The World's Scariest Ocean Crossing

Before the Panama Canal was built, ship captains dreaded passing around the southern tip of South America to go from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, or vice versa. The Drake Passage is the spot where the Antarctic Peninsula comes closest to Chile and Argentina, and the sea here can be terrifyingly turbulent. See, air currents travel west to east, and in the Drake Passage, there's no land mass to slow the wind as it travels completely around the world around Antarctica. Ocean currents also travel east, and the Drake Passage is a chokepoint where a lot of water tries to squeeze through a relatively small opening 600 miles wide and 6,000 feet deep. The deceptively calm surface is very different from the rapidly-moving deeper current until conditions change. Waves can be 50 feet high during storms, tossing boats around like so much flotsam. It has been estimated that more than 10,000 sailors have lost their lives in the Drake Passage.

Commercial ships now go through the Panama Canal, but ships regularly take tourists to the Antarctic Peninsula through the Drake Passage. This route is shorter than those of ships traveling from ocean to ocean. We have modern boats that are built for the conditions, and voyages can be scheduled around the weather forecast. The biggest danger these days is seasickness, because ship captains take the Drake Passage very seriously. Read about the Drake Passage and why it's so dangerous at CNN. -via Damn Interesting


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Ah, "expedition ship" is a bit of a misnomer. By all intents and purposes, my trip to Antarctica was a cruise for tourists, of which I was one. It's just that "expedition ships" usually hold less than 200 passengers, 120 in the case of the one I went on. So, although I can never see myself on a 4000 passenger cruise, I've really, really enjoyed the cruises I've been on in this smaller size vessel.
But, yeah, makes it sound like I was heading down for some professional, scientific-y reasons, when in fact I was a tourist going to look at nature and eat phenomenally well.
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When going south to Antarctica, about 70% of the people on board the expedition ship I was on were not to be seen. Either in bed with sea sickness, or talking to Ralph on the porcelain phone. Thankfully it didn't impact me, so there were some fellow loco passengers who went to the front of the ship, yet stayed indoors, and watched the absolute bonkersness of going up and down humungous waves and having them just completely engulf the entire front of the ship.
On my sailing back north, the Drake was like glass.
Good times! Highly recommend going to Antarctica. Head to Ushuaia and book a last minute departure on a ship that still has space.
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