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Sea Journal - Day by Day log of a 34 day South Georgia - Antarctica Voyage

34 day antarctic expedition

Bark Europa - Longer Voyages in Antarctica & South Georgia 

Bark Europa has been exploring the Antarctic Peninsula for over 10 years. She is a member of IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) and actively involved in IAATO to make sure her guest crews (and other ships) tread as lightly on the great white continent as possible. There are also stringent Maritime rules for the vessel about protecting the surrounding seas from any sort of pollution, which she fully conforms. 

In many ways, Europa strives to do more than just the interpretation of the rules. This Dutch square rigger sails all the way from Europe each year to be based in the Southern Ocean. Her multinational crews take great pride in sailing her as much as possible from the Stormy Drakes passage to the open straits and narrow fjords of the Antarctic Peninsula. Icebergs, no wind and tight spots mean that sometimes the engines have to be used, but she can often glide along under sail with occasional nudges from the bow thruster to manouevre around small icebergs or broken sea ice.

Landing spots have a maximum of 100 humans at a time, but on Europa the numbers are even less and she carries 2 wildlife guides (guest crew around 40 people).

34 Days in South Georgia & Antarctica - Where Does Europa Go?

This day to day account is just a typical 34-39 day voyage that has happened on past voyages. Sometimes the ship has gone from the Falklands. Other years she sails straight to South Georgia from Montevideo or Buenos Aires. Think of it as a collective sea journal that will give an indication of the sort of places the ship may sail and land by zodiac. 

It is not an itinerary the ship intends to follow for next season and it makes no promises to visit all of these places. If you are the sort of traveller who needs a guaranteed day to day itinerary - then Antarctica might not be the place for you. For everyone else - embrace the unexpected.

Landing anywhere is Antarctica is a privilege

Landing anywhere is Antarctica is a privilege. Not only do the wildlife need a break from humans in the more popular spots, the Antarctic weather is not to be messed with. Every landing has to be assessed on the day to see if crews can be landed safely. With Katabatic winds often appearing very suddenly, the ship's boats also have to be ready to cut a shore adventure short so you don't get stranded ashore. Even in summer it is a beautiful but hostile environment for humans.

You may have your heart set on visiting a Russian Scientific base but if the sea ice is blocking the route then other bases of other nations may have to be on the agenda.

The date of your voyage can shape where you can land as well. beachmaster seal fights during the mating seasons, birds that lay eggs on the shore might have to be avoided and other vessel routes can all change the plans.

 

South Georgia snow melt at St Andrews Bay
South Georgia heatwave creating big rivers at St Andrews Bay

Sea Journal - Day 1 Join the Ship in Port Stanley, Falklands

You will already have enjoyed quite an adventure just reaching the Falkland Isles Now you can start to see the world as a square rig sailor. After signing on to the crew list and taking your luggage to your cabin, you will enjoy your first meal on board. The Captain and the expedition leader will inform you about the plans. Usually we will stay in port overnight, but occasionally we already depart during the night.

The Falkland Islands like to make the most of their visitors so you may have an audience as you sail out the narrow gap from Stanley Harbour into the South Atlantic. Land Rovers have been known to toot horns and flash lights at you from the shore.

Approx DAY 2 TILL 9 - At Sea: Sail a square rigger downwind with the albatrosses

Casting off to South Georgia We cast off our mooring lines. Once underway, the crew will show you how to put on the life jackets and introduce you to the many lines on board. The climate will slowly change as you head South and East, so you have time to acclimatise. the ship may even still have skysails rigged until you get into the Roaring 40's properly.

Every day at sea is different. We will learn to see the difference between the Black browed Albatrosses and Light-mantled Albatrosses. Nature decides the daily work on board. It forces us to adjust the self-image of the human being and that can be very refreshing. Then, on the horizon the ice-covered mountains of this Sub Antarctic Island will be visible.

