Danger Ahead! A Few Fun Facts About the Dreaded Drake Passage

Iceberg on the Drake Passage

So if you got a peek at our premiere episode you saw that we were actually pretty lucky during our voyage across the dreaded Drake Passage. At least until the end, when the weather turned on us and things got a bit hairy. But we’re VERY happy to report that despite the rough conditions there at the end, we both managed to get across the Drake without a single puke. Giddyup.

Even better than that? Antarctica is getting closer and closer by the second. And we really hope you’ll stay tuned for next week’s episode, when we actually arrive to the White Continent. The word “epic” is completely and totally overused these days, but it’s the only word we could find to best describe the experience.

Meantime as our time on the Drake winds down, we thought we’d share a few interesting facts about this infamous stretch of water. Check ’em out:

Sir Francis DrakeThe Drake Passage passage gets its English name from Sir Francis Drake, a 16th century English privateer. After passing through the Strait of Magellan, Drake’s last remaining ship was blown far south in September 1578, at which time they realized there might actually be an open connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Which obviously turned out to be true.

Still, the first actual recorded voyage through the Drake Passage didn’t happen until almost 40 years later, when the Dutch navigator Willem Schouten sailed across its waters in 1616.

The Drake Passage is world famous for having the roughest and most unforgiving waters on the planet, claiming a countless number of vessels and lives over the hundreds of years since. One of the most recent and most dramatic events on the Drake occurred in 2010, when a passenger ship called the Clelia II carrying 160 people was partially disabled by a rogue wave and had to be rescued by the National Geographic Endeavour. Check out this incredible video from the scene:

Despite its rough and tumble reputation, the Drake is still the preferred route for ships hoping to sail around the southern tip of South America. There are actually a couple of other options that aren’t so far south, the Magellan Strait and the Beagle Channel. But both are very narrow and they can also become icebound. The Drake was also pretty much the only way to cross between the Pacific and Atlantic, until the Panama Canal was opened to traffic in 1914, which we imagine was a happy day for lots and lots and lots of sailors.

The waters of the Drake are also among the coldest on earth, as they’re part of what’s known as the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, a freezing current that endlessly circles the Antarctic continent. Water temperatures range from 43 °F in the north to 30 °F in the south, with the temperatures altering sharply around latitude 60° S – an area that’s known as the Antarctic Convergence zone.

There’s also an insane amount of water passing through the Drake at all times. It’s estimated the amount of water that runs through the Drake is equivalent to 600 times the amount of water in the whole of the Amazon River, and 135 times the volume of all the rivers on earth combined. (Though those numbers differ as you read about the Drake on different sites. Suffice it to say it’s a shit load of water.)

And it’s deep too! The passage has an average depth of about 11,000 feet (3,400 metres) with deeper regions of up to 15,600 feet (4,800 metres) near the northern and southern boundaries. And good Lord knows what’s down there. Aliens, we’re pretty sure. That’s where they’re waiting before they pop up and wage alien war on the human race.

Despite being so cold and deep, the Drake is actually teeming with wildlife. Crossing the passage you’ll see an impressive variety of seabirds, and if you’re lucky you can also sometimes see large numbers of dolphins and whales. We did actually see lots of cool seabirds, but not much else. We’re thinking the aliens must have scared the whales off.

Drake Passage Map

The 500-mile passage between Cape Horn (the southern tip of South America) and Livingston Island is the shortest crossing from Antarctica to any other landmass. And the actual boundary between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is considered to be a line drawn from Cape Horn to Snow Island, which is 81 north of mainland Antarctica.

Generally a voyage by ship across the Drake takes a full two days, and it’s without a doubt the most popular way to get to the White Continent. But it is actually possible to fly over Drake, which lots of people evidently do. We call those people chickens. Big chickens. The way we see it, you haven’t earned the right to visit Antarctica if you haven’t put in the long hours on the water. But that’s just us. You chickens don’t take it personally.

Cheers y’all! More to come in the next few days. And Antarctica next week! Woot woot!

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  1. I would luv to do this with you all if you need any position you need help in let me know. I will work for free just to go!!

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