Welcome to the Drake

Dec 2, 2008

Shrink yourself down to about 2 inches tall. Now imagine being tied to the swinging hand of a metronome being carried by a drunk person on a pogo stick- that’s kind of what it feels like to go through the Drake passage in a round-hulled boat. The thing is, the Oden needs a curved bottom in order to break, and not get stuck in, the ice, but that means that in open ocean it gets tossed around a bit more than other ships, (imagine putting a goldfish bowl in a jet-tub) and in the infamous Drake let’s just say it makes things a little bit interesting.

Drake_Passage_-_Lambert_Azimuthal_projectionMap of the Drake Passage, courtesy of Wikipedia

The Drake Passage is the area between Cape Horn at the Southern tip of South America, and the Antarctic Peninsula, which I describe as the tail of a “Q” in the shape of the Antarctic continent. Since both continents reach towards each other like this, the ocean currents get squeezed quite tightly in this narrow passage (that also happens to trap a lot of storms), and so the Drake has some of the most dangerous waves on Earth.

I shot some video with my little Olympus camera of the waves crashing down on the deck, and another one of me sitting in my cabin in a wooden chair sliding from side to side with the metronome-like movements of the ship. (Stupid things like being able to slide around in my own cabin amuse me.) The size and power of these waves is just amazing to watch.

 I tethered myself to the deck to film this before the waves got too big…

View of the Drake Passage once the waves were too dangerous to go outside

Fun sitting in my chair in my cabin

dsc_0452Less and less nighttime darkness as we travel towards Antarctica

Tonight is the first night that darkness never showed up. Antarctica has 24-hrs of daylight in the austral summer season, and as we travel farther and farther South the days have had less and less night-time darkness, but now as I type this at 12:30pm it’s as bright as it would be at 8am. It’s weird because you know to expect it but it still serves as a little shock when you pass by windows and you can see light breaking through the clouds when everyone is retiring to their cabins for the night. I’ve been sleeping pretty well when the waves don’t crash down too hard, but when the waves ARE rough I have to brace myself in my top bunk to make sure I don’t get thrown out of bed by the tumultuous force of the sea. On the other hand, I feel so spoiled by the food here- it’s weird that the cafeteria going to Antarctica is better than the normal food I’m used to at home (and the water pressure of the showers is better than at home, too).

We won’t reach the ice for another few days, so I haven’t really been able to start on any of my research yet, and in fact while crossing the Drake we can’t even go to our labs because the ship’s swaying movement through the rough seas makes the lab environments unsafe, so this time is spent pretty much waiting. I’d say maybe a third of people on board have felt pretty sea sick (maybe more, if they hide it well, but many other people onboard have worked on this ship before) and I haven’t had any problems at all. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I’ve never been on research cruise before (I’m one of only two that haven’t traveled long distances by boat) but other than occasionally having to grab handrails during one of the more temperamental waves, I’ve been fine. Watching the waves undulate from the deck is a pretty crazy sight, simply because they’re so much broader than beach waves that crash in one direction. A lot of sea birds fly along in the direction of the ship, so even though I sometimes have no idea what specific birds I’m looking at (the one below is a black and white snow petrel), I think it’s cool to see the temporary visitors on our route.


You know you’re traveling when you’re excited to do laundry (or at least excited at the prospect of clean clothes).  With nothing else to do but wait for the waves to calm down when we reach the Antarctic coast, I finally have time tonight to do laundry, which is a bit of a blessing for the five shirts I packed for this trip.

It’s estimated that we’ll reach our stop for sea ice collection on Dec 12th, and I’m so excited to be able to climb onto the ice and take ice cores. There’s a little tradition on board that anyone who hasn’t crossed the Antarctic Circle before is referred to as a ‘blue nose’ and thus has their nose painted blue by more experienced crewmen for the three days before we cross the circle, which basically lets everyone on board know who’s new when all of the newbies have blue noses, so I’ve been walking around looking like I fell nose-first into a paint can for the past three days. (We’re supposed to cross the circle tomorrow, during which there’s a bizarre induction ceremony for newbies such as myself who have never been to Antarctica before.) It’s a harmless little ritual to welcome inexperienced crew members to the life of working on an Antarctic ship, so I play along with the strangeness. This is Antarctica, and let’s face it, there isn’t much else to do for entertainment, so we have a few strange hobbies to pass the time.


Posted on 2008, in 2008 (12/02) Welcome to the Drake, Season 1: Life on an Antarctic Icebreaker. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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