by Rob Kothe
'When you tack the ice that has built up on the sail crunches off and falls in a sheet onto the deck…. The average is a blizzard for a couple of days and then some magic weather…we’re going with a little bit of luxury this time – diesel heaters.. we have 3.5 metre dinghies – if you get hit by an elephant seal you want to be able to get ashore – it would be a cold swim…'
For this warm water cruiser, it all sounds very tough, but the words fall easily off the tongue of David Pryce as he is describing his forthcoming sailing journey to the Antarctic.
‘We can take 12 people,’ he explains, ‘but we will probably aim to take 10 – it is a nice number’
This is Blizzard Expeditions, and David Pryce is a master mariner and naval architect with a passion for exploring the wild and remote corners of the globe. David has not only a broad sailing experience, ranging from weekend sailing to round the world Clipper Races. In the current Clipper Ventures Round the World Race, David took the Western Australian boat into a clear lead into Subic Bay.
Now he looking forward to another Antarctic summer. He's been four times to the Antarctic, and his experience shows.
'The South Magnetic Pole makes a good hopping off point to head north across the Southern Ocean.' He talks about the wind directions, the strategies for making the fastest and most efficient journey.
He remembers his first trip: 'I had a little yacht and I sold that to go down to the Antarctic on the Spirit of Sydney. It was an amazing adventure and it was the best money I ever spent – that was in 1996, and it was the ‘pick-up’ trip for Don and Margie McIntyre, who had spent the year on Cape Denison.'
Even for this warm water sailor, the adventure is starting to sound interesting, 'You can check out the penguins, and Mawson’s Huts are there – quite amazing'
However, you need to be a little more than just a sailor it seems. David continues, 'It is more for an adventurer than a pure sailor. The people who have really got the most out of these expeditions are the people who really want to take on an adventure.
'Often they teach themselves to sail in the 6 months leading up to the expedition, then head off. I would say 50% are sailors and 50% are from other adventure channels like skiing, mountaineering, climbing - people who are into the outdoors. They also come from all around the world: Europe, Alaska, and America, a lot from Australia.
It is a 30 day trip - approximately 10 day passage to Antarctica 'depending on the how heavy the pack ice is', probably 10 days at Cape Denison and afterwards they head to the south magnetic pole.
This trip he will have as fellow crew member Hannah McKeand, also a veteran of Round World Clipper Races, and a skier to the South Pole – they make an impressive duo.
David talks on, evenly and almost casually, about the amazing sights available to these sailor adventurers:
'You can see mainly Adélie penguins and wendel seals, and you do occasionally get a leopard seal. They would almost push an Adélie into the water. The Adélies are prime targets for the leopards and also for the skuas which are a kind of vulture birds that prey on the new born chicks. And they are quite protective.
And then there are the whales - leading in and out of Antarctica through the pack ice there is a good chance of seeing whales. The area of Cape Denison is actually where the Japanese were whaling last season. It is completely abandoned during summer, there are of course Mawsons huts, and there were government expeditions that were in Cape Denison during the summer periods.
I don’t believe there is anyone scheduled to be there this summer. It is quite eerie really, in a blizzard you could just imagine Mawson stepping out the door.
'The trip sailing down is an adventure in itself. The big icing period is the last 100 miles to the continent, that is when you start getting the winds straight off the continent and it is freezing. You quickly get ice build up around the lifelines and they will go to about 2 inches diameter really quickly.
Mountain range on South Georgia
'It builds up on the sails as well, you will be sailing along and when you get a tack this big sheet of ice falls off and crunches down onto the deck. If you get a windy run the last 100 miles a lot of icing occurs there.
And the boat? – 'This boat is made of aluminium, it handles the ice, and is 20m long. It’s warm, with diesel heaters this year. This particular Radford boat has not been used in Antarctica before; and so we’re in the process of refitting it specifically for Antarctica. Accommodation includes berths for up to 12 people. There are 6 single berths and 3 doubles which can be split into singles with dividers. She is also comfortably equipped with a large galley and social area amidship.
'The lifting centreboard configuration allows access to explore shallow areas while also enabling fast passage making. She is fitted with all the highest quality and up to date safety features and has an unusually large amount of storage space for equipment and gear.
'Oh and the other great asset she has for this type of trip is that she is also fitted with a satellite communications suite allowing continual email and telephone access all over the world.
OJ Sastrugi at Ellsworth
'She has a small but lovingly stocked library of travel, Antarctic and adventure writing and a flat LCD screen with DVD player and a huge selection of films for those essential movie and popcorn nights.'
The trip starts on the 25th January in Hobart, costs around $14,000, and will be the 30 day adventure of a lifetime.
For more information and to make enquiries about joining the journey, go to the Blizzard Expeditions website.