1st December 2017 Tacking our way to Antarctica along the Scotia Sea.
A relative Low Pressure System passing right over our heads keep producing variable light winds during the journey. Engines roar while we set and strike sails, tacking a couple of times to keep our way across the Scotia Sea towards Antarctica.
Since our departure from South Georgia, despite the crossing of fog banks and a few hours of rainfall, we encounter surprising good weather conditions. Europa sails across the vast water mass of the Scotia Sea, confined between Tierra del Fuego in South America, South Georgia, the South Sandwich and South Orkney Islands, and the Antarctic Peninsula. On its West side limits with the also infamous Drake Passage. The sea was named after the expedition ship “Scotia”, used in these waters by the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition (1902-1904) under command of William S. Bruce.
The Scotia Sea is renown by its strong winds, glacial waters and for being part of sort of Low Pressures highway that follows the Westerlies wind-belt that surrounds the globe at those high Southern latitudes. Thing that makes it specially cunning if your intention is to sail on a Westerly or Southwesterly direction, like we pretend to do.
The small Low Pressure crossing our path, straight across our course is not providing enough fair winds, and despite having all our canvas set we keep both engines running too. But at dawn we have to start striking sail. Lower Staysails comes first, followed by the Courses.
The new day awakens, and the wind keeps veering as we brace on Close-hauled on Port tack and set again the sails we took away just a few hours ago.
But before lunch, the wind eases down even more, while we hit another misty area located approximately at the centre of the Low Pressure that affects us for the moment. Time to take away all our canvas, leaving just a lonely Spanker set. In a span of a couple of watches we have set all our sails and then we got to take them down again, making an actively for many of us aloft and on deck.
During our daily meeting after lunch, Captain informed as usual about our progress, 130nm from Cape Disappointment, the last land we saw when we left South Georgia behind. Sun shines and we can enjoy it on deck, but the wind is not so fair as the weather. Under the circumstances we are experiencing, he only chance to make distance at relatively quick speed towards the West is to keep using our engines and motor-sail our way. Our planned destination in the Antarctic Islands is still about 570nm away.
During the afternoon the sailhandling continues, and about 18:00h we tack the sails, now starting to motor-sail on Starboard tack under WSW winds up to 22kn. As we are busy on deck the first large tabular icebergs appears on the horizon about 15nm away. Those large icebergs have been detached from one of the several Antarctic ice shelves, and now they drift in open waters far from their original sitting place.
Later on, right after dinner, facing veering winds towards West is time to change tack again. Now on Port tack and changing course to 300º we set all Staysails and we add the Gaff Topsail to the layout.
Along the day the sea state has been increasing and Europa starts to roll over the confused swell. All for a change since our departure on calm seas.
Following the day-style of tacking every change of permanent watch, at midnight is time again to gather on deck. Gaff Top Sail and Royal Main Staysail are furled and with the help of all available hands it just takes a few minutes to change to Starboard tack.
All in all, a nice first day at sea after our visit to South Georgia, with quite a lot of sailhandling while motor-sailing towards Antarctica. And as such, we are all already getting used to our new sea-watches, while some lectures help to fill up the day.
Doctor Bob delighted us with his talk and wonderful slides about Antarctica seen through the history of Art. And today was time as well to get more familiar with the Kelp forests. We have been seeing them every day throughout the extension of Falklands and South Georgia seashores, it has been tangled around our zodiac’s engine propellers, and now we get more information about its distribution, biology and structure. Additionally Jordi goes a bit further and explains the key role that Kelp plays to run the Austral sub-polar ecosystems, acting as the tropical rainforest do on land, but underwater in this case. The biodiversity that they house is amazing, modelling at the same time those coastal systems as well with their body structure similar to the trees. Moreover, humans have been using those marine plants for their benefit since long time ago, and nowadays they play an important economical paper on our society as source of food, alginates and other chemicals for the pharmaceutical industry, as a base for fertilisers or in aquaculture.