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Departure from Ushuaia

After last windy evening and night the new day welcomes us with overcast skies and flat calm conditions. During breakfast the pilot and local authorities were already on board to clear us out of Argentina before starting our trip, and soon we drive the ship for the short distance to the bunkering area. Mooring lines come off and soon are tied up again in the neighbour pier, then is time for taking on some fuel in our tanks. In the meantime we have breakfast and straight afterwards we do the mandatory briefing regarding Safety on board. Afterwards, everything is ready for departure, and we start our trip along the Beagle Channel, leaving Ushuaia behind and heading for Antarctica.

But first things first, before starting our watch system we are familiarised with the ship and our duties, like helming, lookout and first notions about the sails and rope handling. During the day we also got time for our first lessons on climbing instructions, essential if we pretend to climb the rigging during the trip. While we are being familiarized with the ship and our tasks, crew starts setting some canvas under SSW winds of 14 kn. Lower and upper topsails together with the topgallants are set, and after coffee time the fore top mast staysail, inner jib, lower and middle staysails are also set. Beagle Channel is known for its variable winds, and today was not an exception. Soon it’s blowing from the WNW and decreasing, Dekzwabber and Desmond are taken down as we approach Puerto Williams.

On the Chilean side of the Beagle, this settlement holds the title of southernmost town in the world, and in comparison with the teeming streets of Ushuaia, it’s a much calmer location. With this wind we swap the staysails to the other side and brace slightly to Port Tack. But the wind keeps veering northwards and keeps us busy with bracing during lunch as we border Isla Martillo. At both sides of the ship green meadows and forested mountains wave us farewell before entering the infamous Drake Passage, the 500nm of rough open ocean separating South America from the Antarctic Peninsula. These are the evergreen temperate rain-forests of the Magellanic Region, dominated by three endemic species of Nothofagus, together with other species like Canelo (Drymis winteri) y Leñadura (Maytenus magellanica). We enjoy the last forests and green slopes we will see during our trip until coming back to Ushuaia. From now on, windy and swell waters will lead us to the rocks and ice of Antarctica. Reaching the East entrance of the Beagle Channel, as we approach the Chilean Islands Picton, Nueva and Lennox, the mandatory pilot that has been with us for the day is taken off the ship. Afterwards we take away the square sails, setting again the lower staysails and the spanker.

After sailing the protected areas of the channels, next thing is to face the open waters east of Cape Horn archipelago and the famed Drake Passage. For the next few days all together we will sail the ship across it to reach the South Shetland Archipelago, the first land we expect to visit in Antarctica. After dinner we were already rounding Nueva Island and heading to more open waters, where the W-ly wind becomes steadier at 12kn, even though still with variability as we sail pass several rain showers and small squalls. Then we start setting again more sail, and as a butterfly emerging from its cocoon stretching its wings, Europa spreads almost all her canvas during the next hour. Just upper staysails and the gaff topsail remain furled. Soon engines are shut off and we steer on a 150º to 175ºº course, with some adjustments on it and the bracing as the night progresses. At midnight, on dying winds we start one of our engines as well to help on our progress and maintain the speed necessary to reach Antarctica on our planned schedule. But later on, past 01:00 all square sails start backing on light headwinds and the staysails flap around. Time to take all our canvas away and motor again our way Southwards.

Along the way through the Beagle Channel we spotted quite a lot of the Patagonian fauna. Swimming close by Magellanic penguins look surprised as we sail eastwards, while South American terns, Kelp gulls, Skua’s, Giant petrels and groups of Black-browed albatrosses fly around. Rock and Imperial shags whoosh in groups coming and going from their nesting sites along the channel. Also first marine mammals swim along. Several groups of Peale’s dolphins join us for a while, amused by the bow wave that Europa creates as she sails, and later on some Dusky dolphins join us as well. Both those species are small and robust, widespread on the coastal waters (in the channels and over the continental shelf and slope, and sometimes Dusky are found also in deeper areas) of the temperate seas of the Southern Hemisphere; with the Peale’s having a more restricted distribution around the Southernmost tip of South America. They are usually found in groups, but while Peale’s move around in smaller pods, Dusky sometimes gather together up to around thousand individuals. Like this they cooperate for feeding or schooling fish.

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