The infamous Drake Passage welcomed us with clear skies, calm seas and light breeze, after blizzard conditions kicked us off the southern shores of Livingston Island.
Europa starts her new day at around 04:00h, when the remaining anchor is heaved, the second one already home since midnight. From then we steam around the West coast of Deception Island, where we start setting some canvas. At 20kn of W, WSW winds, Lower Staysails, Inner Jib, Spanker and Topsails pull us on our way towards the south coast of Livingston Island. There we plan to land in Antarctica for last time in this trip at Elephant Point.
During breakfast Gaff Topsail and Fore Topmast Staysail are added to the configuration, plus the help of one of our engines. Like this Europa deeps into the blizzard that reigns over the area. Snow covered decks are fruitlessly sweep once and again, just to turn around and see them under the cover of a white blanket once more.
Without even seeing the coast, we approach to the anchorage used last season when we landed here. And then suddenly visibility improves, snowfall stops, as an invitation to start our landing operations. Europa drops anchor on that precarious spot between submerged rocks and islets. Currents and S-ly low long swell does not give great confidence on the holding over the rocky and shallow bottom, but nevertheless all is readied for our guides to scout the landing beach. In seconds, out of nowhere we find ourselves amidst thick fog, wind and snowfall again. Wisely Captain Klaas and Jordi decide not to take the risk of going ashore under such variable, unpredictable white-out conditions.
Anchor comes up, engines start and we begin our way towards Ushuaia. The over 500nm of the renown Drake Passage call us, promising thrilling sailing days ahead. But it let us have a quiet start. On practically windless conditions Europa uses her engines on a SW-ly course, at the beginning under the shelter of the southern South Shetland Islands of Low and Snow Islands. From there, the gate to the Drake opens, as we leave behind the spectacular Smith Island, today hiding behind a thick layer of clouds and fog.
From our departure from Elephant Point the highly variable weather has been with us, with sunny sky shadowed often by snow showers and low visibility. On that conditions the ship is prepared for the crossing to Ushuaia. Safety nets and lines are rigged, one of our zodiacs is stowed away, belongings, cabins and provisions are sea fastened. And for ourselves, Sea watches are set again.
It is not until the evening when Europa unfolds her wings to the wind again. All canvas is set, and still with the help of our two engines we reach speeds oaf about 7kn, mororsailing on 10 to 15kn of E-ly wind. To reach Cape Horn Island, 450nm away on straight line, we will have to deal with the Easterly flowing Circumpolar current and the several Low Pressure systems traveling West to East along the Drake Passage. Trying to accomplish this goal, is necessary to point high to the West first, and then fall to the Southern tip of the Americas.
The good seas and fair conditions allow some good whale watching during the journey, and appeal for carry on with our lectures program.
Today Doctor Bob presented his talk on “A ‘surgical view’ of Antarctic history”. Starting with Gerlache and the Belgica - their winter madness and scurvy, and finishing with the amputation of Percy Blackborrow’s toes in ‘The Snuggery’ on Elephant Island, the medical history of the 20 years of The Heroic Era was illustrated with images and anecdotes of the personalities of the explorers, doctors and patients.
Highlights, if the term can be forgiven, included a detailed account of Dr Marshall’s enucleation of Aeneas MacIntosh’s eye on the Nimrod expedition. Another is Wilhelm Goeldel’s appendicectomy on his colleague Dr Ludwig Kohl aboard the Deutschland in 1911, and the romantic sequel of his love and later marriage to Margit, the daughter of CA Larsen, who stole his heart during his convalescence at Grytviken. The talk finished with two modern day stories; the first recounting the breast cancer of Dr Jerri Nielsen, self-diagnosed while overwintering at the Amundsen-Scott base 1999, and the subsequent airdrops of chemotherapy agents. The second was Dr Bob’s excision of a large inaccessible furuncle on a compromised voyage crew member in Europa’s library during a ‘Drake-shake” two years ago.