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  • Writer's pictureSharon Michalove

Rocking and Rolling in the Drake Passage

Antarctica Chapter 5

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If you want to read earlier posts on Antarctica, try these links:

Remembering one of my writing assistants. Nicholas was a Russian Blue from the Champaign County Humane Society. I adopted him nine years ago and he died at age sixteen and a half on Monday, April 10, 2023.

Lake, Shake, or Rock and Roll

08 Feb Drake Passage

57˚07’S / 65˚18’W

09 Feb Drake Passage 62˚46’S / 62˚01’W

Long before I traveled to the Great Southern Continent, I knew about the Drake Passage, one of the roughest seas in the world.

The Drake Passage is situated at the point where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet. This means that it is a massive convergence of waves, wind, and currents. Looking at it on a map, the Drake Passage is broad in area, around 620 miles in width. It is of particular interest to anyone wanting to voyage to Antarctica, because it extends from South America’s southernmost tip to the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula.
Cape Horn is the most southern headland, situated in the Tierra del Fuego archipelago in Chile. It indicates the northern boundary of the Drake Passage on a map. ‘Rounding the Horn’ refers to the navigation of vessels around Cape Horn itself. Stormy seas made the rounding of Cape Horn a difficult challenge for ships and their crews throughout history (especially for simpler sailing vessels), partly because the area is subjected to intense winds, rainfall, and seasonal sea ice. The opening of the Panama Canal meant many ships no longer had to complete this voyage around Cape Horn.
The Drake Passage is also a very deep body of water, with an average depth of 11,150 feet. The ocean floor is estimated at 15,700 feet deep around the southern and northern boundaries of the Passage.

This video shows the Drake Passage at its worst. That's the Drake Shake. Not my experience, fortunately. The Drake Lake is the ideal—smooth water. We had the intermediate rock and roll. The elevator didn't run but I managed to get to the seventh floor for the lectures that filled our time between meals. I did take pills for seasickness, but I probably didn't need them. We were also able to get out on deck and see birds.

Photo by Sharon Michalove

Photo by Dan Brown

With completely open water once the ship clears the Beagle Channel, there is nothing to stop the winds and storms. We saw some big waves, but nothing like the forty foot behemoths that some travelers face. Our passage was also quicker than usual, giving us more time to explore the Antarctic peninsula.

As usual, we ate well, at least those of us unaffected by the rough conditions.

A Note About the Next Few Weeks

I'll be traveling for a few weeks. See you in May with more Antarctic adventure and a look at book conventions and writing retreats.

Watch for the May 1 newsletter for books and more. If you aren't a subscribe, maybe now is the time.


And now a word from our sponsor...

Includes my story:

Melting the Iceman

When Chicago Seabirds star center, Merritt “the Iceman” Alexander, is told his concussion history means he has to retire from hockey, he withdraws from everything, including his fiancée, Heather Cantrell. Five years later, he’s found a new life on the ice as part owner of a company that specializes in Antarctic cruises.

Shattered by his disappearance, Hay has thrown all of her energy into taking her photography hobby into the realm of photojournalism. After a year of covering catastrophes all over the world, she is excited by her new assignment. An Antarctic cruise company wants her to document their newest offering to celebrate the discovery of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship, Endurance.

Like two icebergs, the Iceman and the Photog glide toward each other, but will they crash and splinter forever, or will they melt enough to merge for a happy ending?

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