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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Antarctica - the Drake Passage

The Drake Passage is the body of water between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. The 500 mile wide passage is the shortest crossing from the world's land to Antarctica. The Passage can be extremely treacherous with the unimpeded waves of the vast Southern Ocean squeezing through the narrow Drake Passage and has been named the most dangerous ship passage in the world. At times in summer, it can be possible to avoid bad weather and the Passage is then called the "Drake Lake". On the way over to Antarctica we enjoyed the Drake Lake! The weather was clear and we enjoyed two restful days and nights until we were able to land with our dinghies in Antarctica.




During the crossing, we enjoyed lectures with the Naturalists, such as "Birds of the Drake Passage and Antarctica", "Photographic Techniques in the Antarctic" and "The Discovery and Early Exploration of Antarctica". Topics that are of great interest to us!

We saw black-browed Albatrosses and a lone Royal Albatross, following the ship.

Another interesting topic was that of Antarctic Convergence. This is where the cold, dense, southerly waters come into contact with the warmer, less dense, northerly waters and begin an intense mixing. Nutrients are brought to the surface and this is an area of diversity of marine life. Seawater temperature typically decreases more than 5 degrees when crossing the boundary. Often the result is fog.
 
We also talked about the Beaufort Wind Scale. This scale would be useful on the return trip across the passage. We were watching the weather closely and became aware as we began our return back to Ushuaia across the Drake Passage, that a big storm was approaching.  As we began the return trip, we saw a pod of beautiful black and white hourglass dolphins alongside. Isn't that a sign of good luck?

During the night the storm continued to build and most adventurers did not sleep well with winds peaking at 70 knots!  That is over 80mph! Needless to say the decks were closed to outdoor exploration. I spent most of my time on the bridge enjoying the weather and Jim spent most of that time in our cabin, as he was not feeling well.  The staff of Corinthian was extremely accommodating and delivered meals whenever requested. My experience at sleeping onboard a bouncing sailboat was an asset when it became time to sleep. Though there were "seatbelts" on the bed, I chose a cozy spot on the floor between the bed and the wall!
Marcia and I were sitting at lunch as she took this picture of her Diet Coke.
Below, notice the strategically placed "puke" bags.

As we approached Ushuaia the wind continued at 50 knots, but once we entered the Beagle Channel, she ship became more stable and we were able to view the Imperial Cormorants and Black-browed Albatrosses.


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