Work on deck started early today. Just after 05:00 AM we left Ship Harbour and New Island behind, first using our engines, but soon setting sail to make our way Northwards to Jason Islands. There we plan to check the conditions for a landing at Steeple Jason. Located at the Northwest corner of Falklands is known for the rough seas around it and its exposure to the elements of nature.
Permanent crew set sails with the help of some of the Voyage crew. First all squares to the Top Gallants come up at the time when Lower and Middle staysails are also set, together with Fore Top Mast staysail and Inner Jib. Taking a break for breakfast afterwards followed by setting the Royals as well. Fair SW-ly winds of 14 to 17 kn were with us this morning, giving us nice sailing conditions and good speed over 6 kn on our way North to Steeple Jason. Regardless the overcast skies the temperature wasn’t too low, allowing for some enjoyable hours of sailhandling.
Gradually Europa approaches Steeple Jason Island and increasing numbers of albatrosses are seen flying around. The island was originally known as Sebaldines after the Dutch navigator Sebald de Wert who recorded sighting them in 1600. It was renamed in 1766 by captain John Macbride, sent by the British Admiralty to survey the Falklands. It might also have been the first island of the Falklands sighted by the Europeans in the 16th century. Nowadays it is a WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) Natural Reserve and nobody lives there.
Before lunch, and after a beautiful sailing morning, we are close enough to the Northwest corner of the island to see the crowded shores of Steeple Jason, packed with Black-browed albatross nests. By that time, the Europa stills sails with lots of canvas set, and the increasing S-ly winds are pushing her leeway to the rocky shoals that surround this part of the island. Quick action is required to strike all sails and start the engine. We were at the closest we could get to the largest Black-browed albatross colony in the world (official numbers varies between 113.000 to 180.000 couples breeding here). Eventhough it was busy on deck, we could have a good look at the thrilling vista pictured in front of us.
Ferocious winds sweep those albatrosses’ domains, while the big swell crash against the rocky shores. Above the breakers, clustered on huge long patches on the tussock grass free areas, the innumerable albatross nests resemble multitude of white dots as seen from the ship. Marvellous nature’s set up even seen just from the decks of the Europa. Is obvious to all of us that a landing today in this area will not be possible due to the adverse weather conditions.
We had lunch, and in the meantime the ship motored her way to the lee side of Steeple Jason. Today under S-ly winds, the North coast of the island was more sheltered, but still the remaining swell from last couple of N-ly wind days batters against the rocks in the shore. There is not a sheltered beach around this part of the island, and being lucky with windless weather and no swell are necessary to land here.
Fortunately we are sailing on a beautiful Tall Ship that is not afraid of strong winds. Closing the chance for a landing due to strong winds, often opens another door to have an exhilarating sailing afternoon. Soon we turn around and head straight to the ESE towards Saunders Island, first bracing around and setting sail afterwards. All Squares but the Royals come up, together with Middle Staysails, Desmond, Fore top Mast staysail and Inner Jib. On the Mizzen Mast, we keep the Spanker.
What started like a good afternoon with a fresh fair breeze blowing from the SSW, soon became a masterpiece of sailing under strong winds up to 30kn. Braced sharp on Starboard tack, we ride the wild seas of North Falklands Close-Hauled, heeling considerably to Portside. Meanwhile the weather deteriorates, and the rising winds come together with clouds, drizzle and occasionally rain.
The startling sailing always come together with a great deal of work on deck. Sail adjustments happen often, including dropping down the Main Top Gallant and the Main Middle staysail, when the gusts went over 30kn. Safety lines were rigged again and whoever wanted to step on deck had to wear harness. Europa spent the whole afternoon enjoying herself doing what she knows better, sail under strong winds. Seeing her so exultant, it channels those feelings towards us in a sort of harmony of effort, hardship and the power of the winds and sails pulling us to our destination.
Even during the last bit of the daylight, the cloud cover broke up, letting the sunshine to break through, and offering yet another beautiful sunset. Sailing ended by dinnertime, when we approached the North coast of Saunders Island, at the Neck. Here we plan tomorrow’s morning activity ashore. All sails come down and, in a blink of an eye, many permanent and voyage crew went up the rig, to stow them away.
A few of the small black and white Commerson dolphins pay us a visit after we drop three shackles of the anchor chain to spend the night here. But a moment later more chain was added as the anchor stated dragging along the sea bottom due to the still strong winds in the area. Over 25kn blow from the SSW, despite we are at the North side of the island. The wind rushes over the low lying sandy isthmus between Elephant Point to the main Saunders Island, so called “Neck”, providing thus a merger shelter.
Hoping for a weather improvement, we spend the night here, with the plans to land after breakfast.