Hannah McKeand: From the southern Ice to the Southern Ocean - rescue in a perfect storm

Posted: Feb 09, 2007 09:19 am EST

(ThePoles.com/TheOceans.net) Bitter cold, whiteout, blizzard, and the immensity of the Antarctic plains can be overwhelming for explorers. Briton Hannah McKeand, however, was yet to live the scariest time of her live in a different environment: A storm at the Southern Ocean, with a rescue included.

After breaking the speed record for a solo, unsupported trip to the South Pole, Hannah McKeand returned to civilization in Australia. My return to the ice-free world was coupled with all those old feelings of disorientation and bewilderment that I had two years ago, she reported. The noise and confusion we live in daily without a thought is almost overwhelming; traffic is terrifying, people unnerving and nighttime darkness fills me with unease.

Off sailing!

Anyway, the fuss didnt last. Within a week, McKeand had embarked on a new adventure. Together with partner Dave and a crew of ten more, on Jan 24 Hannah slipped lines off Hobarts harbor on board sailing ship Blizzard and set course southwards to Commonwealth bay.

But no quiet traverse can be expected in the rough southern seas. The trip experienced its first storm, four days long, just hours after leaving behind the southernmost point of Tasmania.

The perfect storm

On Feb 1, after four days of running desperately through the low pressure gale, the barometer finally started to rise and the wind started to ease, reported Hannah. Gradually, as the sea settled we were able to turn back onto a more southerly course. Our pleasure and high spirits were short lived though.

On Feb 5 things began to deteriorate fast. The barometer started plummeting and the wind increased steadily. The waves and swell built with equal ferocity and soon water was regularly breaking over the decks.

"Man overboard!"

I was not long off watch when a huge wave hit the boat, knocking her hard onto her side; as she came back up I heard an urgent shout, the words you never want to hear, "Man overboard!" I kicked my way out of my sleeping bag and dragged on my life jacket and ran up on deck in my socks and thermals.

The three 6mm steel lifelines on the port side were hanging broken. Dave was belting up the boat to drop the staysail and Terry and Tim were both pointing determinedly out the back of the boat. As I leapt towards the empty helm I yelled to them Who is it? Greg! they called back. I looked back over my shoulder in the direction of their fingers and for a moment could see nothing in the mountains of waves. But then I saw him rising up on the steep grey water about 150m away, his lifejacket a vivid orange in the gloom. Don't take your eyes off him, stay focused, do not take your eyes off him. I yelled.

Shock, fear and hypothermia

Dave soon had the engine going and the rest of the crew were gathering in the cockpit. Dave took the helm from me and within a few minutes of him going over the side Blizzard was heading back towards Greg. The waves were big and he suddenly seemed so small and far away, one wave tumbled him over and over but he came up and we could see him waving. Dave soon had Blizzard maneuvered next to him and we reached down to him.

Terry managed to grab his hand and me his lifejacket, but there was no way we would be able to pull him up. I caught hold of his safety line and handed it up to Dave who pulled the white faced Greg round to the back of the boat. Tim and I got down onto the little dive deck and with some effort managed to heave the heavy, waterlogged man to safety. The water was 2.6C and Greg was already very hypothermic. The crew pulled him onto the main deck and, being careful to keep him horizontal, down into the main saloon. Some went for dry clothes and towels, some for sleeping bags, Dave, Tim and Andy started hurriedly removing Gregs wet clothes and I knelt with his head, holding his freezing hands and talking gently to him. Greg was mumbling and sobbing with shock and terror and I really wanted to try and calm him down. The team soon had him changed into a complete set of dry warm clothes and we zipped Dave and my sleeping bags together. Greg had lost his motor control with the cold, so the boys carried him into our cabin and into the sleeping bag and I climbed in with him wrapping my arms and legs round him and rubbing his hands and arms. It took a good five hours for the cold and the shock to fully pass.

There is no question that the whole thing was the scariest experience of my life and everyone on board would say the same. But at the same time I was really pleased by how everyone responded.

