Discovering The Dreaded Drake Passage

Named after the famous explorer Sir Francis Drake, the Drake Passage is a stretch of water that lies between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands. With a distance of 500 miles (800km), it is the shortest crossing between Antarctica and the mainland.

An Unpredictable Passage



Taking around 2-3 days to cross, the Drake Passage is well known for having either extremely calm or extremely rough waters. Although it is entirely unpredictable as to how your particular journey will fare, it is known that the conditions are due to the volume of water travelling through it (about 600x the flow of the Amazon River). Add gale force winds and you’re in for a rocky ride. Waves have been known to reach as high as 25 – 50 foot.

Travelling in this part of the world dates as far back as the 16th century, with Sir Francis Drake having discovered the crossing (hence the name). However, Drake’s discovery was accidental and occurred when his ship was blown far south during an attempt to cross the Strait of Magellan. Many men followed after him, often risking their lives, and it is thought that at least 2000 sailors have fallen to the peril of the Drake Passage.

Times Have Changed



However, it is worth saying that explorers back then didn’t have the same equipment and purpose-built ships that we have access to today. While the expedition ships we use are all fitted with stabilisers and strengthened hulls, the adventurers of bygone eras would have made their journey in wooden ships. These certainly wouldn’t have been able to cut through ice floes or mammoth waves as well as modern-day ships can. If that wasn’t bad enough, past explorers would have had to endure an extended trip, as crossing the Drake Passage used to take weeks and not days.

Conquering the Drake Passage will be an exciting part of your expedition and is the perfect opportunity for some wildlife spotting. Wales, penguins, albatrosses, and even certain types of dolphin are all commonly seen. So keep your ears pinned for the announcement of any sightings over the PA system.

There Is Another Way



However, if you’re not too keen on making the journey by boat, there is always the option to fly if you would prefer. We have many Antarctic expedition cruises that offer the chance to depart from Punta Arenas in Chile and meet up with the ship just as the exploring begins. You can choose to fly in both directions or fly one way across the Drake Passage and cruise in the other direction. There are also itineraries that travel to the Falklands and South Georgia before visiting the Antarctic continent, meaning that you only have to cross this infamous stretch of water once.

Will you experience the ‘Drake Shake’ on your journey, or will it be more like the ‘Drake Lake’? For more information about our exciting polar expeditions call us now.

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