Climbing aloft to the t gallant yard on Europa
Climbing aloft to the t'gallant yard on Europa

DAY 9 Landfall in South Georgia - Probably at Elsehul

From today on we will have a week to explore the rough landscape of the island. South Georgia offers many spectacular places to land. Our first landing place is Elsehul. Among the steep cliffs we hope to spot the entrance of the Inner Bay to anchor. Grey-headed Albatrosses nest on a peninsula between the tussock grass. Here we are able to land with the small boats on a beach where friendly looking Elephant Seals and unfriendly, growling Fur Seals welcome us. We have to keep a  safe distance, the Fur Seals can be aggressive. On land we find an abandoned hut of the British Antarctic Survey, which is now occupied by a rookery of Gentoo Penguins.

Please note there is a landing fee for South Georgia (price set by the UK Government) which is payable in advance, the price will be confirmed to you well before your voyage starts. It was about €205 euros in 2017.

 

DAY 10 Bay of Isles & Salisbury Plain

Tens of thousands of King Penguins live in the Bay of Isles. Hopefully we can make a landing still today on Prion Island. Together with Albatross Island, this island is an important breeding ground for the Wandering Albatross. Albatrosses lay their eggs in the middle of the summer; their chicks stay from December, until the next spring on their nests. These birds need an open area of 30 square metres around the nest for taking off and landing. While visiting Prion Island we will follow the even more strict rules to protect these delicate birds.

South Georgia - Albatrosses nesting on Prion Island. Photo Debbie Purser
South Georgia - Albatrosses nesting on Prion Island. Photo Debbie Purser

DAY 11 Shackleton walk - World Class Trek

Shortly after sunrise we will heave anchor and leave the Bay of Isles, setting sail for the peaks and glaciers surrounding Fortuna Bay. The crew will shuttle us onto the beach where we will land between King Penguins and fur seals. While the ship sails out, we will begin our heavy walk to Stromness, the last part of Shackleton´s epic hike across South Georgia. At the highest point of the trek we have a marvel lous viewover Crean Lake, the bay, and the Shackleton Glacier. Then we will descend into Stromness Bay along the famous Shackleton waterfall. In the distance we´ll see EUROPA sailing into the bay to meet us. The once busy whaling station is now overtaken by fur seals and reindeer.

DAY 12 Mooring by Grytviken Whaling Museum

The EUROPA will rest a day in the harbour, moored at the jetty in the Cumberland East Bay. Close to where we are moored there is lots to see and do. It’s just a short stroll to the deserted Norwegian Grytviken whaling station. This whaling station is of great historical value. In 1991 parts of the station were cleared and a small whaling museum was opened, where relics and memorabilia from the Antarctic whaling industry are preserved. Its well worth to visit the romantic whaling church dating from 1913, and at the end of the bay we find the grave of the polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, peacefully guarded now by a colony of sea elephants. When we walk around here we meet many seabirds, penguins, fur seals, and elephant seals.

Chapel at Grytviken Whaling Station ruins , South Georgia
Chapel at Grytviken Whaling Station ruins , South Georgia

DAY 13 Ocean Harbour

One of the most beautiful shipwrecks is in Ocean Harbour. She is a fully rigged ship and was one of the first to be built in steel. We will drop our small boats and have a closer look. The ‘Bayard’ was constructed in 1864 in Liverpool and in her we clearly see the conversion from wood to steel built ships. In that time many people didn’t believe in modern steel. Other wrecks in South Georgia include the ‘Brutus’ (1883) in Prince Olav Harbour and the wooden ‘Loise’ in Grytviken. In Grytviken we also find some whalers, but these ships are from a much more recent date. Currently Blue eyed shag gratefully use this industrial monument as a place to built there nest. Ashore between the wallowing elephants seals we find an old locomotive which was used by the whalers to transport tran oil and other cargo back and forth between the station and the dock.

DAY 14 Cooper Bay

In this bay at the south-eastern point of South Georgia we are going to try to get close to rookeries of Macaroni Penguins. They nest at the bottom of steep cliffs and can be watched and photographed quite easily. We will probably also come across various small colonies of Chinstrap Penguins, one of the few colonies of its kind on South Georgia.

If the weather is calm you might get a chance to take the ship through a narrow entrance into nearby Cobblers Cove. This circular natural harbour is very deep but it feels like the yard arms will touch the cliffs all around.

