Travelling through Antarctica's Drake Passage is infamous. Here's why
The famous – or infamous – Drake Passage is the gateway to Antarctica. The fiery dragon guarding the beautiful castle, if you will.
Anytime you talk about Antarctica, the Drake Passage is bound to come up. Questions like “How was the Drake Passage?” “How was your crossing?” come up within moments of saying you’ve visited Antarctica. So what is it about the Drake Passage that makes it such a big deal?
The Drake Passage is the body of water between South America’s Cape Horn and Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands. Considering it connects the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean, with the southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean and extends into the Southern Ocean, you can see why the waters here can be a wee bit turbulent.
Let’s get some facts and figures out of the way first and then we’ll talk about what it’s like to cross it.
The Drake Passage was named after Sir Francis Drake in 1578, when his ship was blown south and he realised there was an open connection between the Atlantic and Pacific Islands. The passage had been earlier visited in 1525, however, by Spanish navigator Francisco de Hoces, however his crew thought they saw land. Therefore the Passage is also known as Mar de Hoces.
The passage stretches 800 kilometres wide. What is interesting is that there is no land mass sitting on the same latitude as the Drake Passage, allowing a volume of water approximately 600 times that of the Amazon River, to flow unimpeded. Here, you’ll have an above average chance of seeing whales, dolphins, sea birds, albatross and penguins.
But let’s get to the nitty gritty – what’s it like to cross the Drake Passage? We’ve got a convergence of three seas here where the cool, sub-polar conditions of South America meets the frigid, polar regions of Antarctica. So rough seas are… shall we say, not unexpected? In fact, there’s a saying you either get the “Drake Lake” or the “Drake Shake” – the first being the less common with calm, flat seas, and the second is what has earned the Drake Passage her fearsome reputation.
However, and this is a big however, recent years have seen huge improvements to the stabilisation of cruise ships venturing into the Antarctic. Newer, expedition ships have ice-breaking capabilities, strengthened hulls and stabilisation technology specifically designed for this type of sailing. They also have better technology for prediciting weather and marine conditions so the Captain can detour or wait it out if conditions are deemed too bad.
There’s also excellent sea sickness medication available and the advice here is to take it before you actually need it! Prevention is far easier than dealing with it if you leave it too late.
Another benefit of small expedition ships is that should you need your cabin, it is never far away!
Everyone you speak to who has visited Antarctica has a different story to tell. Some will tell you about waves crashing over the bow and crawling on all fours down the hallways. Some will tell you about expecting to go sliding across the floor table, chairs and all… only to spend the crossing eating and drinking and enjoying flat, idle, millpond seas. Of course, there’s also everything in between.
There’s a natural camaraderie between passengers as you ride out the waves. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the Drake Lake but our advice is, prepare for the worst. If you expect the worst and prepare accordingly, you might be pleasantly surprised.
And perhaps think of it this way - travelling to Antarctica is supposed to be an adventure! You’re travelling to the last frontier. Don’t let a couple of days where you may, or may not, encounter some rough waves put you off seeing Antarctica in all her glory. It will be worth every minute spent on the Drake Passage. Besides, if it was too easy, it just wouldn’t be an adventure, would it?
Silversea's Silver Cloud takes you through Drake Passage in the lap of luxury - check out the package here.