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Fair winds from the South backing to a good south-easterly

A full week has passed since the beginning of our voyage into the South Pacific. A week of sailing in different courses pulled by the variable winds that characterize the area of this ocean that runs between the northwards flowing Humboldt current, the calms of the center of the south pacific gyre to the west, the prevailing westerlies in the south and the south-easterly trade winds to the north. 

Now under the effect of the northern edge of a characteristic high pressure system that sits at the divergence of trade winds and the westerlies, last night the wind started to back from the light southerly we had for the last day. Time for some preparations on deck, waiting for a more definitive shift to a forecasted fair south-easterly. Braces are pulled squarer and Europa starts sailing on a good beam reach wind that blows steadier and stronger, between 15 to 20kn. 

We leave behind the 30º latitudes and sail in the high 20º’s on a westerly course toward Easter Island. 

With this wind that is predicted to last a few days, plus expecting afterward a lighter breeze from behind, today the crew began readying more canvas that can be set in these conditions, the studding sails. Those are extra sails to use only in fair weather that are set outboard of the squares, hoisted by halyards placed up the rig, and attached on booms that act as an extension of the yards. So, quite a job to prepare everything before they are ready to be set. First, the wooden booms are unlashed from the masts where they have been stowed away since the start of the Antarctic season and brought on deck for sanding and varnishing, then blocks and lines have to be rigged aloft and on deck, and finally, the sails themselves need a good check before being hoisted. It will take a couple of days before they are up there catching wind. 

The good weather and favourable winds were making for a nice speed, giving today a good opportunity to practice a man overboard drill. Once the signal is given, all hands are on deck clewing up and lowering all squares and most of the staysails and jibs. In a few minutes, the Europa goes from full sail to barely a couple of staysails, her engines on pulling in reverse. In another handful of minutes the buoy that was deployed to simulate a victim is already on board together with the crew members involved in the swimming and collecting it. Straight away we consider the exercise finished and resume our way, setting all canvas again. 

By dusk, with the sun setting and the light dimming, a large school of active and beautifully patterned striped dolphins join us for a while. 

From having the braces sharp on port tack to sailing beam reach, from the southerly breeze to a good south-easterly, also with the changes of course to westwards from a north-westerly direction, including the passing of a couple of weak squalls and a short stop for the drill, during the last 24 hours we have sailed 142nm.  

Still, our goal, the remote Easter Island, lies over 1500nm ahead of us. It seems a long distance to cover, but nothing compared with the upcoming planned destinations for the rest of Europa’s adventures in the South Pacific. The next one, Tahiti, 3800nm away. The last one before the ship will turn around and head east towards Cape Horn, New Caledonia, over 6100nm from our position. 

A thought on these numbers and a look at the chart gives us an idea of the considerable size of the Pacific. The largest water mass on earth. Without maps and charts, as we know them nowadays, navigators from East Asia ventured into its waters sailing on a westerly course. For them, it took from about the year 1500 BC starting in Melanesia to 1200 AD to reach the islands of Hawaii and Easter Island. But another story was the sailing of this ocean in the opposite direction. The Magellan-El Cano expedition around the world lasting from 1519 to 1522 proved that the waters from the west coast of South America extended all the way to Asia. Information gathered during this voyage, together with the mapping of some areas of the Pacific South American coast since Vasco Núñez de Balboa reached it in 1513, the knowledge collected from António de Abreu and Francisco Serrão in the first contact of European navigators with the western edge of the Pacific Ocean in Indonesia and the East Indies in 1512, plus Jorge Álvares's expedition to Southern China in 1513 and the exploration of North America in 1524-25 by Estêvão Gomes, it all made for the elaboration of the first map showing the Pacific at about its proper huge size, the so-called Padrón Real. Its author, the Spanish Diogo Ribero in 1527. 

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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