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April 20, 2017
Reliance achieves milestone passage to Antarctica Wildlife, icebergs and…ping-pong
Editor’s note: Last names have been omitted for purposes of privacy.
In September 2015, 25-year-old Dalton and his 3-man crew set sail from Fiji aboard Reliance,a pre-owned Nordhavn 76 he had purchased the year before. Like several Nordhavns before it, Reliance left on a course to circumnavigate the globe, but Dalton’s mission went beyond just going around the world. He planned to do it not by taking canals as easy cut-throughs to reach places, rather by conquering the likes of Cape Horn, and visiting the most remote places in the most extreme latitudes. Last month, Dalton and the Reliance crew successfully rounded Cape Horn, in relatively calm fashion. And a few weeks prior to that, they achieved another major milestone, by reaching one of the most isolated cruising grounds in the world, Antarctica.
With only a few dozen private vessels visiting Antarctica annually due to the remoteness of the area, rigid cruising conditions, and of course, intense weather conditions, getting to this southernmost continent is a major achievement. Yet Reliance is the second Nordhavn to do so in the past two years, following in the wake of Nordhavn 63 Ithaka which reached South Georgia Island last year
“When I was first planning the trip, I honestly didn’t think [visiting Antarctica] was possible,” said Dalton. They got a late start in prepping for the trip, and needed to stay on schedule in order to time their arrival with the Southern Hemisphere summer. Thankfully, with some arm twisting from his captain, Dalton realized this was an opportunity not to be missed, and worked overtime with his crew to obtain Reliance’s cruising permits which included a required safety management system that they spent the majority of their Atlantic crossing putting together.
With permission granted, Reliance arrived in the Falkland Islands in early February and waited for a weather window to take on the Drake Passage and make their way to Antarctica. “This isn’t calm cruising around the equator,” Dalton noted. Bracing for extreme conditions the Drake is known for, they luckily caught a break with relatively benign seas and enjoyed smooth sailing through the passage.
Their first stop was Elephant Island, where in 1911 Antarctic explorer Capt. Ernest Shackleton famously left his crew to survive for four months as pack ice slowly crushed their ship Endurance while he went to South Georgia Island for help. From there Reliance followed the peninsula south from King George Island through the rest of the islands.
Although fog covered their first glimpses of the sheer cliffs, glaciers and rock-strewn beaches, the enormity and impressiveness of the area was everything they had anticipated. “If I were to imagine how arriving in Antarctica – a wild land of mystique and unpredictable climate – was going to be, this was far beyond my wildest hopes,” said Dalton.
The fog followed them down the peninsula, but eventually the sun came out making for a spectacular image of summer in Antarctica. Incredibly mature in their approach to this trip, the Reliance crew did have some tell-tale signs of their under-30 age status spending the day doing activities such as teeing off a glacier, polar plunging, and downing celebratory birthday tequila shots from atop icebergs.
Although just a few handfuls of boats make it to Antarctica each year, the crew of Reliance wanted to be as isolated as they could, so they cruised outside the usual cruising grounds and away from the typical Antarctican hot spots, seeking out the most remote anchorages possible. With anchor firmly set, they were surprised to see the bright red buildings of Base O’Higgins, a Chilean military base, peeking out at them, and then minutes later, the crackle of the radio going off with the voice from a commander inviting them to stop by. The crew were treated to coffee, cake and some serious ping-pong matches with the Chileans as well as a few Germans who were there manning a satellite receiving station. “It seemed they were as excited to see us as we were to see them!” said Dalton. “Their hospitality was a distinct highlight of our time in Antarctica.”
Most boats that spend time in Antarctic are chartered week by week for the entire summer, so they bear the scars of inhabiting the unfriendly environment, said Dalton, noting that the few boats they ran across seemed surprised to see a private motor yacht like Reliance there.
Although Nordhavns aren’t ice-class, her strong thick hull was a key part of getting there at all. “We had to be careful with the amount of brash ice we went through, but the hull held up very well through everything we threw at her,” Dalton said. “The only thing we were concerned about was the vulnerability of the stabilizers. That said, [we’d] put Reliance through the ringer and [she’d yet] to disappoint us. She’s built strong, durable, and carries all the equipment that we were required to have for the journey…We had fresh fruit and vegetables the entire three weeks we were in Antarctica thanks to the space available for us to add refrigeration onboard, and thanks to the more than adequate anchors, we always had sufficient hold on the notoriously loose floor.”
At no time did their Nordhavn make a bigger impact than when departing Antarctica. They waited two days for a decent enough weather window to make their way back to Stanley, and finally decided to just make a go of it. “Our return voyage across the Drake lived up to all the stories you hear about the Drake Passage. I expected to see swells reaching eight meters and beyond and wind that soared through 60 knots – and that’s exactly what came!” recalled Dalton. “It was intimidating, but I think it’s pretty cool to have experienced such extreme weather…though I’m perfectly content to never have to experience it again.” Another boat, the Hans Hansson, which arrived to Stanley just after them, had National Geographic photographers on board who made a video account of the conditions. Watch the Hans Hansson take on the Drake Passage.
Most do not have the heart, or the vessel, by which to travel and experience Antarctica the way the crew of Reliance did. A lot of work was involved, but the payoff, enormous. Before making landfall, Dalton had referred to Antarctica as the “most inhospitable place on earth.” But his attitude towards the world’s coldest, windiest, most desolate continent might just have changed a bit with this trip. When the three weeks was up, he described Antarctica as: “otherworldly, unfriendly, inhospitable, untamed, barren, foreign, extreme…and magnificent.”