Friday January 12th, 2001
I’m late today - “what, again!“ you say. Its 1600 and I have only just sat down at my desk to write this. The truth is that I forgot about it until now. But there are reasons for this - we are all rather tired today.
The wind in the anchorage in Admiralty Bay last night increased dramatically during the evening, and by 2am was blowing a steady 45 knots plus from the north - straight off the huge glacier at the head of the bay. Janot called me and we discussed our situation. We had lots of heavy chain out, and the anchor (very big) was well bedded in the glacial moraine bottom. We had room to leeward if we dragged - more than a mile. But the question was: if we dragged would we be able to then retrieve the anchor and all the chain ok.
We started the generator to make sure we had lots of instant power if needed - then we started the main diesels to keep them warm. There are heaters in the main engines that warm them up when the generator is running, but we wanted to “make sure”. The starboard engine had an air lock - so required attending to.
The wind by this time was gusting 50 knots at the masthead, and closer to 70 knots at deck level - the spray hitting the saloon and pilot house windows straight off the glacier was running in torrents. Our anchor held.
We decided to wait for a lull, get the anchor up and depart to sea - just in case conditions worsened. The anchor windlass brought up 10 metres of chain and then refused to budge. So, in screaming conditions and driving sleet, Alistair, Janot and Ollie soon had the cover off to find out what was wrong. They then needed to remove the anchor chain off the windlass gypsy (where the chain fits to pull up), which necessitated lowering Alistair over the bow in his full climbing harness - on a halyard - to attach the chain hook and heavy rope to the chain beyond the bow - thus releasing the chain where it goes over the gypsy on windlass. He was dunked under water a couple of times - water at 0 degrees C, but managed to do the job in his usual “no-problem” manner. It was a feat that in different circumstances you would not attempt. But alone in a remote bay in Antarctica in storm force winds can bring out the best in people. Needs must!!
All this meant we had to stay put where we were with the anchor down. The only option, if we had had to move, would have been to let all of the chain go and hopefully recover it later. So, Don and Ollie devised a system with our spare anchor warp and a couple of inflatable fenders (to act as buoys) such that this could be put into place immediately if conditions worsened. They didn’t - at 5am the wind suddenly eased 10 knots, and the metre high breaking waves diminished. By 6am, we had 8 knots of breeze and a reasonably pleasant morning developing.
We sorted out the windlass problem, pulled up the anchor in the usual way, and tidied the decks of all the extra ropes, strops and lines that had been brought into play during the night. Then, tired and cold but satisfied at a good result, and the thought that we had just had a reminder of how well prepared we must be at all times, we all sat down to a huge breakfast as we headed out between the stark, ice-clad cliffs of Admiralty Bay - pointing south once again.