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The Unpredictable Drake Passage

Updated on August 7, 2007

Calm Drake Passage

First Iceberg Sighting

Drake Passage

My Drake Passage Experience

The Drake Passage is named after Sir Frances Drake, the English explorer who first sailed on it. It is the roughest sea on earth, due to the large amount of water that is squeezed through in a short amount of time. The area is also very geologically active, due to plate movements under the Passage. The South Shetland Islands average 100 earthquakes a year.

I spent two days on the Drake Passage on the way to Antarctica and two days on the way back to Ushuaia. The first day was pretty smooth for the Drake, and the second day was rougher, but not as rough as the Drake can get. The return trip was about the same as the second day. I did not get seasick, so I enjoyed the waves splashing on the bow deck when the deck was not closed. Always remember: one hand on the ship at all times, and when it is rougher, both hands on the ship.

The Drake Passage is a great place for bird-watching, if you’re not seasick. Our ship was being followed by albatrosses during most of the trip through the Passage. There were also petrel and prion sightings during the crossing. The specific birds I saw were the Wandering Albatross (these birds may not touch land for up to 7 years at a time), the Grey-headed Albatross, the Southern Giant Petrel, the Wilson’s Storm Petrel, the Cape Petrel, the Soft-Plumaged Petrel, and the Antarctic Prion. These seabirds spend 90% of their lives over the ocean. To deal with the salt water, they have a salt gland that takes the salt out of the water and secretes it through the nostrils.

The Passage is also a great place for whale-watching. During our crossings, we saw a Southern Beaked Whale and a Southern Bottle-Nosed Dolphin.

On the afternoon of our second day on the Drake Passage, I saw my first iceberg. It was a tabular iceberg, meaning it looks like a table, as it name suggests. It was the first sign that we were nearing Antarctica. On our way back, the last iceberg was what really signaled we were leaving Antarctica to return to the real world.


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