Beagle channel and Drake Passage.
“The simple act of sailing had carried him beyond the world of reversals, frustrations, and inanities. And in the space of a few short hours, life had been reduced from a highly complex existence, with a thousand petty problems, to one of the barest simplicity in which only one real task remained—the achievement of the goal.”
Alfred Lansing, Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
Each trip is unique, winds and swells dictate the sailing, ice conditions and weather join. Our schedule for visits ashore will depend on them.
It all begins with the time on port to get everything ready, and it is not until the mooring lines are cast off and the ship starts to move when all starts to settle. Firsts sails soon will come up with the help of all of us, watch systems start to run and the sailing ship is thrown into seeking her balance. What’s to come, the gentleness of the ocean or the struggles at sea it all remains to be experienced during the next weeks. Day by day, hour by hour the nature of the waters and remote lands that are on our program impose the challenge for a most needed flexibility on every decision to take, both manning the ship and her sails, her progress amongst the icy seas and the landfalls.
All to come soon. And to start finding out, in the morning the Europa starts to leave behind Ushuaia, the last city we all will see until the other side of the South Atlantic, when reaching our destination at Cape Town.
Safety instructions. drills and trainings take the rest of the day. They include as well our first contact working together with the Permanent crew, setting some sails and introducing our duties aboard, like steering, lookout, line and sail handling, and learning how to safely climb aloft.
Not long after, we all join the watch system to follow until reaching land again in a few days. The Antarctic South Shetland Islands are our first goal.
The first experience at sea brought us first Eastwards to make our way along the Beagler Channel. Framed by the large Tierra del Fuego Island at our Portside, and Navarino Island with its forests and mountains at Starboard. A good number of its inhabitants showed up too during the day. Black browed albatrosses soar in large numbers around the ship, together with numerous Giant petrels. Flocks of Imperial and Rock shags cross the channel close to us. A few Peale’s dolphins pay us a visit. Groups of Sea lions look surprised when we cross their path, and at the distance a pod of Orcas is spotted too.
More than half a century has passed since the first Europeans ventured their sailing ships in the area. Although natives inhabited the southernmost lands of South America since about 10.000 years ago, Ferdinand Magellan discovered the waterway amongst this islands and the mainland for the Old World, a sort of inshore water passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. A bit further South yet another channel of similar characteristics had to wait much longer until its waters were sailed through. First in 1624 Jacques l'Hermite's fleet set foot at Navarino shores, but it was not until the two expeditions of the HMS Beagle between 1829 to 1836 when it was first entirely crossed. The famous ship, at the beginning under the command of Pringle Stokes and afterwards Robert FitzRoy, was the first which sailed the channel finding out this second connection between both Oceans. During her second voyage, which brought her around the World between 1831-36, one of the most important historical figures was one board, Charles Darwin. A trip and a character that forever redefined the way we understand our planet and life itself.
Much has changed in the World since then, but the countless ships that venture this waters still have to endure the harsh climate, freezing cold, strong gales and forceful winds.
For us, first under engine we progress along the Beagle, but fair winds soon make to start sailhandling. The seemingly intricate maze of lines will unfold its mysteries during the length of the voyage, but for the moment, both experiences and new hands pull, ease and haul on ropes. Sure their uses, denominations, systems and patterns will start sinking into us soon.
The variable winds and gusts that characterise the area make for setting and dousing sail and brace the yards since the first canvas is hoisted to take the wind. The land effects over the general winfield last until the night, when motoring along the turbulences created by the last islands of the Beagle Channel are left behind. Then, having first Easterly winds, gradually Top sails, Top Gallants, Middle and Lower Staysails, headrig and Spanker are set. Not much later a dark cloud rolling over Cape Horn Archipelago brings increasing Westerlies. Meaning a night dedicated to sailhandling and adjusting to the Drake Passage winds and growing swells.