CRUISING DRAKE’S PASSAGE
South of the tip of South America there is no longer a Pacific Ocean or an Atlantic Ocean. Instead that large body of water is referred to as the Southern Ocean. Drake’s Passage is the name given to that stretch of water in the Southern Ocean that extends from the southern tip of South America to the tip of Antarctica. These waters are notoriously rough and stormy because of the colliding warm water currents of the Pacific Ocean with the Southern Ocean cold water currents that come from Antarctica. In a sense sailing the Southern Ocean and Drake’s Passage (named after Sir Francis Drake) provide a transition from the somewhat primeval and unspoiled but habitable terrain of South America’s “end of the world”, and the inhospitable and uninhabitable (by humans, at least) environment of Antarctica.
Having left the Ushuaia area several hours earlier than scheduled because our landing had been cancelled due to waters too rough to dock in, we then raced through the Beagle Channel in order to avoid a coming storm that was heading west to east and into our backside, and then turned south into the waters leading to Drake’s Passage – where we were gently rocked to sleep at night by surprisingly calm waters. However, by this morning the water has turned rough, the sky completely overcast, the weather rainy and – when factored in with the wind chill on the open deck of a ship going at almost 19 knots – bone-chilling cold. According to the captain, visibility was barely 1/2 mile.
Last year our trip through Drake’s Passage was smooth – in some portions the water was as smooth as glass – and hundreds – if not thousands – of birds, flying fish, sea lions, dolphins, orcas and other sea creatures came out to play in front of us. This year the white-caps are the only things we see.
Let’s hope visibility and weather conditions in general improve by the time we reach the glaciers and shores of Antarctica.