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Crossing the Bransfield Strait

Cold and dry S-ly winds started as a light breeze during last evening, while we tried to get deeper into the Antarctic Sound, just to be stopped by thick pack ice. By now the desolate Weddell Sea shut its ways-in under a blanket of frozen sea. Reaching the edge of the pack, Europa stops her engine and drifts on the more open waters north of it, to spend the night without many icy troubles. But during the hours of darkness, as we drift northwards slowly laying-to with the Spanker set, we matter other nuisances. The lookouts spot occasional growlers closely passing by, while increasing icy-cold winds sweep our decks, freezing out everything they get hold on.

Humid N-ly winds have been blowing during the last days, now, with the colder winds blowing from the icy interior of Antarctica, all the moist turn into ice overnight.

Waking up and sneaking a peek though the door’s portholes, we are greeted to the new day by decks carpeted in the clean white of fresh snow and ice.

First thing in the morning is to give a call to the Argentinean Base “Esperanza”, trying again our luck checking if it will be possible to visit their place this morning, as last night we ended up drifting near the Station. Unfortunately, busy as they still are with the last supply ship before their harsh overwintering, it will not be possible to accomplish our previously appointed landfall.

All things set, is time to keep going on our way off the Antarctic Sound. Under fair winds the moment arrived to cross the Bransfield Strait on a NW-ly course towards South Shetland Islands, before changing direction and sail to the unforgiving Elephant Island. If it keeps blowing like it has been overnight and this morning, a good sailing day over 80nm is almost guaranteed.

Hands are called on deck to start setting canvas and brace the yards to take the best advantage of the good S-ly winds. Out on deck, the bitter cold had frozen the rig, stiffen the sails and iced up the ropes, to the point of having to deal with rigid coils and icicles growing under the catwalk.

Painfully cold hands, but warm hearts and joyful crew try to unfurl sails, that remain stiff and ice bound to their gaskets and yards. Right away we start setting them on slowly but steadily increasing winds. The Weddell sea icy grip took over the Europa decks last night. Seems like today’s dawn awakens our aching cold old lady as she tries to shake the snow and ice off her rig and start opening her wings.

First Topsails are clued down, followed by Outer Jib and Spanker. Just with this canvas set, we achieve speeds of about 7kn.  Once out in the Bransfield, wind picks up, gusting over 40kn on passing snow showers. Upper Top Sails are unfurled, but just the Fore one is set. Main remains in standby, but without trouble of flapping on the strong winds, it remains frozen still hanging on its gear. The strong gusts made us replace the Outer Jib by the Inner jib during the stronger gust, and the Spanker is swapped over by the smaller Trysail. Later on, in the afternoon, the wind eases down a bit and start backing becoming E-ly, still helping us to reach Penguin Island, with just some adjustments on the bracing and setting more canvas step by step, until we end up sailing with all topsails, Top Gallants, Lower Staysails, Spanker, the two jibs and Fore Topmast Staysail. To get a bit more speed, hoping for arrival before dusk, Royals are added to the configuration and the smaller Aap is replaced by the larger Desmond.

Like this, on 25-26 kn of E-ly winds, our speed is back to about 8kn. By dinner time is the moment when gradually sails are starting to be clued up, as we approach the NW coasts of Penguin Island, where we plan to drop anchor and spend the night hoping for the forecasted change on wind strength and direction, that would allow us to try a landing tomorrow.  

But the work on deck was not over yet. Starting to strike canvas, cold showers and furious wind gusts over 35kn meet the crew aloft while furling all the canvas that was set. Wet to the bone and with numbed hands, they all wrestle with the iced shrouds, stiff frozen canvas and piercing sleet and snow driven by the raging winds. At that time Europa drops 5 shackles of anchor chain over the wild waters NE of Penguin Island. Actually, trying to sit at anchor, the ship feels like is sailing on rough seas, rolling on the swell. Europa barely holds her ground and at a point, the Captain decides to drop the second anchor to better secure our position.

In just a day and a half we had any kind of winds and associated meteorological conditions. N-ly warmer and humid winds at first, giving cloudy, snowy and unsettled weather. Then the S-ly brought cold and drier conditions, freezing all the remaining moist, just to end the journey under the tempestuous E-ly, with driving snow and rain. But from one direction or another, there it was, blowing all day, even helping us to achieve a great crossing of the Bransfield Srtrait under sail, however demanding under real challenging Antarctic conditions.

Geschreven door:
Jordi Plana Morales | Guide

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