Don McIntyre: On the loss of the yacht Berserk in the Antarctic

Spirit of Sydney - Sailing the Antarctic
Margie McIntyre
Sailing adventurer Don McIntyre who, among his many other sailing exploits, has made nine sailing voyages to and through Antarctic waters, here comments on the tragic loss of the Norwegian yacht Berserk in the Ross Sea in the Antarctic. The steel yacht was skippered by Norwegian television personality Jarle Andhoey. On land trying to reach the south pole, he survived the sinking that cost the lives of three of his crewmates.

[As a guide to anyone thinking about such a voyage to Antarctica go to the www.iaato.org the International Association of Antarctic Tourist Operators (IAATO) has a section dedicated to Yachts.]


The final outcome of the Berserk voyage to Antarctica is sad for a few reasons..but as I write this, I hope that the yacht with the three missing crew may still be afloat, slowly headed north, in a damaged state, without communications. The outlook is not good, with every indication that it has sunk and the crew lost.

The Captain, Jarle Andhoey, has simply been reckless from the moment he set out on this expedition. He has an adventurous spirit which I admire. I have laughed at a few of his exploits in the past. He has the right to do his own thing, as we all do, but only if it does not impact on anyone else, or break any laws which may be in place for the sake of the environment or humanity. As a self proclaimed 'Viking' ,he does not really care. He shuns officialdom and his track record shows he may not listen to the law.
Skipper Jarle Andhoy, safe and on his way back to Christchurch
.. .

He apparently spoke to quite a few experienced Antarctic adventures (myself included) before the began, for advice and opinions, but for his own reasons then disregarded most of it.

I have visited the Ross Sea for the last six seasons. I have spent most summers since 1993 in East Antarctica on yachts and ships of various sizes. Unlike the Antarctic Peninsula (which is much milder with less hazards), East Antarctica under Australia and particularly the Ross Sea, is not the place for your average well found centre cockpit, steel cruising boat.

Berserk in Antarctica
.. .
You need a special yacht for that trip! During my own numerous sailing expeditions to the Antarctic, in specially equipped and prepared expedition yachts, the boat has hit ice and split the hull three times..water tight bulkheads were integral for safe passage and getting home. No other yacht had ever been as far south into the Ross Sea as Berserk attempted. Andhoey told me in November, before setting out, that he thought the Ross Sea would be easier than the Southern Ocean…I did not agree.

Collectively I have spent years sailing the Southern Ocean (including solo around the world) and the Ross Sea can be dramatically worse, especially when close to the Antarctic continent, where 'extreme' winds can create ridiculously unmanageable seas. In 80kts in the Southern Ocean, seas can still be managed and you don’t usually have ice. As expedition leader on Antarctic cruise ships, I have seen some sea states off Commonwealth Bay that I believe no yacht would survive, 'unless' it was the best of the best, specifically built for the job , manned by a very experienced crew and I would not want to be one of them….it is not a game.

Berserk liferaft recovered - photo from Sea Shepherd
.. .
You can be lucky and even go down in a multihull, but for me, you must prepare for the absolute worst and hope for the best. Berserk did not do that. They did not have a crisis management plan, they had no contingency planning, they did not alert the relevant RCC of their plans before setting off, they did not have the necessary permits under the Antarctic treaty (which is law for Norwegian yachts heading to Antarctica) and by all reports they were seriously overloaded.

I cannot comment on the equipment they had onboard, nor the training or experience of the crew, but if they were doing a full risk minimisation plan before they set off, they should have had a satellite tracking system reporting their position regularly, Iridium sat phones in Waterproof pouches, survival suits, PLB’s and at least two Epirbs,( one float free and one manual)..they should have had two life rafts, all the crew should have done a survival course and everything about the boat should have been in perfect condition, with great emphasis taken on watertight integrity…hatches and companionways etc..One can only speculate, but the photos I have seen of Berserk, if overloaded and icing up , could turn the cockpit into a big funnel ( if the companion way hatches breeched in a Knock down) pouring water below rapidly, as the 8 mtr seas are short, steep and would dump onboard easily.( not like longer Southern Ocean seas) With no watertight bulkheads and floating 'growlers' hard to see in 90kts of wind blown white out (which they had)…the results would be catastrophic. A helmsman in those conditions is afforded little protection from a design that is meant to be cruising the Pacific. It is all simply a bad formula!

In December Andhoey asked if I would rendezvous with Berserk off Ross Island at the very bottom of the Ross Sea. He wanted to transfer 1500 ltrs of fuel onto Berserk from the MV. ORION (4000 tonne expedition ship.) I agreed, but only if he could show me his permits to undertake the fuel transfer and the expedition itself. I would also then have to get special permits for that activity. The Antarctic permits are all about protecting the environment. He said he had a Russian Agent that would do that, but never did. He then said he did not need a permit anyway, as basically he would be a vessel in need of assistance. We made it clear that you cannot claim that if you are trying to organise things months in advance!

I told him to get out of the Ross Sea no later than Feb 20th as conditions can get very bad after that. It would mean leaving Ross Island by about the 14th Feb. He arrived late and unbelievable was apparently trying to get to the South Pole? on tracked ATV’s? when the rest of Antarctica ( Govt. and Private) was shutting down for the season as the weather is getting so bad?.

I love adventure and will passionately protect the right of people to do their thing like I myself have done and continue to do. Jarle Andhoey just set back the cause of responsible risk takers many years. The Norwegian Govt has announced that they intend prosecuting him. Many people selflessly put themselves in harm's way trying to find the lost sailors. Even the rescuer's job could have been made less dangerous, if Jarle Andhoey had been fully prepared and fully equipped.…or done as the true Vikings would have done and left the EPIRB at home……we all have the right to die.

Don and Margie McIntyre
Margie McIntyre
About Don McIntyre:
53 year old Don McIntyre is one of Australias most experienced sailors, having competed in the 1990 BOC Challenge Single Handed Around the World Yacht Race, coming second in Class, the highest placing for an Australian at the time.

He then embarked on numeros Antarctic sailing Expeditions, including in 1995, living in a 2.4m X 3.6m box for a year, together alone in Antarctica, with his wife Margie, chained to rocks at Cape Dennison, the site of Sir Douglass Mawson’s Hut and an area called the Home of the Blizzard.

Having been awarded an Australian Geographic Society silver medal for the Spirit of Adventure in 1993, Don and Margie were Awarded the Australian Geographic Society’s highest honour in 1996…a Gold Medal as Adventurers of the Year, the youngest to ever recieve it at that time.

Their award winning documentary and best selling book 'Two Below Zero' are still in demand sixteen years on.

When Don owned Spirit of Sydney (pictured above) it made nine sailing voyages to the Antarctic.

More recently, with three crew Don completed a re-enactment of the voyage of Captain Bligh's voyage in a small open boat from where he was cast adrift the South Pacific to Kupang in Timor. The voyage took 44 days and covered 4000 miles.

Don & Margie McIntyre now lead tourist expeditions to Antarctica on the 4000 tonne ship cruise ship ORION.
.