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Dealing with variable winds and passing squalls

The fourth day since we all embarked on our adventure over the South Atlantic and Southern Ocean. A journey of variable and shifting winds as we sail over the shallow waters of the Argentinean Continental Shelf. An area well known for its unstable weather, with frequent showers sweeping by the ocean surface. Over sub-tropical coastal latitudes, usually, Squall-lines form as a line of thunderstorms in the warm air preceding the passage of a colder front, or are also associated with the change of the wind directions from sea to land and vice-versa between the day and evenings. The different temperatures and moisture carried by those different winds could also produce the rapid growth of convective located systems. As such, they are all often accompanied by severe weather as downpours rain, and strong surface shifting winds, gusts, often thunderstorms, and lighting, that usually quickly dissipate as the squalls pass by. 

Sailing here means keeping a good eye on the surroundings, and tracking the changes in the winds and seas. This translates to calling hands on deck to handle sails, both to sometimes take advantage of the increasing winds or more often to prepare the ship before the showers hit with their associated blasts. 

With its tall top hamper and acres of sails (which require a lot of time to take in), the square-rigger was especially vulnerable to sudden wind, like williwaws or pamperos off the River Plate, farther south on the Cape Horn route, or vicious white squalls in the tropics, which would dive down on the ship at a hundred miles an hour out of a blue and innocent sky.  

Derek Lundy. “The way of a ship" 

Local conditions that, if not paid attention to in anticipation, can result in trouble both for the ship and her crew. 

Like that, the day went full of sail changes, bracing, and variable courses. Starting with a North-easterly wind of 20kn in the morning, the sailing went from Square downwind to Beam Reach with all the canvas set but the Upper Staysails, while the Europa gets a good 7kn of speed under the sunshine. Later on, her braces are pulled again square as the winds turn more Northerly. But by lunchtime, big dark clouds loaded with rain lurched at our Starboard side approaching fast, but still giving us time enough to prepare the ship for when they hit. The available hands on deck clew up and douse the sails set higher aloft. 

Before dinner, we experienced yet another wind shift to a North-westerly and increasing to 25kn. The showers and squalls keep passing our way, with some wind which now Europa takes advantage of in-between claimer periods. But increasing thunder and lightning make for an evening of preparing the ship again for their associated strong gusts and wind shifts. 

But not for all the journey we were dealing with those conditions. Now and then we experience periods of sunshine and calmer weather, times when the crew starts taking their time to gather people and start with the sail training talks and hands-on out on deck. Explanations that together with the lectures from guides and photographer teams will try to continue for the whole trip whenever there’s a good chance while sailing. 

It was a good day too for spending some time trying to identify and count the numbers of seabirds as they fly around the ship. Bark Europa is participating in several of the projects framed into the Citizen Science concept, and one of them links us with a Southern Ocean Seabird Survey. The idea of this project is to use the ships that most often sail the Southern Ocean (that would be the several tourist vessels that are on those waters during the whole of the summer season) as surveying platforms. In this way involving the passengers and voyage crew actively in their development. 

Science isn't just about solving this or that puzzle. It's about understanding how the world works: the whole world from the vastness of the cosmos to the particularity of an individual human life. It's worth thinking about how all the different ways we have to talk about the world manage to fit together. 

Sean M. Carroll  

The Southern Ocean and the Antarctic waters, remote as they are, don’t see enough scientific opportunities to come and visit the areas. To solve some of the puzzles and questions about how those ecosystems work and evolve, more and more amounts of data are necessary. The rising number of flourishing tourism ships that sail in that area offers a good chance for them to take advantage of it and have better data sets to work on.

Geschreven door:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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