We steer the ship through any kind of winds and weather, through high and low pressure systems and the wavering areas in-between them, making it necessary even to heave-to, to wait for better airs to follow.
The changeable weather and atmospheric systems passing-by, dictate our progress and the way we sail, like seemingly capricious happenings in our society set out our behaviours. The unanticipated worldwide viral epidemic that is bringing the shortcomings of many of our economies to
the surface, steers our lives in these convoluted times, making most of humankind to heave-to as well, holding on for the storm to pass, reducing our mobility, leaving entire countries, cities, towns and streets practically deserted, with their inhabitants in quiet expectation and hope for more advantageous times to come.
Steering the ship trough ever-changing seas, like following the never ending, unrestrained and always surprising line of time affecting our global history, we sail over the complex oceanic features related with the coastal north flowing cold waters of the Falkland Current. Its strong flow plus its meeting with the Brazil Current running southwards,
yields numerous pockets of water swirling off the main streams towards the East; eddies in-between which we try to squeeze our course as we sail further off. We are at the ship’s helm over this tortuous oceanographic area as we steer our lives through these bewildering times.
Countless hands passed by Europa’s steering wheel, many for a short acquaintance during a trip, others for a longer period. Just as many people cross paths with us, in many different circumstances, shaping our character as individuals, single beings which together construct the
whole of human society. We are faced now by extraordinary personal and collective challenges to come back on track. The same when now and then forceful winds and towering swells crashing against the ship’s hull push her off course, making us put an extra effort in, to steer her on the
right heading again.
We steer her across calms and storms, good seas to wild ocean swells. Downwind to close hauled, light breeze to the raging winds we experience lately in the Roaring Forties. A band of latitudes famous for their strong predominant Westerly winds and the low pressure systems sweeping
through, just like the one we are dealing with for the last days, riding its back-side and putting up with its associated blazing blasts and seas.
These latitudes, troublesome as they could be on account of the accompanying strong winds, were well known already since the early days of sailing to speed the oceanic passages. The Dutch explorer Hendrik Brouwer discovered this sort of oceanic highway in 1611, and since then
their winds have been used for international trade under sail all the way into the so called Golden Age of Sail in the 19th Century, when sailing ship designs, expertise and efficiency where at their peak, before falling into disuse and being replaced by steamships.
For centuries, commerce around the world between Europe, the Far East, and Oceania ran the Easting down following the Roaring Forties. Often, the homebound trip once back in the Atlantic, took the ships in a similar route to the one we are following on our journey.
We sail a portion of those historical worn down trading paths that sailing ships for many years trod when returning from Cape Horn. Their passage back up the Atlantic towards Europe, crossed the Roaring Forties northwards, and then followed the atmospheric circulation along the
eastern South Atlantic, crossing the Equator and later using the western side of the North Atlantic before heading home.
But we are not the only ones taking this passage. Countless southern high latitude breeding birds have been flying through it since immemorial times on their migrations northwards during the harsh meridional winter. Some of them prefer to remain in the Southern hemisphere, reaching 20º to 30º N as do the widespread Black browed and
the more locally distributed Sooty albatross alike, together with their larger relatives Wandering and Royal albatrosses.
Similar patterns follow the Tristan da Cunha archipelago endemic Spectacled and Atlantic petrels. Others have chosen much larger migratory patterns, like the Great shearwaters. They nest primarily also at the Tristan da Cunha group of islands and Falklands as well, where a smaller colony resides, but they disperse during this time of the year all across the Atlantic, reaching even latitudes north of the Arctic Circle. All those are our loyal companions on our sailing adventure since days ago.
But besides having a chance to greet them and have a glimpse of their elegant gliding flights, last days persistent 30, 40, 50kn and even stronger blows keep our minds focused on the good steering, sailing on a beam reach to speed up our progress, while growing swells ram the hull
keeping the decks continuously awash. Like on many other occasions the Europa and her crew go on through a few days of braving stormy weather. Captain, officer and deckhands, fully dressed up in foul weather gear can be seen now and then struggling on deck, making all efforts on their hands for a good and safe navigation through boisterous sea conditions, and always with a firm hold at the helm. Downstairs the cooks keep playing their seemingly magic tricks in the galley and keep preparing
delectable meals, on a wildly heeling and pitching ship.
How the wind roars through the sailing ship’s rigging! How magnificent is its sound! Though it brings to us only work -hard, dangerous, tremendous, Herculean work of a kind people ashore can never know- we yet can feel the glory of the roar of the wind in the sailor's steel rigging. A score-odd notes are here, if you listen closely, if you listen carefully into the sullen great roaring that drowns everything at
first. There is the plaintive moaning at the rigging screws, each with a different note; the sighing through the slackened running gear, and the mad roar at the wet and powerful backstays. Out on the yards there is a different note again, the noise of powerful winds meeting powerful
canvas, and sending the good ship on; and down there on deck, far, far below, where puny figures haul on ropes and a big figure that is the mate stares aloft, is the crashing and the booming of the seas that break aboard. The great seas come thundering at the ship like breakers at a rock-clad ocean beach, and break all around her and all over her as
if they are bent upon breaking her, too; and here aloft the wind sweeps unchecked upon us, and tears the coats from our backs, and snatches the caps from our heads, and blinds us with rain, and cuts us with hail, and tears at the grip of our numbed hands upon the weather rigging, and
brings the moisture to our eyes and the spirit to our souls, and we fight on!
Francis Chichester. ‘ Along the Clipper Way´
In that way, despite having in our minds an ever-present thought for how the dreadful COVID-19 viral track of infection is evolving ashore, thousands of miles away, and how it is affecting friends, family and the whole of society, we keep sailing, we keep steering the ship trough the
high seas. Here, priorities from the live ashore change. Though still connected to land by a thin thread represented mostly by short communications through email, our minds drift to set and trim our sails, adjust course subject to the winds and their forecasts, repair and embellish our ship, keep a close eye out for chafe in the multitude of
ropes hanging from deck to high aloft, ropes that are a substantial part of our thoughts and are an entangled element with our night and day sky. Grey days, sunny mornings, starry nights, and lately tempestuous seas
and powerful winds saturating the air with sea spray, come in succession through our 6 hour watch schedules, all framed by the taut rig, its sails and the countless lines, seemingly set up in a spider web that may not make sense for the profane eyes, but that follow a purposeful
system. All of them have a spot where to be made fast, all have a name, all of them have an important task to perform when callous hands and strong arms pull or ease them.
The ship is our pride, our home for the days to come, our safe refuge and our means of transportation in the thrilling way that represents sailing across the oceans. Especially on this moment in the history of humankind. Wet and tired as we can be since enduring the rigours of last days’ rough ride, we appreciate the self-determination offered by the
seas, in contrast with a large number of world’s population restricted movements, the shocking contagion and death path of COVID-19 pandemics and the associated imminent socio-economical debacle after many countries have been put on a sort of temporary hibernation.
Life at sea offers us a precious chance to detach our minds from this controlled life ashore, and strain our senses for the rough grandeur of the ocean that surrounds us, the sounds of the wind blowing through our rig and canvas, the strength needed to set, strike or furl the sails. Value the attentiveness required to keep a sharp eye at the wheel,
steering sometimes resulting in an exerting exercise, others a much relaxed task. Navigating by the compass, by the sails and how they fill up with light breeze or ferocious winds. Not easy tasks, not tasks filled with poetic romance, but duties that purposely make us appreciate the moment we live in, honour the reality of the different faces of the
open seas and endure its gifts, and always think on the strong contrast between our strives on board and our friends’ own struggles back home.