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Europa - Antarctic Exploration and Wildlife Expeditions by Tall Ship 2018-2019

Sail the tall Ship Europa in Antarctica

Sail the Drakes Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula 2018-19

Bark Europa has been exploring the Southern Ocean, the Antarctic Peninsula and offshore islands like South Shetland, South Georgia and South Orkney for over a decade. 

For many the chance to explore the Antarctic Peninsula is a trip of a lifetime, but if you really want to connect with this pristine wilderness and understand its allure then you need to spend time outdoors, up close and personal with the wildlife and the elements. We might be biased but Classic Sailing think the best way to do that is to sail there on a tall ship as voyage crew. You are part of the ships community, but don't have to be a sailor - just have a willing heart to take part in the adventure as best you can.

This Article introduces the 22 day Europa expeditions planned for 2018 and 2019 that sail from Ushuaia in Argentina and feature the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands.

That's Cape Horn behind us. Next Stop Antarctica
That's Cape Horn behind us. Next Stop - Antarctica

Southern Summer

Some people become interested in the North and South Pole after reading about the voyages of Scott and Shackleton. Others are more fascinated by the rich wildlife or the beauty of the unspoilt natural environment. Antarctica is one of the oldest continents on our planet, but man has always been unable to live here because of its extremely cold climate. It is the last great wilderness on Earth. A few researchers spend the southern summer (November to March) living in several research stations. During the southern winter, that number dwindles to less than 1,000. When winter grips this great, white desert, tourist activity is no longer possible.

Chinstrap Penguins
Chinstrap Penguins

Get Closer to Antarctic Wildlife on a Tall Ship

Bark Europa is not a big ship compared with modern expedition ships with only about 3m freeboard in the middle of the ship, so when a humpback whale pops his head up to look at you they are damn close and you can feel the spray. You could be sipping a cup of coffee when a fur seal does a back flip right next to you and you may spend time trying to rescue a stunned Prion staggering around the deck after flying into the rigging at night. Being able to climb the rigging gives you a view from a different dimension. Look down on Weddle Seals resting on a slab of pack ice with shadows of the ships rigging cutting across the scene, or see whales diving under the ship to check out our barnacles.

Whilst sailing at 3-8 knots you can see penguins in their natural element as they porpoise in and out the water, or killer whales as they glide effortlessly by like sleek submarines and overtake a 300 ton sailing ship at speed.

Beach landings can be very entertaining with crowds of fur seals and penguins entering and leaving the surf around you. Europa’s wildlife guides will always brief you on what to see and how to behave around very curious animals ashore but it is still a pleasant shock when they come right up to you. (Penguins don’t read the rules).

Landing on the Antarctic Continent
Landing on the Antarctic Continent

The Antarctic Mainland – Mountains & Glaciers

Around the mainland peninsula Bark Europa sails in and out bays and deep water channels between awesome mountain scenery. The geology is an extension of the Andes mountain chain and it always surprises first time visitors to see such towering mountains which seem to get higher as you go further south. Near Govuvernoren Harbour or Cuverville Island there is plenty of krill, so prime whale spotting territory. Europa guests have even seen a few sightings of the Blue Whale – the worlds biggest creature.

The shipwreck of a 1916 whaler still survives and her bows provide a home for Antarctic Terns. Ashore at Cuverville are 4500 breeding pairs of Gentoo Penguins. If the zodiacs can get through the broken brash ice from five glaciers you can step onto the mainland at Nekko Harbour and look back at the ship appearing to be stuck in the ice. Ice falls thunder into the sea and sometimes a whole ice wall will fall creating a large wave. Being in the middle of this awe inspiring natural wilderness is indescribable and standing a night watch listening to the ice tinkle down the side of the hull is a very strange feeling.

Leopard Seal by Europa guest crew Keith Martin
Leopard Seal by Europa guest crew Keith Martin

How Far South ?

If conditions permit and the channels are not blocked with icebergs, Europa will head for the Lemaire Channel – a narrow crack between 1000m mountains. The ship has a bow thruster so can perform quite delicate manoeuvres to slalom between bergy bits. Destinations may be the Argentine Islands and the Ukrainian base. At around 65 degrees South Europa is reaching the limit she can navigate as the pack ice gets thicker and we need a constant watch on the wind so the ice does not hem the ship into a bay or block an exit passage. On the return route Europa will try to sail a different path perhaps stopping at Petermann Island to see the Adele penguins fighting over nesting material, or Port Lockroy to look around the preserved 1944 British research base. The nearby anchorage of Dorian Bay is a good place for a stroll to admire the stunning mountain range and vast icecap stretching down to the sea. Schollaert Channel is another intense scenic experience and the Melchior Islands will have you reaching for your camera again. The open sea and routine of a watch system sailing back to Argentina may be a welcome break to absorb everything you have seen and done.

Bark Europa In the Ice by Sjef ten Berge
Bark Europa In the Ice by Sjef ten Berge

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