South Georgia, Antarctica & the Southern Ocean on a Tall Ship
South Georgia & Antarctica Sailing Expedition
Bark Europa - Ultimate 52 Day Adventure Under Square Rig
If you want to combine 5500 miles of hard core tall ship sailing through the Southern Ocean and infamous Roaring Forties with expeditions to both the Antarctic Peninsula and about 10 days exploring the sub Antarctic island of South Georgia then this truely is the ultimate hands on sailing adventure. And there is more.....After South Georgia the ship heads North East and will try to visit and land on the unique British outpost Tristan Da Cuhna on the way to Cape Town. The last visit in 2007 was a bit touch and go - anchored for 2 days waiting for the swell to be safe enough to land, but we were well recieved by the locals (even a game of golf).
Trans Atlantic in the Roaring Forties & Furious Fifties
If you have always wanted to do a Trans Atlantic Crossing on a tall ship, why not do it in the South Atlantic with the Albatrosses, whales and penguins.
By the time you return you will have enough stories and adventures to last a lifetime. This is a repeat of the seven week voyage on Europa that made a lasting impression on Classic Sailing's co founder Debbie Purser in 2007.
This is also a bird spotting trip of a lifetime. For a complete species list of wildlife and birds seen on Debbies 2007 voyage, as confirmed by our wildlife guides Annick & Tjaling
- link to Annick's species list 2007 (to do)
Up Close with Penguins, Seals & Whales
You will spend the same amount of time (if not more - as there is no need to return accross the Drakes Passage to Ushuaia) exploring the Antarctic peninsula as our shorter 22 day expeditions, but then the itinerary changes (see itinerary for full details) as the ship follows the same 600 mile journey as Shackleton risked in the open boat James Caird - from Elephant Island to South Georgia. If you thought Antarctica was rich in wildlife, South Georgia is teeming with life.
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).
Drakes Passage, Icebergs & Offshore Islands
After a few days crossing the infamously rough Drakes Passage, the excitement increases with the first sightings of icebergs. The first land you will see is the offlying South Shetland Island chain, and a very welcome first anchorage. The atmosphere is very clear so the spires and cliffs of these off lying ring of islands create photogenic silhouettes for very vivid sunsets. With katabatic winds off the mountains, and ice fall prone areas to avoid, Europa sometimes has to work hard to find the best anchorages and safe landings so no itinerary can be guaranteed. The Aitcho Islands are a favourite beach landing by the ships two zodiac inflatable boats and her ships lifeboat ‘Sloopy’. Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins share the beach with you, Skuas and Giant Petrels swoop from above, and huge elephant seals can sometimes be seen. Other off lying island anchorages are Yankee Harbour, Hannah Point on Livingstone Island. At Trinity Island stranded icebergs are aground on the seabed or wedged between the dark basalt cliffs. The fluted ice shapes and colours range from sugary crystalline surfaces to smooth caves of turquoise and Leopard Seals often lurk. Further South is Deception Island where the ship sails right into a flooded volcanic crater through a narrow gap called ‘Neptune’s Bellows’ to anchor in Whalers Bay. Ashore are the rusting relics of a major whaling station and you can bathe in the steaming waters and black shingle - heated by volcanic activity.
Antarctic Explorers and the Mainland of Antarctica
Polar Explorers - Authentic Experience
If reading the exploits of Shackleton’s or Captain Scott have lured you to the highest, coldest and driest continent in the world, then you can begin to appreciate what they had to endure on similar sailing ships in an extreme environment, the dangers that they faced and why they were so magically drawn to the place.
Europa has a good library of books in many languages about other polar explorers like de Gerlache and the Australian explorer Mawson.
You will meet modern day scientists if you visit any of the bases. The Ukrainian research station Vernadsky is a regular stop and the oldest surviving British Station at Port Lockroy looks forward to the ships visit. It is run by a historic trust to preserve the buildings as they were in 1940’s. Three volunteers maintain the site over the summer with no heating and primitive living conditions. You can post letters home from Antarctica here with special stamps. Having sailed the ship and become used to working out on deck in the elements sets you apart from the duvet jacket cocooned tourists that arrive by cruise ship. There will be talks and slide shows on the wildlife, polar explorers and all range of nautical topics. Europa also records the weather for the Dutch Meteorological Office so the weather faxes you receive back are based on your readings !
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.
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.
Protecting a Pristine Environment
The scale of the place is difficult to describe; Conservation of this pristine environment is taken very seriously by the 12 countries that share responsibility for the Continent under the 1959 Antarctic Treaty. In 1991 an Environmental Protocol was drawn up to introduce new regulations specifically for adventure tourism. You will find it hard to see any signs of other adventurous tourists and Bark Europa crew will work hard to ensure that the ship or the landing parties minimise the impact on the environment – from scrubbing boots before and after every landing, to briefing guest crew on how to walk amongst the penguins and fur seals. Classic Sailing hope that after your adventure you will all become ambassadors for Antarctica and help lobby Governments to ensure that this wildlife wonderland is not carved up for mineral rights, oil, fishing, whaling etc when the Atlantic Treaty runs out.
