From the National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica
Dec 10, 2012 - National Geographic Explorer
The Drake Passage, en route from Ushuaia to Antarctica
Here we are in the roughest waters of the world, the infamous and dreaded “Drake Passage” that separates the southern tip of South America with the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. Many friends doubted our sanity when we told of our intention to cross the most treacherous seas on earth. After all, there’s a reason why these latitudes are nicknamed the “roaring forties” the “furious fifties” and the “screaming sixties.” Here, the westerly winds whip around the globe, unimpeded by land. But then again, these waters are also a rite of passage, for only those who brave the Drake Passage truly earn the magic of Antarctica that lies on the other side. Some refer to the Drake as a moat that protects the icy castle of Antarctica: the highest, driest, windiest, coldest and loneliest of the seven continents. So we’ve brought our ginger, put on our bracelets, taken our Dramamine, crossed our fingers (and toes) and attached our patches. We’re ready!
But wait…where are the whitecaps and the frothy seas and the walls of green water splashing over the decks? Could we be experiencing the unusual condition known as the “Drake Lake?” YES. Today, our crossing is uncharacteristically calm. Even better –we’re making great time. At slightly over 16 knots (nearly 19 mph), we’ll get to the land of the penguins even sooner. Life is good.
This morning we met our expedition staff and realized that with their many years of experience, we’re in good hands. Then we broke into groups for some photography tips, and in the afternoon we had our first presentation, on ocean currents. Afterwards, we spent time on deck getting glimpses of the seabirds around the ship. But in today’s calm, the birds are few. So while we sail a flat ocean, the petrels and albatrosses wait for more invigorating winds to help them glide over the sea below.
Though the Drake Passage has earned a place in history, on this day we enjoy sleeping in, breathing deep, relishing our meals, meeting our shipmates and getting ready for the adventure of a lifetime.