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Tall Ship Sailing Expeditions in Antarctica

Classic Sailing offer the unique opportunity to visit the Antarctic Peninsula on a tall ship where you are the guest crew setting the sails and steering the ship. This active adventure keeps you warm working on deck so you see more wildlife, and the teamwork required to sail a square rigger in the Southern Ocean brings the whole ships company closer together than on a large expedition ship.

You become part of a very small group of adventurers and wildlife enthusiasts able to explore this pristine wilderness in a style akin to the great polar explorers.

The Antarctic Peninsula is truly a vast unspoilt wilderness, teaming in curious wildlife, dazzling glaciers and snowfields, vertical cliffs and ice capped mountains where humans still have yet to tread."

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Why we love this sailing ground

Get Closer to Wildlife on a Tall Ship

If you have been captivated by BBC Wildlife programmes like Frozen Planet, be prepared to be blown away by the boldness and sheer numbers of wild creatures that inhabit Antarctica and the rich seas that surround it. With digital cameras and wildlife that is totally unfazed and curious about humans, it is surprisingly easy to take wildlife photos as good as the professionals. 

Bark Europa is not a big ship compared with modern expedition ships. The lowest deck is only 2 metres from the sea, 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 or a skua waddles down the deck looking for trouble. The ship has three ships boats to take you ashore for even closer encounters with elephant and fur seals, Adelie, Chinstrap, Macaroni, King and Gentoo penguins. Your wildlife guides will brief you on the correct behaviour and watch out for predators like leopard seals or orca, but mostly the creatures are just curious.

Chinstrap penguins up close with Europa Crew. Photo by Maarten Grimm
Chinstrap penguins in the South Shetland Islands. Photo by Maarten Grimm

Authentic Experience - In the Wake of the Polar Explorers

If reading the exploits of Shackleton’s or Captain Scott have lured you to the highest, coldest and driest continent in the world, then sailing around Antarctica on a tall ship will give you a much more authentic and romantic experience than being cocooned on a modern expedition cruise ship.  The whole voyage is a team effort of professional and guest crew and much more like a polar expedition voyage that Scott or Shackleton might have run than being a passive passenger.  Everybody helps haul the ships boats on deck and your crew mates are relying on you to keep a good look out for icebergs on watch.

Spending more time outside on deck, helping sail the ship, you can begin to appreciate what they had to endure on similar sailing ships in an extreme environment, the dangers that they faced.  Sailing at 3-11 knots with the wind in your face and silence and vast icy landscapes all around you will also begin to understand why they were so magically drawn to the place.

Bark Europa in Nekko Harbour on the East side of the Antarctic Peninsula
Nekko Harbour on the East side of the Peninsula. Photo by Sjef Ten Berge

 

Southern Ocean Sailing - Dramatic Sailing

You really can do some proper square rig sailing in Antarctica. There is much more wind than the Arctic, particularly in the Southern Ocean approaches, and the mountains create katabatic winds to keep you on your toes with sail handling. There is the Drakes Passage to cross for 600 miles before you reach the first island chain. Between South Shetland and the Antarctic Peninsula is the wide Bransfield Strait. There are plenty of large sounds between the islands and it is only when Europa gets into the narrowest fjords.

Tall Ship Europa sailing in Antarctica

High Mountain Landfalls & Tumbling Glaciers

If you sail on Bark Europa's 22 day expeditions from Ushuaia to the Antarctic Peninsula then you will enjoy spectacular scenery right from the start.  It takes a few hours of flat water to sail down the Beagle Channel so you can appreciate glimpses of the Andes in the distance.  Your first landfall after 3-4 days crossing the Drakes Passage will be the volcanic spires, snowy mountains and snow domes of the South Shetland Isles. This outer ring of islands offers a welcome shelter, and your first zodiac landings.

