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Crossing the Bransfield Strait

Gradually setting lower Staysails and head rig to help both our engines on our progress, we leave behind the Weddell Sea through the Antarctic Sound. Relatively clear skies over our heads offered a great sunset last evening, and stayed with us until the early morning, when we experienced quite a sudden wind shift as a Low Pressure System passed over our heads for the rest of the day. Westerly winds up to 20-25kn made for motorsailing with the staysails set and braces pulled on port tack, on a NW-ly course towards the open waters at the middle of the Bransfield Strait, the body of water that separates the South Shetlands from the Trinity Peninsula and the Joinville Island group. In the old times it took several expeditions and captains to realise its nature and characteristics. The Strait was first discovered on 20 January 1820 by Edward Bransfield, while he was in command of the 'Williams', but he thought it was a gulf. In the same voyage of exploration, William Smith, sailing as a Bransfield Pilot on his own ship, discovered the South Shetland Islands. The Strait was subsequently charted by sealers operating in the area. In the “Hero’s” logbook, written up by her captain Nathaniel Palmer, there is reference to Christmas Sound, and it is believed that what is meant by this is the Bransfield Strait. Its variable conditions are one of the reasons why it is known and respected by all who undertake its crossing. Even though it just takes between 80 and 130nm to sail across, its often unpredictable waters make it always interesting sailing. And paying tribute to this reputation, we experienced several wind changes, the most important one for us right before breakfast, when the wind started blowing from the NW. Moment that 
we have been waiting for, to change tack and head SW towards the southern shores of Livingston Island, located close to our goal for 
tomorrow morning, Deception Island. The wind shift came together with clouds that completely covered the sky and start discharging their rain, sleet and snow for the rest of the day. Luckily the variable winds, sometimes blowing at 5kn, sometimes up to 30kn, didn’t build up high seas, making for a bearable life on board, just slightly rolling and heeling, and allowing Jordi to give a talk about Penguins. We have seen many of them and our guides have been already talking, explaining and replying all sorts of questions about them during the several landings we had, but today we were more formally introduced to their biology, life, death and to the different species 
seen along our journey. Before diner we were already close to Livingston Island shores, striking and furling the staysails, still under variable winds that just kept picking up, while bergy bits and growlers started to pop up amongst the breaking waves. South Shetland Islands are also showing their untrustworthy character, when over 45kn of gusting winds welcomed us to their coasts. As we try to approach the southeastern point of Livingston Island, we were surprised by the gusts reaching 56kn and the confused
seas that washed over the decks as we turn southwards to the neighbour Deception Island. There, after three attempts to find a suitable spot for anchoring overnight under raging winds, finally the hook goes down next to the so called Sewing Machine Needles, close to the entrance to Deception’s volcanic caldera.

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Guide

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