Icebergs, rope and whales

We left Deception Island after an uneasy night at anchor and enjoyed a glorious sail across the Bransfield Strait to be met by whales at the iceberg cluster at the western end of the Antarctic Sound. We arrived there not long before sunset and were greeted by this  humpback hunting. I was very lucky to get this picture and didn't even realise I had the flukes until I saw the tail on my iPad.

Before leaving, I had been given the good advice to have some picture-project to give a frame to my photography beyond the obvious, stunning scenery. I wanted to focus on rope. Rope is what we touch and work the most, even more than wood, in handling a sailing vessel, especially a big tall ship like Europa. There are miles of rope to work with, mostly the modern versions of hemp (nylon based) but also multi-stranded wire rope in the cables. The ship's hull (built in 1911) is steel and the masts are wood, but every tweak of the sails, every piece of work on deck or aloft, involves handling rope. The day crossing the strait was an opportunity to start prowling around looking at the lines and thinking about how to capture both their ubiquity and purpose.

The wooden uprights within a rail are called belaying pins. On the diagram, there are 231 pins, which doesn't count all the other attachment points, fairleads, temporary arrangements for whisker poles, ropes for getting the zodiacs over the side and so on. Eventually I learned them all, but that was still some weeks away and I can't say I was ever the fastest to get to the right line. At least the bell rope was easy to find.

The Strait was billed as potentially rough, especially after 60knot winds the night before, even a 'mini-Drake. But it was smooth and fast. During the day, in addition to watch duties, Jordi gave a great talk about seals and Rudd (the mate) gave a vivid introduction to meteorology. I also climbed high up to the cross trees on the main mast (about 21m above the water, with many thanks to the voyage crew member who shepherded me and talked me through the hard bits. During the long, long twilight the sea and sails were lit up, adding pink and orange and gold to the greys and whites of Antarctica.

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  1. Stunning photos Sarah, I am really enjoying your illustrated blog x

  2. Diana Briscoe

    Really fantastic photos — all that hard practice really has paid off.
    Diana & the Bandits

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