Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, the historic tall ship Bark Europa got stuck in Ushuaia, Argentina, at the end of March. Ushuaia, a picturesque city at the southernmost tip of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, proudly calls itself “the end of the world, the beginning of everything”.
Ushuaia is usually the starting point for the barque Europa, which travels across the end of the world to Antarctica – as well as for other ships that take travelers south to explore the majestic wilderness of the Great White Continent. Normal, however, is a rather vague concept since the outbreak of the global COVID 19 pandemic. And so, due to security measures, the crew of the three-master with square rigging found themselves trapped in the port of Ushuaia.
As there was no way of knowing when this world crisis would end, Dutch captain Eric Kesteloo and his international sailing crew of 11 women and 8 men refused to sit and wait, so they decided to sail back to the home port of Bark Europa in Scheveningen in the Netherlands.
A journey of more than 10,000 miles across the ocean, without stops, driven by nothing but the 24 sails of Europe. A direct voyage from Ushuaia to the Netherlands, without stopping at a port for fresh provisions, has not been seen since the introduction of the mechanical steam engines in the early 19th century.
Ship’s logbook, 26 March 2020
“Extraordinary situations require extraordinary measures and sacrifices. We are leaving now. We are sailing back to the Netherlands. The Europa embarks on what is probably her most unique voyage. From Ushuaia we will cross the Southern Ocean, temperatures will rise to the tropics and we will continue northwards until we reach Europe. -Maria Intxaustegi (30), Crew, Spain.
Since 2000, the barque has regularly crossed oceans and seas in Europe and has the reputation of being a ship that really sails. Her voyages take her to remote islands and cities around the world. She gives travelers the opportunity to board halfway across a long ocean crossing.
Built in 1911, the Bark Europa follows the favorable winds of traditional sailing routes. This has taken her to all continents, sailing the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, earning her nickname of Ocean Wanderer. From December to March in the summer in the southern hemisphere, Europe conducts expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula, with Ushuaia in Argentina as the starting port. In this remote port city at the end of the world, Europe is stuck due to a pandemic that is keeping the world in suspense for who knows how long.
I have regularly sailed on historic tall ships on the Seven Seas as a reporter for sailing magazines around the globe. That is hard work. Decisions about sail configuration and course have to be made all the time, maintenance projects are a never-ending cycle. Sails have to be set and trimmed or taken down and rolled up, yards have to be stretched, ropes have to be pulled or tied. The rig has to be checked and constantly replaced.
There are also projects like catch blocks, the production of eyelets, seals and lubricating masts. There are also countless maintenance jobs. Doorframes scraping, wooden boards and bunks sanding, rusting, sanding, chopping and long nights in the bunk you can forget, because four-hour shifts are the rule. Imagine that you would end up sleeping only four hours a week. That’s hard, even for experienced sailors like the crew of Kesteloo.
Some time ago I sailed, like the photographer Frits Meyst, with the barque Europa from Ushuaia via the Drake Passage, which is considered one of the most dangerous waters in the world, to Antarctica. This is an excerpt from the story I wrote on this already epic journey:
“The ship moans as wave after wave comes on deck. The wind rages through the rigging at 60 knots and I cling to the rudder. 60 knots, or an 11 on the Beaufort scale. That is what Beaufort calls a violent storm. In the Drake Passage, however, that’s what they call nice sailing weather. I hold the wooden rudder of the Europa in my hand, a tall ship with three masts and 24 sails. Today only a few sails are set, but we are still cruising over the raging ocean with a maximum speed of 11 knots”.
I have seen the foaming rage that can rage on the oceans. The wind whips up the waves and turns them into walls of water. Neptune is a capricious god. A sea, flat as a mirror, glittering in shades of gold and silver, can turn into swirling black mountains of water in minutes. The journey that Kesteloo and his crew undertake is not a bobsled on the lake in the park. Moreso, it