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Icebergs, bergy bits, and growlers

Coming across another Low-Pressure System. 

We keep coming across icebergs of any kind and size. They vaguely come into sight in the low light of the night as a menacing shade in the distance or as smaller growlers at a closer distance. During the bright hours of the morning, they reveal themselves with all their beauty. Now a cloud passes by, and in the overcast weather they shine their tones of blue, the sun shines reflecting into them a bright white glow. But not to forget that under their stunning appearance lays a threat, a navigation hazard that is well managed offers a wonderful and exciting sailing experience. For that, sharp lookouts are needed and a steady hand at the wheel following Captain and Mate changes, of course, meandering the ship’s way amongst them.

All canvas is set but the higher staysails taking a wind that has eased down to a Northwesterly 16 to 18kn, shifting a bit before getting more stable in that direction. The seas are calming too leaving very different conditions from when we woke up yesterday. 

The ship does about 5kn of speed On a good 230º course as we keep sailing close hauled following the changing winds.

But these easier conditions were about to change soon. The barometer showing a relatively high pressure stops and starts dropping. Here it comes, the next depression. One after the other sweep the open ocean traveling unstopped by any landmass on an easterly direction over the southern furious 50’s.

By lunchtime it hits. Royals and middle staysails are pulled down. It comes with sleet and snow and winds quickly increasing to over 25kn and becoming a Northeasterly. Following the shift the wheel turns to follow a WNW course.

The bad westerly doesn’t improve and the gusts climb to over 40kn, coming through the North to a Northwesterly. Time to douse and pack Top Gallants and Outer Jib.

From then on the wind starts dropping and stays around the mid 20kn. All in all, allowing now to follow a good Southwesterly course.

But if we think the difficulties are over, we are just about to realize that these demanding waters have a couple more surprises to show us. The rain and snow quickly develop into fog by dinner time. On that reduced visibility growlers can be only spotted a couple of ship lengths ahead. And they are around. They drift here and there, now on their own, now forming bands, floating close to the many large icebergs that the ship's radar shows in the vicinity. 

Either at the wheel, being the eyes of the ship at the foredeck trying hard to spot the ice around, or helping the crew pull sails down or up the rig, the watches on deck aren’t easy. Antarctica is letting us feel its wild and freezing cold character, today with the surface water at just above 1.5 degrees and a similar air temperature too.

With drifting ice very often showing off at a close distance in the misty and wet weather, is better to reduce speed as the night-time comes. 

How to slow down? Dousing canvas. Upper Topsails and courses are taken off and furled for a safer and more quiet night navigation.

But … 3, 6, 12 nm the radar keeps showing ice around at all ranges. Growlers keep popping out of the swells. More than ever during this trip, it is needed to focus on the steering for the several changes of course to dodge them and sharp eyes on lookout to detect the ice timely.

This summer season, icebergs and all kinds of ice seem to show up more and more already in these lower latitudes than in previous years. It was already along the coasts of South Georgia, now it hasn’t left us since we departed from the island. We wonder how it will be as we get further south.

Geschreven door:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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