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Good speed sailing on favorable winds on the Scotia Sea. Getting closer to South Georgia

Long, cold and windy night, sailing at a good speed but still on a heavily rolling ship, riding the big swells of the Scotia Sea. What seems to be a vast expand of open ocean, hide some surprises
occasionally in the form of scattered icebergs and growlers, difficult to spot on a water surface where the swells break due to the strong winds. During the dark hours of the early morning, the potent Ice lights located at the end of the bowsprit are on. But is not only the numerous prions, Black-browed albatross and the occasional Wandering albatross that shine when they fly close by…  before a cloudy dawn welcome us to the new day, a call in the radio is heard “Growlers ahead!”. From the wheelhouse some swift maneuvering kept us clear of them. Those will be the last remains of ice for the night, but nevertheless they clearly show us the need for good lookouts on the Fore-deck by the Voyage Crew, and up the mast by one of the Permanent crew members. In cold and snowy nights like this, when sleepy as we are, we have to pay good attention at the wheel, plus keep good concentration during the lookouts and with good amount of canvas set sailing at a good speed, we can start getting a glimpse of the old sailor’s life. With a life ruled by the sea watches and always busy. Sure many of us, while ashore and living a completely different lives than the one we are now experiencing, could imagine that once at sea life of a sailor is easy or have a romantic view of it. Maybe thinking that after finishing a dry dock period or mooring alongside a city pier, where things are changed and repaired, and all gets ready for departure, it is all “just about sailing the ship”… well, after all those past days at sea we start seeing that those simple words imply much more that we
could ever imagine during our land based lives. Shifting and powerful winds call for sailhandling in any kind of weather at any time, the frequent squalls and storms take the best of us out on deck, steering duties and lookouts must be kept all the time in any condition, and maintenance is continuous. There are always sails to furl and unfurl, sheets to be tighten or loose, braces to be trimmed, ropes to change, sails to repair, blocks to scrape, sand and varnish. And of course, there is just one way to keep the ship in order and reasonable tidy, keep cleaning her every day aside all these other tasks. Modern technology helps in many of those jobs at sea: for instance engines can push us against winds, radars can also show many of the icebergs and passing storms, computers can model and show wind forecasts, all inestimable aids for nowadays navigation when most of the ships at sea are tight to schedules. The busy night for the different lookouts trying to spot the infrequent bergy bits around, gave way to a cloudy morning. But at least, as no ice had been seen for several of the 30 minutes, the ice watches up the mast are cancelled and just sharp lookouts from deck are necessary. The wind also experiences some changes, now blowing from WSW with a tendency to ease down and keep veering. Under this situation the Mate decides to Wear ship to Port Tack before the morning coffee time. In this maneuver we turn the ship around making pass the stern through the wind to engage a new course. For this some good coordination is needed to brace the Fore yards and Main yards in time, together with sheeting the staysails on the opposite side. Once finished, we find ourselves steering on a more NE-ly course and setting more canvas to keep some speed on the decreasing winds.  Top Gallants and Royals are unfurled and set, but variable blows now and then and occasional squalls passing by make for taking away the Royals a while after. Like this we sail during the afternoon, with changeable winds of between 23 up to 30kn and slowly turning to W by S. On a course of 45 to 50º we can keep a good speed between 7.5 to 9kn. Later on, under W-ly winds some more sails can be added to the configuration. Now sailing no longer completely downwind but a bit closer to Beam reach, Lower Staysails (Fore Top Mast Staysail, Dekzwabber, Desmond) are hoisted, keeping us at a good pace towards South Georgia at 8 to over 9kn. Since we have been keeping great sailing conditions and speed since leaving the rough coasts of Elephant Island behind, so far it all has made for a quite fast crossing to South Georgia. If all goes approximately on that way, we estimate to arrive to the island about a day before our scheduled time. Anyway, looking ahead at the wind
forecast for the next days, it looks like strong blasts are going to catch up with us, but before the conditions will calm down. That makes for a still unpredictable arrival time, when most probably first of all we will have to look for some shelter before the conditions look more promising to land. The chance for a bit earlier arrival means the necessity to start the mandatory biosecurity clean-ups and checks before doing any activity ashore, started today and they will run also during the next days. Also tomorrow will be the day for briefings and preparations before arrival. But while still enjoying the sailing, the presence of Fur seals groups purposing and the increasing number of seabirds spotted, delate the proximity of land. Also Hourglass dolphins visited us several occasions. Those small
oceanic dolphins, fast as they are, they seem to enjoy racing the same big swells we ride. Eventually bow-riding the ship, today they didn’t stay too long with us. Just enough time to allow us to have a quick look at them, with their black back and white hourglass pattern on their side. Frequently leaping off the water, today they preferred to travel close to the surface with their dorsal fins breaking the waves raising a splash in front of it. They are characteristic of those Subantarctic and Antarctic waters, being the most common dolphin at those latitudes, and the only one that is frequently spotted around the Polar Front area and even South of it.

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Guide

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