Cobblers Cove for Macaroni Penguins
Cobblers Cove for Macaroni Penguins

DAY 15 TILL DAY 25  Crossing the Weddell Sea

Return to the ocean It is time to leave the sub-Antarctic paradise. Over 1000 NM to Antarctica lie ahead of us. We have scheduled ten days to get there. The watches start again. Different circumstances; the sea, the weather and life on a Tall Ship make you get to know the people

on board very well. The life ashore you normally lead seems far away behind the horizon. Together you will form an “identity” casually called “the crew” but which will be different every voyage and carries its own atmosphere. On the Southern Ocean the winds blow continuously. These seas have the reputation of being stormy, seamen speak about the Roaring Forties and the Furious Fifties.

When the barometer drops, a depression is approaching and we will have to roll up and take in sail. The crew is alert and stand by for steering, reefing, furling, setting and taking in the sails. Tired and maybe even cold after an active watch on deck, you will sleep like a log. Not a single sound of wind, water or sails, ropes or iron can keep you awake. When possible we will make a stop at the South Orkney Islands.  As we sail south, the likelihood of seeing icebergs increases. Large ice plateaus are visible on the radar, but sometimes smaller ones are not; we keep a good lookout so that we avoid them. Fortunately, the nights are short during the southern summer. It is amazing when we see the brilliant white shapes of the floating icebergs on the horizon. They are huge, and very high!

This is the first sign that we are really approaching the great white mass of Antarctica! The rough sea we are crossing is the Scotia Sea, that was crossed in an opposite direction in a spectacular way 90 years ago. In this area Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship the Endurance was crushed by ice and sank. After a rough journey across the ice and water in small sloops Shackleton and his men landed on Elephant Island. As there was no help to be found on this island, Shackleton decided to sail to South Georgia. Shackleton left Elephant Island for South Georgia with a handful of men in the sloop James Caird. After 17 days he landed on the south coast. Once ashore they had to undertake a long walk across the island to the whaling stations on the other side of the island. It was only after several attempts they were able to return from South Georgia to Elephant Island to rescue the crew.

DAY 26 AND 27 Islands of the Weddell Sea

We sail into the rough and less visited part of Antarctica, the Weddell Sea. We operate completely in the style of the old expeditions and it will be easy to let your thoughts go back to these epic times. Especially during these days it is important to let your adventurous side speak. As the natural elements have a large influence on this part of our voyage we will need to be flexible.

Anchored off Paulet Island, Weddell Sea. Go away iceberg
Anchored off Paulet Island, Weddell Sea. Go away iceberg

DAY 28 From the Antarctic Sound to Deception Island

To get west of the Antarctic Peninsula we must pass the Antarctic Sound. In this strait, named after the ship of the Swedish Nordenskjöld expedition in 1902, we will see many icebergs floating from the Weddell Sea. Today might be a good day to stay on deck and watch for fins and tails as the area is very popular with Humpback Whales.

DAY 29 Deception Island for a steam bath

This island is an imploded active volcano, also called a caldera. The EUROPA will sail through a small opening called “Neptune’s Bellows” into the volcanic crater and will drop anchor in Whalers Bay, near the ruins of a whaling station. These buildings were also used as a base for research work, but in 1969/70 several stations were destroyed by a volcanic eruption. You can walk to “Neptune’s Window” and enjoy the magnificent view where the rim of the crater steeply glides back into sea. It’s also an impressive panorama to look back into the crater. A couple of miles further into the crater thermal currents rise. Sometimes, when the tide is right, those who wish may bathe in the geothermically warmed waters. Water temperatures can rise up to 50 degrees Celsius, while land temperatures are below zero.

