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Crossing the Antarctic Convergence Area

Before it was getting too dark, was time to reduce some canvas, packing the Main Royal Staysail under variable wind force. With the Spanker set the steering wasn’t easy, having to keep the rudder at a constant starboard-side angle. To facilitate the job at the wheel during the night, we took it away. That was just the beginning of a day of intermittent sailhandling on deck, with hectic periods between calmer sailing. Around sunrise time Europa cross paths with several squalls, that better make for taking the higher squares away and furl them. From then on, we started sailing close to a downwind course, taking away and furl Main Top Gallant Staysail, Fore Top Mast Staysail and Dekzwabber thus allowing more straight wind into the square sails, that actually blows at 25 to 30kn from a SW-ly direction as we steer on a 030º at a good speed of 7.5kn. Under this new situation, riding the swell with the wind practically at our back, the rolling conditions increase once more, but luckily the huge swell that we braved a couple of days ago seems to have been calming down.
Later on we enjoyed a nice sailing afternoon under more stable winds, although veering first to a more W-ly direction, tendency that will keep going for the rest of the day, until eventually in the evening and night it turned up to NW-ly. The steadier situation after lunch let us get some good speeds, even allowing to set Royals, Mizzen Top Staysail and Inner Jib, achieving 8 to over 9kn at a times, with a peak of about 11kn for a few moments. Even so, a quick look at the forecast brings news of a wind shift under a frontal passage that will dash over our heads during the next hours. Later during the night, a quick change from a fair W-ly and NW-ly breeze to about 30kn N-ly blows is expected. First Royals come down, then as it gets dark after dinner, we start preparing the ship for the weather shift, bracing sharper to sail Full-and-by first as the wind already starts turning, then furling the middle Staysails, while the lower ones are set. The wind shifts on force and direction had been keeping us busy on deck maintaining an appropriate sail configuration and bracing and
accordingly. Even during the hours when no ropes have to be pulled or we are free from lookout or steering, a close eye have to be kept on how the ship is behaving and the weather changing. The crew always have something to clean, something to tie up, maintenance to do. Captain and Mates constantly watch the winds and seas, think on how to maximize the sailing, and always busy, inform, prepare the crew with drills, check the ship’s and compliment safety and while running her, ruminate on keeping up to date all the necessary paperwork she needs to call to different ports and countries. By now we all agree on the incessant activity of the sailor’s life, where a firm watch system rules the daily routines, otherwise on an ever changing offshore environment. Since the Europa seems to happily sail, under quite a lot of canvas on steadier conditions and lower seas, it made for all of us to show up. Some starting to join the watches once seasickness and insecurities had been surmounted. Weather pulling ropes, doing lookouts or getting our hands on the steering wheel supervised by the more experienced, we are all involved on a growing, learning, sharing and joined process to conduct a trip of a lifetime; enduring the very special circumstances of the Southern Ocean rigorous weather, big seas and frozen lands. Not to forget the long time at sea for all to contribute together on sailing the superb Old Lady Europa across the South Atlantic Ocean. Although in our minds the days we spent in Antarctica lay already far behind, still the sight of a few large icebergs this morning reminded us that is not very far South where the Weddell Sea waters are getting frozen and its Ice Shelves are breaking apart. With some its icebergs drifting away for a long time. However, not many of them can reach such northern latitudes, traveling clockwise around the Antarctic Continent
driven by the Circumpolar Current. And very few can cross the Polar Front, getting off the grip of the cold Antarctic waters to melt away on warmer areas. Those ones that were spotted today were at the limit between those two water masses. The sea water temperature evolution during the last hours indicate that today we crossed the Antarctic Convergence Area, indeed, leaving the cold Antarctic waters behind, and entering the Sub-Antarctic temperate realm. The frontal area characterized by steep changes in water density and
temperature, making for the colder and denser Antarctic waters to sink under the relative warmer Sub-Antarctic, produce instabilities in the oceanic column, mixing the upper layers and upwelling sub-surface nutrients to surface. Often this process comes announced by a change on the biodiversity that can be observed. Today a look outside revealed an increase on the seabird numbers and species, and in the evening, once sailing on waters of over 6ºC, a pod of Hourglass dolphins payed us a visit as well. Since the early morning several of the beautiful Grey headed albatrosses soar around our ship. With them a single Wandering Albatross show up, while a few Light Mantled and Black browed glide effortlessly on the good breeze. Welcoming sight for all of us to the temperate Sub Antarctic waters, but in a way expected to see again those mighty birds making their long journeys in the open ocean. Then again, a closer look over the breaking swells revealed yet other birds, what they lack on size is greatly substituted by their strength and character, they are the Storm petrels. Today several of the Black-bellied storm petrels could be seen bearing with the winds and waves far away from any land, with their excited flapping low flight above the seas surface. Being rarer, they share similar Circumpolar Subantarctic distribution than the more common and familiar to us Wilson storm petrel, our companion for many days in the Drake Passage, Antarctica and Scotia Sea.

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Guide



Hi to Sid and Clair. When can we expect you in Cape Town?

Tracy Middlebrook  |  16-03-2019 19:16 uur

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