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Sailing the Scotia Sea

Back into the Screaming Sixties, we again experienced the rage that these high southern latitudes can show. During the first hours of the day the wind already picked up from a restless minimum of 30kn that we are already experiencing for days. A full gale blowing up to 52kn while bringing hail and rain, made for a quick sailhandling action on the water filled deck and in the howling rigging aloft. Crew endure the forceful winds and sleet, under heavy heeling and pitching, to clew up and furl the upper topsails that were set a couple of hours ago. After the manoeuvre, the port-side cap rail emerges from under water. By breakfast, the strongest gusts had abated; now blowing a more constant 25 to 30kn, and once more the upper topsails can be set, followed after a while by the main course. The joined effort of permanent and voyage crew made for a swift and safe operation despite 
the big swell washing the decks. Europa keeps motorsailing her way, breaking through high but short and uncomfortable swells. This ceaseless struggle against wind and waves slowly seems to be getting all tired, as 
care must be taken for any single movement or action to be performed on board. It is all like learning to walk again, to work out the balance to adapt to the heeling and pitching conditions. Carrying a cup of coffee around could be an exciting exercise for some. Getting out of the bunks safely, dress and make our way on deck for steering or doing lookouts, a whole adventure. But it’s all for the dream of reaching the southern isolate lands of our planet. Something about the remoteness of Antarctica and its associate islands fascinates and holds the imagination, fuelled by the tales and stories we all heard about fearless explorers who faced terrors and mystery of those frozen regions. But still several miles left in front of us to reach the first Antarctic islands, even though South Orkneys seem to be at our reach, the weather had the winning cards to play. First thing in the afternoon it is decided to take away the square sails on backing W-ly winds and just using lower and middle staysails and engine, keep making good progress on a proper approach course to Signy Island. As the hours pass, and after a clearing on the skies that lasted about an hour, strong blows began again, but now all spiced by several icebergs starting to show up in the hazy horizon. And then, approaching the islands, the gale grew in fury, now with winds on the nose gusting 50kn and breaking ice-chunked swells making for a demanding and difficult navigation. Not an easy task, steering to get between the firsts rocks and islets of the South Orkneys under these rough conditions. Before midnight, progress proved not to be possible, so we turn around and wait for better 
conditions, which will postpone the morning landing to an afternoon attempt, if it is possible at all to set foot ashore. Darkness, low visibility, ice filled waters and still raging winds and probably an outgoing tide, made for the decision to stop trying to push through, stop engines and drift in a safe area, waiting for more favourable 
conditions and tides. It is not to underestimate the dramatic names given to those latitudes, Furious Fifties and Screaming Sixties. Here the temperature difference of several degrees over a relatively narrow band of latitude combines with the spin of the Earth and a vast expanse of open ocean undisrupted by landmasses. This means the wind almost always blows from the West, and with prodigious force. South Georgia, the Scotia Sea and South 
Orkney Islands frame this area to be hit sideways by this almost continuous blast. The zone is well known by being the corridor of the Low Pressure systems to pass at these high southern latitudes. But the meteorological conditions we are under during all these days since South Georgia answers to a slightly different situation. Lately, it is not several fast relatively small Low Pressure systems sweeping the area on a West to East direction, but a huge Low Pressure 1000nm across, sitting south of us and moving slow, giving persistent westerly winds with just some slight variations. This situation is expected to change soon, hopefully getting much less wind and probably better weather. A moment we all look forward to.

Geschreven door:
Jordi Plana Morales | Guide

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