Monday, March 29, 2010

Thank God for solid ground!! ...kissing the earth as we speak...

Hello all!!!

I would like to say a big thank you to Mike J. for the last post and trip tracker are a star MJ!! And my apologies for my inability to keep you up to date with the trip via my blog. Access to satellite email services were limited to emergency only use for the crew due to limited minutes after those used to arrange medical help/advice during Greg´s finger amputation. I will be posting pictures and stories of the south soon. Below is a quick recap of it all:

The incidents that impacted our expedition are essentially as follows: We left Ushuaia, Argentina on January 30, 2010 on a sailing yacht for South Georgia which is roughly a 1200 nautical mile journey. (Sing with me now....a three hour tour, a three hour tour....) After, two days in Puerto Williams, Chile to clear customs and finalize provisioning, we were off. En route and four days later, we encountered a hurricane, hoved to, and our skipper had his finger amputated whilst working on the drive shaft. We were then forced to hove to for another 18 hours just 200 miles south of the Falklands and medical assistance. We then sailed 2 days back through the tail end of the storm and spent two weeks in Stanley while our skipper was operated upon and we tried to locate another crew member. Greg was cleared from the hospital and departed for Punta Arenas and the search for a flight home to see his ailing father before he passed away. Unfortunately, the tragic earthquake in Chile and the subsequent damage to the Santiago airport prevented his getting home in time. He also underwent further surgery to his finger whilst awaiting flights in Chile. He finally was able to fly home to be with his family on mid March, nearly a month after leaving Stanley. Our sympathies and hearts go out to the Landreth family and our sincere thanks to Kari for desiring to carry on with the expedition in spite of everything.

Two weeks after landing in Stanley and many kind friendships well met, we set sail with our new crew member, Brian Cartwright. We again set forth with trepidation for the 6.5 day/1000 nautical mile voyage in rough seas and ice to South Georgia. Some `bonus´ hove to time was put in twice for yet another storm and then later for a night, in order to await daylight in order to navigate through a dense fields of icebergs which included one that was a 12 mile long, stunning tabular berg.

As for sea sickness, you might well ask? Well, it is best summed up by some comments on our second to last sea day before seeing land. (Do keep in mind how safe and competent our crew and vessel were and how safe, albeit ill, I felt.) We still found ourselves at our wits end with sea biscuit tossing illness and the resulting dampened spirits when these comments were sincerely confessed and summed up our status best: `I need to get off of this bloody, rocking coffin and I am SOOO ready to leave this expeditioning life behind and find a nice hubby, 2.2 children, a white picket fence, a nice garden to work in, with a 9-5 paper pushing, stress free, office job!´. I guess we were craving some stability both in terms of relief from the turbulent seas and its nasty affects on both body and mind. It was almost more disturbing than the nausea, itself to discover how morose one spirit feels during a 7 day southern seas roller coaster ride that never seems to end.

Needless to say, we arrived in Elsehul on February 24th with drool rushing down our chins as we stared longingly at the slowly approaching and ever so enticing land on the horizon. Elsehul is a beautiful cove at the very top of SG that hosts a cornucopea of subantarctic wildlife, summing up South Georgia at its very best and making a sea voyage almost worth it all! Very much food for the weary soul! Three species of albatross and chicks, penguins and seals galore! We were forced to anchor here (thankfully, a calm, quiet bay to reset our poor bodies) for two days to wait out another storm before sailing the half days jouney south to Grytviken and the start of Hayley´s kayak journey.

Once in Grytviken, we encountered another big set back when the beautiful Necky Looksha IV kayak that was pre-shipped and sponsered 18 months prior from Victoria was found to be severely damaged...well, better to say it was `totalled´ in shipping, really. We then embarked on 5 days of major fiberglass repairs attempting and succeeding to reattach the stern deck and hull and rebuilding several other major holes, stress fractures, and `bends´. Meanwhile, Hayley rallied her spirits and prepared to set out in the spare kayak (Current Designs polyethelene Storm) graciously provided by Quark/Peregrine Expeditioning, the expediton cruise company for whom we both work. She was able to depart on what turned out to be a very rare occasion, a calm seas, sunny day, on February 28th.