Deception Island hot springs - bring your bikini and fur hat
Deception Island hot springs - bring your bikini and fur hat

DAY 30 Arrival at the South Shetland Islands

The South Shetland Islands are of volcanic origin and the area is still volcanically active. The islands consist of dark rock with steep cliffs. A beautiful example is Edinburgh Hill, a steep cliff that rises vertically out of the water. Close up, we can see that it is made up of basalt, solidified magma from the centre of a volcano. Pressure from inside the earth has pushed the plug to this height, but so far the volcano has not erupted. Which island we will visit of the South Shetland Islands may vary. It can be either Barrientos Island, Half Moon Island or Yankee Harbor. All these islands have an impressive wildlife with penguins, seals and various species of petrels. The crew will take us ashore with the dinghies. Everywhere around the ship we see penguins  porpoising through the water and the smell of the penguins reaches us even before we land. We share the beaches with the Gentoo- and Chinstrap Penguins and maybe a Weddell Seal or Fur Seal.

DAY 31 TILL 33 Drake Passage

The crossing of the Drake Passage is approximately 450 nautical miles. The seas around Cape Horn have the reputation of being stormy, but in between the lows they are calm. Let us hope that the wind is favourable when we return towards Argentina. Back in the watch system, we have time to absorb everything we have done, to let it all settle in. We will be accompanied on this passage by dolphins and many sea birds. Cape Petrels, White-chinned Petrels and albatrosses are our companions. Albatrosses are the best equipped for a permanent stay at sea. Their territory is the open ocean. They love windy regions, because they are unable to fly with little wind. During the crossing everybody can help the crew to steer, set, shorten, take away and stow sails.

 

Cape Horn from the decks of Bark Europa
Cape Horn from the decks of Bark Europa

DAY 34 Arriving in Ushuaia

We are close to Ushuaia, but there is still something to see on the way. A few miles before the port of Ushuaia we pass near two rocky islets covered with sea lions, the Islas de Lobos. So keep your binoculars at hand. Sea lions don’t go to Antarctica. Huge males lie around, keeping a watchful eye on their harem, protecting them from invaders. A little further on a Fur seal proudly grasps its prey, and blue-eyed shags take up every free metre of space. It’s packed. When we see the red and white lighthouse ‘Les Eclaireurs’ , Ushuaia comes within sight and we enter the harbour. The citizens in Ushuaia look out over the Beagle Channel. From 1884 to 1947 Ushuaia was a safe haven for political exiles and criminals. The old prison is now open to the public. You are free to do as you please. A quiet walk or perhaps buy a few souvenirs in this welcoming town. In this small town, also known as “El Fin del Mundo – The End of the World”, you can make beautiful hikes in the mountains and National Park and you will meet travellers who have just returned from an expedition or from any other part of South America to come to the most southern city of the world.

 

WINDS, WAVES & WEATHER

We know several aspects will be there for sure: the ship, the penguins and the beautiful ice sculptures. A fourth aspect is the weather. The weather in Antarctica sometimes has the character of 'four seasons in one day'. It’s not blue skies every day and the challenge on a grey day is to set your camera right and still make the best photo's! 

HANDS ON HOLIDAYS

Whether you are an experienced sailor or a complete beginner, the professional crew will train you to be guest crew from the moment you arrive, with the intention that everybody works together to sail the ship. The common thread to all Classic Sailing holidays is ‘Hands on’ participation on ships that use ropes, blocks and tackles and ‘people power’ to set sail.

SAILING STYLE & LIFE ON BOARD

We cater for a wide range of ages and physical abilities and how much you are expected to do varies a bit between vessels. See the vessel tab above which explains all about the ‘sailing style’ and what to expect in terms of hands on participation. There is a lot of information about day to day life, the ships facilities and accommodation on the vessel pages.

AGILITY & FITNESS

Every customer sailing with us will need to fill in basic medical questions on their booking application. If you are not sure if your current level of fitness and agility are up to a voyage, then please ring the Classic Sailing Office on 01872 58 00 22 and we can chat through your concerns and possibly find options that might suit you better.

WHAT’S INCLUDED

  • Skipper & professional crew
  • Personal Safety Equipment
  • Sailing Instruction
  • All meals, snacks and refreshments
  • Port and landing fees
  • Linen and duvets
  • Third Party liability insurance

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED

  • Travel to Joining Port
  • Travel from end port
  • Alcoholic Drinks
  • Towels
  • Waterproofs

 

 

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