Following the wind shifts sailing close hauled towards Antarctica. Using the engines to plan the trip with a detour north of the ice surrounding the South Orkney Islands.
Following the general trend of those last days, one low pressure races the previous one in sweeping the Scotia Sea waters, with good intervals in between of better weather conditions.
From the freezing rain, sleet, mist, rough seas, and forceful winds that came across our course last night, we wake up to breakfast time on a good 20 to 25kn of Northwesterly and improving visibility, inviting us to set more sail. Outer Jib, Upper Staysails, and the large Desmond over the main deck are hoisted.
On the easing sea conditions, even the sun shines at midday.
Less and less ice is spotted around even though a water temperature just above 0.5ºC tells us about the proximity of Antarctica and the Weddell Sea pack ice and iceberg-filled waters.
The ice images and charts that are available to us show thick bands drifting around the South Orkney Islands, now not far from our position and on a direct course if we keep sailing on with the winds we are having.
Ice situation is more of a usual thing in this area at this time of the year, not like the large amount of icebergs that we had the previous days straight away from departing South Georgia.
The decision is taken to try not to fall into these icy seas yet, which would surely delay us, but instead push our way towards Antarctica. For this, the engines are needed to steer more on a westerly course facing the Westerly and West-northwest winds and swells. Going straight for it will allow us too for not lose the forecasted and soon-to-arrive light but nevertheless good Northerly winds.
As we can see, planning a voyage like this one, both at sea and when visiting land requires strategy, experience, thinking ahead, working with the tools available at any given time, and the forecasts we can check. Many factors to consider and play with:
The shelter of this or that bay with their different orientations, the gaps amongst the mountains and glaciers that funnel winds. The ocean swell breaking along the coasts. The ocean and its moods, the atmosphere with its highs and lows and winds and angry squalls, the distance to cover, the best way of covering this distance.
Sometimes is best to speed up, other times is better to slow down and wait for a wind change. On other occasions is better to forget a good wind if it will drive you on a good course towards the destination, but straight to the drifting ice.
Who doesn’t seem to mind the lowering temperatures, icy conditions or fog are the numerous seabirds that keep circling around the ship all day long. Flocks of Antarctic prions follow us here, at their home. We have been seeing them every day since departing from South Georgia, one of their breeding areas, but they also use other lands around us. Many nest in the South Orkneys, South Shetlands, and other islands near the Antarctic convergence. Sailing along those latitudes, their flocks can be found anywhere in Antarctic waters and beyond.
A gorgeous Grey-headed albatross also passes by, checking how we are doing, but just for a while. Those birds, different from their relatives the Black-browed albatrosses not usually follow ships for long periods, but if you are lucky will sometimes come close.
Not an Antarctic species as such, they can be found during foraging trips in Antarctic waters. They fly here from their nesting grounds in a number of islands close to the Antarctic Convergence. But we are talking about a truly ocean wanderer, known to circumnavigate the world when not breeding.