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Heavy weather sailing on the Drake

A day of wind force and direction that keep us at the narrow edge of setting more canvas, quickly dousing it or keeping it braving the blustery conditions.

It blows strong from the WNW to W, even sometimes backing to WSW during passing squalls. Europa is close-hauled, heading as close as possible to the direction of the wind, not to loose her Westing or just being able to steer north.

The early morning sees hands on deck and aloft starting to set more canvas. Royals, Courses and Outer Jib join the sail configuration providing the pull and speed to turn the engines off and sail again.

The good weather, fair wind and great sailing make for a wonderful first coffee of the day out on deck. But soon the ship gradually starts to heel more and more to starboard, wind increases, waves grow. Now and then black clouds pass ahead of us or just at our back. Sometimes we sail through them. Loaded with wind and light rain demand a close look from the steersman at the course to take, and from the crew to stand-by ready to douse sail.

From mid morning on, the weather starts to deteriorate, and though the sun shines, the squalls run over the seas more frequently. And angry squalls they are, stirring the seas and gusting often over 40 or 45kn. They make for paying attention to the wheel, often having to bear away. On deck Royals drop and rise again several times until the wind stays steady and strong around the 30kn, then 35, then 40 once more.

Captain calls on her crew: “Clew up Main and Fore Royals”  then, “climb aloft and furl them”. A few moments later “Take those Top Gallants down and stow them away”!

The afternoon comes with rising winds and growing swell. Europa sails hard, pushing her rig and making fast way northwards. Her leeward deck is continuously underwater as the seas sweep over her railing. The hull pitches and rolls and takes the beating of the angry seas. The wind whistles and growls as it pass through the rig, masts, yards sails and the spiderweb of lines and steel stays.

After dinner, preparing the ship for the night time and strong winds and showers. Outer Jib comes down, and over the Main deck the large Desmond is replaced by the smaller Aap, reducing thus the pressure on her rig, her heeling too, making for a more comfortable run but at the cost of lessen a bit her speed too.

That has been the story of Europa’s entry to the Subantarctic world. Water is now over 6ºC, definitely she left behind the Antarctic system. Forceful winds, powerful squalls and big seas welcomed her to the Subantarctic waters as she sails about a hundred miles southeast of  the legendary Cape Horn.

I often think of the nineteenth-century square-rigger men.

How could have done it?

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself since the storm began. It’s the question I have come to Cape Horn to try to answer.

Day after day, week after week, summer or winter, wind-ship sailors endured just the sort of battering wind and deluge we are comfortably observing.


Derek Lundy. “The Way of a Ship. A Square-Rigger Voyage in the Last Days of Sail”


Days like today make us really wonder how the old sailing ships, bound to the unknown or later loaded with heavy cargo with crews always up to endure any circumstance, could make their ways in those heavy seas.

The ships were wonderful and ready for it, the rig powerful, the sails heavy. The crew lived often undernourished, in their small and wretched dwellings with no heat of light. The highly technological textiles we wear nowadays were just cotton, wool and leaky oilskins. No hallways with plenty heating radiators to dry stuff, the clothes slightly dried just by wearing them night and day. The food had nothing to do with the delicacies we are served in the Europa. On board nothing of the sorts of our dry, warm and comfortable deckhouse, lounge or library. Tiny dripping berths or hammocks instead of our cozy bunks. No safety aloft climbing over cold, wet or icy shrouds, ratlines, ladders, harnesses, carabiners, safety lines, still would take a long time to be used on Tall Ships.

Their endurance, their determination, their routes of trading and discovery is what has evolved in what we try to do nowadays, making trips to still remote areas, wandering the oceans under good weather or dreadful climate, calm seas or stormy conditions. Always learning the sailing methods and procedures, the ship’s ways and routines. Always offering not just a trip to a destination but also the full experience of a voyage.

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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