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Neko

Last night we started our way motoring through the Neumayer Channel and across the Gerlache Strait on our way to Andvord Bay. Yet another name that reminds of the Belgica expedition under Gerlache command (1897-99), as it was roughly charted by them in 1898, and named “Baie Andvord”, after Rolf Andvord, Belgian Consul in Christiania (Oslo) at that time. We arrived in the morning to one of its small inner bays, Neko Harbor. During the early hours of the day we zigzag amongst icebergs on flat calm conditions and mirroring waters over the sensational mountain scenery. With the calm conditions and low temperatures we are lucky enough to witness the formation of sea ice, as the Europa makes her way through areas where the water surface is freezing. As soon as the wind picks up ruffling the sea this newly formed ice soon disappears. 

Suddenly, as we approach the landing site for today, from 2 knots of wind, it picks up to 25-30 knots, coming straight from the glaciers in front of us. Elskarin and Eric prefer not to anchor on those windy conditions and drifting ice, while Jordi prefers to wait a bit to launch the zodiacs and start operations to check how the wind situation is evolving. After an hour the wind stabilises at around 20 knots. The three bells were rung and we gathered for some instructions and information about the site and its history. Jordi warned about the glacier that almost surrounds Neko Harbour: should any big chunks come off while we are on the beach, we should immediately head up to the slopes (just like the penguins are accustomed to) to avoid the risk of getting washed by the waves which result from the calving. Soon we landed on the cobble beach where Gentoos nest all around. Almost all of us enjoyed a bit of hiking up the hills of Neko, to get fantastic panoramic views over the whole area from a vantage high point, where Annuka and Bob guided us.

With most of the people gone up the hills, the shoreline became quiet again. Jordi accompanied by a couple of us enjoyed the silent beach following the movements of seagulls and penguins in their way in and out of the water, purposing, and having baths in the shoreline. We all got the chance to enjoy some time in silence. Then one can appreciate the grandeur this continent has to offer, immersed on our own thoughts, hearing Antarctica, its inhabitants and the ice in movement. The group up the snowfield enjoyed a last sliding down in the Antarctic snow and we all head back to the ship before lunch. Neko Harbour, a great spot on continental Antarctica! Just after boarding the Europa, Eric get us ready to set some sails and start our way towards our next destination, Melchior Islands, without using the engines. As we almost sail downwind off Andvord Bay, Both Topsails in the Fore Mast are set, and we try to set both on the Main afterwards, but just to realise that the Upper one, that has been under repair and placed again in the rig, was in need of some more attention before setting.

From then on we sail almost all the way through the afternoon and night until midnight, when we drop anchor at Andersen Harbour, a small bay on Omega Island, one of the many islands and rocks that compose the Melchior Archipelago. Smooth sailing, at the beginning just with the Top sails, having the top Main one looked after in the afternoon, then setting all of them in the Fore Mast. As we change course several times getting off Andvord Bay, crossing the Gerlache and squeezing inbetween the shallows and icebergs of the gap separating Bravant and Anvers Islands, the wind changes in the different areas, and we set Lower Staysails as well, bracing when necessary. During the afternoon as well, Annukka gives a talk about her ongoing PhD
Thesis, working at Sri Lanka on the Songs of the Blue whales. We know little about those whales, the largest animals on our planet, and any contribution to increase the knowledge is a great addition to the Marine Biology world.

While she was busy with many of us in the lounge, the Europa sails through the Schoallert Channel and enters Dallman Bay, where the wind decreases and we slow down, enjoying the bright sunshine, calm waters, scattered icebergs and numerous Humpback whales, that start appearing all over the area. In the evening, just at around 5 miles from our anchorage, the wind dies
down while getting closer to a large towering iceberg, that offers us some small calvings and ice falls while the whales dive, show their flukes and feed all around, some at close distance others spread over all Dallman Bay. The sun is setting offering a magnificent golden light over the high peaks and glaciers of Antarctica, while not even one cloud hung in the sky. The light wind starts blowing from a N-ly direction, and we slowly start drifting Southwards, its around 22:00h, time to take away all canvas that was set and start engines for the last bit to reach the anchorage to spend the night. And when we all think that the magnificent spectacle of this evening is over, clearing decks while some of us climb the rig to furl sails, a group of Humpbacks is spotted feeding closeby. The Captain steers skilfully to get near them, and then, as a cherry on top of this magnificent afternoon and evening, the four whales start bubble-netting together next to the ship. Not being bothered by our presence they keep repeating their performance several times as many of us run to deck to join the show. After a while they keep moving in Andvord Bay while feeding in the dusk low light, and we resume our way to Andersen Harbour. 

What a great day! Antarctica is giving us a fantastic and magical farewell. We started with a great landing in the morning, and then we set sail for the rest of the day, ending up in a glorious sunset surrounded by icebergs and whales. Antarctica grand spectacle!

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