The Roughest Stretch of Water In The World – The Drake Passage

The Roughest Stretch of Water In The World – The Drake Passage

Dates – 6 – 8th November 2010

Position – 60o, 00.706′ S/61o, 59.226’W

Geographic Location at start – Beginning of The Drake Passage

Geographic Location at end – South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

Weather Conditions – Cold, clear, sunny

Wind – Not too bad, yet boat rocking

The drake passage between Argentina/Chile and Antarctica

Named after British Explorer Francis Drake, this stretch of water remains probably the roughest in the world. Known simply as the Drake Passage, it sees the South American continent meet the Antarctic continent somewhere where two oceans collide – The South Pacific Ocean and The Southern Ocean. We were warned before the crossing that the seas would be rough.

A calmer day in St. Malo, France

I hadn’t thought much of it however. I like being on boats, indeed I’ve spent a fair bit of time working on boats and an even more fair length of time travelling on them, so I was ready for it. I don’t get sea sick as a rule (unless alcohol is involved!).

On the first night as we neared the end of the Beagle Channel and South America faded into the distance, I offered my room mate Mark a late night tipple to celebrate having left the civilised world behind and to help us sleep through the rough seas. My choice of carryout was cheap wine and beer, bought for a total of less than £6 in La Anonimo in Ushuaia.

The wine was actually just 4 Pesos for a one litre carton, and I burst it open on the first night, in good spirit and ahead of the major expedition. It turned out to be one of life’s regrets, and for the sake of less than £1 I ended up pouring the rest of the wine out, as neither mark nor I enjoyed it! It was that bad!

We did fall asleep immediately after a glass of it however and slept well, but the headache the next day from the wine was severe. This didn’t stop me munching as much food as I could eat at the three daily on board (all inclusive) meals. But it did leave me feeling a touch dizzy and tired for that day.

I didn’t mind that one bit as we were on the Drake Passage, and if others were experiencing sea sickness, I was barely aware of the ship’s erratic movements!

The Drake Passage normally takes 2 days to cross, but we were making good progress and we were on course for our first Antarctic landing at the South Shetland Islands, for our third day on board, but in reality only our second full day.

Along the Drake Passage we were given the freedom of the boat to do as we pleased.

There were numerous lectures on board.

There was a “guess the ocean convergence time” competition on board. I guessed after midnight on the 8th, but we actually crossed the oceans around 4 pm on the 7th!

There was a Library – with a full Lonely Planet Collection (though as Haya and I noticed, they didn’t have Israel or Northern Ireland!: the former was missing, the latter doesn’t exist).

There was a Sauna onboard (that’s us in it above – don’t even ask about the brown bikini!), and even a gym (though I never used the on board gym and generally in life I never go to the gym)

There was also an abundance of notice boards with information posted everywhere.

It was also the day where we chose our boots. They are big green or black Wellington Boots. Mine were black rather than green actually, odd for me.

So I was never bored, often took wee naps during the day, sorted out my blog and photos and chilled out.

Out on deck the views were of merely ocean and a few birds. There wasn’t any land for now.
Relaxing with Paul Gray from England on the Drake.
Relaxing on the Drake.

It was beautiful how birds followed the boat on the Drake.

As Coldplay would say “birds go flying at the speed of sound to show you how it all began.”
Flying my Northern Ireland flag (or trying to in the strong winds) on the Drake Passage.

Then suddenly by Day 3, we caught sight of the continent of Antarctica. These icebergs were visible out the starboard side of the boat.

It was time to leave the dreaded Drake Passage behind us and go and explore. Our first stop was a little known island called Barrientos on Aitcho Islands, which is part of the South Shetland Islands. We had left the other six continents behind, we were now in ANTARCTICA.

Some people had sex on board and called it “the drake shake”, others felt ill, others bought t-shirts saying “I survived the Drake Passage.” However, we still had to sail back the same way in 10 days time…
The important thing was we were all now perked up and happy and were…in ANTARCTICA! A full guide to the border crossing and Antarctica visa advice is here.







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