Why do we like sailing with Icebergs? It's not for the risk adverse, but they hold some strange draw. Glittering cliffs or floating icebergs the size of Belguim, playing Russian Roulette with half submerged growlers that the radar can't see, the smell of ice, ice blink on the horizon, evocative photos of Shackleton's last expedition by Hurley, a polar bear and cubs in the Arctic jumping the gap or a Weddell seal sunbathing atop an 'Orca proof' iceberg.
Pure, Pristine Wilderness
When we say ocean wilderness we really mean it. There are parts of the Arctic and Antarctic that are barely charted and your navigator is relying on a chart information that might be a line survey of soundings carried out by a freezing cold midshipman and crew with a leadline in the 19th century. Yes we can chart the ocean depths by satellite now, but only in seas without ice cover. As the ice shelf or glacier snouts retreat, new un-surveyed areas of ocean are revealed.
The light conditions in the Arctic and Arctic are incredible. Unpolluted, crystal clear and a feeling that you can see for hundreds of miles. You can sometimes 'see' ice before it appears over the horizon. A phenomenon known as 'ice blink' where the white is reflected in the underside of clouds and the horizon shows a white strip. The ice blink was used by both the Inuit and explorers looking for the Northwest Passage to help them navigate safely. It is even more beautiful at sunset.
As Icebergs move, marine creatures take advantage of the ride of the rest they provide. Seals, cormorants, penguins in the Antarctic and walrus, seals and polar bears in the North.
Icebergs - Fear and Wonder
Our ships are not double hulled icebreakers. Some are steel but we also have wooden schooners that have been safely exploring the Arctic for years. The summer sailing grounds we explore in the Arctic and Antarctic are only possible because they are open water and not frozen pack ice. The icebergs that break off the ice shelf or glaciers don't read the rule book and a section of water that was ice free last week can very quickly become impassable. Being so fragile amongst such sculptural beauty and ever present danger requires a very professional and vigilant crew. On a fully participating sail training ship, the need for everyone to understand the risks, take their lookout duties seriously and a flexible outlook about itineraries is essential.
In the Arctic there are regular ice reports from aircraft to aid shipping. In the Antarctic every expedition ship has logged their intended routes and has AIS so your ship can see where other vessels are in their proximity and get an ice report or offer assistance. There are also scientific bases who can report conditions via Sat c or HF radio.
Each Iceberg Tells a Story
On the topic of sculptural beauty icebergs are a bit like dolphins....you can never get enough of them and each sighting brings out the photographers and we all stop and stare.
The older the ice, the less air in it and the deeper the blue. You can get turquoise icebergs, black bergs and ones striped like humbug sweets. Some are high and sail along at few knots like a square rigger. Others are deep and move with the current ever closer to your anchorage, even cruising upwind. Icebergs can be unstable. A bit drops off and a new waterline is established, creating new sculptural shapes or revealing once underwater fluting. Some Icebergs get stranded in shallow water and these are the safe ones you can get up close and personal with.
In the Wake of Polar Explorers - Antarctic
If reading the exploits of Shackleton’s or Captain Scott have lured you to the highest, coldest and driest continent in the world, then sailing around Antarctica on a tall ship will give you a much more authentic and romantic experience than being cocooned on a modern expedition cruise ship. The whole voyage is a team effort of professional and guest crew and much more like a polar expedition voyage that Scott or Shackleton might have run than being a passive passenger. Everybody helps haul the ships boats on deck and your crew mates are relying on you to keep a good look out for icebergs on watch.
Ocean Sailing Nearer the North Pole
In the Arctic you can get close to the Pole with Northern Spitsbergen being our furthest North latitude at 81 degrees North, but we are there in summer when the pack ice is at its least: The exact opposite of what a South Pole explorer would want but ideal for the North West Passage....Exciting news on this to follow for 2019.
Spending more time outside on deck, helping sail the ship, you can begin to appreciate what they had to endure on similar sailing ships in an extreme environment, the dangers that they faced. Sailing at 3-11 knots with the wind in your face and silence and vast icy landscapes all around you will also begin to understand why they were so magically drawn to the place.
