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Juan Fernandez Archipelago

Variable Westerly winds and squalls with land at sight in the morning.  

From a steady light southerly breeze that has been blowing for the last couple of days, today things started to change. The deep low-pressure system located further south along the Chilean coast is starting to have a stronger effect on the wind pattern in the area where we sail. In the early morning, the light winds of about 10kn started to veer to a Southwesterly, now and then coming all the way to the west, just to come back again. The wind shift made for bracing sharp on port tack during the night and steering on a different course, adapting to the breeze’s moods but now heading in a northerly direction. 

During the day, the wind picked up, close to the 20kn with sudden peaks now and then due to the numerous passing squalls. Not a rare atmospheric development in subtropical areas such as where we find ourselves during this trip. Getting away from the coastline and with it gradually leaving behind the effects of the colder northbound Humboldt Current, the surface water temperature has increased to about 19ºC, which is 4ºC higher than where we were in Talcahuano, while the air temperature hasn’t remarkably come up to more than 15ºC, which helps the evaporation rates from the sea surface. This, together with our position at the northern edge of a low-pressure system with its frontal activity makes for an increase in atmospheric instability. That all translates in the developing clouds we are seeing along the day, some of which fall again to the ocean surface producing sudden and sharp increases in the wind and shifts in direction that usually lasts just a few minutes, with rainfall associated. Between them, the good weather made today for continuing with the sail training talks on deck and a few occasions having the chance to enjoy the elegant flight around the ship of White-chinned petrels and a couple of Wandering albatrosses.  

A group of Common dolphins joins us for a while too, curious about the ship for a few minutes they bow-ride the Europa, but fast as they are, the pod leaves as soon as they prefer faster vessels to accompany. 

Also today, the crew took the opportunity to finish rigging the gear for the only sail we carry now that hasn’t been set yet, the Spanker. Its boom was brought on deck, repaired, and newly varnished during the shipyard period we just finished before the beginning of our voyage, and today it was time to finish the job and set it again.  

At dawn, the serrated contours of the mountainous islands of the Juan Fernandez Archipelago could be seen at our Port side. Just when the wind shifted to a westerly direction and our course diverts northwards, about 42nm from the islands. 

Juan Fernandez is a group of three main islands, one of the many that sprinkle the South Pacific Ocean, that were first seen by the Spanish Explorer and navigator Juan Fernandez in 1574. He came across them as he was trying an alternative route from Callao in Peru to Valparaiso in Chile, steering his ship further offshore than the since then more traditional route bordering the coastline. By doing so he could avoid the north-flowing waters of the Humboldt current and speed up the crossing. In this trip, he spotted two other islands, known as the Desventuradas, and some say that he could even have seen in the distance the remote Easter Island, although this sight has never been confirmed

Juan Fernandez, like the majority of those isolated islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, are of volcanic origin. Along the Peruvian-Chilean coastline, the continental shelf quickly slopes down into great depths, the so-called Peru-Chile Trench, where the tectonic plate of Nazca is being subducted under the continental South American Plate. The vulcanism, tectonics, and earthquakes this produces are the origin of the high mountains of the Andes. The volcanic Pacific islands originate from the movement of the Nazca Plate over several hotspots, plumes of anomalously hot deep materials from the mantle that ascend to the Oceanic crust, breaking through and eventually growing into islands. Nazca presents a few other microplates that join together in junctions where the vulcanism is or has been more active, the Galapagos Microplate to the north, and the Juan Fernandez one at the south. The Easter Island Microplate is a third one that is located just north of Juan Fernandez and lies west of Easter Island. 

Not many would be aware of the existence of this archipelago if it was not for Daniel Dafoe’s well-known novel “Robinson Crusoe” first published on 25 April 1719. The island called "Más a Tierra” (later renamed Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966) was home to the marooned sailor Alexander Selkirk for more than four years from 1704, and this story might have inspired Dafoe for this acclaimed book.

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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