The Belgica

The Love, Hate relationship on the Euronav Belgica

Web Update for January 20, 2007 By Troy Henkels

Like all grand expeditions and most things in life, time spent on board is a delicate balance of tradeoffs.    I love the flexibility and freedom a small sailboat offers in the way of exploring and experiencing every aspect of Antarctica.  That much I love.

The past few days has found us switching to a sailing at night schedule, headed due South to reach the Antarctic Circle.  This is the part that becomes not so enjoyable for me.  Two nights ago we spent countless hours in strong winds and high seas, travelling South.  The minute this boat starts pitching and rolling I am seasick.  Being a non-sailor, it is the one aspect of sailing life that I have not adjusted to.  When the going gets rough, I have to be horizontal or outside on deck.  Being seasick almost totally debilitates me to the point I can´t do anything.  After getting up at 4am to help watch for icebergs in the water, as Rumen drove us deeper South.  I spent hours on deck trying to keep my composure and balance as the snow, wind, and sometimes rain made life on deck less than desirable.  By hour two, I was even feeling seasick on deck.  A few hours later, lying inside, hating life, I was ready to get off at the next stop and never set foot on a sailing vessel again.  Here is where the tradeoffs begin.

After we found a quiet anchor in a calm bay, I felt o.k.  Oh, and the wind was up, and well, I could probably go kitesurfing here and get back on the water!  So, Rumen, Laurent and I explore an island. We got chased off by nesting Skua birds and a very curious leopard seal(who by the way are rumoured to be quite dangerous, even though they have only killed one person we know of in 2002).  The divers at Palmer told us they always get out of the water when there is a leopard seal in the area.  Nonetheless, we explored some other small islands, only to end up back at the same island, with the kite in the air and me in the water.  And, after being seasick for nearly 10 hours, I’m back on the water having the time of my life kiting past thousands of Adelie penguins, some on small islands, some on icebergs.  Effortlessly weaving in and out of icebergs and at one point, even switching from kiteboarding to snowkiting as I hop up on a snow ramp on an iceberg and launch off, it is unforgettable day.  It is such a quandary to me that I can hate being on the water so much in a tiny sailing vessel and love being on the water behind a kite.  It certainly is a world of tradeoffs.  After several hours the wind dies down and I come across yet another, very large leopard seal, who does not give chase, and I think I am maybe faster than him anyway.  Thankfully I kite away from the seal and back to the Belgica, anchored in a quiet, calm bay.

By midnight, we are sailing south again, and I’m horizontal wondering when the next bus stop will come, so I can get off this boat.  And, the call goes out….WHALES!  In one of those unforgettable moments, several minke whales start surfacing around the ship.  And like none of us have ever seen before, begin playing in the wake of the bow.  Playing like dolphins often do, rolling over, surfacing and having a grand time.  PJ calls these times ´Magic Moments´ and for this one, I would have to agree.

By 8:30 am we are crossing the Antarctic Circle.  We have to stop, just to savor the moment and have a toast. As so often happens, our thoughts turn to De Gerlache and his sailing crew 110 years ago, who crossed this same line, and pushed much deeper South.  They were truly entering the unknown, unexplored realms of the Antarctic.  We do the same in our own way, but with known maps and GPS.  Quickly though, our thoughts are disrupted as the same two whales surface and play around the Belgica again.  They have been following us for hours and put on another show to welcome us to the Antarctic Circle.  And, I know, for right now, I love this place.

Copyright 2008 Troy Henkels