Travel To Antarctica: Is the Drake Passage Dangerous?
Photo: David Merron
The Drake Passage is the iconic icy cold body of water stretching 800 kilometers wide between the tip of South America and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica, north of the Antarctic Peninsula. This region connects the southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean and the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean, also known as the Scotia Sea.
The fluid province of oceans colliding is famously one of the most adventurous and extraordinary voyages in the world. This is due to strong currents caused by the lack of nearby land, as well as the strength and structure of waves that can occur - particularly in stormy seasons. In some areas, water currents flow as fast as 150 million cubic meters per second, making it the world’s most voluminous current.
Crossing the Drake Passage is a traditional part of Antarctic travel, viewed by many polar explorers as a fundamental component of reaching the natural wonders which Antarctica has to offer. Whether you prefer to cruise or fly this crossing is entirely your decision, and I have you covered no matter your preferences. While the cruise option has long been regarded as a standard polar experience, the fly option offers the added benefit of cutting down on time. When considering, “Is the Drake Passage dangerous?” or “Is this the best option for me?,” you should feel confident whether you decide to choose the cruise or flying option as both will reward you with an immersive polar experience.
Drake Passage History
The Drake Passage has a grand history of polar exploration since it was first discovered in 1525 by Spanish navigator Francisco de Hoces. On most Spanish maps, you’ll see this region written as “Mar de Hoces.” The Drake Passage gets its name from Englishman Francis Drake, and his circumnavigation which is also known as “Drake’s Raiding Expedition.” This was a historical maritime event of great discovery and significance, authorized by the first Queen Elizabeth between 1577 and 1580, a voyage to mark England’s global domination against Spain.
Is the Drake Passage Dangerous?
Despite its reputation, crossing this unpredictable water body can be an unforgettable 48-hour affair. These days, with the finest equipment, safety procedures, experienced crew members, and polar-ready ships, the Drake Passage can be a remarkable part of one’s polar voyage - not dangerous. The collision of cold seawater from the south and warm seawater from the north creates powerful eddies in the Drake Passage, which combine with harsh winds and occasionally heavy storms, prompting the term Drake Shake.
Some simple tips and tricks should help to ward off potential seasickness for those who are so affected. Speak with your physician before the trip and stock up with travel medication. Staying hydrated is important, and making sure you eat regular meals to keep your body operating at its best. Fresh air and keeping active when on the ship are also crucial. Keeping the mind active, and distracted, can be helpful, and luckily there is plenty of diversion onboard.
The Drake Shake and Lake Drake
So, as mentioned above, guests can expect either the Drake Shake or Lake Drake when their polar vessel takes them across the Drake Passage. Both can be experienced, depending on the prevailing weather conditions.
Rest assured, expedition trips by my trusted travel partners are equipped with a seasoned crew to keep passengers safe in all conditions. Physicians and a seasoned expedition team are always on hand to be of service. Polar-ready ships are built to withstand every element of the voyage.
Fly Option vs. Cruise Option
As mentioned, the flying option is available for those who don’t wish to sail across the Drake, and perhaps would also like to cut down on time. The flying option could be the perfect way to live out your polar expedition dreams with the vacation time you have available. This gives you more opportunity to focus on enjoying the sights of Antarctica - from both ground and aerial perspectives!
Alternatively, the two-day crossing cruise option can give passengers time for learning, bird-watching, and possibly wildlife sighting. Onboard the ship, you’ll meet polar experts, such as penguinologists, glaciologists, and ornithologists, delivering engaging presentations which help you get the most out of your polar voyage.
However you choose to cross the Drake Passage on your long-awaiting voyage to Antarctica, it’s important to choose a polar operator with experience and a proven safety track record. My trusted travel partner suppliers have been exploring the polar regions for decades, and they are proud to be considered some of the recognized leaders in polar adventures. Eager to learn a little more? The video captures the very essence of a polar expedition.
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