SKIP NO­VAK

The best part about be­ing a boat owner is That ev­ery morn­ing you get To choose whether you see some­thing new and un­known or The old fa­mil­iar

Yachting World - - Front Page -

At the age of 65, I have re­alised that I am in a rut of sorts. I am again re­turn­ing to South Ge­or­gia in Oc­to­ber for another month’s ex­pe­di­tion to this splen­did wilder­ness. I have lost count of the ex­pe­di­tions I’ve made to the is­land but it must be well over 20, al­most al­ways in­volv­ing deep field ac­tiv­i­ties. As is usual, we have char­ter guests but also a three-man cli­mate change team from the Uni­ver­sity of Maine and I will be help­ing them drill ice cores on the Szielasko Ice Cap.

This is a re­ward­ing project com­bin­ing recre­ation on one hand and a bit of se­ri­ous sci­ence on the other – a great way to get our char­ter guests in­volved. There is some heavy lift­ing to and from the glacier that they don’t know about yet. For them it is a chance to par­tic­i­pate in some­thing very rel­e­vant to the is­land’s rapidly re­treat­ing glacier sys­tems. The sci­ence team has been with us two times be­fore, so all this is fa­mil­iar ground for them and us.

I was re­minded of how en­joy­able this rou­tine has been for decades dur­ing a re­cent cor­re­spon­dence with my friend in the Falk­land Is­lands, Jerome Pon­cet. If I am in­deed in a rut in the far south with the Pe­lag­ics, he has made it his life’s work and plea­sure with his yachts Damien II and Golden Fleece.

He and his fam­ily have logged well over 40 years in the area and are in large part re­spon­si­ble for many of the clas­sic ‘ice with ev­ery­thing’ BBC film­ing epics we see on TV. With their un­par­al­leled knowl­edge of where the wildlife is hid­ing, the Pon­cets are fa­mous for get­ting the film teams there and back safely with some very cre­ative nav­i­ga­tion in be­tween.

Jerome is now on what he de­scribes as his semire­tire­ment and is join­ing his sec­ond son Leif, who is cruis­ing his own boat in Alaska this north­ern sum­mer. That will be his first foray into that far side of the world.

This made me think: I have never been to Alaska or any of the Pa­cific North­west other than an il­licit cruise with an old girl­friend in Puget Sound many years ago. I guess it has been a full im­mer­sion with south­ern South Amer­ica and points fur­ther south and there was al­ways scope for new places to ex­plore and dis­cover. I had no real de­sire to look else­where. And it has evolved into a busi­ness. There is that ques­tion of sus­te­nance that must be con­sid­ered.

While mulling this over there is ev­i­dence that there are two very dif­fer­ent styles of cruis­ing and ex­plor­ing (if I might be­labour that much mis­con­strued word again). On one hand, you have the globe-girdling sailors who is­land hop end­lessly whether it be for a year’s cruise or a ten-year cy­cle. They don’t spend much time in any one place and are con­tent al­ways to ex­pe­ri­ence the new and then move on. See­ing the coastal world is the ob­ject and ar­guably there is no bet­ter way to do this than on your own boat. It is a kaleidoscope of ex­pe­ri­ences.

Then there are the mugs like me and many oth­ers con­tent to re­turn again and again to those same places which, in the case of the south, is ac­tu­ally a very con­densed re­gion. In ef­fect, we are liv­ing in the re­gion rather than vis­it­ing. Fa­mil­iar­ity is the main at­trac­tion: meet­ing old friends in re­mote farms and vil­lages (and some­times de­liv­er­ing es­sen­tials); com­ing into an­chor­ages with the knowl­edge of the shoals and other nav­i­ga­tional haz­ards in your head, rather than re­mind­ing one­self from the chart we take for granted. Then there is wak­ing up to the morn­ing’s bird­song with­out hav­ing to get the bird book out for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

How­ever, the in­ter­est­ing thing I have ob­served is that globe-girdling sailors can be much more in­spi­ra­tional in their writ­ing about their voy­ages than the ‘stay at home’ grounded bunch of which I in­clude my­self. We were in­spi­ra­tional once, but the con­tin­u­ally fresh ex­pe­ri­ences lends it­self to bet­ter and more colour­ful de­scrip­tions in print, it would seem.

Those of us who have been time and time again to the same waters hav­ing sim­i­lar ad­ven­tures are no less en­thu­si­as­tic, but might be more philo­soph­i­cally at ease. If asked, I would not have it in me to write another ar­ti­cle about Cape Horn.

Bri­tish moun­taineer Tom Price was a mem­ber of the South Ge­or­gia sur­veys in the 1950s and spent many months roam­ing the in­te­rior. He sums it up: ‘The more one be­comes fa­mil­iar with such grandeur, the less one has to say about it, the less in fact one thinks about it. But it is there nev­er­the­less, and has its ef­fect upon the soul.’

‘IN EF­FECT WE ARE LIV­ING IN THE RE­GION RATHER THAN VIS­IT­ING’

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