SKIP NO­VAK

FAIL­URE TO REACH A PLANNED GOAL IS A STRONG LIKE­LI­HOOD IN AD­VEN­TURE SAIL­ING, SO WE MIGHT AS WELL EM­BRACE THE FACT WE MAY NOT GET THERE

Yachting World - - Front Page -

It doesn’t re­quire a sail­ing-to-climb ex­pe­di­tion like the one I fin­ished in Oc­to­ber to re­alise how the raw forces of na­ture can lay waste to well made plans.

The same can hap­pen on a planned week­end cross­ing of the English Chan­nel where din­ner in St Malo had to be can­celled due to a rag­ing south-west­erly in the West­ern Ap­proaches.

Granted, voy­ag­ing to South Ge­or­gia through the South­ern Ocean does raise the bar of vul­ner­a­bil­ity, no doubt about it. And once you are there, what can be ac­com­plished in the moun­tains is a gam­ble in the truest sense of the word. If tot­ted up, our moun­taineer­ing fail­ures over three decades far out­weigh the suc­cesses.

But we are not masochists, and the suc­cesses, when they came, were sweet and well ap­pre­ci­ated. The un­cer­tainty of this game of chance is part of the at­trac­tion, but some­times that un­cer­tainty be­comes the theme rather than a pre­lude.

This sea­son’s ob­jec­tive was to re­peat our stun­ning suc­cess of 2016 with the same 65km ski tra­verse from the south­ern tip of the wild south-west coast of the is­land start­ing in Troll­hul Bay and end­ing at St An­drews Bay on the north-west coast cen­tral sec­tion.

In 2016, we cher­ryp­icked two fine tar­gets of ma­jor vir­gin sum­mits in a rare spell of high pres­sure. We were out for 16 days in­clud­ing six days storm­bound in glacier camps. Look­ing back, this was the ic­ing on the many lay­ered cake of pre­vi­ous bat­tles lost with the is­land.

The op­ti­mism that ex­pe­di­tion en­gen­dered (and we al­ways filed the strug­gles and fail­ures some­where in the back of the mem­ory bank) led us to be­lieve we could do the same again, as there are many more sum­mits to de-flower in what must be one of the world’s most re­mote ex­ploratory moun­taineer­ing en­vi­ron­ments. There is no one to call for a search and res­cue on South Ge­or­gia.

In any event, this time the is­land’s weather pun­ished us hand­somely and we are now hum­bled once again.

We had five weeks in hand from leav­ing to re­turn­ing to Port Stan­ley and we got off to a good start, ar­riv­ing on the is­land af­ter a four-day pas­sage. No chance to land at Troll­hul Bay though, due to strong winds on­shore.

So we waited on the north coast for five days, mak­ing day ski trips be­fore re­treat­ing to the base at King Ed­ward Point. Here, the small con­tin­gent of eight over­win­ter­ing Bri­tish Antarctic Sur­vey staff and two govern­ment har­bour mas­ters who con­trol the fish­ing fleet in the mar­itime zone of­fered to give us the west fac­ing jetty for what would be a ma­jor east­erly storm on the rise, mak­ing the north coast un­nav­i­ga­ble.

That storm lasted a full four days and, to top it off, King Ed­ward Cove, fac­ing south-east, was big enough to ac­com­mo­date all the brash ice in Cum­ber­land Bay dis­charg­ing off the Nor­den­skjold glacier. We couldn’t move if we wanted to, and were trapped by the ice un­der pres­sure from the wind.

When the storm force winds abated down to vari­able and the pres­sure on the ice less­ened, we es­caped in­car­cer­a­tion and made a bee­line for the south-west coast, southabout, as Troll­hul, usu­ally prone to heavy swell, would be as flat as it gets in the lee of that east­erly storm.

Five of us were put ashore with ten days of sup­plies, camp­ing and climb­ing gear, all carried in sleds. The tra­verse took 12 days, which says some­thing in it­self, and we ac­com­plished noth­ing in moun­taineer­ing terms other than a jour­ney in very ar­du­ous con­di­tions of heavy snow­fall, high winds and lit­tle or no vis­i­bil­ity. It was hard work pulling the sleds in the deep snow and few re­ward­ing views were had in amongst oth­er­wise white-out con­di­tions day af­ter day.

And how lucky we are to be able to play this game of Rus­sian roulette on land and sea, where suc­cess is never guar­an­teed, where pa­tience wins out.

One must take the long view of the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence of at­tempt and fail­ure as not time wasted but time to be cher­ished. There is a sur­feit of canned and pack­aged ad­ven­ture travel to­day where as­sured grat­i­fi­ca­tion is by con­tract. Not so when the quest has fail­ure al­ways loom­ing large.

So next time that din­ner in St Malo has to be can­celled, hun­ker down in the ma­rina on the English side of the Chan­nel and en­joy just be­ing there with the wind blow­ing in the rig­ging.

‘VOY­AG­ING THROUGH THE SOUTH­ERN OCEAN RAISES THE BAR’

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