“My Adventure in the Ice Boat with Jérôme Poncet.”

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Jerome Poncet - 5
From Marina Guede’s account of Jérôme Ponce‘s boat
t
: “During the crossing, we admired albatrosses flying above us and experienced unforgettable situations still vivid in my memory, such as a close encounter with a large Iceberg. it was our first one, from a distance it looked like a big couch. Fortunately for me, who likes photographs of landscapes, Jérôme was not afraid to get close, giving us a chance to admire it.”

Chronicle of an unforgettable trip to South Georgia with a sailing legend, the great sailor Jérôme Poncet. Aboard a 20-meter motorsailer, in the ice, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of penguins, seals, elephant seals. And giant icebergs

Text and photos by Marina Guedes


I was here with Jérôme Poncet‘s boat.

In Brazil, my home country, Friday the 13th is like the 17th in Italy. I am not superstitious, that day in January 2023 will remain one of the best moments of my life. How come? Simply because I was able to get to where I always dreamed of, the San Andreas Bay in South Georgia.

Being among hundreds of thousands of penguins, elephant seals and other species of seals and birds brought tears to my eyes. Fear or joy? Certainly the second option! I had beside me our commander, Jérôme Poncet.

A famous French sailor, he is well known for his epic round-the-world voyage together with his schoolmate, Gerárd Janichon, more than half a century ago on the historic boat Damien.

Jérôme Poncet, the great sailor who became famous in the late 1960s for his epic round-the-world voyage aboard the “Damien,” in South Georgia along with sea lions

Without a doubt, one of the most experienced in the southern seas. In 2016, Jérôme received the Polar Medal, an important recognition for his contributions to science in Antarctica, from the Royal Family in England. Every year, he brought researchers from the British Antarctic Program, helping them not only in a logistical aspect, but in different projects. In addition, he has done charters with numerous documentary filmmaking groups, both BBC and National Geographic.

Even for a sailor like him, who has been around that remote and cold area for many years, the opportunity to go back there still had special meaning. “This island is always surprising and special,” he told me, during our first landing. For Jérôme, giving others the opportunity to visit these unique places he cares so much about is far more important than any official recognition.

The Golden Fleece, the boat of Jérôme Poncet

The trip on Golden Fleece, a sturdy 20-meter motorsailer, had begun two weeks earlier in the Falkland Islands, the place our skipper chose as his permanent base. Born in the city of Grenoble in the French Alps, he moved to the British overseas territories after traveling the world by boat. When he is not at sea, his home is on Beaver Island, the westernmost island in the South Atlantic archipelago. Two of his three sons, daughters-in-law, and grandson Louis live nearby. His ex-wife Sally, born in Australia, now lives in the capital city of Stanley.

Jérôme Poncet ‘s Golden Fleece as it sails across Antarctic ice. Tackling those waters requires “special” boats. This two-masted motorsailer, 20 meters long and six meters wide, has a steel hull, a strong and “pliable” element in case of ice impacts.

First stop South Georgia

Jérôme’s last visit to South Georgia had been two years earlier due to Covid restrictions. Our captain wanted to return to the sub-Antarctic island and then go down the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula to try to reach the southernmost point possible, which ended up being George VI sound, at about 70 degrees south latitude.


Located in the South Atlantic Ocean, 160 miles east-southeast of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, South Georgia is one of the wildest places
And inhospitable. In Grytviken, the island’s main center, the great explorer Ernest Shackleton is buried.

During the crossing, we admired albatrosses flying above us, and experienced unforgettable situations still vivid in my memory, such as a close encounter with a large Iceberg. was our first, from a distance it looked like a big couch. Fortunately for me (I like photographs of landscapes), Jérôme was not afraid to get close, giving us a chance to admire it.

One week was the time it took to cover the 900 miles that separated Stanley from our first destination. On the island once inhabited by seal and whale hunters, which caused their near extinction, we had some magical times, the best of which were the incredible hiking in the mountains and swimming in the frozen ocean. Home to the largest colony of king penguins, which I have always dreamed of meeting, South Georgia is a truly exciting place.

