Antarctica, the Last Continent (Day 2) – The Drake Passage

Just to recapitulate, this was the route that my ship was going to take from Ushuaia to Antarctica & back.


Day 2 & a better part of Day 3 was dedicated to crossing the (in)famous Drake Passge.

Drake Passage (SpanishPasaje de Drake) or Mar de Hoces—Sea of Hoces—is the body of water between South America‘s Cape HornChile and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. It connects the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean (Scotia Sea) with the southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean and extends into the Southern Ocean. Because the currents here meet no resistance from any nearby landmass, they’re some of the choppiest waters in the world. 

Named after the renowned explorer, Sir Francis Drake, who sailed these waters in 1578, the Drake Passage marks the Antarctic Convergence, a biological barrier where cold polar water sinks beneath the warmer northern waters. This creates a great upwelling of nutrients, which sustains the biodiversity of this region. The Drake Passage also marks the northern limit of many Antarctic seabirds.

I had read a lot about the passage & looked forward to discovering what it was all about. Alternatively called the ‘Drake Shake’ or the ‘Drake Lake’, it summed up past visitors’ experience with this massive & deep body of water. Of course when I had boarded the ship I hadn’t missed noticing the bolted down furniture & anti-skid proof mats on almost all surfaces which bore a testimony to what was about to come!

The previous evening’s briefing had extensively & emphatically covered the drills to be followed over days 2 & 3 till we exited the Drake. ‘One hand for yourself, one hand for the ship’, Pablo had stressed repeatedly. Here’s the record of my encounter starting Day 2 morning.

The sea was rough & the ship was bouncing all night. I wasn’t seasick but it was just the roll & the pitch which made sleep difficult. To add to the discomfort was the sound of falling toiletries in the washroom which I had so neatly & lovingly arranged the previous evening!

I got up at about 5.45 am & switched on the bedside light. It was twilight & the sea surface was just becoming visible. There were raindrops on the window glass & I could hear their pitter patter on the deck.

Got back into bed but sleep was elusive so went out & took some pics. There was still time for breakfast at 8 so decided to do some laundry & freshen up.

Bathing was a challenge. Couldn’t stand steady on my feet & it was a drunk dance all over the 3’ X 3’ (thank God for the small size!!) cubicle. To make matters worse there was a constant threat of falling into the toilet area through the bathing cubicle entrance which had only a shower curtain for a door!

It was almost 8.30 by the time I reached the dining hall. The breakfast was unexpectedly good & consisted of cereals, dry fruits, fruits, eggs, breads, juice & milk.  Had a good fill.

Took permission to go up to the bridge after breakfast & introduced myself to the Capt, a fine old gentleman by the name of Sergio Osiroff & learnt a bit about oceanic navigation from him.

With Capt Osiroff on the Bridge

He informed me that the ship was rolling upto 30 deg & the max it could take was about 60 deg. We were steering a course of SSE, 166 deg, & doing about 25 knots. The forecast wasn’t too bright & the Capt expected rough seas all throughout the cruise. The afternoon was going to be rougher than now & he expected waves of 5-7 mtrs height.

There wasn’t much planned for the day except for a couple of lectures. The decks had been roped out to prevent anyone from stepping out into the open amidst all the turbulence but I still managed to sneak up to the top deck to try get a video of the rolling seas. It was slippery with rain & I could barely manage to stand on my feet. The saving grace was that it wasn’t as cold or windy, at least for the moment, as it was in Ushuaia the previous evening.

Pablo delivered the first lecture on ‘Pelagic Birds of the Southern Ocean’ at 9.30 am & we learnt a thing or two about the different kinds of Albatrosses, Petrels & other birds. He even pointed out a few of them who were circling our ship on its trans-oceanic voyage.

The ship had passengers from many countries & nationalities. There were single men & women, couples young & old & I had so far sighted at least two small children too. They were all friendly, smiling & inquisitive & it was enriching to interact with everyone in the common lounge & the dining hall.

We moved for lunch at 12.05 pm as soon as it was announced. It was supposed to be a buffet which got converted into a served lunch as they thought it was probably best for the staff to handle food given the rough sea condition & rocking of the ship. I got served beef which I politely refused. The dining room manager Fabian then got me a vegetarian dish of cauliflower & potatoes & apologised for the mistake. An effeminate young guy, he very proudly pointed out the rest of his colleagues there & was happy to pose for a pic.

With Fabian, the dining room manager

It had been more than 24 hrs & I hadn’t spoken home yet. I bought a calling card worth USD 30 which allowed me about an hour of calling time which I could split & use judiciously to last for the next 8 days or so till return to Ushuaia.

The next lecture was scheduled for 4 pm leaving just about enough time for a quick nap. Got a bit of sleep & was woken up with the sound of Vlad getting unbalanced & falling down…Haha. It was early days & we were still learning how to steady ourselves to cope with the 3-dimensional movement happening under our feet!

It was time to get up anyways & dress up for the lecture. Went downstairs to the lounge area & learnt from Martin that we had hit the Drake around 2 am this morning & the roller coaster would continue till the next afternoon when we reach the South Shetland Islands. Aha! Now the dots connected! No wonder the ship was dancing all over the place!! Also learnt that we wouldn’t be touching the Antarctic Circle at 66.5 deg S as due to the approaching Antarctic winter season sea ice had begun to form & it had started to get difficult to navigate such portions.

The lecture at 4 pm was conducted by Juan on the geography of the Antarctican continent. We learnt about the ice coverage of the continent & the comparative temperatures in summers & winters. Also learnt about the different kinds of South Poles & that the lowest temp ever recorded on Earth was -87.5 deg C at the Vostok station of Russia at Antarctica. Juan also informed that the distance from Ushuaia to South Shetland Islands was about 850 nm.

Sea Ice coverage of Antarctica
Sea Ice coverage of Antarctica

Returned to my cabin post lecture & freshened up. There wasn’t much to do so stepped outside to shoot a video of the sun rays shimmering over the sea waves in receding light.

Dinner commenced at 7 pm. A sudden & rather hard roll of the ship created chaos on the adjoining table with a water jug toppling over & crockery falling to the floor catching everyone unguarded & wetting some clothes! It was admirable & hilarious at the same time to watch the restaurant staff walking at weird angles balancing their centres of gravity as they deftly cleaaned up the mess & carried dishes to the table!

Also found an opportunity for some humour in the middle of all the drama happening around.

A movie was screened after dinner on the Arctic (!). Watched it for a while & then returned to my cabin. That rounded off my activities of Day 2.






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