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First Icebergs

Another typical day in the Southern ocean, with heavy weather and wind changes and lot of wildlife around. Prions, Giant Petrels; Grey headed, Light Mantled, Black browed and Wandering albatrosses, a solitary Skua and several Humpback and Fin whale sights amid the waves and strong winds. First Icebergs show up in the radar and are spotted by the lookouts.

During the few hours of darkness that we are having now, as we sail southwards and the daylight period increases, the weather becomes unstable and the wind shifts a bit up and down in direction and strength, moving around the SW-ly quarter. On that conditions Royals and Upper Staysails remain furled as we still sail under fair winds in a course straight to South Georgia. As we enter deeper into Antarctic waters, leaving the instability area of the polar Front behind, the weather improves and soon we sail under much clearer skies again.

With the braces sharp in Starboard tack, we heel to Port side while the swell washes the Main deck from time to time. This situation does not allow to keep going with the sail repairs out on deck and the dry and warm library becomes again the “sail-maker workshop”. Still two sails in process of being fixed, the big Outer Jib and the Spanker. Before the change of watch at breakfast time the wind veered, becoming W-ly. We braced squarer accordingly as the warm early morning sun lights our canvas. Our speed on a good SE-ly course to South Georgia increases to more than 8kn.

As the hours pass by the W-ly wind gradually increase, but no showers or squalls are in the horizon, so the Royals can come up again, while we sail at 9.5kn. Temperature is around 4ºC during the day, but despite the sunny weather the wind-chill effect make it feel colder. Once we crossed the Polar Front, the water temperature now stabilises between 3 to 3.8ºC. Under those conditions Lex takes the chance to talk with us about the conservation of albatrosses and the problems that long-line fisheries and the plastics in the ocean represent for their survival and breeding success. Two heart-breaking short documentaries are also broadcasted about those issues.

From noon to noon we have sailed 165nm at an average speed of 6.9kn on a 142º course, leaving South Georgia further to the East as is forecasted that the wind will become more SW-ly, moment when we can change course Eastwards straight towards the island, 172nm from us. After lunch the wind picks up to over 30kn and it kept increasing during the afternoon and evening, all seasoned with a couple of squalls passing by with stronger winds associated. Blowing and shifting over all W-ly quadrant it makes difficult to keep a steady course. First Royals come down and are furled, and later on the Top Gallants as well, followed by more canvas to be stowed away.

The Europa rolls, sailing Broad Reach those strong winds and rising seas, under double sheeted Lower Staysails, Fore Top Mast Staysail, Inner Jib, Storm sail in the Mizzen Mast and Squares up to Upper Top Sails, with gusts reaching almost 40kn. And then, between the afternoon coffee time and dinner, first icebergs of our trip show up in the radar. Several big tabular icebergs drifting off the Weddell Sea are around. One of them around a mile and a half from the ship is the attraction of the afternoon, and we all can have a good look at it, stepping outside the deckhouse and our cabins with our cameras and harnesses to clip on the safety lines on the decks, while dealing with strong gusts and rough seas.

Temperature decreases during the afternoon and evening, down to 2ºC while Europa sails rough seas festooned with icebergs here and there. Speeding up to 7 to 8kn, Captain and Mate decide to clue up the Courses to reduce speed and gain manoeuvrability. Lookouts are asked to pay special attention to bergy bits and growlers, smaller pieces of ice broken from the big tabulars. Voyage crew is joined by a permanent crew member in the Fore Deck to have a good look around as we still keep our way under sail at 5 to 6kn. We all have the chance to warm up a bit joining Klaas and our guides on today’s eight o’clockie. Important information is given about the rough sailing conditions, keep good lookout and a general briefing to prepare all of us for our arrival and start of our activities ashore. A necessary reminder about history, code of conduct, biosecurity and Europa operations in this intriguing and amazing nature’s bounty that is South Georgia Island.

As night time takes over, the ice lights at the tip of the bow sprit are turned on. Those lights will be lookouts best friends during the navigation in the iceberg filled Antarctic waters.

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