The recent visit of the tall-ship Europa to Stanley harbour and its current cruise around South Georgia brings back memories of a by-gone era, the days of sail and tall ships, exploration and the Cape Horn trade-routes.
The Dutch flagged, three-masted, iron barque Europa, built in 1911 in Hamburg, arrived in the Falklands from Uruguay on the 6th December and remained anchored in Stanley Harbour until the 12th December, forming an evocative backdrop to the Battle Day parade.
The barque Europa has roamed the seas of the world since completing an 8-year rebuild in the Netherlands in 1994, and has built up a reputation of a ship that really sails. With a total length of 56m and masts towering 33m above the waves, the vessel is sailed by a professional crew of 14 and up to 48 voyage crewmembers of all ages and nationalities who assist in taking the wheel, hoisting the yards and completing the myriad of tasks that keep such a vessel in tip-top condition.
In favourable conditions 30 sails can billow from the masts and stays taking the ship towards the horizon ... and so it was as the ship departed Stanley in the low coppery light of a calm evening.
Valerie, reporting from onboard, enthused: “The town of Stanley had been wondering if we would leave by sail, and so we did. Two anchors to be pulled up, sails ready as soon as the second anchor was on the surface, and our old white lady swung around to head out towards the Narrows. Full sail by the time we exited Port William with a magnificent moon rise, made it a sight to remember how the old ways of sailing ships were in the dreamy town. A beautiful evening sail with a full moon reflecting on the ocean waves, our sails set, and a good wind astern gave us a good head start and first 18 hour run of over 120 nautical miles”
However the visit was not without its problems: “Many a ships have been wrecked or condemned in the Falklands. The strength of the wind and the landscape should not be underestimated, and it proved dangerous for us as well when we started dragging anchor in Stanley Harbour early on Saturday morning. Driven out to Navy Point over night, we came back around eight, to welcome our guests and prepare for our departure later that day”
The current voyage began months ago in Rotterdam and the vessel has sailed the length of the Atlantic, calling in Brazil and Uruguay before sailing to the Falklands, to navigate through Falkland Sound and visit Stanley. The Europa arrived in South Georgia on the 16th December and has explored, visiting the spectacular scenery and wildlife of Elsehul, Rosita Harbour and Salisbury Plain, and the old whaling stations of Stomness and Gryttviken. Visiting Saint Andrews Bay and landing on the glaciers of Larsen Fjord on their last day the Europa, yesterday 22nd December, again turned to sea, set sail and left South Georgia astern. The voyage will see them visit Antarctica and eventually, half a circumnavigation away, Tasmania for the Tall Ships Regatta.
The visit of the Europa recalled the days of sail and the Cape Horn trade route that turned Stanley into a boom town in the mid 1800’s. It is not recorded when the first disabled sailing-ship arrived in Port William needing repair but by the 1850’s a thriving ship repair industry had blossomed bringing new prosperity to the settlers. This peak coincided with the Californian Gold Rush when an estimated 300,000 “forty-niners” travelled by sea, the majority round Cape Horn before the advent of trans-continental steam rail-roads.
However, four successive events gradually brought the trade to an end, railroads crossed America, the introduction of the “Plimsoll Line” improved ships’ sea-worthiness, sail gave way to steam, and in 1914 the opening of the Panama Canal was the coup de grậce.
But this maritime history is still evident from the many wrecks and beached hulks that endure around the Falklands’ coasts. In Stanley the hulls of condemned ships too badly damaged to be repaired have been incorporated into jetties and used as storage hulks and the “Lady Elizabeth”, damaged in 1913 just a year before the Panama Canal opened whilst on a voyage from Vancouver around Cape Horn, stands testament at the end of the harbour.
By Grant Munro - SeAledPR - Stanley