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A day of contrasts

Heavy weather, rain, and calms amongst passing showers   

A night of heavy weather sailing. A good northerly 25kn blow, but one after the other squalls and showers brought stronger gusts and pouring rain. As they pass by, some of them made to bear away a bit, while others allow to keep sailing on the given course.  

The first half of the day wasn’t much of a different situation. Having less wind at dawn, we set again the sails that were stowed away during the strongest gusts. Royals are sheeted down and hoisted, upper staysails and outer jib are pulled up. Rain keeps falling. Pouring rain. Shower after shower, heavy loaded clouds. They don’t allow almost any dry moment. During the morning, these, as impressive as they can look on the radar or when they darken the sky, come just with heavy rain, wind drops, and shifts. Now the clouds catch up with us, leaving precipitation and barely any wind, but the handful of knots that blow seem to come from every direction, leaving us wobbling around under the light airs. It seems like we are now at the center of a relatively low-pressure area.  

But then, from the early afternoon the whole situation changes. Now the strong wind blows again, and the low clouds and showers start behaving like proper squalls. Now and then swell breaks over the ship’s railing washing the decks. Time for dousing again the upper gear.  

Weather conditions that seabirds seem to like. More and more of them have been spotted from the last days onwards.  Boobies, Shearwaters, and Petrels, they soar around, follow the ship, and occasionally land in the water to feed. An indication of the proximity of land for way-finders and navigators.  

In these very same waters, Jacob Roggeveen sailed in 1722. An expedition that for the first time brought European Explorers to Easter Island. As often is described in sea voyages, birds are seen as signs of a close land. 

… We saw numerous birds, amongst them many Tropic-birds. Moreover, the wind began to falter and shifted towards the West, which on coasts where trade winds prevail, is always a sign that one is not far from land. 

… We continued on another 12º to the Westward of the longitude 251º, and had land-birds and sea-fowl about us every day, who kept company with us until we at last sighted an island, on the 6th April, being our first Easter Day, at which we were heartily pleased. And because it was on the day of the glorious resurrection of our lord that it appears to us, we at once named Patch Land, or ‘Easter Island’ 

Carl Frederick Behrens: Another Narrative of Jacob Roggeveen’s Visit. 

Sailed in Roggeveen’s the Arend. Sergeant-Major in command of the marines on board. 1722 

Forty-eight years later, González de Ahedo commanded two Spanish ships, the San Lorenzo and the Santa Rosalia. For the second time, Europeans landed on the island. The sight of increasing diversity and the number of birds spotted day after day as getting closer to an uncertain position or even unresolved existence of Easter Island on their records, spurred the commander further and further on until finding the much sought land. Their mission, to survey the coast and take possession of it on behalf of King Charles III of Spain. One of their accounts of the expedition reads as follows: 

On the 10th of November, a 6 o’clock in the morning, we saw for the first time some five or so birds known as black petrels; and at that hour we were in lat. 27º and long. 268º 20´.  

On the 11th we saw a great abundance of other birds during the afternoon. 

On the 13th the aforementioned birds were still in great numbers. 

On the 14th we found ourselves, at half past seven in the morning with very little wind, and made a signal to the frigate for her captain and such officers as could be spared to come on board of us. 

Our Commodore then directed, in the presence of all, that the instructions and commands which he held from the Viceroy be read aloud by the paymaster of this ship, which was done. He then stated that although his orders only required him to go as far as long. 264º yet nevertheless he was minded to continue on while so many birds remained in sight. 

On the 14th at five in the morning we made all sail, and at seven o’clock we sighted an island to the NW of us.  

… On this island we bestowed the name of San Carlos, being that of the reigning king. 

Don Juan Hervé. Sub Lieutenant,  Navigator Officer of the San Lorenzo. Narrative of the Expedition undertaken by order of his Excellency Don Manuel de Amat, Viceroy of Peru to the Island of David 1770.  

For us, a predictable increase in birdlife, as we accurately know our position. For them, a welcoming sight for land was most probably at close reach.  

Like that, a look at the charts and positioning systems tells us that we just passed by 24nm north of Salas y Gomez Islands, and Easter Island neither is too far. They rise from the deep ocean creating an upwelling of rich waters around them. Remote lands and relatively productive waters in the middle of the Pacific gyre desert, attract seabirds both for breeding and/or using them as feeding and resting grounds. Like the numerous Parkinson’s petrels that accompany today. Despite being a New Zealand endemic breeder, the majority of the population migrates to Eastern tropical Pacific and coastal Peruvian waters when they are not nesting or they are juveniles.  

The hours go by, the rain and wind pass and leave a good sailing afternoon, even with clearing skies and the sun peering behind the breaking-up clouds. The conditions abate, and now the breeze shifts between Northwesterly and Northeasterly. Braces are pulled tight on starboard tack trying to keep on sailing, but by dinner time it is clear that we are going to start facing the light winds. The ship’s engines, which have been having a good rest for weeks, now are awakened and they start pushing us. Not much later, in the darkness and under the rain, all sails are pulled down.   

The mysteries of Easter Island lay 114nm ahead of us.

Geschreven door:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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