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Rolling over the big seas and strong following winds, sailing over the Antarctic Convergence Area

The sea had risen, the vessel was rolling heavily, and everything was pitched about in grand confusion. There was a complete “hurrah’s nest”, as the sailors say, ”everything on top and nothing at hand”. 

Richard Henry Dana.”Two years before the mast”  

The swells from the west grow by the hour, and the sea rolls in large surges, white foam over its agitated surface. 

The southern ocean waves originated from the gales rolling around the world at those latitudes and can test the crews and any of the ships venturing into its waters.  

The Bark spends most of the day in heavy weather, riding the following big seas and strong winds that climb up now and then to over 40kn, her yards tipping from one side to the other, her footropes and hundred lines dancing back and forth. 

Europa rolls her guts out, swell and high waves climb over her railing filling up breezeways and main deck. 

Personal belongings and ship equipment that we thought were well stowed and sea fastened, soon made us realize that it wasn’t. 

The air fills up with noises, rumbles, bangs, and booms. Corridors and cabins pile up in an anarchic mess all kinds of clothing and footwear, it’s a whole feat in itself to wake up and dress for our watches playing with gravity, the ship’s jerks and rolling motion while trying to find that elusive jacket, this piece of underwear or those socks that seem to play hide and seek with us. 

Ingenuously we think we can manage to last dry for the length of our watch until an ocean splash and a walk on knee-deep water welcome our first steps on deck. Now wet and cold sure we are all awake enough to pay the needed extra attention and concentration for proper steering when at the wheel, or to quickly pull the appropriate ropes for bracing or setting sail. 

But her speed is good, she rides the Scotia Sea towards South Georgia, and on her way today she entered the Antarctic waters. The readings of the surface water temperature had been decreasing during the last hours, now, barely at 5ºC and getting lower. She crossed the Polar front of the Convergence Area. Behind lays the Subantarctic system of Patagonia and Falklands, ahead the icy cold waters around South Georgia and Antarctica. 

This meeting of different water masses stretches around the whole of the Antarctic Continent, including South Georgia on a sort of a northwards loop. Here, colder and denser waters from the South, sink under the lighter Sub Antarctic ones. An area that may indicate variations in the global temperature trends of the ocean, nowadays well known and subjected to numerous climatic, biological, and oceanographical research.

The first studies of this worldwide important feature were conducted about the same year that two expeditions were set to conquer the South Pole. While the Norwegian Amundsen raced for the Pole with the British Scott, the German Wilhelm Filchner on board the ship “Deutschland” ventured into the depths of the Weddell Sea. During two years they reached farther into these waters than anyone else before, discovering and mapping new lands and working some significant meteorological, geological, and oceanographical observations. 

Including the description of the different water masses in the Southern Ocean, and the salinity change of the north-flowing waters with an associated temperature drop. He just came across the Antarctic system boundary known today as the Antarctic Convergence. 

And what a better welcome to the Antarctic system than just before sunset having the lookouts reporting a large white triangle a couple of miles at the Port Bow… what could it be? A quick look from the bridge confirms the first sight of the first iceberg of the trip. Sure the first of many to come. 

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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