A day for getting ready for the upcoming time in Antarctica. Closing up to the last continent and neighboring islands to ever be discovered. The mythical “Terra Incognita Australis” had to wait until as recently as 1819 to be sighted for the first time. Tomorrow we plan to arrive in the very same area that William Smith first spotted after being blown out a very long way from his rounding of The Horn on his trading voyages.
Seeds, organic material, dirt. A close inspection of the Velcro of our jackets and pants reveals the stuff entangled on them. Vacuum clean pockets, daypacks, and fleece around necks and sleeves. Biosecurity procedures keep going on, during the last day at sea before arrival to the South Shetlands. Cleaning and disinfecting our equipment before our first landfall and also between the different landings is a commitment of all the fleet operating in Antarctica to conduct safe and environmentally responsible travel. And lately, for the last couple of seasons, it has proved to be more important than ever. It is not just to minimize the introduction of non-native species, but also due to the recent outbreaks of HPAI (High Pathogenic Avian Influenza) that have resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of seabirds around the world, and also now affecting the seal population.
Today gradually we approach the South Shetland Islands, where our Antarctic adventure is planned to start. We have sailed almost all the length of the Drake Passage, first fast now slowing down in the light winds. When and where will we be arriving? Tonight or tomorrow early morning? Wind and seas rule our schedules, so it will not be until the ship is closer to land that the arrangements for visits ashore will become more clear.
Plans and the orchestration of the trips were put in place months ago for the whole of the Antarctic fleet, but Europa wouldn’t be the same if there’s no playing and adaptation to winds, swells, ice, weather systems, her changes of speed, the timing and strategy of setting and dousing sail. That’s the beauty of her operations that makes out of every voyage a singular experience.
With the seas abating and the wind dropping there’s a good chance today to continue with the Europa’s maintenance. In a ship like ours, there are always ropes to check, things to change, and rig inspections after sailing the rough days at the Drake. Now and then a line chafes, a block gets loose, a serving untangles, a knot unties a halyard twists.
The wind dies down, and the sails and yards are adjusted during the day. It changes and shifts, ending up with the Europa sailing practically downwind once more, but now experiencing a bit less of the rolling in the calming seas.
As the afternoon turns into the evening the higher squares on the main mast and outer jib are packed away with the help of many of us. For the first time, there’s the chance to learn how to climb onto the yard foot ropes and furl our canvas. Later on, the same sails in the Fore Mast follow. It is not until 3:00 AM when the engines are turned on again as approaching the English Strait, lying between Greenwich and Robert Islands.