Sunday, December 9, 2012

Drakes Passage

Peg Rees/Sharon Schafer
9 December 2012

Drakes Passage

Last night we headed away from Ushuaia moving slowly down the Beagle Channel with the assistance of a “Captain” to oversee and guide the ship to open water: the Drakes Passage. The channel was calm, and we viewed the steep mountains bounding the waterway and the settlements along the way. We had a ship's welcome and a toast to the journey. The Expedition Leader (Chad) introduced staff and briefed us on how to prepare for an emergency. Before we departed the Beagle Channel an emergency drill would occur while the Channel Pilot was still on the ship to oversee the process. We were also informed of anticipated high winds around 30 knots or more that would produce rough water as we entered the Drakes Passage.

We were given time to get settled in our cabins and find all the gear that had been provided including locating our life jackets that were in each room. The drill alarm went off, and we all preformed excellently including climbing into our 66-passenger fully enclosed emergency craft.

After dinner on the Beagle Channel, we were out on deck anticipating the "crossing."

"The Drake" -- That's a simple word that can strike of bit of fear in one. The Drake or more correctly the Drake's Passage is the little body of water from South America's Cape Horn to the South Shetland Islands of the Antarctic Peninsula. It was named after Sir Francis Drake although he had enough brains to avoid it altogether and "went around the horn" via the Straights of Magellan.

The good news is that the 500-mile crossing is the shortest distance between South America and Antarctica. The bad news is that it is considered the roughest water in the world. There is no significant land anywhere in the world at that latitude. The circumpolar current can really race around with no land to block it. It lies between about 56 and 60 degrees south latitude. It's not uncommon to have 40-foot seas and hurricane force winds there. Sailors feared this area and said, "below 40 degrees there is no law, below 50 degrees there is no God." Sailors also dubbed this area the "furious fifties" and the "shrieking sixties."

Well, we are hoping for the best but preparing for heavy seas as warned by the Expedition Leader. We have secured our materials, drawers, and doors in our rooms and we are in our bunks wishing for to a good night's sleep.

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