If you set sail for South Georgia on a longer Expedition, then the high mountain ranges of South Georgia are as high as New Zealand's Southern Alps. Lenticular clouds forming above the snow covered summits warn of katabatic winds to come.  After about a week in this sub Antarctic wildlife paradise, Europa either heads towards Cape Town (if you are on a Cape to Cape Expedition), or ventures deeper into the Southern Ocean and South East to the Weddell Sea side of the Antarctic Peninsula. This is really remote territory where few expedition ships venture and huge ice bergs are formed as they break off the Larsen Ice Sheet.

The  landscape was the big surprise: I was looking forward to the wildlife and stormy seas but had no idea that the mountain scenery would be so breathtaking. Glaciers that drop down impossibly steep slopes, the rumble of  avalanches, ice fields with tempting names like 'forbidden plateau' and true untouched wilderness, anchor watches in the moonlight."  Debbie Purser Antarctica in 2007

Mountains behind Port Lockroy, Antarctica
Photo by Annick Morgenthaler. Mountains behind Port Lockroy, Antarctica.
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Which ship for my adventure?

Bark Europa - Our Antarctic Specialist

If stepping onto the Great White Continent, or seeing penguins in their natural ecosystem is on your bucket list, then sailing there on Europa lifts your travel goal to a heroic dimension. This tough 1911 steel sailing ship is a full member of IAATO (international Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) and works hard to minimise your carbon footprint by actually sailing across the Drakes Passage to Antarctica from South America. Once in Antarctica she may have to use her engine or bow-thruster to work her way through ice choked narrow fjords, but the ships crew are always eager to set sail as much as possible in the wider sounds and open water.

56m Dutch Barque Europa has sailed the world, doubled the Horn,has cruised the Southern Ocean and Antarctica for over a decade,and is well known in ports for sailing in under sail - almost to the dock. If you want to learn how to sail a square rigger to its full potential, love wildlife and want to learn about the worlds oceans from a caring and intelligent crew then this is the vessel for you. Classic Sailing staff have sailed the ship several times in Antarctica and South Georgia so we have added many extra web pages on Europa,Antarctica, the wildlife, walks guides and comments from customers.

Bark Europa is our Antarctic Specialist and has been exploring the Antarctic Peninsula and Southern Ocean for 10 years

Tenacious  & Lord Nelson - South Georgia with Skip Novak

Tenacious, and her smaller sister ship Lord Nelson, are British run barques that allow able bodied and disabled crew to sail as equals on worldwide expeditions. STS Lord Nelson has been to Antarctica and 65m barque Tenacious visited the  sub Antarctic island of South Georgia in 2019.  Famous yachtsman and experienced polar explorer Skip Novak was the ice pilot on board. There are no Antarctic voyages on either ship planned for the near future but watch this space.

 

Wet landing on Salisbury plain, South Georgia
Wet landing on Salisbury plain, South Georgia

 

Destination Vessels
North, South, East or West?

The Antarctic Continent, and the surrounding Southern Ocean is a vast wilderness. The land mass alone is twice the size of Australia and in the winter the sea ice doubles this area. Classic Sailing Antarctic Voyages all involve the Antarctic Peninsula, but how you reach it, and the sailing grounds you explore on the way, depends on the length of voyage. The classic 22 day expeditions take the shortest route from South America to the West side of the Peninsula, via the South Shetland islands. The mountain chain that runs the length of the Peninsula is an extension of the Andes so the scenery is breathtaking.

If you have time for a longer voyage that can sail across the Southern Ocean to South Georgia, then a different world opens up. The landscape is still mountainous, but the climate is Sub Antarctic so South Georgia supports more wildlife than the Antarctic mainland. Fresh water runs off the glaciers and several species of Albatross, penguins, seals and millions of seabirds breed amongst the cliffs and tussock grass. From here the prevailing winds can speed you towards South Africa, or if you head due South into the Weddell Sea, you can double back to the Antarctic Peninsula using the wind belt know as the polar Easterlies.

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