Latest blog from SA Agulhas
Second blog from Anton Bowring aboard the SA Agulhas:
It’s Sunday [the email took a while to reach Operations HQ in London!] and we have now been at sea for 10 days. The weather has been very good. We are now in the trade winds which blow pretty constantly and provide the north easterly air flow that enabled the sailing ships such as Cutty Sark to run before the wind, sometimes at great speed. For us in our motor ship the trade winds are less important although by giving us a favourable sea and swell, we are able to make more than 12 knots. Once we are south of the Equator this will change and the prevailing winds are likely to be blowing from the south which will slow us down a bit.
Today we are over 200 miles west of Guinea Bissau. Even at this distance offshore, we keep a watch for pirates – especially at night. Only yesterday we heard a distress call from a vessel under attack from pirates. However it was many miles to the south-east of us and well out of our range. Nevertheless, at night all outside doors are locked and regular patrols are made to ensure that we are safe and secure.
It is getting quite warm now. Both the air and the sea temperatures are around 27°C and increasing daily. The sky is mainly clear with a few small puffy clouds and plenty of sunshine. I saw four egrets flying around the ship at noon today. I looked them up in my book of seabirds but there was no mention of them. I suppose they are waders really and not strictly seabirds although they were a long way from land. We also had a few locusts join us during the afternoon. They must have come from the African mainland and got blown off course. Where they are now, I have no idea but they will be tucked up in some corner of the ship I expect.
For some, Sunday is a day of rest after 12 noon. For others, the watch keepers and catering department in particular, there is no day off. They have to keep to their routines come what may. For those cadets not on watch, this afternoon turned into a sports day in the hangar and helideck. There was volley ball in the hangar as well as ping pong, a darts match, ducking for apples in a large tub of water and a staring competition which required the combatants to fix each other with an unblinking glare. There was also a tug of war. All around, the cadets were laughing and cheering as they urged their friends on. For the more cerebral, there was also a game of chess in play. On the heli deck a football was being kicked around but not too forcefully as it would be gone for ever if it went over the low guard rail.
For the expedition personnel there is plenty to be getting on with. Brian Newham is back in the UK planning the unloading sequence for our brief visit to Antarctica. We aim to reach Crown Bay (70° 13’S and 23° 41’E) in late January in order to discharge the vehicles, equipment and stores. However, until we have more information on the ice conditions nearer the time we arrive there, it may prove unsuitable and we may have to look elsewhere to unload. Satellite imagery is available to us and the Agulhas’s Captain, Dave Hall, has been monitoring the break-up of the sea ice in the vicinity of Crown Bay for a number of days. However, the ice is still very extensive and another ship, the Mary Arctica has reported that she is struggling in the heavy pack.
So, for now we can only make rather uncertain plans. The one great gratification is that the experience, enthusiasm, good humour and generosity of the ship’s entire complement means that the expedition is in the best possible hands to achieve a successful landfall and to complete the complex unloading programme.
With our Iridium satellite communications it is possible to send and receive e-mails and make phone calls. This means that the expedition office is manned throughout the day, 7 days a week. We have plenty of duties to perform while the weather is reasonably quiet. Not least among them is the need to photograph our sponsors’ products in use. So photography forms a big part of the day. I’m also trying to build up a set of pictures of the ship and its crew. They are a very photogenic group and, I hope, over time we shall be able to give you a pictorial idea of what it is like on the ship.
As we get nearer the Equator, the wind is likely to drop (although there is no absolute certainty about this) in the area known as the ‘doldrums’. The air is still and high in humidity. It is hot and sultry. It is hard to work and it is important to combat the loss of sweat with plenty to drink. During the day, there is plenty of water, tea, coffee and fruit juice. At 17.30pm we few expedition members on board meet for a more fortified drink and a chance to discuss the day’s events and even solve the big issues facing the world. This get together is a tradition from the Transglobe Expedition days, 30 years ago, when we used to enjoy a gathering each evening at the “17.30 Club” in Oliver Shepard’s cabin. On this voyage we have resolved a number of national as well as international issues and so far, we all agree that the Monarchy is a great institution and our Patron is hugely appreciated. His attendance at our departure was wonderful. So, too was the presence of our much loved trustee, Joanna Lumley, who, with all the friends, sponsors, family members and well wishers, made our departure from London a truly memorable occasion. However, as we glide south in the growing heat, London and The Coldest Journey are starting to seem very far away.
Best wishes from all of us aboard SA Agulhas.