Wanderers are drawn to a re­mote out­post in the ma­jes­tic South­ern Ocean, where they find life abounds amid the bar­ren ice and rocks.


page 38

THE Antarc­tic is­land of South Ge­or­gia is the most nerve-rack­ing place I know. Along its spec­tac­u­lar coast — nearly 10,000 feet high in places, where hur­ri­cane-force winds can re­place a flat calm in sec­onds — sim­ply be­ing there re­quires tenac­ity. Sail­ing away from the is­land is a kind of game of chance. Whether at­tempt­ing the 800-nau­ti­cal-mile up­wind pas­sage to the Falk­land Is­lands or the 3,000-nau­ti­cal-mile down­wind one to Cape Town, South Africa, an oceanic gant­let of ice­bergs, fog and gales is un­avoid­able. And get­ting there? That is also far from child’s play. On our

Wan­derer III, a 30-foot wooden boat with sex­tant and com­pass but no radar, weather fore­casts or com­mu­ni­ca­tion other than VHF ra­dio, it’s pure psy­chol­ogy. Each phase of a voy­age to the most fan­tas­tic is­land of the world is more than de­mand­ing.

When I first con­jured up South Ge­or­gia as an idea, Kicki and I were still sail­ing in the Pa­cific. Later, in Cape Town, in 1997, after 10 years of be­ing un­der­way, a mere At­lantic pas­sage sep­a­rated us from a re­turn to Eu­rope. But I couldn’t get South Ge­or­gia out of my mind. I knew: If not now, then never. Rules and fees in­creas­ingly re­strict the move­ments of cu­ri­ous sailors and sim­ple boats like Wan­derer III. Ex­plo­ration has been re­placed by tourism and or­derly ex­pe­ri­ences, even at the far reaches of the planet.

So we re­cast our thoughts and ac­tions. We sailed 55 days, first to Mon­te­v­ideo, Uruguay, for the cakes at the Cafe Rhein­gold, then on to a face-lift for Wan­derer in Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina, and fi­nally to the Falk­lands — this last step in bor­rowed foul-weather gear. With our necks and backs sud­denly no longer wet, we were en­cour­aged to aim for South Ge­or­gia, after the win­ter.

On Novem­ber 27, we had Wan­derer ship­shape for the pas­sage into the cold, and had even stashed aboard some que­bra­cho fire­wood from Ar­gentina. The sa­loon table was in the fore­peak; all four an­chors and moor­ing lines were se­cured be­tween the mid­ship bunks. Diesel, kerosene and co­coa pow­der were topped up, and ev­ery­thing was ready; we just needed a fore­cast. So, in those pre-grib-file days, we con­tacted the met of­fice. “Mon­day: Se­vere storm.”

Ac­tu­ally, that suited us just fine. It gave us two or three days to prop­erly say good­bye to a place and peo­ple we had grown very fond of over the year. In my ir­ra­tional habit of pur­su­ing chimeras, I even pro­posed a re­turn: We’d beat back 800 nau­ti­cal miles through the South­ern Ocean, from South Ge­or­gia to the Falk­lands, I told folks. The con­vic­tion with which I an­nounced this fooled even me.

On Satur­day it blew just like nor­mal, but not a storm. Sun­day like­wise. In fact, there was no storm in sight.

“Never be im­pa­tient in the South­ern Ocean,” came the ad­vice from, of all peo­ple, French nav­i­ga­tor and sailor Philippe Poupon.

On Mon­day, fi­nally, hur­ri­cane-strength winds swept all im­pa­tience into outer space. Even the old­est Kelpers, the Falk­land lo­cals, couldn’t re­mem­ber see­ing their har­bor white-washed for four solid days. A Span­ish fish­ing boat steamed up and down the cigar-shaped har­bor for three of them be­cause the an­chor would not hold and com­ing along­side was to­tally un­think­able. A mul­ti­story Princess cruise ship couldn’t re­trieve 200 of its 2,000 pas­sen­gers from their shore leave, and re­quired the help of a tug to reach open waters, where it held its po­si­tion through the blow.

Wan­derer, well se­cured with shore lines, heeled heav­ily. Stan­ley Har­bour came to a stand­still and my knees went weak — both in di­rect re­la­tion­ship to the storm’s in­ten­sity. And once it abated, I promptly de­vel­oped a mys­te­ri­ous fever. Cough­ing heav­ily, I re­treated to my bunk. Noth­ing could be done.

The longer I stayed hor­i­zon­tal, the more con­sciously I coughed, per­haps a symp­tom of the im­pos­si­bil­ity of set­ting

Kicki Eric­son keeps an eye out for bergs on a win­ter sail­ing foray.

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