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Crossing the Antarctic Convergence Area

A good sailing night under reduced sail was followed by decreasing winds in the morning that made for setting more canvas. After breakfast Top Gallants are unfurled and clued down and Aap is replaced by the larger Desmond over the main deck, all under a steady breeze of about 22 to 24kn from the W-by-N. Like this Europa keeps a speed of 6kn on a good 200º course. Sailing southbound, since the early hours the surface water temperature has been dropping. Last midnight still 5.8ºC were recorded but by this afternoon the readings had decreased to 2.8ºC. This cooling of the surface water indicates that today we left behind the temperate Subantarctic area and started sailing already under the influence of the Antarctic water mass that surrounds the White Continent. The belt where
those two water masses meet, surrounds Antarctica at an approximate latitude of 60ºS and is called the Polar Front or Antarctic Convergence Area. Here the colder and denser waters from the South, sink under the lighter Sub Antarctic ones, creating an oceanographic boundary around this disturbance. The Polar Front was first measured in 1911 by a German scientific expedition led by Wilhelm Filchner on board the ship “Deutschland”. An accomplished mountaineer and of an expeditionary character, once he focused his efforts in the, by then, barely known Antarctica, he developed a proposal for a privately funded Expedition to determine whether West and East Antarctic were connected by land or ice. Their elected place to set foot was the virtually unknown coast beyond the Weddell Sea. There, and also along their way, the idea was to explore, map the new lands and conduct an ambitious scientific program. The trip was peppered by un-forecasted circumstances and difficulties,
some of them solved at Grytviken (South Georgia) with the support of Carl Anton Larsen, a name that will come back often during our trip. Captain for several Polar explorers like Nansen and Nordenskjöld, and great Antarctic adventurer, his entrepreneur character led him to establish the first whaling station at South Georgia, Grytviken in 1904. Down South in the Weddell Sea, the problems for Filchner didn’t end, and included ending up with the ship beset on the sea ice and having to endure an un-planned overwintering. Many of the exploration plans scheduled during the journey could never happen, mostly because frictions arose amongst the expeditionaries. The leader Filchner gain the animosity of the moody Captain Vashel and part of the crew, including some of his scientific team. From the expedition records, it appears as though Vashel was purposely trying to sabotage the success of the whole enterprise. Historians now suggest that, due to the Captain’s behaviour on the ship, he was provably suffering from syphilis. For one reason or other, and on the verge of mutiny, they sailed back to Germany, while Filchner returned by himself. Partly because of those troubles, back in Germany the expedition was never credited for their outstanding discoveries and exploratory results. Nevertheless, they managed to sail further South than anybody before (77º 44’S), managing important meteorological, geological and oceanographical observations. On this latter field, the findings made on this expedition were significant. Of most importance was the discovery and description of four isolated water masses in the Southern Ocean by Brennecke, the oceanographer on board. Including the realisation of a sudden change in the salinity of surface waters flowing north, and an associated steep temperature plunge. He just had discovered the Antarctic Convergence, a consistent boundary to define the start of the Antarctic region. Sailing South now crossing this oceanographical and biological border into the Antarctic waters, the weather had become overcast, rainy and foggy for most of the day. Before lunch the wind also changed, now decreasing decreasing to less than 10kn, changing direction to an un-forecasted SW-ly again. On this light breeze, we start engines and drop first Top Gallants and then Middle Staysails, sheeting up the rest of staysails. Conditions that guarantee for a rolling journey. The pitching movements of Europa experienced until the moment, seem to have changed for a new motion, the rolling, to which we have to adapt now.
Anyway, it looks like more people are overcoming the seasickness and increasing numbers show up for their watches and mealtimes. This lack of wind made for a poor birdwatching day, where just a handful of albatrosses and giant petrels could be seen resting on the sea surface, waiting for stronger breeze to come, that will allow them to glide over the ocean once more. Moment that will come soon if we trust the weather forecast downloaded today, where strong W-lies and NW-lies are predicted for the next hours. And not much later, in the late afternoon and early evening the WSW-ly
wind comes back, blowing up to 20kn. Time for setting canvas again, stop engines and enjoy some great sailing in the Drake Passage. Like this, already before dinner we sail under Squares up to the Top Gallants, Middle and Lower Staysails, Fore-Top-Mast Staysail, Inner Jib and Spanker, on a good course towards the South Shetland Islands at about 7.5kn. The wind kept increasing during the night up to the point of blowing a steady 35kn for a while, plus stronger gusts now and then, making for reducing sail. Then, before the end of the day Top Gallants and Middle Staysails are furled, while we keep a good course and speed to the Antarctic shores, our first goal of the trip. The relatively calm sea conditions allowed our guides and crew to continue with their talks and trainings. Today, Richard had a presentation about photography tips that can be useful in Antarctic environment. There were few topics covered beginning with care for the gear in cold and wet weather conditions, basics of photography theory such as exposure triangle, dynamic range, lenses, filters, composition and lastly some practical tips that directly apply to photography in Antarctica. The aim of the lecture was to introduce all of us some few handy tips to start shooting better images straight away, while being safe and have still functioning gear. This introduction will be followed up with further lectures about making the selections/culling and post-processing the images.

Geschreven door:
Jordi Plana Morales | Guide

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margriet.  |  18-02-2019 09:22 uur

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