Not yet over

Anyway, the day wasn't finished with us yet. The weather had continued to deteriorate and the barometer was dropping at a rate of about 5 milibars an hour. The boat was being hurled repeatedly onto its side and Dave sent everyone to their bunks, "Strap yourselves in and stay there." For several hours Dave, Dan and I took turns on the wheel. We had been knocked onto an angle to the waves and there was nothing we could do to turn the big girl downwind again, so all we could do was hang on and try to stop her rounding up any further. The waves were gigantic, more like something you'd expect to see on an extreme surfing video. The wind was absurdly vicious, blasting the boat with 100kt icy explosions. Once you crawled out and took over the station at the helm, there was no protection at all - to be out in that freezing exposed position for more than 15 minutes or so was impossible.

Terry and Rolf were waiting below in case they were needed and every so often we'd call down to them for a report on the barometer. For a long time the news was always bad, "Still dropping!" or "Down another 2!" But after hours it finally leveled out. Our big beautiful schooner bashed her way along like a tough old warhorse. Time and again she was knocked sideways and time and again she bobbed back up and plunged on her way. She's really shown her spirit in the last days.

After earning a degree in Classics at Lampeter University and working as Marketing Manager and then Tour Manager for the Watermill Theatre in Newbury U.K. for seven years, at 31 Hannah McKeand decided to drop everything, mortgage the house and go exploring.

In 2001 she traveled across the Western Desert on the borders of Egypt, Libya and Sudan; the first of several trips to the Northern Africa desert areas. In 2004, she hiked across Afghanistan. Later that year she joined a team led by Denise Martin for the South Pole. Other members were Owen Jones, Craig Mathieson and Fiona Taylor. They were dropped onto the ice at Hercules Inlet on November 4 and headed straight into bad weather.

Fiona suffered frostbite during the trip from Hercules Inlet to Patriot Hill, where she decided to abort her attempt. Weeks later, Owen, in pain due to an Achilles tendon injury, would be airlifted near the Thiel Mountains.

In exchange, the team was joined by Stuart and Linda, who were pinned down when their team leader Devon suffered a bad cut to his hand, and had to be airlifted from the ice. The group arrived at the Geographic South Pole on Dec 29, 2004.

Back from Antarctica in 2005, Hannah completed half the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, sailing as watch leader on Glasgow Clipper from Liverpool, England to Portugal, Brazil, Durban, Fremantle, Singapore and the Philippines.

Earlier this year, Hannah resurfaced - teaming up with David Pryce, an experienced Antarctic and Southern Ocean sailor. They launched Blizzard Expeditions, an adventure outfit company exploring the Southern Ocean regions including Antarctica, South Georgia, Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego as well as Cape Horn and the Beagle Channel.

Her main expedition was however a solo, unsupported trip to the South Pole. At 8.33 PM December 29 Hannah McKeand arrived at the Pole, reaching her goal and beating the old Hercules Inlet to SP record by 2 days. She started out at Hercules Inlet at 10 AM GMT on November 19 2006 and arrived at the South Pole on Thursday December 28 at 8.33pm GMT. The final skiing time is 39 days, 10 hours and 33 min, almost 2 days faster than the previous record of 41 days 8 hours and 14 min. Hannah is now the fastest unsupported South Pole skier in the world and the 9th woman to ski to the Pole without resupplies.

After the SP trip, Hannah and David have set off onboard the Blizzard for a trip from Hobart (Tasmania) to Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, passing by the Magnetic South Pole.

Further members at the Blizzard are: Rolf Forster, Terry Glendenning, Leona Schab, Brian Warwick, Andy Brown, Andrew Broadfoot, Greg Warton, Giles Scott, Dan Cudmore (who was on Dave's winning Clipper Round the World yacht race crew) and cameraman Tim 'the Caveman' Barrot.

#Polar #Oceans

Boats to Antarctica are fairly easy to hire, but be prepared for some bumpy sailing. Soon after her solo, unsupported and speed record breaking SP trip, Hannah kicked off her "Blizzard expeditions" - charter cruises in the southern ocean. Images of Hannah on the Pole and the Blizzard's deck, over Contact 4.0, courtesy of Hannah McKeand (click to enlarge).

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