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Around the World with Captain Mercer: Back to Ushuaia

Captain Jonathan Mercer

February 1-3, 2012

Wednesday, Feb. 1:
4 a.m. and having drifted for the night, we increase speed to rendezvous with the scientists from Palmer station, the U.S. polar base.

0600 and we are off Laggard Island. The zodiac from Palmer, with 7 scientists on board, comes out to greet us. They climb up the pilot ladder, no easy task for them as they are wearing survival suits, big, bulky clothing. They gave a lecture in the Queen’s Lounge to a packed ‘house.’ A question and answer session followed, mostly about global warming and its effects on the continent; one strange question was “how are the reindeers”? This nonplussed the panel for a moment, then the reply was that we were in the southern hemisphere and not the north 🙂

We depart Palmer at 1030, earlier than originally scheduled, because lurking out ahead of us in a weather depression of monumental proportions, 60 mph gusts and 20 feet/6.5m seas and swell. I want to cover as much distance as possible at full speed in the fine weather; no doubt I will have to reduce when we encounter it.

Thursday, Feb. 2:
The movement of the Amsterdam wakes me up at 3:30 a.m., I go to the bridge in my PJs and dressing gown; the wind is increasing as is the swell, however she’s taking it well. I stay and chat with the watch-keeping officers for a while and then return to my cabin.

During the morning, the swell and wind increase gradually, until by midday we’re in a full-blown gale, as predicted, force 9 on the Beaufort scale, winds of 45 knots, which equates to 50 mph or 90 kph, the swell is up to 7 meters, or around 22 feet. She is taking it well, considering what she is in, the stabilisers are controlling the worst of the rolling and she is pitching moderately, occasionally spray flies over the Bridge windows.

We continue onwards, the intention being to get into the lee of the outlying Chilean islands, (and smoother water), as soon as safely possible. By 4 p.m., Plan A is working well and there is a considerable change in the sea-state as we pass Cape Horn, 23 miles away on our port side, calmer waters.

We are embarking our Chilean pilots at 1830 at Richmond Pass, they will take us in through the narrow inter-island passages and into the Beagle Channel, thence we go to Puerto Williams, stopping there for clearance and then we embark an Argentine pilot, who will accompany us into Ushuaia, planning to dock at 0300 tomorrow. We are in Chilean waters, so we embark 2 Chilean pilots at Paso Richmond, they board from a Navy vessel, not uncommon in these waters. As we pass down the canals tomorrow, there will, no doubt, be warships, tucked away under camouflage netting, they maintain quite a presence in their waterways.

We sail towards the Beagle channel and then west towards Ushuaia, the wind funnels down the mountainsides, changing direction as it does so.

Friday, Feb. 3:
0030 and up for the approach to Ushuaia, still in Chilean waters, the pilot conns us towards Argentine waters and another pilot, this time Argentinian, (gets confusing after a while, doesn’t it :-))

One thing about Ushuaia, which I think every Captain will tell you, is that the weather is so changeable here that one is never quite sure whether one can dock or not. All will seem cozy, lulling you into a false sense of security and then it changes, from gentle zephyrs to gale-force winds. I have been here when the sun has been shining 20 minutes before docking, raining 10 minutes later and snowing 10 minutes after that, it’s really troublesome.

This arrival was similar, 10 knot winds when we were 2 miles from the pier, 20 knots at 1 mile and then up to 37 knots when trying to dock. We berthed, however it took some effort (and a few cups of coffee). We are all fast at 0330 and time for some sleep.

Up at 8 a.m., we are taking bunkers (fuel) and stores. It is raining, (but by 10 a.m. the sun is shining, by 11 it’s raining again, see what I mean)?


Captain Mercer is at the helm of Amsterdam’s 112-day Grand World Voyage.

2 Comments
  • Jill

    In November 2009 Captain PJ van Maurik took the Veendam into Ushuaia after two hours or so of trying in very variable weather. But it was the afternoon and he said we might not make it, so he had an audience watching from the Crow’s Nest, all of them “armchair captains”. It was impressive that he managed to dock the ship eventually, given the conditions.
    Is it very much harder to do in the dark? At least the passengers are asleep.

  • Anonymous

    You are so good at describing this scenario and having been with you as captain during Hurricane Pauline (Acapulco I think), I know you are absolutely the best at managing this type of weather…Kudos!!!!Lizz Day

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