We set sail around 9.30 p.m. on December 19th 2008, in a chilly, drizzly twilight, quickly leaving the twinkling lights of Ushuaia behind us as we headed east down the Beagle Channel towards the Atlantic Ocean at the Minerva’s cruising speed of 15 knots.
During the night we passed the eastern tip of Tierra del Fuego, changed course to the northeast and broke out into open sea. The ship was pitching moderately in the ocean swell and I spent time out on the stern deck photographing some of the petrels and albatrosses flying across our wake, quickly realising that trying to focus on flying birds using a 400mm lens on a rolling deck is an art that would clearly take a bit of practice.
In the late morning the Captain and Expedition Director called a meeting of all passengers to brief us on a significant weather change. The situation was that a large but fast morning low pressure area had developed to the north, and that it was forecast to deliver Force 12 (hurricane-force) winds of over 60 knots by Sunday afternoon in the vicinity of the Falklands. At this time our current plan would have had us at anchor off West Falkland doing Zodiac landings! Our position there would be very exposed to north-westerly winds and if we tried to do a morning landing the Minerva would then have to run out to sea to ride out the storm – a strategy that would be immensely uncomfortable for everyone on board, not to mention any risk inherent in sailing into hurricane-force winds. John and Lou had developed a Plan B, which was to go directly to Stanley and take shelter in Port William Sunday morning – the peak winds were predicted from 1pm Sunday for about twelve hours; assuming the storm passed as forecast, Monday’s Port Stanley schedule would stand as planned. The great disappointment was missing our day of wildlife and scenery in West Falkland and the Zodiac landings there, but our change of plan was clearly the right decision.