Surviving the Southern Ocean Rock
March 30, 2016
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 bernie harberts windora south georgia antarctica sailboat christiesen phil and lynda
Fighting for her life. Hurricane force winds threaten to splinter the ketch Windora‘s 40 year old wood hull. She dragged her anchor and wound up on a submerged rock in South Georgia, the Antarctic island. I was aboard her. Video footage is at the end of the article.(Vessel “Braveheart” photo)

“Below 40, there is no Law. Below 50, there is no God.” They saying comes from Southern Ocean voyagers. The 40 is the Roaring Forties, the 50 the Furious Fifties. It’s a bo-ho line to use down at Ye Olde Yachte Clube when it’s raining outside and you want to lay some salty lingo on a dirt digger.

But damn, here I was in hurricane force winds and snow. At Latitude 54 South. Standing on Windora as she threatened to pound herself to splinters on a Southern Ocean rock….

If you ever had a wood boat die beneath your sea boots you’ll know the sickening the sound. The rise of the timber body. Up the face of the wave. And then your guts fly up as your body goes down with the wave and “Bammmm!” down on to the rock you go. The jolt up through your feet and the sound of wood fibers ripped apart and the whole things is going down with you inside.

That’s what I felt on Windora but it was never supposed to be this way.

Okay, maybe I need to catch you up to speed.

Last time I wrote you, I was sailing from the Falkland Islands to South Georgia with my friends Phil and Lynda aboard their 40 year old kauri wood ketch Windora. The plan was to sail the 800 miles to the Antarctic island. Spend a few months there. Then sail 2,800 miles across the Southern Ocean to Cape Town, South Africa.

falkland islands bernie harberts
South Georgia is way down south past regular old Georgia. Think Antarctica, not Jimmy Carter.
falkland islands bernie harberts
Windora is an Athol Burns design. New Zealand built, she’s strip planked in kauri. Phil and Lynda raised their two sons aboard her as they sailed around the world. They’ve put another 30,000 miles on the 20 ton vessel since a major refit. Here, she’s exploring a South Georgia glacier face.

This was just going to be a personal trip. A time of reflection. A chance to get back in to the wider world after taking care of my parents and, more recently, my aunt who was diagnosed with dementia. My brother and I wrapped up her affairs, sold her home and moved her back to native Switzerland.

There would be no book about this trip. No articles. No blog posts. Just a cold ocean ramble to South Georgia, a glacier covered island off Antarctic.

And for the first month and a half, things went according to Plan. Think South Georgia, and we’re talking glaciers, ice bergs, penguins and elephant seals. Here’s a sample of what we saw.

 bernie harberts south georgia windora
South Georgia has some the highest animal densities on the planet. Here, I’m catching up with some King penguins. The trick is to sit quietly and they come right up to you. This is easy because…. (Vessel Kestrel photo)
 bernie harberts south georgia windora
…there are thousands of penguins around. This colony on Salisbury Plain was estimated to contain 100,000 pairs of nesting King Penguins.
 bernie harberts windora south georgia antarctica sailboat christiesen phil and lynda
Hunted to almost extinction, fur seals and elephant seals, abound. Elephant seals, like this female, look cute…
 bernie harberts windora south georgia antarctica sailboat christiesen phil and lynda
…but don’t like being approached too closely.
 bernie harberts windora south georgia antarctica sailboat christiesen phil and lynda
South Georgia’s weather is variable. A nice day like this in Grytviken harbor – where Ernest Shackleton is buried – can quickly turn ugly. There’s even a color named for this – sucker blue. The sky’s nice and blue. You go for a walk. Then….
 bernie harberts windora south georgia antarctica sailboat christiesen phil and lynda
…things turn ugly. I started this hike in sunny weather. Within two hours, the snow drifts were thigh deep.
 bernie harberts windora south georgia antarctica sailboat christiesen phil and lynda
The water is just above freezing. Here, Windora passes one of the many icebergs encountered in these remote waters.

Then we had the encounter with The Rock.

For the impatient, here’s the video.

Up next, the blow-by-blow.

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Posted Wednesday March 30, 2016 by Bernie
Where this story happened:

Ugh! I hate to hear about stories like this. But it does help remind people not to take their anchor or engine for granted. Engine in particular.

I made the same mistake myself – having the emergency anchor stowed away too deeply to get at quickly. I was in Georgia, though, not South Georgia, so the consequences weren’t as dire.

Note when you interviewed me in Oriental, one of the photos shows my emergency anchor on deck, ready for instant deployment.


Anyway, glad you survived. I check in on you from time to time to see how you are doing. Looking forward to your next post from South Africa or wherever the wind takes you.

Take care.

John Almberg · Thursday April 28, 2016 · #


WOW! You are in our thoughts and prayers each day. Looking forward to your return and hearing of all your adventures!

Joe and Lynda Campbell
Lenoir, NC

— Lynda Campbell · Friday May 6, 2016 · #

Hi John, Joe and Lynda,
John, great to hear from you again. Sure enjoyed reading about your sun sight compass project. Nice (okay, is there a better word?) touch how you dragged in the “other” Georgia. Yep, it can happen to anyone, especially the sailor with the buried-too-deep-in-the-bilges anchor.
If you’re in the neighborhood Joe and Lynda, come on by. The spring garden’s cranking the arugula out faster than a man and his mule can eat it!
Keep ‘yer scope long and your spare anchor handy. Bernie

Bernie · Tuesday May 10, 2016 · #

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