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Sailing downwind for most of the day

Setting Studding Sails. Manta trawls  

The Age of Exploration hand in hand with the Age of Sail spans from the 15th to the 18th century in European history. During that time, seafarers explored vast regions of the planet, encountering countless different native cultures on their way and new territories and seas never seen before by any European. 

Soon it was clear to the sponsors and governments funding these enterprises that it was necessary to gather more and more information about the people and the natural world found over all those regions, besides the mapping and cartography of the newly discovered territories. The questions about what is there, how to find it, and ultimately if it was of any use, started to gain importance together with the questions about the characteristics of this land or sea. Thus started the old tradition to embark naturalists, scientists, and artists on those long voyages at sea  

Even Spain, after a first gold rush and conquering spree in Central and South America once their colonies were established, started to encourage naturalists and artists to join the trading ships. Their goal was to take any opportunity during the voyage to gather information about the natural world, assess the possibilities for trading with them, and gather plants and seeds. These specimens were the foundation for developing scientific research on the plants and animals of these, until then, unknown regions. 

Years later, Spain even launched a fully scientific maritime expedition departing from Spain to Alaska, across the Pacific afterward to the Philippines, and then to New Zealand, Australia, and Polynesia. The South of Chile, Patagonia, and Cape Horn followed in their adventures, before passing by Rio de la Plata and from there to set sail homewards. This was the impressive Malaspina Expedition of 1789–1794. Aboard, the artists Tomas de Suria and José Cardero, and the naturalists Antonio Pineda, Thaddeus Haenke, and Luis Née as specialists in plants. 

One of the most influential and well-known Captains of all time, Captain Cook, also had several scientists on his voyages. Two botanists, Joseph Banks and the Swede Daniel Solander, sailed on the first voyage (1768-1771). They collected thousands of plant species. Not just this, but their observations together with Cook’s curiosity and sharp eye, led to promote the British settlement of Australia. Artists also sailed during this trip. Sydney Parkinson was heavily involved in documenting the botanists' findings. Cook's second expedition (1772-1775) included William Hodges, who produced notable landscape paintings of Tahiti, Easter Island, and other locations, plus a team of astronomers. And also on his third trip along the Pacific Ocean during 1776-1779 in search now for yet another legendary goal, a North-east or Northwest Passage, from the Pacific Ocean into the Atlantic or the North Sea through the Bering Strait. A voyage that brought Cook to his death in Hawaii. John Webber accompanied him as a landscape painter and the Tahitian Omai embarked too as a naturalist until reaching back to his homeland after spending years in Great Britain, where he met Joseph Banks and was introduced to his methods. 

Amongst the many, another remarkable example of naturalist/scientist who embarked on a voyage around the world that eventually turned upside down our whole vision of nature, its workings and changes, and put humans as just another part in its puzzle, Charles Darwin. Captain Robert Fitz Roy took him aboard the Beagle on his surveying trip during the years 1831-36. What he saw, and how he could interpret it in a new way, eventually led the world to change from the anthropocentric and religious views to a different universe where both geological and biological processes are subjected to change and evolution. 

Astronomers, naturalists, scientists of different sorts, and specimen collectors, sailing around the world on exploration or trading vessels made significant observations and discoveries. They wrote an enormous amount of reports, diaries, and logbooks and painted an incredible number of drawings and pictures. 

They contributed to the expansion of the knowledge of our world, which helped to eventually bring us to the so-called Age of Enlightenment, an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe between the 17th and the early 19th centuries. 

Acquired expertise and knowledge over hundreds of years, that for instance is nowadays used by naturalists, lecturers, biologists, geologists, ethnologists, photographers, etc, to interpret the natural world and share it with both land and sea voyagers from around the world who visit those exotic destinations and remote locations of our planet.   

A vast body of knowledge is gained and a pool of ideas that makes science advance and leap forward. From those beginnings all the way to the present time when governments and private institutions alike are also founding countless purely scientific expeditions around the world, both land and ship-based. 

Sort of following these traditions, Bark Europa as well have the aspirations to sail and train eager travelers who wish to reach destinations by sea, that usually lay far from the beaten track; to try to explain how the ship works; how to get there sailing across seas and oceans; and to inform and interpret the natural history and the effects human are having on these areas too. On her way, for years now she has been sailing with guides and she has joined different scientific ventures. Like on her current voyage around the South Pacific, where scientists research the rising topic of the problem caused by pollution by plastics at sea and their effects on the oceanic system and its wildlife.  

In that context, as it has been planned every three days, it was time today to deploy the plankton trawl and continue with the sample collection and study for this research. 

At sunrise everything is ready to start. Three manta trawls of half an hour each brought aboard a great array of wildlife and an increasing number of plastic bits. 

This time several squids have been caught, a couple of small fish typical from deeper waters too, and lots of beautifully blue-coloured copepods and isopods together with other crustaceans, while we had less amount of gelatinous plankton, jellyfish, and salps. This diversity is probably related to the early time of the day when the samples were taken. Why? Every day, in the oceans, takes place Earth’s greatest mass migration. In temperate and tropical regions, zooplankton migrates to the ocean surface at night and moves down again during daylight. The vertical range of this movement can reach up to 1000 meters in depth, depending on the species. Zooplankton surfaces to feed on the phytoplankton that remains closer to the surface, retreating to deeper waters to avoid predation when it could be seen and to lower their metabolism and save energy in the colder deeper waters. In the early hours of the day probably still some of these zooplankton, fish, and squid haven't started their way to the deep waters, therefore some of them fall victim to the trawling net. 

Present in today’s samples too are numerous Sea skaters (Halobates), a genus of over 40 species of water striders, out of which 5 species are truly oceanic, the only known offshore insects. They live in tropical and subtropical calm waters related to the areas close to the center of the oceanic gyres.  

The amount of plastic collected is gradually growing every trawl day as we advance westwards, a characteristic when sailing into those oceanic gyres. Today small bits of microplastics are combined with a few slightly larger pieces, covered in biofilm. Little Gooseneck barnacles together with other invertebrates grew on their surface. When there’s a lot of this growth over the plastics, they become heavier and tend to sink. When they are at depth the biofilm dies and detaches, making them lighter again and more buoyant, coming back to the surface in a sort of following their plastic cycle of vertical migrations. 

The light winds that allowed for trawling also got the crew ready to set the Studding sails they had been preparing during the last days. While the trawls were being towed scooping up the sea surface, the last lines, booms, and blocks were rigged. Now the Europa sails over the top of the High Pressure located SW of us where easing Easterly winds blow. Braced square, and with the help of many curious hands to see what this sort of extra light canvas we carry was all about,  the three Studding sails on Port side are hoisted, helping to keep just about 5kn of speed. 

A progress that had brought us 134nm closer to Easter Island in the last 24 hours. Ahead of us a forecast of light southerly winds and 1183nm to cover until reaching our destination.

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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