As all over the world it seems times are approaching for a gradual return to what many say “new normality”, maybe half way back to how it was before, here we find ourselves approximately at half of the length of our trip, having crossed the Equator into the Northern Hemisphere. It welcomed us in the night-time with a fair breeze and a refreshing shower after a sunny and hot day, as we all welcome this worldwide start of easing the lockdowns and COVID19 pandemic recession. It is still unknown how things will be at our arrival, but sure it will be quite surprising for all of the crew as we haven’t been experiencing the lockdowns of cities and countries, companies and jobs.
As much as the crew look forward to arrival ashore, these words employed by some countries: “new normality” bring to our minds images of a dystopian future and creates some fears and question marks about what that actually means and how we will have to adapt to it after months at sea, since sailing Europa off her anchorage in Ushuaia and our everyday experience of sailing her across the ocean during the peak of a worldwide crisis.
But gradually we are getting closer to our destination, where many of those question marks will be answered. In the meantime, good, warm weather and smooth seas help us for a relaxed navigation, suitable for continuing the maintenance and repair projects that we undertake during the whole trip, all just seasoned by a couple of playful Bottlenose dolphin pods bow-riding the ship for a while during the afternoon and then again at night, countless Flying fish, and the visit of two beautiful Brown Noddies and occasional Brown Boobies fishing in our wake. Now and then, the watches are spiced-up by some sailhandling due to passing squalls plus adapting our bracing to the Doldrums breeze. This area noted by its calmness and lack of wind, located at the interface of Northern and Southern Hemisphere Trade winds, seem to play tricks with us, welcoming the ship with still some breeze to keep on going amidst mild rain showers with not much associated wind to worry about.
But the progress didn’t last long, as soon we sailed into what seemed to be the proper Doldrums. Light airs from every direction, countless squalls and often full rainy watches are spent on deck, while waiting for wind. A classical situation at those latitudes. Besides the unstable little wind puffs now and then, not enough to fill our sails, a good eye must be kept on the development of tempestuous squalls and thunderstorms. Here they can never be underestimated due to the process of rising moist air as it is heated at the surface, then rising to higher levels of the atmosphere and travelling North and Southwards until it sinks again about the 30º’s latitudes, then a flow of that wind comes back close to the Equator through the Trade winds. Meteorological features well known for classical sailors which since hundreds of years ago have kept an eye on the best ways to cross the world’s oceans, trying to avoid some areas and taking advantage of the atmosphere, sea currents and their patterns along the year. Soon we hope to be over this impasse in our sailing and forget about it when reaching the promised trade winds, laying a few miles ahead.
We shouldn’t forget either the last over 100 years of the Europa’s history. The struggles to refurbish the ship from her beginnings as a lightship to what she is now, the start of the company, her endless sailing of the world’s oceans with trainees on board, how she wiggles her way in bad seas and amongst magnificent icebergs (but also amongst bureaucracy and regulations) for a ship of her kind -sail training ship- into Antarctica; all until becoming the well-known ocean wanderer the Europa is today. We all fear losing all this as an aftermath of the COVID19 economic debacle. We all hope for keeping the Old Lady sailing, alive and well, believing in her capacity of recovery.
Other fears on board are the lack of wind and the extent of the Doldrum area, together with the worries about loved ones ashore and the kind of world we will arrive to in about a month at the end of our sailing adventure. These fears related to sailing the ship obviously run in a different scale than on land, where the viral pandemic has changed the way we live, our relations with others, our mobility and puts at risk our own lives, while here we haven’t got to change the way we sail.