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Sailing following winds on the SCOTIA SEA on our way to South Georgia

Leaving the stormy and windy Elephant Island behind, now Europa face the open waters of the Scotia Sea. Straight away after turning around from Point Wild we started enjoying great sailing under favourable winds. On our way, during the last 24 hours, now and then Fin whales are spotted, some of them popping up to breathe quite close to the ship. From now on, as we gradually get used again to the watch system, about 700nm of the rough waters of the Scotia Sea lay ahead of us. Next to the famous Drake Passage, it equals its neighbour on its stormy weather and treacherous seas. A long stretch of water not to be underestimated, that is comprised between Tierra del Fuego and the several islands that form the so-called Scotia Ridge, including South Georgia. Since the early explorers, sealers and whalers back then at the beginning of the 20th century ventured its waters, it is considered a famed tempestuous, cold and blustery area. On top of its fierce reputation, its waters are often filled with drift-ice and icebergs wandering northwards from the Weddell Sea, making for a careful navigation and sharp lookouts. Like we faced since the early morning, when after a night of good sailing under SE-ly winds of about 25kn that made for gradually adding the Main Course, Outer Jib, Spanker and finally the Top Gallants, we came across one of those iceberg filled areas. Huge tabular icebergs can be seen all around, not really representing any difficulty for the navigation, but it’s the small pieces calved from them that can make things more complicated. Bergy bits, growlers and brash-ice seem to extend in bands as they drift away from their original mother-icebergs. Making good progress under sail, good lookouts are necessary from the fore-deck and aloft as well, to find a good route amongst all of them. With the fair breeze now blowing 18 to 20kn from the SSE, the Europa sails almost downwind and for an easier and safer navigation through the icy field, crew works on tweaking the sail configuration to these circumstances, while the Mate takes over the wheel. Basically on a Dead-run sail, Fore Top Mast Staysail and Dekzwabber come down and are furled, but the rest of the well-adjusted canvas still pulls us at 6.5kn. Similar difficulties were sure experienced in the past by William S. Bruce during his Scottish National Antarctic Expedition (1902-1904), when he sailed this waters on the ship “Scotia”, which gives name to this Sea. Bruce was a deter-mined and enthusiastic Scotsman, that was to be on the Scott’s expedition on board the “Discovery” (1901-1904), famous for overwintering twice far South in the Ross Sea, and breaking the furthest South record, also mapping a large area of the Ross Ice Shelf and Victoria Land. But he declined the offer as he already got his own exploratory plans in Antarctica going on. Bruce and his crew embarked on a two-year exploratory and scientific journey that brought them to the Weddell Sea. It was not easy for him to finance the expedition, but finally he could get a strong and sea-worthy Norwegian Bark which he refitted and re-named as the “Scotia”. On February 25, 1903, during the first year of the expedition, they reached as far as 70º 25’ S, turning around then and looking for shelter to spend the winter at South Orkney Islands. At that moment we are sailing just a couple of hundred miles Northwest of them. There they fitted a camp that not much later was taken over by the Argentine Government, being the
first Antarctic permanent Station, still occupied nowadays. Next summer the “Scotia” set sail southwards once more into the icy Weddell Sea, now reaching 74º 01’ S on March 9. During this voyage they discovered new lands on the Eastern side of the Weddell Sea, calling it Coats Land after his sponsors. Over those famous waters we sail, and paying tribute to their changeable reputation, already by lunchtime we leave behind the densest part of the spectacular ice field, that left its roots in the Weddell Sea to seemingly go with the flow of winds and currents, acting as a magnificent farewell to Antarctica on our way. However, not all the ice navigation is over yet, as many other icebergs can be seen in the horizon, but appear to be more spread out, not clustering on dense patches. As soon as the conditions improve the royals are unfurled and clued down, and during the day they just have to come down for a short period when a squall pass our way in the afternoon. Enjoying our first full day at sea, taking pleasure in the good sailing we are having, gradually we get used again to our watch system.  Part of the days at sea are the set of talks, lectures and trainings put together by our guides and crew. Today a wrap-up documentary on Shackleton’s adventure was broadcasted in the Lounge. The “Endurance” film, filled up with lots of original pictures and even short movies of the expedition, acts as a reminder of the incredible struggle Shackleton and his men went through. First in the Weddell sea and then during the absolutely extraordinary and skilled navigation Captain Worsley made in the small sloop “James Caird” from Elephant Island to South Georgia, roughly the same route we are following now with the Europa. In the afternoon the talk was about the sea-ice characteristics, drifting and its global effects on the planet. Having met lots of it in the Weddell Sea, now we were more properly introduced to its formation, characteristics and relation with the major thermo-hyaline oceanic
circulation, that at the end represents one of the major controllers of the Earth climate, with its implications on the glacial and
inter-glacial periods. With a warming world due to the emission of greenhouse gases, there is great concern about the development of the thickness of the icecap and the extent of the sea ice surrounding the continent. Another concern related with human activity and atmospheric emissions is the depletion of the protective Ozone layer due to the artificial chemical compounds known as CFCs. Humans had be-come one of the drivers of the Earths' climate, and even the geological era we live nowadays is called accordingly: the Anthropocene. In the meantime, people around the outer decks, fighting the cold temperatures could admire the soaring flight of the elegant Light mantled albatrosses and White-chinned petrels. And surprisingly enough, the small Wilson storm petrels and also its rarer relative Black-bellied storm petrel seem to enjoy the winds and swells of this open waters. Little and delicate as they look but tough as they are, flutter un-tiredly over this high seas, far away from any land.

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Guide

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