29th March 2019 SOUTH ATLANTIC OCEAN.
Finding ourselves on light airs, in the early morning a sudden shift from S-ly to N-ly, is announced in the radar by a line of squalls. After bracing back and forth a couple of times in the variable winds finally it gets more steady. Still motoring during the early hours, it didn’t take long after breakfast to set the canvas again under the light 7 to 10kn breeze from the North by West.
Under the slightly overcast sky we climb aloft to untie all the Squares plus Lower Staysails, Spanker and the Jibs, engines are turned off and we enjoy our last day of gentle sailing as approaching the South African coast. Sunshine breaks through the clouds and even lunch is served once more on deck.
Getting closer to the shallower African Continental Shelf, it is by lunchtime when the 3000 to 2000m deep waters quickly start sloping to the range of hundreds of metres in depth, indicating the proximity of land, distant now about 60nm. Those shallower areas surrounding the continents vary on their extension depending on what continental margin and where in the world, but being relatively more accessible than the open ocean, they are better studied and commercially used.
During the afternoon the last check at the water temperature also shows a decrease of a couple of degrees, indicating that the Agulhas Current started to lay behind us and now we were getting into the influence of the colder and northward flowing Benguela current, that corresponds with the eastern portion of the South Atlantic Gyre. Along the coast it produces an upwelling of cold and nutrient-rich waters that supports the high productive Benguela ecosystem.
Related to this change on oceanographic conditions came associated a change on the water colour, now greener and brownish, the numerous kelp rafts spotted from our decks and the couple of groups of Pilot whales passing-by close to the ship.
Despite of the land proximity, the hazy horizon sure does not allow us to see land yet, until the afternoon, when it lays just about 50nm from our position. Straight ahead of us, the area comprised between our destination at Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope and Cape Agulhas holds a long history of navigators who ventured those very same waters in search of the oceanic passage connecting the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
Before the official first sight of Cape Town area and Cape of Good Hope by the European sailor Vasco da Gama in 1497, it took a gradual process of several other Portuguese sailors to step by step venture South along the African coast. Some of these adventurous journeys were taken by for example Gonzalo Cabral in 1432, who sailed to the south of Cape Bojador. The next step was the achievement of Cadamosto reaching Cape Verde Islands and Gambia in 1456. Further South, the Gulf of Guinea was found later by Diego Gomez. That remained as the southernmost port reached for many years, actually until 1486 when the explorer Diogo Cao went further south than anyone before, reaching Cape Cross in Namibia.
Amongst other sailors, they were the ones opening the routes to Southern Africa, until finally, a couple of years later Bartolomeu Diaz was commissioned with the mission of rounding the continent and sail north, with the visionary view of opening a new trading route around the cape into the Indian Ocean. After being blown out by a resilient severe storm, a great cape came into view beyond the explored areas in South Africa. Due to the difficulties they had to reach this point and the storm that hid the view for days, Diaz named it “Stormy Cape”.
The enterprising King John from Portugal, with his inspired trading prospect, re-named it “Cape Good Hope”. Next one to try rounding the Cape into the Indian Ocean was the Portuguese of noble blood, Knight of the Royal Court and man-of-war Captain Vasco da Gamma. He sailed from Lisbon on 8 July 1497, in charge of a small fleet of three small expedition ships supported by a supply vessel for part of the itinerary. The fleet succeeded on rounding Cape of Good Hope and Cape Agulhas on November, and sailed up the East African coast. They arrived to Calicut, India on 20 May 1498, where they just took the time to fill up their holds with spices and set sail back home, on what ended up being a terrible trip. It took for them 132 days to cross the Indian Ocean Westbound, an unwelcome surprise, as the inbound trip in the Indian Ocean to Calicut it just took 23 journeys. The ships made a stop at Kenya, where ships and the surviving men arrived in a disgraceful state. Half the crew had perished, the rest struggled with scurvy. Undermanned as they were, one of the ships was left behind, and they managed to continue the trip with the other two. But yet more tragedy struck the voyage when the commander da Gama lost his brother and stayed behind, burying him in Azores. Later he took passage on another vessel and safely returned to Lisbon.
Despite the huge toll on human lives, ships and equipment, the expedition was a great economical success. The cargo on the ships was worth several times the total cost of the enterprise. All an all the route he sailed on both ways, was the longest ocean voyage ever made by then, and represented a great feat, opening a direct sea route to the rich countries of the East and a new era of Portuguese colonialism in Africa could begin.
Slowly approaching those African lands of history and myths, fortunes and misfortunes, the calm evening met the Europa under full sail in another lovely sunset. Sun went down the horizon while the crew was using the last lights of the day to wrap up the hull de-rusting and light maintenance projects, including our Captain Janke busy with cleaning the wheelhouse windows, before hitting port tomorrow.
But before that still a few miles to go, and still under sail we kept going for the night. As our last evening on board Captain decided to take all off the watch system, to celebrate, to have some time to prepare ourselves for the upcoming arrival to the city and for all of us to enjoy the long awaited South Georgia Auction. During our visit to Grytviken, our guides picked up several items for the auction auction evening. They were kept out of our sight until this morning where all the items were displayed in the library. Everybody interested could have a good look at the items and the calling prices. To make the things more interesting, Bark Europa put some special items into the auction too, including worn out and teared Dutch flag that was on the ship since beginning of our voyage, pieces of the Deckzwabber, canvas that often propelled Europa through furious winds of the Drake Passage and South Atlantic and finally the beloved toaster from the lounge.
Evening started with free drinks to get the bidders into the mood. Sarah and Loek created a great atmosphere during the auction and the whole event was a resounding success. We managed to raise $1.509 that will go to South Georgia Heritage Fund and hope that our contribution will help to maintain the beautiful ecosystem of South Georgia for generations to come.