Drake Passage

Dec 18, 2018 - National Geographic Orion


The Drake Passage has the reputation of being the most turbulent waterway in the world. The size of the waves and the constant wind are what legends have been made of. I cannot say that the sea conditions were about to make any historic level of bad, but I can say that the sea state was enough to give most people pause when thinking about crossing such a vast expanse of open water. Our guests, however, had been forewarned, precautions were taken, and most were faring well navigating the passageways and dining room as the morning called to us. Moving from one place to another was never a straight line, and one never had their hands too far away from the dining plates and cups that held our breakfast for it would not take much more rolling for our food to end up on our laps and not in our stomachs. Debates about the size of the waves or the veracity of the wind was not an uncommon topic. We were certainly earning the right to explore the White Continent that we had come to see.

Fortunately for us, National Geographic Orion is equipped with an incredible device known as stabilizers. These fin-like appendages swing out on either side of the ship. Positioned below the waterline, they act as a counterbalance to the waves and help make our ride much more stable than one could have thought possible in such conditions. Once in a while some of us would brave the conditions and venture outside. There was almost a constant escort of albatross, and petrels gliding on the wind that pressed us onward to our destination.

It was soon time to begin our preparation for our arrival in Antarctica. Our morning was spent in briefings about how we were to conduct ourselves once we had arrived. We learned the dos and don’ts for walking among the penguins we all so anxiously wanted to see, we saw the film all visitors are required to view about the fragility of this special place and realized that we were not simply going to an incredible destination, we were going to a vast pristine land that is home to unique species of birds, seals, whales, and even plants. We were about to visit a place few people on Earth ever get the chance to see. Every measure is taken to ensure that when we leave, the White Continent is undisturbed by our visit. The final act of preparation was the decontamination of all of our gear. Our packs, outerwear, boots, and even walking sticks were all carefully cleaned to guarantee nothing we brought with us might be introduced to this relatively untouched part of the planet.

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About the Author

Steve Morello

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Steve Morello has had a long and colorful career in the natural history world. Born in New Jersey he was lucky to be able to summer on the shores of Cape Cod. Whether it was exploring the tidal pools, snorkeling along the beach, or hiking in the dunes, it all came together to instill in him a deep connection to the natural world. It was no surprise that he would return to the Cape as a whale researcher in his adult years. It was on the Cape that Steve first became involved in guiding, and for 15 years acted as naturalist on whale watching boats in the Gulf of Maine. Steve worked with groups creating environmental education material for school programs and soon found another one of his passions, photography.

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