Drake Passage



Saturday November 15, 2008

The Drake Passage


Ship's program quote of the day-

 "I now belong to a higher cult of mortals, for I have seen the albatross."  Robert Cushman Murphy 1912


The Drake Passage is one of the roughest places on the oceans of the earth.  This passage between the tip of South America and the Antarctic peninsula is renowned for its bad weather, strong currents and severe seas.  We were told we were lucky to have had such a smooth passage, but even at that, we had some pretty good rolls.  I heard that our worst roll of the trip was 35 degrees, but 20 degree rolls were pretty common as we crossed the Drake.


A pretty typical view toward the bow in the Drake Passage


During this passage, it was very easy to find a place to sit for any meal, lecture or to find an empty stool at the bar.  I would say about half of our shipmates were in their cabins holding on tight and not eating much.  We did have some interesting lectures this day.  Nigel Milius, our ornithologist, Lectured on Identifying Southern Ocean Seabirds.  Kara Weller, our marine biologist, lectured on Seals of Antarctica and Robert "Bob" Headland, our historian, lectured on Unveiling the Antarctic.  The Quark staff took every opportunity to make sure we had the information needed to understand and enrichen the experiences of voyage.


It was not easy to move about the ship, and John missed a handhold in the cabin during the night and crashed to the other side of the space, hurting his shoulder and peeling the hide off of his right forearm and elbow as well.  Fortunately I had my first aid kit with me, and the ship's Doctor, (coincidentally named Phil) looked him over the next day.  In the fall, John  also managed to mangle my suitcase, which did at least have the benefit of cushioning his crash.  As a result, he spent much of the day and a half crossing in his bed, sore and somewhat suffering from mal de mer.


John enjoying the Drake Passage


Speaking of Mal De Mer, when we entered the open sea, the ship's crew made sure there were plenty of those "little bags" around the ship.  As you can see below, there was one stuck in the passageway handrail just about every four feet.


The ship's officers allowed us to go on the navigation bridge most of the time, if we kept to port side of the helm, and if we were quiet.  This, and the bow were favored places to watch for Antarctic wildlife.


We began to see some of the sea birds of the Southern Ocean in the Drake passage. Here is a Cape Petrel that I photographed from the Bridge.  When the sea is rough, and the wind brisk, most of these sea birds can just hang in the air with almost no need to flap their wings.

Cape Petrel


Another beautiful seabird I saw that day is the Black-browed Albatross.  These large, graceful birds have a wingspan of 79-93 in.  Some confusion exists about luck and the albatross.  Seafarers have long considered the sighting of an albatross to be a sign of good luck.  In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner a sailor shoots an albatross for no apparent reason, and that act was unlucky, so the crew made the sailor wear the dead bird around his neck to attempt to neutralize the unlucky act, hence the expression "albatross around your neck" means to have bad luck.  But the living bird in flight is a good omen.

Black-browed Albatross


On to South Shetland Islands and Half Moon Island