Generally, as far as the weather went, we were very lucky. Apart from right at the end we never had to sail upwind and we only went through one major storm. We were able to sail downwind during this period of bad weather and it only lasted for around 36 hours and I doubt the wind ever topped 50 knots.
The sea state was rough but not crazy and the boat handled the conditions incredibly well, never did I feel in danger of being rolled which was our main concern. Probably the worst thing about it all on deck was the physical toll of steering. It took two men to control the steering lines and countless times I asked myself why Shackleton never put a tiller on the boat.
The fantastic condition that the Alexandra Shackleton was in after the voyage was astounding and a great credit to all the incredibly hard work Seb, the expedition bosun has put in over the years and also to the International Boatbuilding Training College (Lowestoft) who were responsible for her construction. Thanks are also due to many volunteers along the way.
Surprisingly old vintage clothing served us pretty well and whilst we all got damp and pretty wet, I wouldn’t describe our under layers as soaking. Our woollen layers were uncomfortable and restrictive but they did do a decent job of keeping us warm. The cotton gabardine outers that we had smeared in Dubbin also held up ok and certainly kept the wind out.
They became incredible heavy though and the fear of being in the water wearing all that kit was significant. I never once changed any of my kit other to remove my outer smock when possible and boots when off watch. We had no spare kit, there simply wasn’t room.
Down below however things were predictably heinous. We were all struggling significantly with nausea, lethargy and dehydration along with the problems caused by not being able to cook. Life reduced to very simple operations and we were all extremely grateful for good weather on day four. This also allowed us to take our first sun sight at midday and calculate our latitude. We were pretty happy with the sight so we slightly readjusted our position to this new fix.
To try and keep this blog short, I won’t go into too many details of the navigation but essentially this was our only fix until the day before we arrived at King Haakon Bay although we did manage to get the odd sight whenever the sun poked its head out but we never got enough information to secure a position fix, only a position line.
Our routine was Paul ‘shooting’ the sun’s altitude with Seb calling out the time from our mighty impressive chronometer and I would then take a note of all the vital numbers before starting to crunch them. Invariably this would take me around 30 minutes to do bearing in mind the cramped and bouncy circumstances and then Paul and I would go through all of my calculations together checking for small errors which are so easy to make. Finally when agreed, we would plot the results on the chart, often we’d laugh and re work things but by the end we were pretty confident our technique was good.
Miles slowly ticked off but all the time our uncertainty was growing, as the cloud cover was too much for any real fixes. We did manage to take a few sights but you require several sights ideally spaced out throughout the middle of the day to actually get a fix. As it turned out we never achieved this until we were 35 miles from King Haakon Bay, our final destination. The crucial sight here was taken at local noon and only minutes after we took it, the visibility closed in.
There was an audible sense of relief that our estimated position vaguely stacked up with our astro calcs and that we were so close to the end. This coupled with the fact we had maintained the ‘weather gauge’ meant we were looking good.
However… the weather gods still had two massive cards to play. The fog that rolled in just after our noon sight, stayed for two days and we had little option but to wait it out. As we were to discover, patience is a key weapon in the traditional navigator’s armory and not something Paul and I are overly blessed with.
Part three to come….
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