The Drake Passage is the body of water between South America’s Cape Horn, Chile, and the South Shetland Islands. This convergence constricts the Antarctica Circumpolar Current, and can result in the “Drake Shake” or the “Drake Lake.” We had fingers crossed for the latter. Passing through the Drake has been described as “unpredictable, chaotic, thrilling, exhilarating, notorious, and violent,” and as the evening unfolded, we began to wonder if it was a mistake. Early in the morning, my insomnia proved to be a blessing, as I awoke before a very early sunrise and was rewarded with a spectacular array of magnificent colors.
As we entered the Drake, our captain announced that we were starting out in “friendly” weather, and we wondered why all the fuss. After all, we live in the snow belt of Northeast Ohio, so we thought we were tough. The Drake connects the southwest part of the Atlantic Ocean with the southern part of the Pacific Ocean, and extends into the Southern Ocean. These three oceans converge where there is little land to block the currents and wind, and the result is frequently the weather described above. We felt some wind and a bit of choppy seas, but Lars, the ornithologist onboard assured us that we would be thankful for the wind, because when there’s no wind, there’s no albatross. As the wind picked up around dinnertime, we were rewarded with the sighting of several Wandering Albatross, those that, with the Royal Albatross, have the largest wingspan.
As we enjoyed our dinner, the wind and waves picked up, and by the time we got back to our cabin, we were rockin’ and rollin’.
Throughout the night, we heard noise from something repeatedly banging against the ship, to creaks and groans as the Octantis navigated the stormy seas. Thankfully this ship was built for this kind of weather, but the stabilizers were definitely put to the test.
By morning, the winds began to dissipate, and we caught our first glimpses of some beautiful islands. We spotted a whale, and if you use your imagination and look closely, you can just about see his spray.
The islands on either side of the ship are breathtaking, and led us to the conclusion that no, crossing the Drake was NOT a mistake. It’s the shortest route to our ultimate destination, Antarctica! The spectacular islands are well worth the tumultuous night.