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Fair winds at the Drake Passage

Crossing the Antarctic Convergence Area. 

Under relatively reduced canvas, Europa enjoyed a great sailing night. Early in the morning WSW wind picking up made for dousing and furling the Top Gallants, but still the Europa keeps a good speed between 6 to 7kn on her Southerly journey. Later in the afternoon it was possible again to set a bit more canvas to keep the good progress in slightly easing winds. Following this course today she sailed trough a noticeable change on the water and air temperatures.  

The cooling of several degrees on the surface water temperature tells us that we are entering the Antarctic system, leaving behind the relatively warmer Subantarctic waters. Around the whole of the White Continent, this oceanic area is known as the Polar Front or also called the Antarctic Convergence Area. Here the colder and denser waters from the South, sink under the lighter Sub Antarctic ones. Well known oceanographic feature nowadays, it was first measured in 1911 by a German scientific expedition led by Wilhelm Filchner on board the ship “Deutschland”. In those times, the knowledge of Antarctica was scarce, so, following his mountaineering and expeditionary spirits he succeeded on putting together and organise a privately funded enterprise to determine whether West and East Antarctic were connected by land or ice. For that, they centred their efforts on the virtually unknown coasts of the Weddell Sea. It was an eventful and adventurous journey that lasted a couple of years, including an unplanned overwintering. Despite a myriad of troubles and problems, they managed to sail further south than anyone else before, achieving important meteorological, geological and oceanographical observations. Amongst the latter, the ship’s oceanographer Brennecke, described the four isolated water masses in the Southern Ocean, Including the realisation of a sudden change in the salinity of surface waters flowing north, and an associated steep temperature plunge. He just had discovered the Antarctic Convergence, a consistent boundary to define the start of the Antarctic region. 

This convergence and mixing waters seem to be one of the preferred habitat for some species, and its not rare to spot cetaceans like the Hourglass dolphins that joined the ship for a while during the day. These beautifully black and white colour patterned dolphins are the ones that can be seen reaching the southernmost latitudes around the Polar Front, while no other species venture so far south. 

Often foggy weather accompany the cooling of the air and water temperatures, and like that, the sunny skies under which we sailed yesterday had become grey and misty. Luckily the sea state didn’t changed much during the morning, even abating later on. Anyway, that didn’t seem to encourage more of the seasick voyage crew to leave their bunks and give it a try with their watches at the wheel or on the lookouts, tasks left for just a handful of them with the assistance of some permanent crew members. Situation that gradually changed and improved along the evening when more and more people seem to have adapted to the ship’s motion. 

So far, fortunately a fair Drake Passage has helped on the sailing management, finding ourselves today just about a day from reaching the shores of South Shetland Islands. 

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Guide | Bark Europa

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