by Robert Frolich
“O let my keel burst! Let me go to the sea.”
– Arthur Rimbaud
The sea continued to run high, south/southwest, and with swift yawning, opened a vial of wrath that forced our ship the Clipper Adventurer to lurch heavily in the deep rollers of the Southern Ocean.
By dinner, glimpses of the sun peeled away into a diminished diameter. An expiring brown, ray less glow had brought the day near its end by welding sea and sky together. From the bridge of the Clipper Adventurer a dense bank of cloud became visible to the southward; it had a sinister dark olive tint. It lay low motionless upon the sea, resembling a solid obstacle in the path of the ship. The ship’s bow went steaming towards it like an exhausted creature driving to its fate. The coppery twilight retired slowly and darkness hung nearer the earth.
Many of our expedition crew had been looted by the swells. Their sea sickness and queasiness had killed most of their day’s pleasure reinforcing what one of my captains from sail deliveries past told me about big water: “What can you expect hammering through such water – Bound to leave something behind. Just stands to reason.”
Well, in this case if our loss was measured in barf by a few unlucky passengers we were doing okay because the Drake Passage is known as one of the world’s roughest bodies of water and is infamous for its swells, blasting winds and icy waters. The Passage is the narrowest portion of the easterly flowing Antarctic Circumpolar Current that mixes warmer sub arctic to the north and the colder Antarctic waters from the south. Its mix is not always as smooth as single malt over a few rocks. Nevertheless, its uncomfortable crossing is a rite of passage for those seeking the treasures of the white continent.
And for that matter it’s not like we were scurrying about this Sagamatha of sea in some rusty bucket.
The Ice Class A-1 classified Clipper Adventurer, registered out of the Bahamas, is a 25-year old 100-meter ship reconditioned and retrofitted only a few years ago specifically for Southern Ocean cruising. With a 17 meter beam and 500 HP bow thrusters complemented by dual controllable pitch propellers, the ship handles well with the support of 2 Man B&W diesel propulsion engines rated approximately 2,640 SHP each. With an experienced crew of 72 working her she can make 12 knots in open water.
“I know she is capable as I’m the one who made all the conversions in her,” explains Captain Kenth Grankvist. The Swedish skipper who has made over 50 voyages to Antarctica began his career at sea as a mess boy at age 16. He worked his way up the ladder from deck hand to officer before captaining his first ship in 1989.
He’s spent 20 years in the Arctic on ships and has captained vessels up the Amazon, the Congo and Northwest Passage.
“Although we have computerized equipment and state of the art systems, captaining a ship is still very much a hands on approach, reveals the Captain who has weathered hurricanes and more than a dose of heavy weather. “I like open bridge wings where you can go outside and feel the wind and closely study the ocean.”
Captain Gunnar Roos also has an exceptional pedigree having worked icebreakers for the Royal Swedish Navy and captained tankers worldwide and the North Sea.
“As a youth I kayaked and discovered the only way to see the world was to go to sea,” says Captain Roos who spent many years piloting ships through the northern Sea of Bottnia.
Captain Roos takes over for Grankvist for the Clipper Adventurer’s next voyage. Having never captained a ship to the Antarctic it was necessary to bring along Captain Grankvist in accordance with the Antarctic Treaty. Signed on December 1, 1959, the treaty now has 46 countries in its accordance and has become a key role in protecting Antarctica and its wildlife.
When asked how to avoid trouble such as the kind the sank and grounded three cruise ships the last few years in the Southern Ocean, Captain Grankvist’s striking blue eyes alight and simply say,” Be careful.”
Adds Captain Roos: “The fastest way through ice is to go around it. You get wise with more experience. We’ll be encountering plenty of ice on this trip. We’ll see how we deal with it.”
THE ICE AXE SAT: Q. The Prusik knot is a one-way knot that can be moved upward on a rope but holds when weighted downward much like the mechanical ascenders in climbing that have superseded it. Why is it called Prusik? A. The mountaineering knot was adapted from violin string repair by Dr. Karl Prusik of Austria.
OFF PISTE ADVENTURE:
Five Questions With Scott Flint
Scott Flint began skiing at age 21 while recovering from a broken neck as a result of a motorcycle accident. Close to three decades later the Lake Tahoe resident remains one of the country’s better Master’s Race Coaches, helping such standout champions as Glenn McConkey, Bob Bernard, Gatteano Demattei and Buck Thys grab their fair share of Masters Trophies. More than anything, the professional fly-fishing guide, PSIA Level lll, and USSCA Level ll coach doesn’t mind stepping up to the plate to tell you what’s on his mind.
ON THE LINE THAT GOT AWAY
It had to be “Human Error” at Las Lenas. That is a beauty of steep and sweet. Unfortunately we tried it in a whiteout. My buddy Paul clamed up on a 50-degree pitch in 50 mph winds. I needed to help him out and lost my window.
ON HIS FAVORITE BEATLES SONG
Dear Prudence – It’s heartfelt.
ON AN INSTRUCTOR’S LEARNING CURVE
I was teaching a class at Mammoth. I mentioned to my class at midday that it was okay to relax over lunch with a beer or glass of wine. When they returned for their afternoon session they were all loaded. It was one of the funniest classes I ever taught. They had such a good time they signed up for the next day.
ON ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION 09 GOALS
To sit on an iceberg with a penguin and be mucho tranquilo.
ON WHAT IT TAKES TO IMPROVE ON SKIS
You need to ski off-piste – jump into those variable conditions and terrain. That’s why Squaw Valley produces so many ski champions. They’re freeskiing great terrain as much if not more than training in the sticks.