It is time to introduce you this beautiful lady called Europa or Bark Europa. When I was initially searching for trips to Antarctica a few years ago, I mostly found cruises on bigger and modern vessels. At the time I had no idea, there might be some more exciting options. Until a day I stumbled upon Bark Europa website. I was immediately hooked. If I ever go to Antarctica, it has to be on that ship. It proved to be a challenge though. It is not easy to actually get on board. Voyage is in high demand and tickets are selling like hot cakes.
Bark Europa, a little bit of history
Europa was built in 1911 at the Stülcken shipyard in Hamburg, Germany. As ‘Senator Brockes’ she served as a lightship in the German Bight at the mouth of the Elbe River, a rough stretch of water. The ship shone her light without the aid of an engine in an area with strong currents, ice and foul weather blowing from the North Sea.
She survived two World Wars and finally left her anchorage in the seventies when she needed a complete restoration. It took eight years to rebuild and convert Europa into the bark she is now. The ship sails under Netherland’s flag is equipped according to strict EU and international safety regulations and is fitted with modern electronic nautical instrumentation and safety equipment.
Europa is the only Tall Ship Square Rigger doing this kind of trips, with trainees or Voyage Crew on board. But, first of all, what is a Tall Ship?... Queen Mary 2, with an overall length of more than 300 m, is one of the biggest liners afloat. Yet she is not a “Tall Ship”. Europa, just about 56 m is indeed a “Tall Ship”. This term may have first been used on the North East coast of North America to describe ships like the lumber schooners which traveled through the small, sparsely populated inlets and which, because of their height, dominated the low lying landscape. As a concept “tall ship” differentiates the great sailing ships that still today carry passengers, trainees or some even goods, around the world from other low-slung, formless vessels. In this sense, the term was applied for the first time in 1956. Under the patronage of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh the Sail Training Association (STA) was founded in 1955, and a year later the very first “Tall Ships’ Race” was organized by the Royal College of Dartmouth. The ships raced from Torbay to Lisbon, with six “Class A” square riggers taking part in the event, and about 30 fore-and-aft-rigged vessels, grouped as “Class B”. So, since the very beginning of the “Tall Ships’ Races”, there was already a variety of rigs involved, all of them fired by common ideals of the STA. It’s not the dimensions of a ship that is decisive, it’s the spirit that counts! (Written by Hanno, Claire, Robin, Jason & Klaas)
Europa is ar bark or barque. Hence why they often refer to her as Bark Europa, although the ship's name is only "Europa'. A bark is a type of sailing vessel with three or more masts having the fore- and mainmasts rigged square and only the mizzen (the aftmost mast) rigged fore-and-aft. Europa is a three-masted steel barque, 56m long, with a beam of 7.5m, a height of 33m and draught of 3.8m. Although it is a square rigger, it has an auxiliary diesel engine installed. This is necessary to keep the sailing schedules in check. As you will learn later, we used the engine quite a lot to keep moving forward even when wind directions were unfavorable. But when the wind is right, Europa has 30 sails at her disposal. (incl. 6 studding sails; 1,250 m2(13,500 sq ft) sail area) allowing her to achieve the top speed of 13 knots (24 km/h, 15 mph). Bark Europa's complement is 64. We had a professional crew of 14 on our voyage. The rest was 38 voyage crew (passengers), 3 guides and 4 professional photography crew.
Why are ships called she?
“A ship is called a she because there is always a great deal of bustle around her; there is usually a gang of men about; she has a waist and stays; it takes a lot of paint to keep her good-looking; it is not the initial expense that breaks you, it is the upkeep; she can be all decked out; it takes an experienced man to handle her correctly; and without a man at the helm, she is absolutely uncontrollable. She shows her topsides, hides her bottom and, when coming into port, always heads for the buoys.” (Source: Glosophilia)
These are the facts but the first “meeting” with Europa was something else. This ship is a beauty. I said it many times before, she is the most beautiful looking 109 old lady in the world. I am stepping on the deck and I have to pinch myself again and again. Is this really happening? Pinching does the trick. It is real. I am a guy from a landlocked country and I am going to sail to Antarctica on a tall ship. As crazy as it sounds, I am about to live my childhood dream.
I am one of the first on board. Not a real surprise here since I was so anxious I barely could sleep the night before. The ship is still in port but my mind is already sailing. As fellow sailors are starting to show up we gather on the main deck and engage in the long round of introductions, chat, and discussions etc. We meet the crew and have a brief introduction and walk-through of the ship.
The first night on board of Bark Europa
Tonight we stay at the port. Still. There are a whole bunch of safety briefings and instructions to go through tomorrow morning while we set out to the Beagle Channel. It makes sense to do this during the calm water because once we hit the Drake, all hell will break loose. Mainly in the stomach, if you know what I mean. The cabin was pretty small as one can expect it to be for a ship of this size. There were 6 bunks in the cabin but only 5 were occupied. We used one bunk as a luggage storage area. I slept well and woke up early to get the sunrise in Ushuaia port. It turned out to be very nice and it was worthwhile waking up early.
When I come back next time we lift the anchors, set a sail and finally leave the calm waters of Ushuaia bay. Stay tuned.