, hail, and sideways snow as we carefully hike back over the glacier.

Also at Deception Island is a place called Pendulum Cove, where from the volcanic activity, boiling hot water seeps out through the sand on the beach. At low tide, you can dig back a few inches of sand, and you'll find steaming hot water. Quite a natural hot springs! We enthusiastically dig holes with scraps of wood, or an oar from our dinghy, letting the hot water seep up and pool together, mixing with the cold, below freezing sea water.

The wind outside is cold, and the hot water is scalding, so its a bit of a dance to find the perfectly comfortable spot. I stay here for over an hour, thinking this is probably the most interesting hot springs I've been to, except for maybe the one in Nampo, North Korea where I ate gasoline clams.


Fur seals are cute and playful, with a slight vicious tone as they bark and charge. But its easy to thwart their advance by throwing your arms up, and making a loud noise. Sometimes the larger males get a bit close for comfort, and a bite would require immediate treatment against rabies.

There's literally hundreds of thousands of these fur seals on South Georgia. They're everywhere! Swimming around in the bays, in the surf, playing on the beach, laying on tussock grass, or sunbathing on rocks. They are curious, and love showing off in the crashing waves as they spin around, jumping in and out.

We also see a few massive elephant seals, which have a much different personality. They're content to just lay about all day, with an occasional spar, or grunt. They can be dangerous if you get between them and the ocean, but for the most part, they don't care about us.

Jordi, our nature expert guide, plays with fur seals in the below freezing water during one of the landings where dry suits are required.

Route Between Three Continents: 5683 nautical miles

Ship - Bark EUROPA

A snow storm hits one night past Elephant Island near the South Shetlands, making decks slippery, and glistening on lines in the morning sun.

We get all sorts of crazy weather, from light drizzle, hail, snow, katabatic wind, waves washing over the decks, to a very rare calm sea with bright blue sky.

It keeps closing in around us. Very difficult to navigate. Surrounded by sea ice, I'll never forget the bone crushing sensation of hitting our first tiny berg, sending a booming noise throughout the hull, effortlessly picking up our helpless ship, and putting it on a new course.

We must backtrack 100 miles, narrowly escaping the same way we came in, motoring full force through the night, straight against katabatic glacial headwinds and crashing waves.

Shackleton wasn't so lucky a century ago as HMS Endurance got stuck over winter, and the ice froze together, eventually devouring his ship, sending him on a wild rescue journey.

Last season, our boat got stuck, unable to move for two days. Fortunately we escape just in time, so we don't have to eat seal bisque nor penguin soufflé.

On the helm, at all hours of day and night, we spend endless hours, staring at this compass, steering the giant rudder, keeping us on course.

At Grytviken harbour in South Georgia, famous as an old whaling station, as well as the grave of Shackleton, we enjoy a BBQ out on deck. Earlier in the day, we had a lovely hike through the mountains from Maiviken harbour.

With two high tech satellite devices, I keep in touch with the world:

1) DeLorme inReach which costs about $250, and then about 50 cents per message to any phone number or email address, up to 160 characters. It connects to any iPhone or Android device by Bluetooth, and also sends GPS tracks. It works over the global Iridium data network.

2) Iridium Extreme 9575 sat phone which costs about $1500, and then about $2.00 per minute of voice call. It has truly global coverage from pole to pole, as long as it has a clear view of the sky. The voice quality and latency is surprisingly good.

On a calm day at anchor, we repair massive sails with the sewing machine.

On a calm night at anchor, I sit alone in the wheel house for two hours on "anchor watch", making sure we don't drag. I read my copy of the Four Hour Chef, salivating over some tasty recipes. A few months ago I bought 1000 copies of this book, which were delivered in three huge pallets to my warehouse, and re-sold one by one on & Sold at a loss unfortunately, but that was part of the plan, because in return for helping boost Tim onto the NYT best seller list in the first week of launch, I'd get a full expense paid luxury trip with him and a handful of other interesting people to Buenos Aires.

In Cape Town, I spend two weeks relaxing and luxuriating in the land-based creature comforts I've forgone for the last two months. Then jet back, straight over the Atlantic to Argentina for a week. Then back up to California for two weeks. Then its June 1st, and don't know where I'll go yet. Will just play flight roulette. But in the summer I'll for sure end up spending some time in Northern Thailand, and Hong Kong, with the rest unknown.

The barque Europa

The Dutch tall ship Europa was built in 1911 to serve as a light vessel on the river Elbe in Germany.

From 1986 to 1994 the ship was rebuilt into a three-masted barque. Since then, the Europa has travelled many oceans and developed a reputation as a ship that 'really sails'.

She carries a professional crew of 14 and an additional maximum 48 voyage crew members. Tall ship lovers, even if they don't have any seagoing experience, can help the permanent crew by taking the helm, assisting with navigation, or hoisting and furling square-sails on the yards. The atmosphere on board is relaxed and friendly. The classic interior combines many authentic details, reflecting maritime history, with all modern comforts.

Every year, from November to March, the Europa visits the Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia.

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