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Sailing the Bransfield Strait on our way to the Antarctic Sound

When the wind increased and turned into a fair Northwesterly, Europa heaves anchor from Whalers Bay and face the stretch of 130nm of open waters of the Bransfield Strait, in a course set towards the Antarctic Sound, the gate to the Weddell Sea. 

Soon afterwards Topsails and Topgallants are sheeted down and hoisted, Middle, Lower Staysails and Inner Jib set. Engines are turned off and the Europa makes good progress under sail, taking advantage of the good wind for the hours to come, when is forecasted a decrease and calm conditions coming.  

With a full night and a complete day planned at sea before reaching her destination at the Western shores of joinville Island, where anyway there’s no good anchorages to spend the night, it is possible to take it easy whenever the wind drops. 

And indeed, as the day goes along, the it eases down to barely any breeze to fill up our sails. Still we keep the canvas set and make lazy progress until the afternoon… 

Small flocks of Cape petrels seem to follow us, flying around and now and then sitting and waiting in the water just next to the Europa’s hull. A few Southern fulmars join. Occasionally a Black browed albatross pass by as well. Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins together with the ubiquitous Fur seals show curiosity for the Old Lady Europa sailing in their waters. 

In a couple of occasions while we slowly make way, we come across some Humpback whales. Usually energetic and curious during their feeding season here in Antarctica, today they seem quiet, unhurriedly swimming and making shallow dives on the uncommon good seas of the Bransfield Strait. 

This body of water extends for about 200nm on a ENE-WSW direction, separating the South Shetlands from Trinity Peninsula and the Joinville Island group. Named after the Captain Edward Bransfiled, an important historical figure that played a significant role on the official discovery and charting of the South Shetlands and the Antarctic Continent, dating to the early explorations between 1819 and 1820. In what have must been a day like today, under good weather and exceptional visibility, they got one of the first sights of the Peninsula from afar, while busy exploring the South Shetlands. 

Sunny skies hold for the rest of the day, and fair breeze continue to blew. Unbeatable conditions for both Crew and Voyage Crew trainings. First a continuous ring of the bell could be heard, indicating a Man Overboard drill. Quickly square sails are drop with the help of many and the ship manoeuvres to recover the buoy thrown overboard as a sort of casualty. 

Afterwards and under blue skies and sun shining the canvas is set again, including the remaining sails that just have been unfurled and readied. All in a useful exercise as a reminder of lines, ropes, halyards, sheets, clews, bunts, gaskets and names of the sails that by now, after a couple of days landing and out of the watch system seem to have faded away from the understanding of most.  

The arrangement of sails and running rigging on a square-rigger looks very complicated, but this impression is really the result of repetition rather than genuine complexity. There are only two species of sails - square sails and fore-aft sails - and each kind, together with its controlling lines, is a simple mechanism by itself. The apparent complexity arises only because each sail is repeated many times over. 

Derek Lundy. “The Way of a Ship” 

The uneventful afternoon of good sailing, reaches its end with an outstanding sunset on clear skies, with views over scattered large icebergs, the continental Antarctica, Gourdin, Astrolabe and the Joinville group of islands, while heading straight under full sail to the Antarctic Sound, the gate to the Weddell Sea. 

The last bit of the sun setting down the horizon offered one of the rarest optical-atmospherical effects, the so called Green Flash. 

When lucky enough to see it, it mostly occurs when the air is stable and clean, when more of the light from the setting sun reaches the observer without being scattered. 

Blue and green light are refracted the most in the atmosphere, being the very last wavelengths to disappear below the horizon. But blue is mostly scattered out of the line of sight, being therefore more common to see the remaining wavelength, the green. 

Nighttime came with increasing, shifting and variable winds both in strength and direction, making for reducing sail, dousing Royals, Courses, Higher Staysails and Outer Jib. Not much later gusts rapidly increase to 30, 35, 40, up to 50kn. Time to clew up and stow away the remaining canvas and turn the engines on while at the same time starting to manoeuvre in waters welcoming us into the ways of the Antarctic Sound. 

Geschreven door:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader



It's amazing what I've already learned from these reports. And everything with so much emotion and fun.

Andrea  |  21-03-2023 11:57 uur

Wonderful description of the sails, sailing and the sunset. Keep them coming please!

SUZANNE  |  20-03-2023 18:45 uur

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