Ice Bird at Palmer

Hero's welcome

In what was supposed to be the first solo circumnavigation of Antarctica, David Lewis had very narrowly missed disaster due to two capsizings and other storms since his departure from Sydney. These did major damage to his boat and severely taxed him physically. After arriving at Palmer on 29 January 1973, Lewis spent over a month there repairing Ice Bird (with lots of help). A new mast was constructed from scrap dunnage, the dead engine was repaired, and lots of painting, caulking and metalwork was begun. He'd originally planned to continue his voyage the same summer, but a pressing contract from National Geographic (to write more about Polynesian navigation, one of his previous and future projects) caused him to get Ice Bird pulled up on the pier for the winter, after which he boarded the Lindblad Explorer for South America.

painting the Ice BirdDavid Lewis aboard Ice BirdThe reprieve (with travel funded by National Geographic) gave Lewis a chance to acquire replacement sails, self-steering gear, and other equipment and supplies. He returned to Palmer aboard the BAS vessel John Biscoe in early November 1973, where the Ice Bird refit was completed (left, the vessel was being painted in early December). The photo at the top of the page is from the first sea trial, after winterovers had worked all winter to repair and refit the vessel. On board were David Lewis as well as electrician Gary Cadle and mechanic Jim Evans. In this photo David is sitting at left handling the rudder, and Gary is standing at David's right. This photo was taken by Kent Yates from a Zodiac piloted by Albert Giannini--it appears in Ice Bird, but Kent was not credited. At right, another small photo from Kent Yates, where he finally succeeded in framing a shot featuring only David Lewis with the glacier in the background.

David Lewis departed on 12 December to continue his circumnavigation attempt. He headed initially for the Argentine Islands base (his originally planned Peninsula destination the previous year), but ice conditions turned him around and he headed up the Lemaire Channel. He stopped at several other bases and made it safely out of Antarctic waters but was capsized and dismasted again at 45S. This dashed his hopes of circumnavigation, so he ended the venture at Cape Town on 20 March 1974.

David Lewis on Hokule'a

Continuing with his interest in Polynesian navigation, he joined the Polynesian Voyaging Society's first experimental voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti on the then-new Hokule'a, a full-scale replica of a wa'a kaulua (Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe)--this voyage was made using traditional techniques without instruments. At some point during this or another Polynesian project, he was captured in this photo at right. We know where he obtained that sweatshirt.

David Lewis returned to Antarctica several more times--he set up some small-yacht tourist ventures to the Ross Sea with financing from Dick Smith. In 1983 he took the 65' steel-hulled yacht Dick Smith Explorer and wintered it in Prydz Bay (near Davis) in 1983 (this story is told in his book Icebound in Antarctica). After this venture he slowly retired and wrote his memoirs, but would continue sailing until his death in Australia in October 2002 at the age of 85.

The 1973 voyage information and the photo of the refit at Palmer are from the book Ice Bird, © 1975 by David Lewis. The photo aboard the Hokulea is a frame from a recent documentary about Polynesian navigators; it was grabbed by Blaise Kuotiong.