The crew on board DENIKI have become used to travelling to exotic and remote corners of the globe. But their latest adventure to Antarctica was like nothing they had attempted before.
Within Damen, superyacht construction is carried out by Amels, which is recognised as one of the top brands in the world. The prestigious Amels yard is located in Vlissingen, in the south-west of the Netherlands, were it develops and builds superyachts of the highest calibre ranging from 55 to 83 metres. In 2005 Amels introduced the revolutionary Limited Editions concept, ensuring faster delivery, superior quality, higher value and better resale value. In the past years Amels is out-performing its rivals and currently has 12 new projects under construction.
Length Overall: 52.30 m
Design Exterior: Tim Heywood
Naval Architecture: Amels
Cruising speed: 13.0 kn
Range: 4,500 nautical miles
Miles since 2007: 100.000
Destinations since 2007: Alaska, Mediterranean, Caribbean, South America, Falkland Islands, Antarctica
Deniki’s adventure to the Antarctic
It was during the summer season of 2010 that the owner of DENIKI had first raised the idea of a trip to Antarctica. Captain Richard Callaghan had to do his homework first before he could agree to such an intrepid expedition. “Whilst an exciting prospect, Antarctica is not the sort of place you can agree to go to on the spur of the moment,” he says.
So Richard got together with his co-Captain Lawrence Cockx and they spent more than a year exhaustively researching the possibility and viability of sailing an AMELS 171 to the most remote continent on Earth. “We both wanted to do it, but it can be a dangerous place”, says Richard. “There was a cruise ship that sank down there a couple of years ago, and a few fishing boats sink there every year too, vessels which are purpose built for those waters.”
The AMELS 171, on the other hand, was not designed with the Antarctic in mind. The two captains, along with the chief engineer, investigated possible modifications to the yacht. “We looked at everything in detail because Antarctica is not somewhere that you want to have a breakdown. There is no back-up there, so we looked into all our systems. In particular we were concerned about the output of our watermakers and the diesel gelling in the main tanks, due to the cold. In the end we were satisfied that we didn’t need to make any modifications whatsoever to DENIKI. The design of the boat is very, very good.
“Since she was launched we have clocked up nearly 100,000 miles, averaging about 20,000 miles per year. We have sailed in all climates, from 40-plus degrees in the Med to more than minus 20 in Antarctica. And the boat just copes with it. We have always had a lot of confidence in the boat, but we really can’t test her anymore. DENIKI can go wherever the owner wants to take her.”
With the planning in place, and the huge amount of red tape, special permits and other administration dealt with, the captains settled on a passage from December 2011 to January 2012. “December through to January is the prime window for Antarctica,” says Richard. “You get almost 24 hours of daylight and also the best wildlife at that time.”
Although both captains had planned the voyage together, only one would get the opportunity to captain DENIKI for the journey south. Richard was fortunate enough for the Antarctica trip to fall during his watch. The consolation for Lawrence was that he had at least been the captain for DENIKI’s Alaskan adventure two years earlier. The first major challenge of the voyage south was Drake Passage, the 500-mile stretch of gale-swept water that separates Antarctica from South America.
“I had allowed a lot of time to wait in Ushuaia for a good weather window to get across, and that paid dividends. We had a fantastic crossing in very light winds and it took us just two days to cross to King George Island,” says Richard. “It was not quite so good coming back up north, though. We had 40 knots of wind and 4 to 5 metre seas on the beam, which DENIKI’s big stabiliser fins handled very well, and we made it to the Falkland Islands without any trouble. We were careful and fortunate to avoid any really monstrous conditions which are so common, but the weather certainly let us know we were in the Drake Passage and we would not have wanted it to deteriorate much more.”
Once they arrived in Antarctica, the scenery took everyone’s breath away. Words can barely describe the other-worldliness of this remote continent: “The best way I can describe it is if you took any sign of human inhabitation out of the Alps and then filled it up with water. It’s beautiful, absolutely superb. It’s just totally wild and unspoilt; the absolute silence is incredible, with the occasional rumble of a glacier calving somewhere. You really get the feeling you are on your own, and you certainly would not want to be in that environment in a boat that you didn’t have total faith in.”
Richard took every safety measure possible, including hiring an ice pilot with good experience of navigating these treacherous waters. “There is of course a lot of ice, and very often our cruising speed was down to 7 or 8 knots. You have to be very careful and you have to assess each bit of ice that you see – whether its multi-year ice, glacial ice or whether it’s first-year soft ice that you can push through.” Amazingly, DENIKI survived her icy passage without even a scratch to the paintwork.
There were strict rules about everyone wearing proper thermal clothing and life jackets at all times on deck, not that people needed much reminding of this. “Of course you expect Antarctica to be cold, but it was a really debilitating cold at times – so cold that you just wanted to get back inside as soon as you could and certainly the idea of falling in the sea not bear thinking about.”
December through to January is the prime window for Antarctica, you get almost 24 hours of daylight and also the best wildlife at that time.
So, for all the inherent risks, was the journey to Antarctica really worth it? For Richard, and everyone else on the trip, it was the voyage of a lifetime. “To see a pack of killer whales hunting two humpback whales, moments like those were amazing. At one point it seemed the humpbacks were trying to use DENIKI as protection from the killer whales and the humpbacks didn’t want to move too far away from the boat, so the hunt was really unfolding around us. To see the penguins and their chicks hatching was amazing. They are really comical. The interesting thing is, the wildlife is not scared of people. You can walk right next to penguins and they just look at you. To stand right next to a penguin with her chicks – and for them to be happy with that – that’s something quite special.”
The visit inside the volcanic caldera of Deception Island, and the chance to enjoy a volcanic bath in the great outdoors, was another high point. “The great thing was that the owner made sure the crew had a chance to enjoy the experience too,” says Richard. “All these moments were such once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for all of us, and it was a privilege for all of us to be involved.
“That’s the great thing about working for an owner with such a spirit of adventure. It was his idea to go, no one else’s. On average there seems to be just one super yacht per year going to the Antarctic, which I suppose is not that surprising. The logistics are immense, the safety issues are very real, but DENIKI excelled herself in the toughest of conditions. As for the yacht’s next big adventure, well, a visit to Spitsbergen and the Arctic has already been discussed.”