• The Captain blog

Sailing to the Antarctic

Updated: Sep 22, 2019

Crossing from Cape Horn to Antarctica
Crossing from Cape Horn to Antarctica

We are glad to announce that a new challenging route has been added to our expedition .

The Antarctic presents a unique, remote and challenging destination. Since the first recorded visit by a private yacht, made by Bill Tilman in the 1960s, numbers have steadily grown and a typical season may well see 20 to 30 yachts visiting Antarctica. Of these many are commercial charter operations, but a significant number of private yacht owners undertake expeditions each year.

Antarctica is one of the most remote and serious cruising areas in the world’s oceans. Weather conditions can be extreme, ice can pose a danger at any time and no external assistance is available should things go wrong.

Any yacht expedition heading south of 60° will need to be well planned, prepared and crewed by experienced yachtsmen. That said an expedition to Antarctica will almost certainly be a highlight of any sailor’s time at sea.

Antarctica is only accessible to most vessels during the Austral summer. The Antarctic Peninsula is amongst the first areas where the ice diminishes sufficiently to allow safe navigation. Typically expeditions take place from November to March with the months of December, January and February providing the longest daylight hours and generally better ice conditions.

The weather patterns in the region are primarily dominated by the succession of depressions passing continually through the Drake Passage from west to east and the high pressure area over the Antarctic land mass. There are significant variations in the typical weather that will be encountered. The Drake Passage has an unrivaled reputation as one of the most challenging sailing areas in the world. Modern weather forecasting now means that the huge winds and seas for which this passage of water has become famous can at least, for the most part, be predicted. With a good understanding of the region’s weather systems, access to sufficient weather data and careful planning, the worst of conditions can hopefully be avoided. However, in this turbulent area, forecasts change quickly and conditions often exceed those forecast. It is not uncommon for very complex low pressure systems to develop in the passage. Wind speeds encountered within these low pressure systems regularly exceed 50 knots and very large seas can develop. The South Shetland Islands lie very much in the path of the depressions described above. The weather found here is therefore typically wet, windy and generally not very pleasant. This is reflected in the average recorded wind speed and precipitation on the South Shetland Islands which are consistently higher than those recorded at the scientific bases further south. The weather on the Antarctic Peninsula is governed by the dominance of the Antarctic High Pressure system and the effect of the depressions passing through the Drake Passage. It is possible that when the high pressure becomes stable and dominant, the depressions are forced far enough north to give pleasant settled weather on the peninsula for days at a time. Temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula during the summer months can be expected to be between 5° and 10° during the day, falling to around -5° to zero at night. Wind chill can be a significant factor and at times makes the conditions on the peninsula inhospitable.

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