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Blown off ELEPHANT ISLAND (Point Wild) and starting our way with good sailing towards South Georgia Island

Variable winds blowing from 15 to 25kn meet us overnight, and together with the scattered growlers here and there, it all makes for keeping a good lookout during the dark hours, helped by the potent ice-lights shining at the end of the bowsprit. Nevertheless we make good progress, waking up in the morning to a speed of 9-10 knots. Behind the clouds, Aspland and Gibbs islands, located just SW of Elephant Island show their inhospitable coasts. But as we want to bend eastwards around Elephant island, we have to take away all square sails and turn the engines on again. The wind picks up quite a bit during the morning, and even though we should get a bit of shelter behind the island, things are quite wild. Like this we enter the Sealers Passage, the channel between Elephant Island and Seal Islands, a sort of shortcut around the N coast of Elephant Island used by sealers in the 1820s. As we can imagine, the rocky and small Seal Islands take their name because of the number of seals caught there when Captain William Smith on board the Williams, sailed and hunted in the here. That was as soon as in the year 1820, when during his third trip of exploration in the area, officially reported for the British Admiralty the sighting of the South Shetland Islands. Motoring along the Northern coast of Elephant Island, still with some
Lower Staysails set, the 30 to 40kn of S-ly winds and biting cold give us an idea of how harsh the weather conditions can be here, around the desolate and severe looking Elephant Island. Under this situation, Inner Jib comes down first, then we swap the larger Desmond for the Aap over the Main deck and a Trysail for the big Spanker. Later on all sails still set come down and are furled under the
increasing winds. Now we left the main group of the South Shetlands behind, and are in what can be considered as the northernmost one of them, Elephant. We are slowly joining the historic route of Shackleton. From this point in our voyage we will encounter several places that are part of this incredible story. During the morning Sarah tells us about it – as it is outside gusting up to 40 knots, we are in the warm lounge listening to the story of the Trans Antarctic Expedition. The South Pole had been reached by Amundsen in 1911 – and according to Shackleton there was only one great goal in Polar exploration left: crossing the Antarctic Continent via the South Pole. Shackleton had a straight forward plan; he would start the crossing from the coast deep in the Weddell sea, march to the North Pole, and continue the known route previously taken by Scott to the other side of the continent. Things, however, turned out to be a bit
different. 1914 proved to be a heavy ice year in the Weddell sea, as the whalers had told Shackleton already in South Georgia. He however decided to try, managed to get quite far South, but got stuck in the ice before they reached land. Solidly stuck. What follows is a tale of hardship and endurance. The 28 man live on the ice for many months – finally reaching land in April of 1916. This land cannot save them – apart from rocks, ice and a few late penguins and seals, there is nothing here, But the rocky spit of land will shelter and feed them until they will be saved. They have reached Elephant island – where 22 of the man will live for about 4 months. After a while trying to get to the famous Point Wild, the very same spot where they endured long time of solitude and struggles for survival, the
wind has been picking up while some large Fin and Humpback whales start to show up amongst the breaking swells and icebergs. As we are approaching, it becomes clear we will not be able to land, not even to launch our zodiacs. With gusts up to 50 knots we will have to stay on a distance and look from there at the rocks that housed Shackleton’s man. How they ever made it or how they ever managed to get away again is hard to comprehend. Here we are in our perfectly water and windproof layers of sailing gear. Well fed, warm and with all the good equipment. Here they came, after spending months and months on the ice, not once changing their clothes or being inside a solid building. And they came in three small life rafts – with a simple sail and oars. Point wild – it definitely looks wild today. But it are not the conditions that gave name to this place – it is named after Frank Wild, the man in charge as Shackleton and five other man  set out on a historic crossing. What they proposed seemed impossible. At the same time it was the only option; to sail 800 nm to South Georgia in a 22 feet boat at the beginning of winter over one of the roughest seas in the world. As we turn away from the island – we will be following the same route – heading for South Georgia now. Watch systems are on again – we all sea fasten our gear – we change our mindset to sea watch, and of we go. In a 56 m sailing vessel, after yet another splendid meal by Gjalt and Merel. The wind is blowing the foam off the waves, it is impossible to understand how they ever made it or managed to live here. But we know they did – we know the 6 man made it to South Georgia, ending up on the Southern coast, crossing the unmapped, heavily crevassed and mountainous interior of the island to find help on the Northern coast, and finally save all the man. Shackleton – he never lost a man on the ice. Well in fact he did, he lost 3 man on the other side of the continent as they were laying depots for his transarctic expedition, but on this side he managed to get all his man back alive. As we turn away from the island and start heading North – we can finally use the strong winds instead of motoring against them. As soon as we leave this horrific, spectacular and breath-taking place we just have time enough to start preparing the ship for the oceanic crossing to South Georgia. As Safety nets come back to Port and Starboard side, Safety ropes are installed once more over all our decks and some crew start climbing the rig to unfurl some canvas. With the strong fair wind with us, soon we set Top sails first, then Lower Staysails, Inner Jib, Spanker and Main Course. By then is time again for everybody to join the Sea-watches, to have as soon as possible hands on deck, steering and lookouts working together with the Permanent Crew to sail the Old Lady Europa to the amazing South Georgia, distant about 670nm. Quickly our speed increases to over 8kn, while the wind seems to slightly decrease to between 25 and 30kn as we take a bit more distance from the Northern coast of Elephant Island. Having S-ly winds, those blow over the glaciated island, cooling down and shooting over the ice to the sea with fierce strength, thus affecting the northern shores with what is called Katabatic winds. A bit further away from their effect, situation looks great for a good sailing. Like this we have a good kick-start to proper sail over the waters of the Scotia Sea, neighbour of the famed Drake Passage.

Written by:
Jordi and Sarah | Guides

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