Sailing hard from Devil to Danger and beyond
A remote region of the frozen southern worlds. A dismal territory that without doubt push the limits of some, bring many off their comfort zone and always represents a challenge of one sort of another.
A defiance to the sailing ship and her crew, steering between icebergs, uncharted areas, shallow bays, puzzling weather, the difficult anchorages, the sharp bite of the cold. Her decks often freeze, her ropes and coils frozen stiff.
Once setting foot on land it offers its barren, out-worldly and demanding landscape. A perfect bait to go and explore. For many as well to reencounter the seemingly long forgotten spirit of adventure.
To embrace the uncertainty of what’s to come, always conditioned to the natural environment and its capricious changes.
To endure its harshness and continuous reshaping of its icy waters and temperamental weather and winds.
To put aside preconceptions and take to one’s heart the mysteries of those glaciated lands and the life that thrives on them.
To live, to soak in the austerity of the Weddell Sea, its severe conditions, the testing environment and to enjoy the unique experience.
Why not go as a tourist, as a kind of frozen vegetable buying your way across the world surrounded by hot running water, epicurean cuisine, swimming pools, and tinny-tot programs, teenage programs, mommy and daddy programs-designed for your delectation, and designed too to quarantine you from the contagion of elemental wonder and awe known only to simple living?
Sterling Hayden. “Wanderer”
Today the Antarctic Weddell Sea icy waters, glaciated landscape, volatile meteorology and sudden wind shifts slowly fall behind us as the Europa starts her way of about 900nm of open ocean towards South Georgia island.
And what better than start the sunny day heaving anchor, climbing aloft and unfurl canvas to be hoisted and sheeted down straight away?
A last look behind us reveals the channel between Devil and Vega Islands. An improvised harbour that has served us well as a sort of Base Camp. A location from where to start some of our journeys and where to return once the daily exploration ends, usually when the gusts blew harder and the night was falling.
The good weather and increasing fair winds made for a day of great sailing, heading on a easterly-northeasterly direction. With the weather forecast we have, our way out of the Weddell Sea will be steering directly towards the volcanic Paulet Island, then leaving Danger Islands at our Port side to turn northwards to Clarence and Elephant Islands.
Anchors are secured and tied up, not to be used until they eventually will come down at some of the South Georgia coves.
Up the masts, take the strong winds the squares up to Top Gallants, but with the Courses clewed up to allow visibility while on those iceberg filled waters, Lower and Middle Staysails, Inner Jib and Spanker.
Speed climbs up, 6,7, 9, even 10kn, always keeping a sharp lookout over the abundant bergy bits and growlers. Tall tabular icebergs loom over the seas around us.
By the afternoon, gusts of 46kn call hands one deck to strike sail. Top Gallants, Middle Staysails, Spanker and Inner Jib are stowed away. A couple of seams on the Fore Top Gallant and Spanker rip open, they will have to be unbent and taken care off under better seas and wind conditions.
In the late evening the situation abates, time for setting some of the canvas that was taken away during the afternoon.
Unstable winds blow between 25 and 35kn up and down, at the same time that the swell increases as we hit the open waters of the Scotia Sea, making the conditions rougher, to the point of clewing up the Main Top Gallant during the night. The weather worsens but the winds still blow a fair South-westerly and Westerly to make way North. Now a few days of sailing along the latitudes of the Furious 50’s lay ahead.