For ocean sailing in polar regions your choice is between three tall ships, all commanded by experienced high latitude captain's
Europa - Three masted steel barque
Blue Clipper - three masted steel schooner
Tecla - two masted gaff ketch
For full vessel details see:
Europa Tecla Blue Clipper
For their current voyages with Icebergs see the sailing programmes below
North West Passage
We are all watching the summer ice melt in the Arctic with horror but also it opens up some exciting sailing opportunities. The North West Passage has now been transited by several yachts, but so far no tall ships. The mystical short cut to the Orient that was such a prize, that ships and men were lost in an attempt to find a way across the top of Canada and Alaska into the Bearing Strait. Watch this space. Its coming and coming soon....
Arctic - Denmark Strait
Tecla is the only ship currently crossing this 400 mile gap between NW Iceland the the East Greenland coast. The Greenland coast is icebound until typically July when Tecla starts running her Greenland Voyages from Isafjordur in NW Iceland. These are the only Greenland voyages we offer with a decent bit of ocean sailing included.....and there will be icebergs and broken sea ice. The current runs South down the East Greeland coast and all those glacier icebergs have to go somewhere. Hopefully you might get to see orca, rare narwhals, beluga whales....or even a polar bear.
Arctic Ocean to Svalbard
Anything North of Iceland is within the Arctic Circle so you can bag some Polar mileage on Blue Clipper as she sails from Iceland to Svalbard via Jan Meyen Island. Plenty of open Ocean sailing and Jan Meyen is a new frontier for us. Likelihood of icebergs nearer the island of Jan Meyen or from the glaciated mountains of Spitsbergen.
Drakes Passage & the Antarctic Convergence Zone
South of Cape Horn the seas are legendary but icebergs are rare until you cross the Antarctic Convergenze Zone. This is where the cold Antarctic bottom water rises and meets the warmer South Atlantic. The sea temperature goes abruptly from about 8 degrees to near 0. At first you get fog but it clears into a different world and everyone starts looking for icebergs. As the sea is close to freezing, rough weather or fast sailing can create freezing salt spray which can build up on the ship, blocks and ropes. Luckily this doesn't happen too often or for very long and skies are predominantly blue with keen dry air.
Iceberg Factory - the Weddell Sea and Scotia Sea
The Scotia Sea, and its more southerly sister - The Weddell Sea, are the place to go hunting big icebergs. Actually you don't need to hunt them as they find you! The Weddell Sea is the remote and beautiful stretch of the Southern Ocean to the East of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Larsen Ice Shelf is the famous one that is constantly loosing big chunks and the flow straight into the Weddell Sea and work there way North between the Antarctic Continent and island groups like South Orkney or South Georgia. Most the expedition cruise ships tend to focus on the West side of the Antarctic Peninsula but we rather like the wild east side.
Both Adam and Debbie Purser in the Classic Sailing Office have sailed the Weddell sea on Bark Europa on 3 different voyages so you can ring us for a chat. Always happy to talk about the wildlife, sailing and life on board. 0044 (0)1872 580022
Icebergs for Sea Sick Sailors ?
You can still see Icebergs by sailing in flatter seas without having to cross oceans. Scorseby Sound in the Arctic Circle is your best bet. We have 2 schooners - Opal and Hildur or gaff ketch Donna Wood based in East Greenland late summer and you can fly there to join them for 7 days of sailing within an extensive fjord system with plenty of icebergs and calving glaciers, plus trekking ashore.
If you can handle 3-4 days of ocean crossing the Drakes Passage on our 21 day Antarctic Voyages then the rewards are great, and once amongst the high mountains and narrow fjords of the Antarctic Peninsula the seas are fairly flat with multiple chances of seeing icebergs, glaciers and stunning mountain scenery. And you get to step on dry land on a daily basis. You might even enjoy the sail back once you have your sea legs. Ring us for honest advice. 01872 580022