Sailing to Antarctica

I’m Sarah Tanburn, a writer and a sailor.

This is my blog about sailing to Antarctica. Besides the amazing ship, the ice and whales, I am writing about fear. My fears on the water and my fears on the page. I’m going to sail 5,000 miles on a tall ship in the most extreme waters on Earth.

Top of RG mast

Sailing to Antarctica

I've always wanted to visit Shackleton's 'White South' and I've always wanted a long voyage on a square-rigged sailing ship. On 6 March 2016 I join the 56m, three-masted bark Europa in Punta Arenas, Chile. From there we will start the 55 day sail through Antarctica and the South Atlantic to Cape Town. SailingtoAntarctica will tell my story of the voyage, including the people I meet along the way, preparations for the challenge and whatever happens afterwards.

On the water

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve done quite a lot of sailing. The blue yacht is Roaring Girl, the boat I skippered and lived on for nearly 10 years, sailing in the UK and the western Mediterranean. The picture above is me at the top of our 19m main mast fixing something; I’m used to climbing a simple mast, with steps, in gentle waters or even ashore.

You may not know it, but many sailors are more scared of climbing the mast when the vessel is in a cradle ashore, than when she is afloat. You are higher up, and the boat is less stable out of her natural element.

I learned to sail in Portugal and the UK, owning a smaller boat for a while. I sold Roaring Girl in 2014, and for now I rely on other people’s boats. I love to be afloat, and sometimes even take the water taxi in Cardiff Bay just for the feeling of water under the keel. I’m not a racer, I’m a cruiser. I like exploration, journeying using the wind and tide, travelling slowly across the waters and arriving from the sea into new harbours.

This trip will be different from yacht cruising. Roaring Girl is a fifth the size of Europa, and while the Bay of Biscay has its perils, it does not compare to the Southern Ocean. While there is much to learn (all those ropes) and the weather will be fearsome, the biggest challenge, for me, will be the masts. Can I really get to the top, 33m above the heaving sea?

On the page

My writing life is quite varied. including the travel blog about sailing and New Zealand I linked above. I can also be found commenting about books, writing, places, politics and art at my other blog.

My published fiction includes the sea-story The Ocean Is My Lover, available from Ether books. Paintapu, the Polynesian navigator who tells her tale is one of the women featured in my forthcoming collection, Stronger than Longing, about real women travelling under sail.

I won the Get Writing Cup 2012 for my story about assisted dying, Switzerland, which was available on Are the Peacemakers was published by Snapshots of History in 2012 and my novel Commitment was shortlisted in the Artists & Writers Year Book first novel competition.


I also write non fiction, including Listening to Jenny (in A River of Stones in 2011) and Partition, a literary memoir about India which appeared in the January 2014 issue of [wherever] magazine. You can see December: Dusk at


There are plenty of practical details to think about. I need to get fitter, learn to use a camera, make sure I’m going to be warm enough, remember how to survive seasickness.

At the same time, I’m already reading a lot about the extreme life of the ice and the ocean, so I’ll be talking about other writers too. Is there, as some suggest, a difference between how women write about extreme landscapes and how men do it? I am not doing the really hard stuff, skiing to the Pole, or wintering over at a remote research station. I’m not even going to sleep on the continent, rather than on a boat anchored in its bays and seas. Instead I will be exploring those edges, seeing (I hope) penguins and whales and albatross. Watching those Southern Ocean greybeards curl over the decks and hearing the wind play with the hundreds of ropes keeping our sails trimmed. Standing watch in the dark as we cross Drake’s Passage, keeping my ears tuned for the whisper, the cold smell of icebergs.

I want to take my readers with me on this extraordinary adventure and find out what I write when I stop self-censorship. Most of all, I want to reconnect with bravery and honesty on the page and this is my way to do it. I should write 'don't panic' in large green letters on the front of my notebook.

Pic credits:
Portrait: Pip Harris
Picture of RG: Ruth Fry
Ship: Photo by Hajo Olij from




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