Russian/Ukrainian sailing yacht missing in the Antarctic

Scorpius sailing in warmer climes
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Recently the Russian Ukrainian crew on board the 29m steel-hulled sloop Scorpius were jubilant, claiming they had sailed as far south as anyone had ever sailed (see Sail-World http://www.sail-world.com/Cruising/international/Ukrainian-yacht-crew-in-Antarctic-record---and-more-to-come/95203!story) - now they are missing.

There has been no contact with the Scorpius since Monday night, when the crew said gale-force winds were keeping it at anchor, Anna Subbotina said.

It is hoped that the yacht is stuck in ice between two polar research stations, but if that is the case, why they have not reported as arranged is a mystery.

The crew - four Russians and three Ukrainians - set out in September to visit the two poles.

Ms Subbotina said she had last received an email from the crew at 23:00 GMT on Monday 2nd April. They had left Ukraine's Vernadsky polar station in the Argentine Islands and were on their way to Russia's Bellingshausen station in the South Shetland Islands - a distance of only 80 nm - when the storm forced them to drop anchor.

Reporting winds of about 40 knots, they wrote: 'In wind like this, it is very dangerous to enter the strait which is full of underwater stones.'

Ms Subbotina said she was concerned because she had had an agreement with Captain Sergei Nizovtsev to make contact every two or three days since the boat set sail on 18 September. 'I hope very much that it is just a technical fault with the communications,' she added.

In the course of the trip, officially known as the Russian Polar Sailing Expedition, the crew have already produced spectacular photo journals of wildlife and ice formations in Antarctica, displayed on their website.

The mission website's last entry said the Scorpius met wind gusts that whipped up breaking waves on its way to Deception Island - a location popular with brave adventurers for its restless volcano.

It had just visited the Ukrainian-run Akademik Vernadsky research base and was heading for the Russian-run Bellingshausen station next.

'Gale-force winds blowing all day,' the crew wrote on the blog.

'It would be an understatement to say that we are very, very worried,' Ms Subbotina told AFP.

She added that the captain had previously promised to make contact every couple of days because that part of the Antarctic had particularly dark nights at this time of the season and the area became quickly covered with ice.

'The captain said he was particularly afraid of hitting an iceberg,' Ms Subbotina said. 'I know that this is a very strong crew that refuses to press the SOS button unless they really are ready to give up. I just hope that this is why we have not heard from them.'

She said the crew had already survived a hurricane off the coast of Tasmania that briefly left the Scorpius stranded without a functioning sail and most of its equipment swept overboard.

'But even then they managed to find their Iridium [satellite] mobile somewhere and tell me about it after a couple of days,' Ms Subbotina said.

Editor's Note: The claim of being the most southerly sailing yacht was later challenged