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Scotia Sea, waiting for fair winds to arrive to South Georgia coasts, while anticipating forecasted stormy winds

Last night the wind was gradually easing down to about 16-17kn from the WSW. On that conditions more canvas could be set. To start Middle Staysails and Outer Jib come up, and still in the darkness by the early morning, the higher sails on the rig are set as well, Upper Staysails and Royals. For a while Europa sails at 7 to 8kn on a 45º to 50º course with practically all her canvas catching wind, braced sharper on Port tack. After the clear and starry night, dawn welcome us with a beautiful sunrise and a relative warm morning, while the wind kept veering to NW-ly and NNW-ly, making for bracing all the way and sail Close Hauled, sailing our way Eastwards towards South Georgia. Just a couple of hours later, while breakfast was served, a squall can be seen looming in the horizon. On that cases some preparations must be done beforehand to face its associated stronger gusts. Soon we start striking some canvas starting with Upper Staysails and Royals. Dealing with variable shifting
winds it was not until after lunch that they are set once more, together with the Outer Jib. Now the fair breeze of 12 to 15kn blows from the NNE, while we start steering on a ESE-ly course, now towards the southern part of the island.
It has been decided to keep the ship on approximately this course for a few hours, not sailing straight to South Georgia’s northern tip and its NE coasts, as forceful winds from the E and SE have been forecasted for the night. Staying out at sea it seems to be a safer and much sensible way to deal with the 45 to 50kn predicted, than fighting to try to stay at anchor at the exposed narrow bays and rocky beaches of South Georgia coasts. The approach to land and sailing strategy for the rest of the day and tomorrow will turn around this scheme. Slowing down on the dying winds we sail in the early afternoon at about 70nm from the island. And at some point, excited lookouts call for “land at sight”, hard to believe at the beginning, but after a good check definitely the high mountain ranges of South Georgia appear behind the hazy horizon. A sight that soon disappeared as the skies became gradually more overcast and the good visibility was diminishing. With this first sight of land just after 6 days at sea since we left Elephant Island behind (despite this week it seems like a much longer time for some of us on board that still struggle to get used the watch systems and the seas and winds of the Southern Ocean), we can just imagine how it was in the distant past when exploration trips took even several years in a row to finish. And nobody more illustrious sailed those treacherous waters than Captain Cook in the late seventeen hundreds, while searching for the unknown and elusive Southern Continent. He didn’t even caught a glimpse of it despite circumnavigating Antarctica and reaching high southern latitudes. But in 1775, on board the Resolution he was the first one describing South Georgia and setting foot on the island. Lands that he didn’t really discovered as they had
been previously sighted at the distance by de la Roche one hundred years before. But Cook, on arrival, took possession of the new land for England, named it after King George III and started its exploration. During his survey he sailed southwards along its coasts, thinking they might be part of the mysterious Terra Australis Incognita, but eventually he reached a cape (named by him Cape Disappointment), where he could turn north, thus realizing it was an island. While exploring the treacherous waters of South Georgia, he created highly accurate charts of the island’s coasts. All thanks to the new 18th century developments on sextant making but most importantly to create precise nautical clocks and chronometers that could keep time at sea with high accuracy. That is indispensable to precisely calculate the Longitude, and with this get a proper positioning. He had successfully tried them on a previous scientific expedition to the South Pacific on board the Endeavour, in a project with the idea of measure the distance between the Earth and the Sun. These observations were based on an idea developed by the British Astronomer Edmund Halley 100 years before, who created a method based on the planetary transits for that purpose. Cook was to observe the transit of Venus in front of the Sun. Since then, Halley's technique has been gradually upgraded by other astronomers, but still is a principal tool for measuring the dimensions of our Solar System. Furthermore, in Cook’s ship-logs great quantities of whales and seals were reported, news that attracted like a magnet a sealing fleet looking for new hunting grounds. Once they arrived to the rich shores of South Georgia, less than 30 years were enough to decimate the seal populations to the brink of extinction. Then, the attention changed to the whales, starting a large-scale commercial business in 1904 when the first successful land based whaling station was built in South Georgia. In the following years many more followed. Now, in a similar fashion than in the old times of Captain Cook and others, we are trying to get to the island under sail, routing our course and adjusting sails and speed according to the weather forecasts that we can download. Prevision models that were not existent in the old times, when all was about good judgement of the wind shifts and conditions and changes in the barometric pressure. For that purpose, and advancing stormy seas for later on, several manoeuvres are performed in the afternoon. Before dinner we Wear ship to Starboard tack and start sailing in a more northerly course. It didn’t take long to start reducing sail, in order to slow down and be prepared to face strong E-ly winds. Courses and Top Gallants are clued up, Middle Staysails are taken down, and Storm sails are bend on. By the night we slowly move at about 1kn, braced sharp on Starboard tack, under Top Sails, Spanker, Storm Dekzwabber, Aap, Storm Fore Top Mast Staysail and Inner Jib. Expectation hoovers above the Europa crew, while patiently waiting for the firsts gusts and thundery winds to come. Blows that when arrived, could be used to sail towards the North-eastern tip of South Georgia, where we plan to start our activities ashore. But before that, all mandatory procedures to land at South Georgia must be finished. Today was a day full of information from our guides. Besides repeating yesterday’s talks on History of whaling, very relevant for South Georgia’s history is highly based on whale hunting and the several whaling stations built in many of its bays, and a wrap up on Polar Ecosystems, also a South Georgia video on code of conduct for visitors was broadcasted. Biosecurity procedures were also finished and checked, to leave everything ready for our first
landfall as soon as we arrive and conditions allow. Proximity to the protected lands of South Georgia is also delated today by the sights of increasing number of Fur seals, prions and albatrosses
flying around. Likewise, the new status of the island as a whale sanctuary, after the grueling whaling times in the past, seem to be working well as many Humpback whales were spotted blowing in the
distance in the early morning, plus the very interesting sight of a Sperm whale in the afternoon. Their stocks have been severely depleted during the whaling era due to this specie’s valuable oil and even greater value of thei spermaceti filling up their head melons and giving them their characteristic square head shape. They are cosmopolitan and widespread in the Southern Oceans, with non-breeding males periodically migrating to polar regions in the austral summer, returning north in winter, while females and cubs prefer subtropical and tropical waters. Lucky observation we had, for a few minutes we could enjoy the sight of the magnificent animal, until after a couple of deeper breaths he submerged into the depths, clearly showing his fluke. From then on, he can dive for an unpredictable amount of time. On this high latitude those males are not easy to spot, as after relative short periods of about 15 to 20 minutes at surface they can start diving, reaching very deep waters. Dives to over 3000m and 2 hours long have been recorded.

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Guide



Viele Grüße an Norbert aus Aachen von Irina

Irina de Lamboy  |  05-03-2019 15:46 uur

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