Beginning of our Antarctic journey across the Drake Passage.
Cold and rainy though quiet night alongside, and a day that started with safety drills and talks that must be done before departing on any sea voyage.
Grey skies but a light breeze and calm seas made for a swift departure from Ushuaia harbor once the Mandatory Pilot for the inshore waters of the Beagle Channel was aboard at about 09:00h.
Soon the city and the busy port fall behind as the Europa, pushed by her engines starts her way. Despite the rain and drizzle, the conditions are as good as they get in this part of the world, a good chance to start the first morning at sea with the excitement of the climbing aloft instructions and build up after that with introducing the ship, her rig, lines, sails and the steering and lookout, the duties we are all expected to fulfill during the sea-days of the trip.
By the late afternoon sure the seas are due to change when we hit the rougher waters of the famed Drake Passage. A feared privateer celebrity from the 16th century, today a stretch of open waters to show respect for. Between South America and Antarctica, for 500nm it runs through the legendary latitudes of the Furious 50’s and the Screaming 60’s.
But before, in preparation for that, it is a full half-day ride along the Beagle, a channel that keeps alive in memory the adventures and explorations in the 18-hundreds of the ship Beagle. Following her first trip in the area (1826-30) under the command of Captain Pringle Stokes, she was handed over to Robert Fitzroy, who in the ship’s most famous second exploration voyage (1831-36), brought along the man who was about to change the way we think about the world, Charles Darwin. During their journey, they found and chartered this very passage where we spend the day, a new waterway between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, south of the Straits of Magellan.
In the modern world, the channel has played a political role since 1881 when it was decided that it would represent the southern border between Chile and Argentina. And so it goes, the Chilean lands, peaks, and forests lay at our Starboardside, while at port extend the Argentinean southernmost shores of Patagonia.
Giant petrels and Black-browed albatrosses accompany us, elegantly soaring around the ship. Flocks of cormorants fly by one their comings and goings from their colonies widespread in the channel, and even some Magellanic penguins pop up from the water surface here and there.
As the night comes the Europa turns around Picton, Lenox, and Nueva islands into the Drake Passage. Gradually the light winds get stronger from a Northwesterly direction and the seas grow higher.
It is time to set sail after the few hours well spent in training and getting used to the life on board. A maze of ropes and lines to pull and ease awaited us on deck. Sure soon we will get more and more familiar with them as the days at sea go by, but this evening just short explanations precede the work on deck and aloft before the engines are turned off. Squares up to Top sails are sheeted down and hoisted, together with the head rig, Lower Staysails, and Spanker.
We have started the adventure laid out in front of us, on our way to Antarctica. First, we ventured South across the Drake Passage, sailing the ship, joining the watches, learning the lines, training our eyes for lookout, and focusing on the steering. A journey aboard an old Tall Ship launched over a hundred years ago that requires the combined effort of all of us and an enthusiastic crew.