Pearls Around the White Continent Part IV: Home, Sweet Home
In Part IV of this five-part series, Deborah Shapiro and Rolf Bjelke, on board their 40-foot steel ketch, Northern Light, return to places on the Antarctic Peninsula that they first visited in 1984. Their pleasure turns to dismay, however, when they become witnesses to the profound affects brought to the region by climate change. Click here for previous installments.
Cleared out from Argentina, we’ve sailed to the eastern end of the Canal Beagle and anchored in a small cove to await decent departure weather. A day has passed. As the rain and gale-force gusts begin to diminish, Rolf asks me to order GRIBs showing surface pressure and wind prognoses for the next 10 days. His major interest is the forecast for the last two days of the 1,000-nautical-mile passage to South Georgia, when we’ll be sailing through ice-infested waters, because the band of ice constantly drifting past South Georgia has recently been fortified by the breakup of the Larsen Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea.
The GRIB arrives. The wind prognosis for our E.T.A. in South Georgia is for gale- to storm-force northwesterlies. That wind is humid and creates fog. Poor visibility and heavy wind in an iceberg zone is worth avoiding. “It’s a good thing we have no schedule or feel any pressure to leave,” says Rolf. “We can wait and recheck the GRIBs tomorrow.”
Just as I’ve begun thinking how to spend an extra day at anchor, Rolf says, “Deborah, why don’t you order another 10-day GRIB? This time, please check out Drake Passage.”
I smile big. This is the first inkling of any intention to return to Antarctica—on Rolf’s part, that is. Many times I’ve voiced my desire to return to the Antarctic Peninsula, my favorite place on Earth. And I especially want to go to Hovgaard Island, where we lived from 1991 to 1992. To me, Hovgaard is home. I could barely stand the idea of being so close without visiting, but it was something I had to endure. Neither the South Shetland chain nor the Antarctic Peninsula is part of our subantarctic expedition.
I can hardly believe what’s happening. Rolf isn’t usually an impulsive person. While we await the new GRIB, I half expect him to withdraw the idea. But he doesn’t. The GRIB arrives, and I win the lottery! The prediction is for perfect weather in Drake Passage. There’ll be wind, but not too much. I tell Rolf that I don’t care if we spend just one day at Hovgaard before continuing to South Georgia; those 24 hours would be the best present ever. We weigh anchor and leave. It takes five days to cross Drake Passage. There’s less wind than forecasted. Neither of us gets as much as a splash on our foul-weather gear.