January 25, 2003: The courageous crews of eight sailing vessels arrived at Sale Creek Marina for Race #6 in the Shackleton Series to find a weirdly appropriate sight: their ships trapped and held fast in their slips by nearly an inch of ice.
Given the forecast of light and variable winds, the skipper's meeting concluded with a consensus to do a five mile course. Some of the skippers may not have been listening as intently as they should have, but in their defense, it was rather cold and they may have been more preoccupied with getting the boats out through the ice to the starting line than with the race itself.
Most tried to chop their way free with axes and boathooks, but as Shackleton himself will tell you, these efforts are futile against power of the Antarctic winter. To the rescue came the 28 foot Lancer captained by Anthony "Icebreaker" West, the heroic "Snowplow of the Seas." The raw sound of fiberglass against ice filled the air, and a path to open water was soon cleared. (Extra! View a Windows Media Player movie of the Icebreaker in action. We recommend downloading the clip before playing it. Right-click on the link and choose "save target as" to download.)
After negotiating one more icy passage in Sale Creek itself, the fleet arrived at the starting line. Freed from the ice, their ships were again at the mercy of Mother Nature, assailed by a constant and furious lack of wind. Quietly, insideously, unnoticed by most of the crews, the current took them downstream of the starting line. Once the horn blew and the race officially started, the debate began: If a majority of boats are on the wrong side of the line, would it not be much easier and more reasonable to move the line rather than all those boats?
Three of the five boats caught downhill--Katzenjammer, Enchantress, and Possible Mallard--sailed back upstream to start the race over, while True Blue and Icebreaker continued downstream. Ultimately, Blue and Icebreaker would receive a "Did Not Finish" as a result. It's easy to look back from the comfort of an armchair and call their decision to push on a mistake, but out there on the ice, with the boats dodging growlers and battling for position in the current, each captain made his choice and lived with it, careful not to show any sign of weakness or indecision to his crew. (On second thought, since there weren't any crew on those boats, maybe the captains were just stubborn.)
Possible Mallard had a lot of ground to gain, but with the help of "Big Red" poled out with a boathook, she eventually passed Dutchess and Icebreaker, then set her sights on True Blue. The plan was to breeze past Blue while the crew reposed in the cockpit and sipped hot chocolate.
Meanwhile, Icebreaker and Katzenjammer were so close their sails were practically overlapping. By this time Maniac and Banana Split had completed the course and were lounging about. Finishing after two hours, thirty-seven minutes, Mallard never did catch Blue. Out-sailed again by the indominable Capt. Hoover!
Afterwards, it was noted that at least half the boats rounded an extra mark at the upstream end of the course (remember, it was cold at that skipper's meeting) but that proved irrelevant as the story of this amazing voyage spread. Despite the ice, frigid conditions, navigational uncertanties, and immense distances traveled, not a man was lost. Yes, every single soul that set out was returned safely to the shore.