Back and forth we roll, to and fro, over (but certainly not under) the waves we go. Crossing the Drake Passage, now officially recognized as a body of water, is a mariner milestone that is never the same journey twice. Over 200 nautical miles of open ocean are at the mercy of the truly unbridled weather of the Southern Ocean. No mountain ranges stop or slow the winds that travel around the White Continent. Storms build and whip up an impressive sea state that tops out the scale used to measure such things. Winds simply continue in a clockwise rotation as they see fit. There are lulls between these systems, and with the right ship and team, a very pleasant crossing can be had.
National Geographic Explorer
Almost home. Land is in sight as we complete our crossing of the Drake Passage and draw within view of Cape Horn. As sunrise begins to illuminate the clouds, we see the blinking light of the Cabo de Hornos lighthouse. Expedition leader Lucho tells us about the poignant albatross sculpture dedicated to lost mariners and reads us the associated poem in Spanish and English. We are sailing in sheltered waters now, and the sea has reached the balmy temperature of more than 7° C. The seabirds we have learned to recognize in the open ocean–albatrosses, petrels, and prions–are now joined by others, such as imperial shags from Patagonia. Fur seals are once again frolicking near the ship. With formalities complete, there is time for a last series of presentations from our expedition staff, including: a lively account of the world-defining voyage of Ferdinand Magellan by naturalist Madalena Patacho, intriguing ‘Behind the Scenes’ insights into the life of an undersea specialist from Brett Garner, and more about the famous Endurance expedition under the leadership of Sir Ernest Shackleton. After making time for some excellent afternoon Swedish pancakes, we sailed the remaining stretch along the Beagle Channel and came at last to port in Ushuaia. We gathered in the lounge for farewell cocktails with our captain. We celebrated the wonders we experienced over the last ten days, the good friends we traveled with and with whom we shared our discovery of the Antarctic, and the glorious land of Antarctica–the seascapes, history, and wildlife. Where will we travel next? Photo caption: An avian harbinger of the coming day. Photo by Steve Backus