Paradise Harbour, Antarctica
64° 54' S 62° 55' W
Dec 11, 2003 22:15
Distance 0km

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The Drake Passage 06:15 55'40'' S 66'07'' W

When I woke up it was daylight for about two hours already. The sun had set around 23:15 the previous night and sunrise was at about 4:00 in the morning. Those are short nights and they will get shorter in a few days. It is almost 21 December and that is the longest day in the Southern Hemisphere. The ship was moving a bit sideways and you had to be careful not to forget the golden rule the captain had explained the previous night. One hand for the ship and one hand for yourself. Even in the shower. I was imagining how hard it would be to walk with rough weather. I hope I will not experience that.

I went up the bridge, because there is a 24 hours open bridge policy, which provides an excellent view. 6 decks high you had a good view of all the circling birds that think we are a fishing boat. Albatrosses, petrels, sterns and gulls were fishing around the ship and dived into the water now and then, a nice and peaceful sight so early in the morning. On the maps of the captain I looked up the position we were according to the GPS system above and so I came up with coordinates as shown above. It appeared that we had sailed 106 nautical miles, which is about 190 kilometers, since we left Ushuaia. We had left the Beagle Channel already and in the far distance you could see parts of Cape Horn where we will sail along on the way back if the weather is good. Charles Darwin, the famous great naturalist, had described the Beagle Channel in his journal as: "Channel about 1.5 miles wide, hills on both sides above 2000 meters high ... scenery very retired - many glaciers, uninhabited, beryl blue, most beautiful, contrasted with snow."

Today we are passing through the Drake Passage and what follows is a description about this stretch of the Southern Ocean.

Drake's Voyage:

A deep straight (average depth of 3600 meters and 620 miles wide), the Drake Passage is bounded by Cape Horn in the north and the South Shetland Islands, just north of the Antarctic Peninsula, in the south. It was never reached by Drake, who was blown back into the Straits of Magellan by a violent storm. It was first traversed in 1615 by a Flemish expedition led by Willem van Schouten who named Cape Horn after his birthplace, Hoorn in the Netherlands. With stormy and icy conditions Drake provided a rigorous test of seamanship. Rounding the Cape was feared by Mariners and travelers alike. Although the passage is occasionally calm in the austral summer, it more often lives up to its reputation. The waters of the Pacific are pushed by strong westerly winds through the narrow gap between south polar lands and the rest of the world. Let's hope for the occasionally calm.

The story of Drake's voyage of circumnavigation is spectacular. Young captain Francis Drake, the son of a humble farmer in Tavistock, had gained the Queen's favour and obtained her secret consent to the expedition that was to put a girdle around the earth and ultimately threatening the resources of Spain. With a fleet of 5 ships, 164 gentlemen and sailors, Drake sailed from Plymouth, England in 1577, attempting the second circumnavigation of the world. The English fleet then anchored off the Second Narrows in Tierra del Fuego and added a thousand penguins to their provisions.

On September 6, 1578, the flagship Pelican followed by the Elizabeth and Marigold, sailed past the Isles of the Evangelists and it was driven southwest down to latitude 57 degrees South. At this latitude, the Marigold had disappeared. The Elizabeth also was separated from the Pelican and the ship eventually returned back through the Straits to England. For 52 days, westerly gales drove the Pelican south of the latitude of Cape Horn, into the passage between it and the South Shetland Islands, which now bears Drake's name. Drake was one of the first to feel the true force of a Cape Horn storm, his accidental race before the easterlies proved that there was open water below Tierra del Fuego. Later the Pelican was renamed the Golden Hind, and eventually rturned to England laden with Spanish gold and having circumnavigated the globe.

The Program for the Day of 12 December 2003:

08:00 Breakfast is served 09:15 Seabirds of the Southern Ocean & Antarctica, lecture by John Gale in the Observation Lounge 11:00 Iron Men and Wooden Ships - early exploration in Antarctica, lecture by Kim Heacox in the Observation Lounge 12:30 Lunch is served in the dining room 15:00 Southern Ocean Marine Mammals, lecture by Sabina Leader Mense in the Observation Lounge 17:00 Krill, lecture by Melanie Heacox in the Observation Lounge 19:30 Dinner is served in the dining room 20:45 Video: First and second episode of BBC's Life in the Freezer


Lectures Seabirds of the Southern Ocean & Antarctica and Iron Men & Wooden Ships (12 December 2003):

Breakfast was excellent. Cereals, bread, cheeses, fresh exotic fruits, juices, chocolate, coffee, tea, bacon and eggs, all in buffet style. After breakfast it was time for the first lecture. An interesting presentation and slide show of just over an hour about all different kinds of sea birds. The main group of birds to be seen from the boat is the group of so-called tubenoses with the albatross and the petrel being the major sightings. Their habitat is mainly the Southern Ocean we are cruising in right now. Most breed on the Sub-Antarctic islands and evolved from the same family as the penguin.

