The Drake Passage has a scary reputation, and that’s not surprising (glad it wasn’t like this!). It’s the narrowest point between Antarctica and any other landmass, so all the formidable force of the Southern Ocean gets squished into a narrow passage between two continents.
In fact, according to our lecture on plate tectonics today, it was only relatively recently (in geological terms) that South America and the Antarctic Peninsula parted company. I tried to imagine what it must have been like when the continents finally broke apart, when the ocean finally got free license to race around the South Pole. It must have been like a dam bursting… but of course long before human beings were around to witness such an event. Can you imagine how it would be now? The news stations would be all over it. “And here it goes, the first trickle of Pacific waters into the Atlantic Ocean, and oh my word, just look at those waters go!” It would have made a bursting levee look like a leaky tap.
We have apparently been extraordinarily fortunate. We didn’t know if we would get the “Drake Lake” or the “Drake Shake”. Today brought beautifully calm conditions, no doubt to the immense relief of the numerous passengers with seasickness patches stuck behind their ears. Today’s lectures were well-attended, with no absentees due to illness, and the crew were even so bold as to bring Captain’s Cocktails forward to this evening, confident that the mix of free drinks and newbie seafarers would not result in vomitorious (is that a word?) disaster.
Nevertheless, there was enough bounce to make this morning’s workout in the small fitness room quite interesting. I was glad to be on the cross-trainer, where at least I could hang onto the arm-levers to avoid falling off sideways when the ship rolled. There was a dicey moment when I had a dumbbell in each hand and there was a sideways lurch, and the exercises involving the fitball had an added dimension of complexity, but I got through the workout without undue embarrassment. And the views out over the open ocean, as albatrosses swooped around the ship’s stern, made it worth the effort.
Apart from my workout, I have spent the day preparing the slideshows for the two lectures I will give on this trip, listening to lectures, and snooping around the ship’s bridge – Lindblad Expeditions have an “open bridge” policy, meaning any passenger can go up there and ask as many questions as they like. So I was scoping out all the amazing comms and navigational software that I can only dream of on my budget.
As I write, we have just crossed 60 degrees South, still some distance from the Antarctic Circle at 66.5 degrees South. To put this in perspective, if we were at a similar latitude in the Northern Hemisphere, we would be in Alaska, or Norway, or Russia.
We had a talk today about the fragile ecology of Antarctica. When we were listening to the talk about the Antarctic Treaty, and how this uniquely unspoiled continent might soon be mined, fished, and exploited like every other part of the world, I found myself choking up with tears. I haven’t even seen this place yet, and already I feel strongly that it must be preserved as a pristine wilderness – or at least the closest we have to such a thing any more. Goodness knows how emotional I’m going to get once I actually see it.
Ooh! I see we are now at 63 degrees South, and progressing at around 14 knots towards the Antarctic Peninsula. We should be able to see land around 6am tomorrow. That’s less than 7 hours away. Time I went to bed!