Was I scared? #fearisnotareason

I started this voyage with three big fears: climbing, seasickness and writing, and wrote about them just before we left on 6 March. I still think that fear is no reason not to do something, but it slows you down.

Climbing proved the hardest challenge. Not because I am frightened of heights, but because I don’t easily trust my grip and core strength. I needed time to climb a little bit, go out on the yards in good weather, practice with someone talking me through it. Finding reasonable weather at a moment everyone wasn’t rushing around managing the sails was not always easy. And in Antarctica the metal cable shrouds were cold. Really cold!

This picture gives an impression of the height of the mainmast from the main deck. By the time I took it we had all six sails hoisted. Earlier in the voyage the top one – the sky sail – wasn’t up, nor the additional extension to the mast it requires. You know by now that I finally made it, but, even without the skysail, confidence in my own ability to hold on was required.

Much easier is the bowsprit, shown below in our last sunrise approaching the coast of Africa. There’s a bit of swell left over from the storm. Climbing out on the sprit enables a blissful rocking in the hammock, particularly the far one, or a great view back along the ship. You mustn’t underestimate it though: in a big sea, that netting is hit by the waves. One of the crew was badly injured that way a few years ago, when several tons of water from below mangled his knee.

The seasickness of course came visiting. The swell and storm of Drake’s Passage laid me low for two days. After it was done, though, I had little trouble. The day we left South Georgia in a nasty cross-swell and over 40 knots of wind, I was a bit queasy, but apart from that it passed. By the last storm, I was over it and like all the crew, was able to enjoy it.

I managed to write a blog nearly every day. The seasickness stopped me, and just being really busy got in the way once or twice. I have pages and pages (and pages) of notes, which I hope I will be able to read. You all seem to have enjoyed it, and of course I’m not done yet.

The purple ink, by the way, is because the one thing I was short of at Puerto Williams was pens. In the little supermarket I found some children’s biros, in blue, green and this rather fetching purple. I finally found some ordinary biros too, but they turned out to be faint and easily exhausted. At Grytviken I finally acquired decent pens, which I used to make that rather poor schematic of giant kelp.

Welcome, though, to the world of ice: the predictable worry which I hadn't thought of beforehand. Not so much the big bergs: they show up on radar. It’s the stealthy little ones, like the one to the right in this picture, that you really need to watch out forOf course they are bigger under water than above, but they aren’t easy to see and they can do real damage. Bow watches in icy latitudes were crucial. 

(For the sailor types, the wood below the growler is a whisker pole holding the tack and clew of the forecourse sail. It’s called a whisker pole, but it would be a magnificent space-cat to sport such hairs, being bigger round than my arm.)

I never felt afraid of wind or sea, even in the worst storms: the crew and Europa herself inspired great confidence. Climbing was harder than I’d expected, and so were some of the hikes ashore. I’m not as rufty-tufty as I’d like to think, not as fast to jump into real or perceived danger, but I got to the heights nonetheless. The experience will come out in my writing (and my life) for years to come.

Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Alison Duncan

    WOW your sunset photo is awesome!!!

  2. Diana Briscoe

    Interesting! Hadn’t thought of baby [sic] icebergs being a problem, but of course they would be. Very glad that your hand stood up to all the stresses & strains.
    Love Diana & the Bandits

  3. Joanna Simons

    Brilliant photos Sarah, all look amazing amd thank you for all your writing. It has been great to be there with you x

Comments are closed