Elephant Island & Crossing 'Iceberg Alley'
Europa likes to visit Elephant Island if condtions permit, before setting off for South Georgia. Last island in the chain, this is where Shackletons' men were trapped after their ship 'Endurance' was destroyed by the ice. The ships boats they had towed accross the ice were then put to good use. One was turned upside down as a home for the survivors. The other, the James Caird, was modified to make the 600 mile crossing to south Georgia to get help from the whaling stations.There are a lot of icebergs to avoid on this open water passage, so your lookout duties on the foredeck become vital, especially at night.
South Georgia - Breeding Ground for Wandering Albatross
The wildlife of South Georgia come out to meet you hundreds of miles before the spectacular mountain ranges come into view. Only 150 miles long and mostly mountains, glaciers and small natural harbours, there is barely enough room for the teeming wildlife, and you have to fight for space on the beach at every landing. Fur seals go for your kneecaps and make driving the zodiac quite stressful as they do backflips right next to you. King penguins are so tall they can nearly pick your pockets.Giant petrels have bodies as big as ducks but with huge wingspans. Elephant seals look surprisingly like large boulders, but don't get between them and the water, or you will see blubber in rapid motion. Anchored at night the ship has to cover the light from the portholes so the millions of breeding birds don't fly into our rigging.
Prion Island is one of the major breeding grounds for the Wandering Altbatross, and Salisbury plain has the biggest King Penguin colony in the world. Because South Georgia is a sub Antarctic island sitting at 55 degrees South, it just escapes the encircling pack ice around Antarctica in winter, so becomes one of the few prime breeding spots for the seabirds, seals and penguins from the frozen white continent to rear their young. There are 30 King ,enguin rookeries on the island and over 400 000 pairs, in addition to rookeries of Macaroni and Chinstrap Penguins.
95% of Worlds Fur Seals
South Georgia has over 1.8 million fur seals and the noises they make are extraordinary: Howling like a banshee, barking like dogs, it can be quite erie at night on anchor watch (usually voluntary- but part of the experience). There are over 300 000 elephant seals occupying the beaches. What is strange but understandable is the rarity of whales along this krill rich coastline. Every natural harbour was once a whaling port and the beaches are littered with whale bones. It is as if the warning to stay away from the islands has been passed down the generations.
Flora & Humans
Unlike the Antarctic mainland, South Georgia boosts 26 native species of plants like tussock grass, mosses, yellow antarctic buttercup, red burnet and forests of huge kelp in the shallow coastal waters, providing a breeding ground for fish.
Grytviken was a Norweigan whaling station from 1904 until the 1960's but is now a whaling museum and the only inhabitied port. There is a British Antarctic Survey fisheries research station and the whole island is a British Territory, administered from the Falklands. You can get your passport stamped and the island even has its own post office and postage stamps.
Tristan Da Cuhna - Most Remote Inhabited Island in the World
First discovered in 1506 by Portuguese explorer Tristao da Cuhna, this volcanic island with its 600m basalt cliffs, was surrounded by tempestous seas (as it often is today) and it was impossible to land. The first settler was American but he drowned fishing in 1812. In 1816 the Brish Navy annexed the island and set up a garrision as a precuation against the French who were planning to rescue Napoleon, imprisoned on the other South Atlantic island of St Helena. Founder of the current community was a Corporal William Glass who served a tour of duty on the island and later returned when the garrison was abandoned with his wife, two childen, 2 companions and a coloured woman.
The settlement of Edinburgh (on the only flat land) now numbers 300 proud and hospitable people with only 7 surnames among them (and quite a few border collie dogs !). Through the islands vein's flows the blood of English sailors from Nelson's fleet, Americans, Italians, Dutch, mulattos from St Helena and South Africa. The locals speak English from a different era.
In 1961 a violent volcanic eruption foced the evacuation of the whole island - mostly to Southampton, UK. The locals were not happy in 'civilisation' and almost all chose to return to Tristan da Cuhna. The island is a dependancy of the British colony of St Helena and can only be reached by ship about 6 times a year.
Landing is extremely difficult due to the high swell. If you are lucky enough to land it is a remarkable place.
Tristan Da Cuhna Wildlife
The main source of revenue is from fishing with crawfish being the main catch. Southern Right Whales view the islands as their playground. The vegetation is lush and green with grasses, mosses, ferns and low windswept bushes growing on impossibly steep cliffs.
Although the bird life on Tristan has been depleted by human activities, the neighbouring islands of Nightingale iand Inaccessible are an ornotholigists dream. Fourteen different types of petrel, great shearwater, yellow nosed and wandering albatrosses, 2 endemic finces and the Inaccessable flightless rail.
Race for Cape Town
It is an amazing itinerary, so to pack all the exploring ashore in and try and do as much as possible under sail, the ship needs to be sailed hard with as much canvas as possible. In 2007 we managed to rig skysail masts, then yards on both the main and foremasts whilst sailing along in rolling seas at 6-8 knots. Ond day we were surfing our 330 ton sailing ship down huge waves and a pod of pilot whales came surfing up behind us and were shooting out the wave fronts and leaping in the air like giant dolphins.
Book you place now
This voyage is seen as the ultimate tall ship voyage by many sailors, bird watchers and nature lovers so do not leave to late to reserve a place (3 stage payments: Deposit, 2 months after booking, 2 months before voyage.) No experience needed but you do need to be confident about your fitness and stamina to cope with a long voyage with very remote anchorages. Talk to us. Debbie in the office did this voyage in 2007, and can describe what to expect.
Tel Classic Sailing Office on 0044 (0) 1872 580022
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