Along with all of the difficulties above, the expedition was limited by an unseasonably poor summer of windy weather, even for South Georgia, and we had a lot of days spent hunkering down in protected coves, in which no kayaking was feasible due to 100km winds or dense fog and swell. Then there was the tragic earthquake in Chile and our flights home were no longer an option due to the damage on the Santiago airport and backed up flights. We then re routed our flights through Argentina in order to get home before goodness knows when...June maybe?

For this I would like to thank SALLY ESHUYS, our beloved friend, and HEIDI ANDERSEN, of Quark Expeditions, with a gratefulness that goes beyond words and brought tears of relief to my eyes. This amazing team stepped forward in our time of need (due to our limited ability to communicate from our remote corner of the earth - no googling or endless on hold options for us with satellite phone). These two amazing women spent hours and days upon the phone and internet renegotiating and researching our international aeroplan flights from South America to Victoria and a means for us to meet up with these flights from South Georgia. Keeping in mind the barriers of southern ocean travel and the tensions of getting from the Falklands to Argentina when Argentina will not acknowledge British soveriegnty in what they view as their land, the Malvinas....making flights from Stanley to Arg without going via Chile (aka Santiago) quite a challenge in deed!

Hence, a second thank you is hugely in order to Silverseas and the Prince Albert II. Due to weather systems that repeatedly tormented the seas between South Georgia and the Falklands from March 13-22, our sailing vessel, the Northanger, was not able to set sail for our return voyage to the Falklands with the adequate weather and time window needed to get us back in time to meet either our original flights or our rebooked ones. They finally were able to set sail from Grytviken on 24th of March. The return voyage alone requires a 7-10 day seatime, sailing window due to travelling both against current and predominant wind/weather systems. This time line does not include the days needed to wait for that weather window to show up from an appropriate departure location in South Georgia. Thus, we were in need of an alternative to the Northanger in order to get back in time for any flights. As well as the possibility of allowing Hayley a precious, few more days on water in her kayak.

We sent a plea and a summary of our situation to the last ship in South Georgia that was heading to the Falklands and Ushuaia, Silversea´s Prince Albert II. They graciouly and kindly offered us a lift back to Ushuaia and our flights home! What a welcome relief and joy to know that we would be coming back home and that this wonderful crew and ship was there to assist us in our time of need. Not to mention how fast it travels, how friendly everyone was, how very stable it sails...minimal if any seasickness, a wonderful cabin (the owner´s cabin, in fact!), and gloriously delicious meals!!

We arrived in Ushuaia On March 26th and were welcomed home by our friend Fernanda. Thank you Alicia for having us to stay in your room again and we miss your beautiful smile. Wishing you a lovely holiday! It is an oasis here in Ushuaia. We have been soothing our tired body and souls with the beautiful view from the kitchen table overlooking the grandious, ever- changing skies and seascapes of the Beagle Channel. Indulging in relaxation, an Argentinian yoga session (Hayley may have dozed off at one point it was soooo relaxing!), reiki massages, making empanadas and liquados, skyping, and meeting up with good friends down here in the world´s southernmost city.

Even though I have been present throughout the many, varied, and exhausting ups and downs associated with this adventure, I still cannot imagine the depths of heart ache and anguish as well as the strength and power of the dream and spirit that has carried Hayley through the non-stop obstacles and altercations that have harrassed this expedition from every angle and from the get-go. Not to mention the unquenchable energy and stamina that she has had to maintain during the last three years of intense planning. This includes the entire last year when she was forced to shelve the expedition at the last minute due to an essential financial backier dropping last minute due to the economic crisis. To carry forward and mortgage her house to fund her dream whilst continuing to maintain momentum and planning for another year. To then, finally set out on her dream adventure to be hit with all of the above. Hayles, you may not have circumnavigated an subantarctic island but you and the suppport crew overcame many more far greater challenges and if that is not true success, then I do not know what is. And to have paddled for a few minutes in paradise, t´boot! May the albatross continue to benefit from your efforts and may people worldwide become cognizant of this mighty and noble birds plight as an endangered species through your expedition, book, and documentary.

Much love to all and a Happy Palm Sunday from Ushuaia, Argentina where we are making empanadas, drowning in liquados (glorious fresh fruit smoothies), munching media lunas (tastey, sugary croissants) and resting our weary, travel worn selves:)

Beth Anne