Getting on our way to the Falkland Islands / Islas Malvinas. Familiarisations, training, and setting sail.
We wake up to a calm and sunny morning on our departure day after a last quiet night alongside the quay. If all goes as planned, it will take about 50 days to be in a port again.
Today, just like yesterday, every moment will be used for different activities. As such, right after our first breakfast on the ship and while waiting for the mandatory Pilot to board and accompany us off the harbor, Safety instructions and drills were given. Then all is ready to cast off our mooring lines, while some of the Europa off-signing crew stands at the harbor, waving goodbye and cheering us with their best wishes for the journey ahead.
Soon we found ourselves maneuvering through the reduced space left between other large ships to get off the port, and once into the more open waters the Pilot was picked up and off we went on our own, along the muddy and sediment-loaded waters of the huge Rio de la Plata.
This large river system opens to the sea on the shallow waters of an ample continental shelf that extends for over 100nm offshore. 5 to 10 meters in depth will be below the ship’s quill for almost the rest of the day, and it will only gradually increase as the days at sea pass by and we gain more distance from such a large estuary.
Nowadays, a well-known shallow area that with the aid of accurate nautical charts, satellite positioning, and modern depth sounders, makes for safe navigation. But we can just imagine how different were things about 500 years ago, when the European discoverer of this part of the world, Fernando de Magallanes, ventured into those unknown large shallows of Rio de la Plata, not finding any deep waters for days and days, neither miles offshore nor inland, while exploring, mapping and trying to find a connection between Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Europa deals today with a light breeze and calm conditions to start with, making for using her engines to make some progress. Five centuries ago that would have meant waiting for the wind, trying to keep a course over the shallow areas, not really knowing when it would blow again or if the quill would touch the ground at any moment.
Knowing nowadays the sea depth contours and the oceanographic characteristics of this part of the world, with the added advantage of counting with more or less accurate weather forecasts, we chose a route that will bring us south sailing close to the South American coast, while trying to avoid the strong northwards flowing Falkland Current. It introduces cold Subantarctic waters up the Argentinean coast with a flow that can become pretty strong. Just about in this area of Rio de la Plata is also where the Southwards flowing Brazilian current meets the former one, producing the steep changes in water temperature and local currents that we sure will meet during the next few days.
The relatively easy start of the trip allowed for a good beginning of the onboard training and familiarisation. Time to get acquainted with the ship and our duties on board as “Voyage Crew”. For the ones eager to go aloft, first, the climbing instructions came, then along the rest of the day all the watches got also the training and information about the works with the ropes on deck, lookout, and steering. Tasks for all of us to fulfill while the Europa sails between the different areas that we plan to visit during the trip.
In the meantime, the changeable breeze made for setting some sail and taking them down a couple of times until later on, when blowing a touch steadier, made it for setting top sails and some of our staysails in the dimming light of the evening and early night.
Out in the sea, something quite spectacular and extraordinary was happening. A myriad of tiny bioluminescent Planktonic microorganisms seem to bloom in the area, shining their light whenever and wherever the water surface is disturbed. Sure the mixing waters of the open ocean with the sediment and nutrient-loaded ones from the large river system of Rio de la Plata offers a perfect habitat for countless plankton species.
The water illuminates with a characteristic cold blue-green light at the breaking wave of Europa’s bow, her port and starboard sides, and her wake. But not just this, amazingly the whole sea seems to glow as the wind breaks the waves at the water surface all around. Nobody on board, even the permanent crew themselves, has ever seen this phenomenon at this scale.
A night to remember, furthermore been the first one at sea of our voyage.