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Alaska Eagle hits fog and a bar

The crew also climbs a mountain, runs into a former Pyewacket crew member and explores South Georgia Island.

February 15, 2011|By Brad Avery, Special to the Daily Pilot

ABOARD THE ALASKA EAGLE, off South Georgia Island — With 30 knots of wind behind us, Alaska Eagle was flying along at 11 knots. Suddenly we found ourselves in fog with 200 feet of visibility.

"Up for ice!" Peter called from the mast.

As we quickly turned toward the wind, a golf cart-sized chunk of glacier slid by to starboard. In clear weather, the ice is easy to spot by our four lookouts, but the fog now demands more attention; hitting a ton or two of a bit of iceberg can do serious damage.

We sailed out of Grytviken a few hours ago, after spending a day hiking and exploring since arriving at South Georgia from Cape Horn on Sunday. Our 1,150-mile passage to the island was smooth by Southern Ocean standards. We averaged 200 miles a day, reaching winds of 10 to 30 knots. We even experienced two days of clear weather before the Antarctic convergence announced its presence with a massive fog bank.

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On our fifth day at sea, we were fortunate to have a great landfall at South Georgia's northwest end in clear skies and a moderate breeze. Soon we were sailing in the lee of the north coast toward Grytviken. Everyone remained on deck as we went along in flat water, sailing at 10 knots for 30 miles.

The view to starboard was incredible, and kept getting better as the island's snow-covered peaks grew higher and higher. There are dozens of peaks above 4,000 feet in the Allardyce and Salvesen ranges, climbing all the way up to Mt. Paget at 9,565 feet. Massive tidewater glaciers appeared around craggy headlands, pushed by ancient rivers of ice.

Our welcoming committee consisted of seals, porpoise, whales, petrels and albatrosses. We had arrived at one of the most remote and spectacular islands in the world, where Cook and Shackleton had anchored at the "Gateway to Antarctica."

Darkness fell as we entered King Edward Cove, site of the abandoned Grytviken whaling station, and now home to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) at South Georgia, and the South Georgia Historic Trust. As we came along the rebuilt wharf at the station, one of three small cruising boats made room for us. It turned out to be Wanderer III, which was sailed around the world a few times in the 1950s and '60s by Eric and Susan Hiscock. The Hiscocks introduced small boat ocean voyaging to the world through their famous books.

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