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Friday, January 22, 2010

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Passe de la Resolution

Position 0630 22nd. 4848 06923 trip 18. In the Passe de la Resolution with plotter and pencil. I'm at the nav table, Pete on deck and it's watch on, stop on. Nice breeze, 18 - 20 up the chuff so lovely sailing - just have to keep serious loookout for kelp - at least twice the boat length, several times as wide and densely tangled. We are trying to follow the deepest part of the Passe but the chart is very vague - not a lot of survey work along here so interesting. Hoping to be off Cape Digby by nightfall then depending on wx, perhaps another heave to in preparation for the last 40 miles or so into Baie du Morbihan. Hope they let us stop alongside and land. Cross em please.

Very quick update

Departed Baie de L'Oiseau 0215 utc heading for Port aux Francais. Alternative was to wait for the next big blow with 40 kts in it and perhaps stuck there indefinitely.

Major problem with kelp everywhere - trying to stay in deep water. Half an hour of furious work with chart, plotter and pencil transferring a string of waypoints to the computer - Cook had the same problem but he did not have a chart and sent Discovery ahead to find a way through.

Bright sunlight again - snow on Presqu'ile de la Societe de Geographie and Cook Glacier just visible behind it. We could not have picked a better day - so far!

Could be a long day - we both have to stay awake but opportunities between waypoints for one or other to grab half an hour if we get lucky.

Something very special.

What a day. Pure, gold plated magic. It's about midnight local time and I've been sitting out in the cockpit on anchor watch wearing my Dutch Harbour Mustang Flote Coat - padded for buoyancy and warm - lined industrial gloves, also from Dutch, fleecy salopettes and brown fisherman's boots - Dutch again and Dutch fleece balaclava. A still, cold, brilliant starry night in this huge rather menacing amphitheatre dominated by the great black lava face to the south and what looks like a classic volcanic plug to the north. Orion to the north west, the Cross to the south and the cascading slash of the Milky Way a luminous bridge between them across my bit of sky. The smell - penguin rookery and seals upwind, earthy and pungent - the snorting roars of elephant seals echoing around the auditorium, sharper barks of something much smaller and the arky squeaky of the King Penguins in cacophony in the background. The calls of other birds - cormorants, petrels and big brown seabirds that I could not identify. A watch with a difference - one I will remember when things get pearshaped.

Earlier, I saw a mother seal up on the mossy slope above the promontory where de Rochegude left his bottle. She had two biggish pups and was chasing them around. Penguins swimming around the boat and what sounded like fish sucking the growth from Berri's bottom. A seal somewhere close.

I guess it can't last - we have been so lucky to arrive on one of what must be very few cloudless days - weirdly unbelievable that we are here at all. The reports I have read talk of the bleak, desolate dreariness of the place but I don't think I will ever be able to think of it that way. Soft northerly at the moment, due to turn westerly and the usual blast later tonight or tomorrow morning with another bigger one to follow. But we cracked today. Yeeehaaa!

Next morning - while I was writing all that, the cloud rolled in, the stars disappeared and the wind came up. Three hours in a loverly warm sleeping bag later and I'm up again and shivering. But it's still bleakly beautiful! The sun has risen directly behind the two huge pillars of the collapsed arch at the entrance to the harbour putting them in silhouette - filtered light through the low overcast. We are hoping our single anchor will hold in the 35 knots forecast for the next 24-36 hours - will have to lay the second one if it looks iffy. The NW winds blow directly over the saddle at the western end of the harbour and funnel down between the high sides.

Eerie echoes

Other uncanny reflections of the past - Doug Morrison sent me a sheaf of papers from his research into the French and other explorers, amongst which were James Clark Ross' chart and soundings for the Baie, possibly compiled by Francis Crozier. I used this to find the spot to anchor. There were also detailed drawings from out to sea of the entrance and the arch, now collapsed, by R Benard (I think - can't read Doug's writing) published in 1784. Benard was with Cook. I used them to identify the entrance from 5 miles out. I could not read the photocopy of his soundings chart so I used Ross'.

There was also an engraving of the harbour in Ross' account, showing Erebus and Terror at anchor, one of them almost in the same position as we are now. They too went to the NW passage with Franklin ten years or so later and they are still there, somewhere off King William Island with the bones of their crews. We felt the presence of their ghosts up there, particularly in Simpson Strait. I never imagined we'd meet them again, let alone here, almost at the opposite end of the planet.

Wonderful to have it all with us, Doug. Thanks!

When we set off from Cape Town, I thought that Kerguelen might be a bridge too far. Boneheadedness sometimes wins out. So, a Talisker this evening, courtesy of Pete Goss.

More tomorrow.