Antarctic expert sailor: Would never sail in Berserk territory

Posted: Mar 01, 2011 09:23 am EST

(By Jon Amtrup)Skip Novak, former round the world sailor and with 24 years of experience from sailing in Antarctica, says Ross Sea is not safe at any time of year for small yachts. Berserk skipper Jarle Andhøy contacted him before he sailed in to the area that most likely ended the life of three of Andhøy's crew.

- In fact, this guy actually contacted me some time ago (unfortunately I did not save the correspondence) to ask my opinion about landing on the continent to make a bid for the pole no ATVs were mentioned. I get many of these dreamers, who are largely ill informed of the basics of the geography and climate. I usually put them in the picture and thats the last I hear from them. I remember all this because of the name of the boat Berserk! In this case, I pointed out it would be almost impossible to get a small vessel safely near the coast or the ice shelf to deploy a polar party. The only place you can guarantee a landing is on the Antarctic Peninsula (South American sector), which is ice free to some extent in summer, and with plenty of shelter for small craft. But the problem is it is not a good place to start for the pole in other respects, not to mention you cant make a landing in the southern part of the peninsula (Marguerite Bay) where you can access the plateau until late January or February too late in the season for a polar bid. Well, I never heard from the guy again, says Skip Novak to Explorersweb.

Skip Novak is one of the most experienced offshore sailors and Antarctic adventurers around. He has done four Whitbread Round the World Yacht Races since 1977, and he took home a 2nd place in his first race at the age of 25. As skipper of Simon Le Bons Drum he secured a 3rd.

Later on he wanted to combine his sailing and mountaineering interest and built the expedition yacht Pelagic in 1987. Since then he has spent every season in Antarctic waters.

Very few, if there are any at all, have his kind of knowledge of the area where Jarle Andhøy and the Berserk sailed in to for the first time this year.

- From reading the account of Svalbard and NWP, we are dealing with a real wide boy here, says Skip Novak who has just finished the charter season with his two 54 and 74 feet expeditions yachts in the area.

Explorersweb caught up with him to get his take on the Berserk tragedy in the Ross Sea where most likely three sailors have died.

ExWeb: -Since you are one of the most experienced sailors in these waters it would be great if you could take the time to answer some questions.
Have you been caught out in 80 knots of wind and 10 degrees Celsius before? And how does this affect the boat and crew?

Novak:- On Pelagic we sail habitually in 40 knots and above, but when it gets to 50 things become very dicey very quickly as the sea condition becomes dangerous. We make it a point with good weather forecasting not to get caught out in the Southern Ocean if this is at all likely. If the temperature is sub zero, a blow above 25 to 30 knots will create wind driven sea spray that will quickly accumulate on the rigging and deck of a small yacht, which compounds the problem. Coupled with breaking waves and you run a real risk of capsize. This scenario within the pack ice well . . . . My theory is either they capsized for the reasons stated above, or they were nipped by ice in the storm and the hull was breached. If the boat did not have watertight bulkheads she would sink within minutes time enough to deploy an EPIRB, and maybe a raft, but no time for little else.

ExWeb: Would you sail in the area where Berserk are at this time of the year? Why or why not?

Novak: I would not take any small vessel or yacht in to the Ross Sea at any time of year. Too much risk from ice and too much exposure, meaning little or no place to shelter the yacht. By shelter I mean accessible shallow anchorages where the draft of the vessel is slightly less than the depth of water, thereby creating a haven where deeper and dangerous ice cannot enter.

ExWeb:When is the sail yacht cruising season in the Antarctic?

Novak:Specifically on the Antarctic Peninsula, which is a very different part of the Antarctic in geography (archipelago) and climate (wind and current driving drift ice offshore) the navigable season is from December to March, principally January and February being the high season. December might be early where navigation is restricted due to last winters sea ice still present blocking anchorages, and March is late as the light is going and the weather packing in. Freeze up can occur from mid March onwards.

ExWeb: The Berserk hadnt applied for the necessary permits through the Norwegian authorities, is this a must for anyone sailing to Antarctica?

Novak:It is now law in all the countries that have ratified the various protocols that regulate visitors to the Antarctic that permission must be obtained from their governments. Every ship, aircraft, expedition and in some countrys cases, even individuals must apply for permission to enter Antarctic Treaty territory, defined by any movement south of 60 degrees. For the skipper of Berserk to be unaware of this is not believable. What has proved to be a mavericks misadventure causing loss of life is symptomatic of a few adventurists who still consider Antarctica an unregulated wilderness area. The reality is that Antarctica via the Antarctic Treaty system collaborating with IAATO (International Assoc. of Antarctic Tour Operators) is a highly regulated territory, and it is unacceptable for anyone to claim they had no prior knowledge of the requirements proving due diligence.

ExWeb: Are three people on board enough to fight of a storm/hurricane in below zero conditions with icing on the boat?

Novak: On a 48 footer three would normally be sufficient, but I think these were exceptional circumstances, where it really didnt matter now many were on board.

ExWeb: Anything else?

Novak: It should be stated that to my knowledge this is the first case of total loss of a small vessel/yacht in Antarctic waters specifically below 60 south, where national resources where called upon for search and rescue assistance.

#Polar #Oceans

Skip Novak has 24 years of experience in sailing in Antarctica. To his knowledge Berserk is the first small yacht that has gone down in the area.

Visit our new website