HomeJanuary 2017Crossing the Drake Passage: A Lake or a Shake?


On December 30th, 2016 (Day #5), we set sail on the final leg of our journey to Antarctica. I stood on the icebreaker’s deck and watched the city of Punta Arenas, Chile fade into the sunset. The Laurence M. Gould (LMG), a 230-foot long research vessel (R/V), would be my floating home for the next several days until we reach land again at Palmer Station. Unlike the wooden ships of past polar explorers, the LMG has an ice-enforced hull that can handle one foot level of ice with continuous forward motion in polar seas.

As we made our way through the Straights of Magellan to the east, then south along the coast of Argentina and then onward toward Cape Horn, I couldn’t help but to take in the remarkable scenery from the bow.

Pictured: The LMG’s bow is the most forward part of the ship.


Sooty Albatross 1 Peale's Dolphin Commerson's dolphin 2 DrewP1579 Drew.P1814 DrewP0820 DrewP0820 DrewP2640 DrewP0854 DrewP2691 DrewP2663 Nat_3292 J.D._4671 J.D._3527 J.D._2956 DrewP0745
Sooty Albatrosses


Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drake_Passage


On day #7, we left the protective shores of South America and headed south into the infamous Drake Passage. This section of water extends about 1,000 km (600 miles) between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands. Here, the unimpeded flow of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current  carries a huge volume of water through the Passage and around the continent of Antarctica.

The Antarctic Circumpolar Current flows clockwise with a force approximately 600 times the flow of the Amazon River! This, coupled with the propensity for high winds in the region, can cause rough seas, and conditions sometimes referred to as the “Drake Shake.” Conversely, the “Drake Lake” is occasionally encountered when the passage is calm.

Considered a “rite of passage” for voyagers to the Antarctic, it takes approximately two days (Day #7-Day #8) to make the crossing, pending weather conditions. Check out highlights of my journey across the Drake Passage below. Was it a Lake or Shake?




Polar Ponder: Identify these main parts of a ship. Why would it be important to learn ship terminology for an Antarctic Expedition?



Crossing the Drake Passage: A Lake or a Shake? — 2 Comments

  1. Hi Natalie,
    12-25 ft. waves? Plenty high!
    Thanks for sharing the information on the Drake Passage, and especially the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. We are studying the importance of this cold-water current in 7th grade now.
    Hope you made the passage without getting seasick, and that you are getting plenty of good research.
    PMS Science, out-
    Pat and Students

  2. Hi Natalie,
    Enjoyed hearing from you and talking with you on the Zaandam. Hope your are still having a fabulous experience. I did not get a chance to exchange cards with you before you headed back to Palmer Station, but would still like to talk about materials and opportunities for our teachers and students here at the Monrovia Unified School District.

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