Penguins, in the ice of Antarctica with the Golden Fleece in the background

Wild species do not seem to care too much about our presence; rather, it is we “foreigners” who must be careful, respecting the environment as much as possible. Apart from Jérôme, none of the six of us in the crew had ever landed on the island. After three weeks in a remote paradise, it was time to head south. As soon as the sails were hoisted, a group of penguins approached the Golden Fleece, surfing the waves only to disappear a few minutes later.

Penguins on Deception Island, a volcanic island in South Shetland. It is located more than 60 miles northeast of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Emotionally, I have to say, it was not easy to leave that place, but the consolation was that we were heading for the Antarctic Peninsula, another beautiful place.

Returning to the end of the world

I was in the Antarctic Peninsula 15 years ago, at that time as a journalist I had the opportunity to join a mission of the Brazilian Antarctic program. The quick visit had given me an idea of how incredibly beautiful the White Continent was. Since that day, I have always dreamed of returning there, quietly.

In 2020, I was in Tasmania, Australia. I was there after living on a boat in the South Pacific for four years with my husband, Diego. The idea of returning to the frozen continent began to make its way into my mind while we were forcibly locked up, in the first lockdown period of the Covid pandemic; therefore, I decided to contact Jérôme. Much to my surprise, he responded to my emails, and so we started talking about it.

One of the spectacular icebergs encountered during our reporter Marina Guedes’ trip to Antarctica while aboard the Golden Fleece, the rugged 20-meter motorsailer captained by legendary French sailor Jérôme Poncet.

We spoke often on Skype. We chatted about the four years I lived in the South Pacific (my first and beautiful sailing experience) and also the years I spent in the Brazilian Amazon, where I worked as a journalist. My knowledge of the French language, unfortunately, is minimal. Since Poncet speaks English very well, our communications were going smoothly. From the beginning, he had told me that he would no longer do charters, and that he had no sailing plans, but I had made it clear to him that if he ever had the intention of returning south, I would be immediately available. Much to my surprise, in July last year, Jérôme sent me an email with very good news: “There is a position available, if you are still interested….” Could I have given up? No, really!

If you ask him by what criteria he chooses his crews, Jérôme is usually very blunt and direct: motivation and flexibility. In our case, being free for two months. I certainly don’t regret telling him clearly that it was my dream to go there.

Away from it all

Fortunately, we did not find so many tourists, both in South Georgia and on the Antarctic Peninsula. In fact, whenever we spotted a boat, indeed, a large cruise ship, we immediately changed course. We used to use AIS to see who we were around, but ours didn’t transmit the position-a very discreet navigation system!

Our priority was to avoid very popular places where there might be tourists, and so enjoy the southern paradise in ideal form: quietly, without disturbing the wildlife and nature. The sailing, unlike those he had organized in the past, was not a charter: on the contrary, we all helped in the way we could, according to our abilities.

The largest iceberg ever seen!

As we approached the Peninsula, radar reports a large ice formation, but it was difficult to tell the exact size. Hours later, having the target still on the screen, We understood that it had to be at least 20 miles long. So we were forced to change course dramatically, from SW to NE for more than ten hours. We later found out, from information received via Iridium, Starlink was not yet available, that A76A, that was the name of the Iceberg, was 73 miles long and 15 miles wide; and it was, at the time it broke away from the Antarctic continent, one of the largest ever recorded, almost 100 miles long.


The French menu of

Jérôme Poncet

Eating on board has never been a problem. On the contrary, every day we could taste Delicious lunches and dinners. There were no rules about who or when, we decided, but usually Jérôme was the first to weigh the options, always open to suggestions from the crew. Glutton for condensed milk as I am, I cannot forget the day he proposed, with a tin in hand, to cook it to make it into a real ” dulce de leite,” a typical Brazilian and Argentine dessert that resembles a crème caramel…fantastic!

At the top of the tree

In addition to going to visit as many penguins as possible, my desire was to go up the tree to take pictures from above, perhaps with some ice around the boat. I asked Jérôme if it didn’t bother him too much, if he would let me know when the conditions were there, maybe with no wind and decent light, even though I knew he already had a lot on his mind, and all we needed was my whim. One day as we approached the coast the wind dropped, he called me into the wheelhouse and said, “Do you want to go up? It’s now or never!” Sure enough, I answered it! I hurried to change my boots, put on a heavier jacket and most important: my camera.

