Antarctica. The mythical hidden southern continent for so long. Not sighted nor first trodden by human feet until the 19th Century. Today the Europa heads straight into the Weddell Sea, “according to the testimony of all who have sailed through its berg-filled waters, the most treacherous and dismal region on earth” as Thomas R. Henry put in 1950.
The tip of the Antarctic Peninsula lays far away at our starboard side, closer are some of the islands that pepper this area of the Erebus and Terror Gulf, ahead of the immensity of the cold, treacherous, and icy Weddell Sea.
In the late 17-hundreds, Captain Cook was on a quest to find the White Continent, but despite his efforts and reaching further South than any before on the 31st January 1774, he could never have a glimpse of it, veiled as it was behind clouds, thick fog, icebergs, and sea ice.
I firmly believe that there is a tract of land near the Pole, which is the source of most of the ice which is spread over this vast Southern Ocean.
The greater part of this Southern Continent (supposing there is one) must lie within the Polar Circle where the sea is so pestered with ice that the land there is inaccessible.
Thick fogs, snowstorms, intense cold and every other thing that can render navigation dangerous one has to encounter, and these difficulties are greatly heightened by the inexpressibly horrid aspect of the country, a country doomed by nature never once to feel the warmth of the sun’s rays, but to lie forever buried under everlasting snow and ice.
Captain James Cook
Fog, reduced visibility, and careful navigation amongst the ice, were situations which we also experienced during the last days as we approached Antarctica. Once the misty weather lifted, today there were still more hardships to overcome until we were able to see the Antarctic territory. Furious and tempestuous winds, stormy weather, raging gusts just about the 50kn. Steering and Sailhandling into this angry Weddell Sea wasn’t the easiest, first to make way under reduced canvas, later on just using the Lower Staysails and a couple of headsails. At some point, the engines are turned on to deal with some tight spaces amongst the ice.
It calms down when we have to bear away to maneuver around the drifting ice. Europa heels and the swells break and spray from our starboard or climb over port railings when she comes up and meets the wind again.
The wind hits hard, the temperatures are low. Scattered all over, the immense tabular icebergs, smaller ones arranged in clusters or drifting on their own, the many and ever-present bergy bits and growlers. A sort of shield for the ones who choose to enter this remote and unforgiving Weddell sea these days. If you dare to brave these difficulties that come in succession (or often all of them teamed up) and push through your way south, if lucky enough to manage your sails and engine wisely, lookouts posted with a sharp eye not to hit any inconvenient piece of ice and a steady hand at the wheel ready to follow the continuous course changes, sometimes you can be rewarded with conditions such as the ones we encountered this evening. A quick drop on the wind, clearer skies, sunset over the calm icy waters, and the remote lands of the northwestern Weddell Sea at sight.
An epic arrival to Antarctica.