By Steven Hartshorne
Antarctica has become a very popular travel destination in recent years, and there are dozens and dozens of tour offerings there.
But if you want to get really close to the striking Antarctic landscapes and the hardy animals that make their homes there, you might want to take a hands-on sailing tour of the White Continent aboard the "Spirit of Sydney," an eight-passenger yacht designed for round-the-world racing.
In addition to their other popular Antarctic cruises, Adventure Life of Missoula, Montana, now offers sailing excursions to Antarctica which embark from Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego. Passengers travel through the frequently rough seas of Drake's Passage in an expedition vessel to the protected waters of the Antarctic Peninsula.
There they board the Spirit of Sydney, a sea-tested racing yacht designed by Australia's Ben Lexcen for the 1986 BOC Challenge Race, a solo race around the world sponsored by the British Oxygen Company.
Originally designed for racing, the "Spirit" has been re-outfitted as an expedition yacht. The tour is a "hands-on" adventure, and passengers are welcome to participate as members of the crew, take a turn at the helm or just sit back and enjoy the scenery and the wildlife.
Adventure Life President, Brian Morgan, who designs all AL tours, says the new tour is the first of its kind.
"The only other way to sail around Antarctica is to charter an entire vessel," he says. "The 'Spirit of Sydney' trips are unique because they offer individuals, couples and small groups the opportunity to join a sailing trip. Also, you're a lot closer to water when sailing. This trip will allow passengers the opportunity to view amazing wildlife that Antarctica is famous for, including whales, penguins and sea birds, up close."
"Anyone who has ever dreamed of feeling the wind in his or her sails will enjoy being at the helm of this thoroughbred racing yacht," he says.
The "Spirit" has also been likened to "an ocean greyhound," with long clean lines and flared bow sections designed for surfing the big rollers of the Southern Ocean. The ships had a major refit in 2002 including a new engine, new mainsail and plexiglass dodger on the cockpit.
In 2004 the "Spirit" got a new saloon and navigation area and was outfitted with central heating and hot water systems.
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The ships is also equipped with state-of-the-art weather information and communication systems, including he Xaxero Sky-Eye System for downloading realtime satellite images, Iridium phone access to Global Marine Information Network and e-mail facilities. Imagine checkin your e-mail while sailing on the coast of Antarctica!
Adventure Life offers 14, 23, and 27-day sailing tours. All the tours begin in Ushuaia and voyage across Drake's Passage aboard the Peregrine Mariner, and ice-strengthened expedition vessel designed for rough seas. (Though the passge is named for Sir Francis Drake, Drake himself decided not to hazard it, sailing instead through the Straits of Magellan which cut through the southern tip of South America.)
Sea Birds, Penguins and Seal