Fair winds, great sailing and good speed towards South Georgia, until the Europa heads Eastwards during the night… following the edge of A76A.
Flying along through a damp dark night, as it reads in the ship’s logbook. That’s how the new day started. Today, fair winds get us the chance for keeping the good and fast sailing.
Just a few adjustments on sails and braces were necessary now and then. First when by midday the wind backed to a more Westerly and slightly eased down. Time for squaring a bit our yards to sail towards South Georgia. A stronger puff made for quickly dousing the Main Top Gallant, to be set once the small shower passed. Not just this, but later on the remaining canvas that can be set at the moment is hoisted. All Jibs, Upper Staysails and Main Royal catch the favourable wind.
In the library the last touches to the damaged Fore Top Gallant are done, soon ready to be bent-on once more.
So far yet another quite uneventful journey characterised by the good speed, nice sailing and moderate seas.
But at night things were about to change.
A sharp long edge shows on the radar. What could it be?
Line of squall? rogue wave? Just in case Royal, Higher Staysails, Jibs, Fore Top Mast Staysail and Desmond are pulled down and stowed away in preparation. But… the signal on the radar doesn’t move, doesn’t advance or change shape. Land? no, there’s no islands in the middle of the Scotia Sea. Then, it’s an iceberg, a huge tabular iceberg straight on our way.
Change of course necessary, now steering Eastwards along its border. For how long? When we will be able to head again on a course towards South Georgia? Still to see when the Europa will round the corner of such a tabular, a few hours at least.
A quick research reveals that we encountered one of the largest icebergs that is drifting around nowadays. The so called A76A, 73 nautical miles in length and 14 nautical miles wide.
Icebergs larger than 10 nautical miles along at least one axis, deserve an official designation by the US National ice Center (NIC). And their names refers to its area of origin (A = longitude 0° to 90° W, Bellingshausen and Weddell Seas, B = 90°W to 180°, Amundsen and Eastern Ross Sea, C = 90° E to 180°, Western Ross Sea, Wilkes Land, and finally D = 0° to 90° E, Amery Ice Shelf and Eastern Weddell).
From the designation A-76A, we could tell that it derived from the iceberg A-76, the largest floating iceberg at the time of it calving (May 2021), originating from the Filchner-Ronne iceshelf of the Weddell Sea. Its original proportions were measured to a staggering 170 km by 25 km, or a total size of about 4250 km2, and A-76A is one of three known fragments of this mega-iceberg.
Scotia Sea reminds us, never be off guard in its waters, never take anything for granted, as any minute unexpected circumstances could come into play. When its not showers and squalls, gales, fog, then it is the howling winds that can sweep along those oceanic waters, blizzards or often both sea and glacier ice drift here as well. Now and then a large tabular iceberg escapes the Weddell Sea Gyre and travels to lower latitudes, sometimes reaching the South Georgia coasts and beyond.
Sailing those remote areas, finding out its temperamental spirit, its mysteries, its monumental icebergs, we are just a small speck on the vastness of this Southern Ocean. Flying over 20 sails above 56 metres in length of old good steel, whatsoever dwarfed by such feared seas. A part of the oceanic atmospheric Low Pressure Systems highway that runs around the planet at those latitudes in the southern hemisphere: the Screaming Sixties, the Furious Fifties, the Roaring Forties.
Modern equipment and technology fits Europa’s deckhouse for a safe navigation. Possibilities of getting daily wind forecasts allow for good preparation for what’s to come, planning and routing accordingly. Depth meter shows what’s below the quill when needed. Radar can display the contours of whatever solid object is at range, also including rain or squalls. All an all helping to reduce the sudden surprises. Of course the expectation of the unexpected keeps all sharp. But we can only be amazed of the risk levels and the sort of sailors and explorers that initially ventured into this harsh world. Completely unknown areas for them, the first discoverers sailed here without any of this technology that nowadays we consider essential, on board far more vulnerable vessels. Icebergs of the kind we just came across during the dark night, would have represented an incredible hazard for their navigation, just based on the keen eyes of the lookouts. Noticing it miles away as it shows on our radar, we had space and time enough for dousing sail, manoeuvre, change course. Relying on simply eye sight, icebergs would have loomed over the heads of those brave old navigators in the darkness of the moonless night.
"We must always remember with gratitude and admiration the first sailors who steered their vessels through storms and mists, and increased our knowledge of the lands of ice in the South.”
Roald Amundsen (1872—1928)