Antarctica, Day 2: Drake Passage

December 21, 2019

Paul Kay


We’re traveling Antarctica on Silversea Cruises. Today we’re at sea on our way to the South Shetland Islands. Here’s how our trip has gone so far.

We thought we were going to the Falklands Islands first. But last night when we boarded the Silver Cloud, we were told we were sailing the reverse our original itinerary. Bad weather in the Falklands with the strong winds meant we couldn’t use the Zodiacs to land. With winds at more than 40 miles per hour, the Zodiacs were not safe to use.

Ushuaia, Argentina, to South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

That meant that today we were sailing 590 nautical miles to the South Shetland Islands, just north of the Antarctic Peninsula. Of course, that also meant we would cross the notoriously windy and rough Drake Passage.

Crossing the Drake Passage, Silversea Cruises, Antarctica

 The Drake Passage from the Silver Cloud

We spent a full day at sea but had plenty to do. In the morning, we ate breakfast, and then went to the photography studio. We signed up for some special classes and expeditions. The studio offers a large room with Macs and PCs with large screens set up for our photographs.

Next, we attended a mandatory IAATO briefing. IATTO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) was founded in 1991 by seven companies. The organization’s primary goal is to "advocate and promote the practice of safe and environmentally responsible private-sector travel to the Antarctic.” IATTO created strict rules to protect the Antarctic environment and Silversea adheres to the rules and requires cooperation from its passengers.

We are to consider ourselves guests of the Antarctic. As such we keep our distance from animals. They can approach us, but we must stay a safe distance from them. We do not take home any souvenirs, such as rocks, vegetation, feathers, etc. We do not harm the trails or etch our names in the terrain. We visit but do not leave any trace, particularly foreign objects like plastic, food or anything that didn’t already exist there before people started visiting.

Did you know in Hawaii most of the plants are not native to the islands? Even hibiscus and pineapple are foreign invaders of the Hawaiian environment. Silversea and the IATTO the attempting to keep the same from happening to Antarctica. The rules protect and preserve one of the most original places left on Earth.

We had lots of other things to do. We checked our rental parkas for fit; they were perfect!

We tagged our rental water boots. Since all passengers keep their boots on ship in the mud room, it makes sense to tag them so everyone can easily find them each day. We got an explanation why all boots are kept in the mud room. After passengers return from Zodiac expeditions, we have material on our boots: mud, vegetation and probably penguin detritus. The ship uses an advanced mud cleaning system on everyone’s boots. After that, we spray the soles of our boots with a special compound to make sure they’re ready for the next day.

Lecture, Silversea Cruises, Drake Passage, Antarctica

 Going back to school in the middle of the ocean

We listened to lectures. One was on the history of the Antarctic Peninsula; another was a geological presentation on how the Antarctic region was formed; and another was a presentation on native birds. All were informative, and we enjoyed them.

While we didn’t see any shore, that didn’t mean we didn’t have anything to see.

Wandering Albatross, Antarctic Ocean, Antarctica

 An albatross demonstrating dynamic soaring

For example, we saw many Antarctic birds like this albatross. It’s a truly remarkable bird. It nests as far north as Brazil. Looking for food an albatross will fly more than 600 miles in a day. Albatross love to follow cruise ships, displaying beautiful acrobatic feats of flying.

The birds rarely flap their 10-foot wingspans. They glide on the wind. Albatross are considered by many to be the world’s most efficient gliders. An albatross swoops low over the ocean and uses the ever-present trade winds to save energy. The wind helps it gain height, and then it glides down again and gains distance in a process known as dynamic soaring. This allows an albatross to fly into the wind using the energy of the wind itself. Albatross seem to fly continuously. And they regularly reach speeds of more than 25 miles per hour. Scientists tracked one bird that circled Antarctica in 46 days. At more than 10,000 miles, that’s 200 miles per day!

Late in the day, Silversea said we might arrive early enough on Day 3 to go on a Zodiac expedition. The ship is making good time. Although no one was excited to sail the notoriously difficult Drake Passage, our captain has done a terrific job. By tomorrow, we’ll have traveled 590 nautical miles, or more than 600 miles, when we near the South Shetland Islands.

Drinks Before Dinner, Silversea Cruises, Drake Passage, Antarctica

Tonight, we sampled some beverages, and then went to dinner. Tomorrow, we’ll get our first glimpse of icebergs, land and penguins. On Day 4, we’ll step on the Antarctic Peninsula for the first time! 

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