They live on an oceanic food supply for which they fly up to 14 days looking for food covering many kilometers (sometimes more than 1000's of km) The large brain of these birds contain an excellent smell sense for finding food up to two meters deep in the oceans. They follow the boat through the Drake Passage as the engine of the boat brings up the food for them. The strong light tube boned wings can be locked for gliding in the wind but can not be used above pack ice because of the difficult thermal conditions. The webbed feet are used for using the ocean surface as a runway. These birds have a lower body temperature than other birds, 38 degrees instead of 41.

The birds have the same desalinating system for turning salt water into drinking water as the cruise ship, so all water on board of both bird and ship are potable. 80% of the abdomen of the bird consists of stomachs for storing food they collect for their chicks when at sea. They have been nesting for over 30.000 years at the same sites on the Sub-Antarctic islands. They use the same nests every year and stick to their mating partner for over 10 years. They start mating only after 10 years of age and they lay one large egg only, which is up to 30% of the weight of the bird's body. They can leave this egg for up to 12 hours at the time during which it might cool down to 3 degrees.

The wingspan of the albatross can be 3 meters. The Royal Albatross only breeds in New Zealand but feeds all the way over here in the Southern Ocean. The Lightmantled Albatross breeds mainly on the South Georgia Islands. Other albatross we sight here are Blackbrowed Albatrosses and Grey Headed Albatrosses. The petrels include: Giant Petrels, Storm Petrels, Small Petrels, Blue Petrels and Snow Petrels. Now, after the presentation, I should be able to identify all of them. I will be happy if I remember a few.

Halfway the presentation, around 10:00 the captain told us via the intercom that jumping dolphins were sighted but it appeared to be the rare Beaked Whale according to our marine biologist. It was a great sight seeing these mammals jumping quite high out of the water even if they were not close enough for taking pictures. Fabulous!

The second lecture of the day by Historian Kim Heacox handled about the early expeditions down south. Interesting but difficult to summarize as it was loaded with quotes from personal journals of those explorers. Most of the content of his lecture is captured under History on this website.

After the morning classes were over it was time for lunch to be served. Today we had a new salad buffet, combined with a choice of Pasta Carbonara or Pasta Prima Vera followed by a fresh fruit cocktail dessert. Being on a little bit rocking and rolling boat all day, combined with the dry air makes you drowsy, a perfect excuse for an afternoon siesta.

Lectures Southern Ocean Marine Mammals & Krill (12 December 2003):

At 57' and a few '' southern latitude it was brilliant weather. Not too windy and even small patches of blue sky between the clouds. Walking outside in just a T-shirt was a bit too much although I have just done that to try to take a close up of some of the majestic albatrosses that are constantly following us. Now the engine has fallen quiet for a moment to change over to another engine group. At 15:00 a new lecture started about the Southern Ocean Marine Mammals by Sabina Leader Mense. This lecture about the forming of the Southern Ocean, 40-45 million years ago and the importance of plankton and krill was way to technical and presented too fast, at least for the people on board whose English is not so good, and even I had to concentrate.

200 Million years ago Gondwanaland, the landmass consisting of all continents except Europe and Asia, started to fall apart and the continents drifted towards their current places. Once Australia was also separated from Antarctica the Southern Ocean was formed. The continent was originally covered with forests but started to cool down because of its isolated position. The Drake Passage where we are still sailing through is the narrowest part of the Southern Ocean and therefore has the strongest currents, and most powerful winds. No others ocean is windy enough to support the massive wings of the albatrosses, so this huge bird is only to be found here. We are lucky that we not see any rough winds or currents today.

Other terms discussed just 5 minutes ago are the Antarctic convergence where the warm (8 degrees) Sub-Antarctic waters meet the cold (2 degrees) Antarctic waters.

The Antarctic convergence is there where the cold (2 degrees) waters of Antarctic flows underneath the Sub-Antarctic warmer waters (8 degrees). Furthermore terms like Antarctic Divergence were discussed before moving on about the importance of plankton and the abundance of it in the Southern Ocean. Boring! There is one more lecture to go today and I hope it will be slightly more interesting. The title Krill does not sound promising.

Although the title of the last lecture of the day sounded boring it was not too bad at all. Amazing that someone can talk with so much passion about such a little creature of which millions roam the Southern Ocean. They form the base of the food chain here, so they are very important. Penguins, many other birds and even whales feed on them. Research has been done on the possibility of human consumption but there are a few problems, for example the high fluoride levels in the shell of the animal, which enters the main body after three hours, so you basically have to peel these shrimp-like animals immediately. An interesting lecture about an uninteresting little creature.

Dinner was fabulous again and I spent most of the evening on the bridge, enjoying the albatrosses and trying to spot more whales. After a full day of only water around is I went to bed around midnight.