Sailing the Antarctic Seas

The first-ever t 25 yachts will test the Antarctic waters. Some of these are commercial cruises, but the others are brave sailors who will take the risk. Don’t be fooled- these are remote and dangerous seas to sail. The obvious hazards are the ice and the weather, and if things go wrong, don’t expect the NSRI to come to your rescue! Only experienced sailors should attempt this long, isolated trip. The closest landmass is the southernmost tip of South America. Yachts usually depart from the Falklands, from Ushuaia in Argentina or Puerto Williams in Chile. Often the first land sighted will be the South Shetland Islands and from there it’s on to the Peninsula.


The Austral summer is the only season to travel in the Antarctic, and it is the first area to thaw enough to allow shipping. This is usually between November and March, with the most sunlight from December to February. Depressions pass through the Drake Passage regularly from the west with high pressures over the land. When Drake sailed these waters, he did not have the benefit of modern forecasting, so he had to brave the wind and the high seas of one of the most dangerous seas in the world. Today sailors can make use of modern technology, but care must still be taken. The South Shetland Islands take the brunt of the 50knot winds and the driving rains. Recorded information shows that the weather at these islands is far more extreme than at the Antarctic Peninsula. On occasions, when there is high pressure over the Peninsula and a low at the Shetlands, there can be delightful weather for days at a time.

In the summer months, in the Peninsula, temperatures of up to 10 deg can be experienced and can drop to – 5deg at night. This can all change with the effects of wind chill. The most significant hazard will be ice, which differs from disintegrating glaciers to sea ice. Glacial ice is in the form of ice-bergs – beautiful to see, but very dangerous to the unwary watchkeeper. The waves caused by these bergs when breaking up and turning turtle can also be large enough to cause concern. As the ice breaks into smaller pieces, these can be a bigger problem than the bergs as they are not detected by technology.

As the ice melts and disperses bays are exposed which are suitable for anchorage, but often these are the last places to clear of ice, but the further from the Pole, the quicker they will clear. Another hazard to anchored yachts is fast-moving ice flows which can impact the vessel and or close off the access to the sea, trapping the unwary mariners.