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Fair breeze to set sail on our way to Easter Island

A new episode on Europa’s Ocean wanderings has started. Now into the Pacific. Polynesia, Melanesia, evocative destinations of paradisiacal islands, warm waters, sandy beaches, forests, palm and coconut trees, and welcoming local populations. A countless spread of islands and reefs, all with their own character, different landscapes, distinct people with their own customs and traditions. 

In the past the Europa made another large incursion into the Pacific Ocean north of the equator about 20 years ago, reaching Japan and Korea, with Easter Island on the way back. Sailing along the Pacific coast of South America was 14 years ago, but she didn’t venture westwards into its open waters on that occasion. Now she is sailing from the Chilean coasts to the South Pacific Islands, along a vast Ocean.  

Although the largest and deepest of the World’s oceans, the Europeans had a first glimpse of it when the Spanish conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa crossed the Panama Isthmus in 1513, during an expedition in search of gold and treasures. But the riches were nothing compared to the significance of discovering and claiming possession for the Spanish Crown of what he named the “South Sea”. 

An expanse of water with an area of 165.250.000 square kilometers, covering about 46% of Earth's water surface and about 32% of the planet's total extent, larger than its entire land area. 

Six years later, the expedition led by Ferdinand Magellan and Juan Sebastián Elcano was the European pioneer in crossing this Ocean, in a voyage that culminated being the first world circumnavigation. From then on, the South Sea was renamed Pacific, as its weather and waters were easier manageable than the stormy and windy times they had in Patagonia and rounding South America, from where they set sail westwards into the unknown. 

Other voyages followed between the 15th and 17th Centuries. Basically, Spanish expeditions were motivated by the search for gold and by fundamentalist fervor to extend Christianity. Nevertheless, gradually more and more of the Pacific Islands were being found during this process. But their trips were driven too by the will to find a mythical Southern Continent, what could be better than finding a whole new world to tackle their purposes? 

Legends of Terra Australis Incognita date back from antiquity. Already in the fourth century B.C. Aristotle theorized about a large unknown landmass in the southern hemisphere. Legends and myths gained interest and became typical in medieval cartography and interpretation of the world. Many of the European discoveries in the Pacific Ocean emerged from those expeditionary trips seeking for the legendary lands. Some of the well-known names on this quest are for instance: Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira in an expedition together with Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa (1567-68), which set sail from Peru with the goal of proving the believed existence of this great South Land. Instead, they managed to encounter the Solomon Islands and sailed to the Philippines. Subsequent Spanish expeditions discovered Tuvalu, the Marquesas, the Cook Islands, the Admiralty Islands, and Pitcairn. In 1722, the Dutchman Jacob Roggeveen sailed from Cape Horn to Batavia and discovered Easter Island and Samoa. 35 years later, the British naval officer Samuel Wallis made the first European landfall on Tahiti. A bit further west, Australia fist first documented landing by a European was in 1606. The Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon landed on the western side of Cape York Peninsula and charted about 300 km of coastline. In the following years, several Dutch expeditions contributed a great deal to Europe's knowledge of Australia's coast. But we have to wait until 1770 to see Captain Cook landing on the East Coast as he searched too for the Unknown South Land in his voyages. 

While Indigenous Australians have inhabited the continent for tens of thousands of years, Cook put it on the map reporting fertile lands of vast extent and setting a base for the English colonisation. His voyages of exploration are a turning point not only in the history of the British Empire but also in the history of science and exploration of the Pacific. 

The vast majority of Melanesia and Polynesia were also inhabited when the Europeans found them. The first time these islands saw human presence is still a matter of debate. Apparently, it was already between 4000 and 3000 years ago that humans first set foot on the isolated islands of the Pacific, having sailed across thousands of miles of ocean. 

It is time for the Europa to head to such places, facing the Pacific waters towards Easter Island after leaving behind Talcahuano, the Chilean naval port well nested in a large sheltered bay that has been her home for the last three weeks of maintenance and preparations. First, she came across an area with light variable winds and had to use her engines. Gradually some staysails were hoisted, and today we set more sail! Under clear skies, now and then darkened by a passing shower, she spread all her canvas to a good South and Southwesterly breeze. Enough to turn her motors off and sail at between 4 to 6kn of speed on a good 280º to 300º course, while gently rolling on the long swell.  

By the evening meeting time, which happens daily after dinner, the captain tells us about our progress. We are 150nm away from the Chilean coast, after having sailed 132nm in the last 24 hours. With the wind shifts, motoring, and sailing in a couple of different courses, all put together it positions the ship 100nm closer to Easter Island than yesterday at 20:00h. 

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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