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Off the Beaten Track Antarctic - Southern Ocean Sailing in the Weddell Sea

Bark Europa is one of very few ships of any kind sailing in the stretch of Southern Ocean between South Orkney and the East side of the Antarctic Peninsula. There are no landings on the Antarctic Continent here as the sea ice stretches out from the land for miles in Summer. In winter the frozen sea can extend Northwards to the edge of South Georgia.

There are however islands and the wildlife uses them to breed and bring up their young. South Georgia is the most well known as it has featured in BBC Frozen Planet and many other wildlife documentaries. 

Some seasons tall ship Europa offers a voyage to South Georgia that then takes advantage of the polar easterlies that lie further south to double back towards the Antarctic Peninsula. This is typically a 34 day trip and offers a unique slice of the Southern ocean and a lot of icebergs...

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Why we love this sailing ground

Crossing the Weddell Sea from South Georgia

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.

Humpbacks are a common sight in the Weddell Sea
Humpbacks are a common sight in the Weddell Sea

Heading South to catch the Polar Easterlies

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.

Snowballs. Director of Classic Sailing keeping low. Photo Roland Gockel
Snowballs. Director of Classic Sailing keeping low. Photo Roland Gockel

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.

South Orkney Islands

It is rare to stop her but Europa has visited South Orkney on her Centennial Expedition. The British Antarctic Base at Signy is the most Southerly UK base inhabited all year. In winter supply ships have to tie up to the sea ice.  Huge elephant seals have a habit of sleeping up against the doors of the base so you can't always escape!

 Adelie Penguins with their punk like haircuts are rare on the Antarctic Peninsula preferring the more remote spots. There are thousands here in South Orkney and always entertaining.

Paulet Island, Snow Hill  & Brown Bluff

A Swedish expedition was stranded here for two winters after a ship wreck. Their story and rescue was even more remarkable than Shackleton's crew survival story. They ate penguins in the hundreds and you can still see their hut.

Antarctic Sound - short cut to the Other Side

There is an inside passage from the Weddell Sea to the West Side of the Peninsula. The Antarctic Sound is tricky to navigate and it is often choked with big icebergs.


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