Marina Guedes, author of this report, on the masthead of the Golden Fleece.

My heart was beating fast, unlike other times, I was sure that all the equipment was ready, available memory space included. I went up, with Jérôme at the halyard, with the electric winch. Another unforgettable experience. I felt like a little girl again!

Mammals, large and tame

Spotting humpback whales is another thing that made our trip memorable. They came so close to Golden Fleece that we could hear their every cry, a little scary at times, but impressed. When they approached we would turn off the engine, and all that was left to do was enjoy the moment.

A whale “paparazzied” in the frigid Antarctic waters.

Friendship

As in all sea adventures, the people we spent time with end up becoming good friends. On this journey to the South Seas, they became lifelong friendships. After two months on Golden Fleece, I feel very fortunate and privileged to have sailed with Jérôme, and to have learned a lot from him. In particular, how little he cares about other people’s opinion of him, and how strong is his passion to see the world through his own eyes, sometimes with very limited resources, which, however, have led him to have a meaningful life. I would say a true inspiration!

Plans for the future? I don’t know yet! This trip to the Southern Oceans has been unique, and it needs to be fully decoded; we will see what the future holds. If anyone has the curiosity to hear a funny episode, which I recorded in my podcast with Jérôme after our return to the Falklands, I recommend the Channel called “Maré Sonora,” available on YouTube or Spotify.


Who is Jérôme Poncet, living legend of sailing

The captain of the Golden Fleece, his face hollowed out by salt and iconic mustache, is a living sailing legend. Jérôme Poncet, born in 1945 far from the sea, in Grenoble, in the middle of the French Alps.

Jérôme Poncet, right

A famous French sailor, he is well known for his epic round-the-world voyage together with his schoolmate, Gerárd Janichon, which started on May 25, 1969, on the Damien, a 10-meter wooden boat. Their journey lasted five years and they traveled 55,000 miles around the world, passing from the ice of Greenland to the warm waters of the West Indies. They went through all kinds of things. As when, going through a force 10 storm at the 56th parallel south, the boat capsized three times in two hours with them trapped below deck.

The account of
Jérôme Poncet from aboard the Damien

The two sailors recounted this in issue 5 of the Sailing Newspaper in November 1975:

“For a sailor it is a good end. Finishing with one’s own boat. We said our goodbyes, words of friendship. Long sentences are useless between us, and we are not here to make movies…Gradually torpor envelops us…I fall asleep. We cannot act or react because there is nothing we can do with a boat that has its keel in the air, with water seeping in from nowhere, with the will that no longer exists already…In the cabin of the Damien, there is a sense of foreignness.

An upside-down sense. Try to imagine your everyday world, turned upside down: and you walking on the ceiling, in the dark…

How can a sailboat with 1,600 kg ballast refuse to recover its normal balance immediately? It would only take a trifle for the ballast lever arm to kick in and cause the hull to regain its center-of-gravity logic…the boat shakes: the water inside starts lapping.

And then the commotion and Damien becomes Damien again and straightens up on the left. lasted only a second, with wild aggression, as with the cry of the newborn at the act of birth. And it is a birth! We struggle feverishly against drowning, icy water seeps everywhere. It takes us a few seconds to realize that we are alive, that the boat is floating.”

Once the trip was over, the Damien became a French historical monument.

Undoubtedly, Poncet is one of the most experienced in the South Seas. In 2016, Jérôme received the Polar Medal, an important recognition for his contributions to science in Antarctica, from the Royal Family in England. Every year, he brought researchers from the British Antarctic Program, helping them not only in a logistical aspect, but in different projects. In addition, he has done charters with numerous documentary filmmaking groups, both BBC and National Geographic. He moved to the British overseas territories after traveling the world by boat.

When he is not at sea, his home is on Beaver Island, the westernmost island in the South Atlantic archipelago. Two of his three sons, daughters-in-law, and grandson Louis live nearby. His ex-wife Sally, born in Australia, now lives in the capital city of Stanley.

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