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Last day in the Drake Passage

Arrival to South Shetland Islands under full sail after a great crossing.  

A fantastic crossing of the Drake Passage has brought us to the last day of good sailing before reaching the hostile looking coasts of the South Shetland Islands.  

A night of passing squalls and showers as the Europa leave behind the temperate subantarctic area and sails into the colder Antarctic waters, lead to a morning under the sun shining amongst some high clouds.  

A variety of seabirds seem to enjoy too the 25 to 30kn of wind and the good weather. A few of the elegant Light mantled albatrosses fly by close to us during the morning, and along the day now and then a Black browed show up while several Soft plumaged, Giant and Wilson storm petrels can be seen during the journey,. 

Under fair Northwesterly winds and calmer seas the Europa makes a fast progress under full canvas, straight to the south of the archipelago. Occasional snow squalls sweep over her path making for quickly dousing the higher canvas just to be set again once the showers pass.  

In the late afternoon the higher Staysail’s and Royals come down and are furled, while the firsts lands of Antarctica barely reveal their jagged and icy landscapes amongst the low clouds.  

A cautious approach avoiding rocks and shallows is required to the south of Livingston Island, so after the terrific sailing we had since the Europa hit the open waters of the Drake, tonight is time to slow down, timing the dropping anchor close to our first planned landing site with the first daylight. 

Before the end of the day Top Gallants and Courses are clewed up and stowed away, together with the Outer Jib, Middle Staysails and Spanker. In the darkness and under the moonlight, the Europa gets closer and closer to her first destination in the South Shetlands. Time when we could hear the roar of the engines for the last bit before arriving, inn the easing winds on the shelter of the land around. 

Livingston Island was officially first sighted on the 16th January 1820 by Captain Edward Bransfield, in command of the Williams. Large and crowned by jagged high peaks covered by glaciers, ice fields and snow, is considered by many the most beautiful of the South Shetlands. 

Several claimed the first sights and landings at this remote archipelago, including North American sealers who used to conceal their discoveries to keep the hunting grounds for themselves. But officially was in 1819 when the merchant captain William Smith found them after being blown off southwards from the trading route around the Horn. 

Antarctic lands that had eluded illustrious sailors like Captain Cook, who in 1772 managed to circumnavigate Antarctica without even seeing the continent or any of its islands, although he sailed his two ships, Resolution and Adventure, as far south as 71° 10’ S between the Antarctic Bellingshausen and Amundsen Seas. He then focused his attention on South Georgia Island, landing there and making accurate maps and charts.  

Captain William Smith, once back from his adventures that led to the first sight of the islands, reported those legendary lands, home for great numbers of seals and whales. Fact that started to catch the attention of sealers and whalers, hesitant though of venturing so far south into perilous icy waters until the discoveries were well proved. Smith sailed south again, this time even managing a landing at King George island. Now he raised the attention of the British Admiralty, which put together a new expedition under the command of Captain Edward Bransfield. Its success made for yet another journey during which bringing back a good cargo of seal skins would repay for it. 

By then, loose tongues of drunken sailors have already reached more and more ears of the sealer fleets and at their arrival to the islands they found already over forty British and American sealing vessels. Still nowadays here and there remains of their doings can be found on some beaches of the South Shetlands. 

Legendary lands where we plan to set foot tomorrow morning if the typical stormy weather of the area will allow it.  On board all is ready for the occasion, preparations for arrival have been made and the mandatory Biosecurity procedures have taken place to try avoiding the introduction of seeds, mud or any dirt alien to the Antarctic system. Everybody attended the mandatory briefing of the “International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO)”. A membership association that set up the rules and code of conduct for visitors ashore, to conduct safe and environmentally friendly touristic operations in Antarctica, in the frame of the Antarctic Treaty agreements.

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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