Expeditions to the Antarctic usually evoke images of an icy wonderland and some of the world’s greatest weather extremes, and while the rigours of visiting such an isolated destination are well acknowledged, few are aware of the preparation that the crew and even the explorer yacht go through beforehand – and such is the case with ‘untested’ 29m/95ft M/Y GAYLE FORCE (ex.PATRIOT).
Originally built in the Netherlands by Bloemsma & Van Breemen in 2003, explorer yacht GAYLE FORCE is a part of Vripack‘s iconic Doggersbank Series, which has stretched over the decades from the mid-1970s and has been relied on for its heavy duty use, low emissions, clean engine room and long-lasting equipment.
However for Captain Scott Whittaker and Owners Wayne and Gayle Laufer, one of the important first steps was for the vessel to undergo a 20-month ‘de-clutter’ following a lifetime of updates that were not necessarily advantageous for the Antarctic seas:
“One of the biggest things that Vripack helped us with was weight/balance. We ended up taking around 25,000 pounds off the bow of the boat, and replacing the unnecessarily large 23mm anchor chain with the original 16mm version,” Captain Whittaker explained. “We also converted the crew lounge into a third guest cabin, and importantly added zero speed stabilisers. I really feel that with an expedition boat, the only defence you have is to slow down. It’s not a long enough boat to stick your nose into it, but to slow to 3-4 knots, stay upright and keep running – GAYLE FORCE does that really well now.”
On the 20th of November 2018, M/Y GAYLE FORCE left Panama City in Florida and travelled 3,800 nautical miles south straight to Valparaíso, Chile, demonstrating to Captain Whittaker its extensive cruising range of 5,000 nautical miles, if not an impressive and fuel-efficient 6,500 nautical miles. The following weeks were spent cruising the Patagonian coast, where guests and crew alike experienced relentless winds and high seas. Captain Whittaker had also elected to bunk down in the bridge in a bivy sack and -20 sleeping bag to accommodate the ice pilot and naturalist during the Arctic leg.
The Laufers, who are now in their 70s and experienced adventurers, were treated to impressive sightings of local wildlife, including humpback, fin and blue whales. Every kind of native seal was sighted and penguins flocked together in the thousands. One of the highlights of the trip however was the two nights spent drifting with the ice in the Gerlache Straits.
“We had amazing evenings there,” said Captain Whittaker. “It was truly beautiful. It felt like something out of Space Odyssey, semi-light out, just watching the ice, silently drifting together.”
The next segment of the year-long voyage will take E/Y GAYLE FORCE to Robinson Crusoe Island before heading to the Galapagos and Cocos Islands as the 16-year-old expedition yacht continues to do what she was built for with her modifications giving her a new lease on life.