Wednesday 12 January 2011

Smooth Southern Seas

The Drake Passage treated us kindly. Gaining our sea legs was not much of a challenge for most as a calm following sea pushed the Fram southwards towards the South Shetlands.
The faces at breakfast looked bright and well rested, and many confessed to enjoying the gentle roll of the ship during the night. The Drake opened geologically about 22 to 30 million years ago, and connects the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean south of Tierra del Fuego. It played an important role in 19th and early 20th century trade prior to the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, but it is the storms that rage through this passage that lend it an unsavoury reputation.

We were truly blessed on this our first full day at sea. Not only was the Drake a smooth ride (Drake Lake!), but the winds were strong enough to support a bevy of seabirds around the vessel. Perspective is always difficult to judge when at sea, and from the dainty storm petrels to the massive wandering albatrosses it was difficult to assess the true size of these avian wonders. The greatest sights from deck were the wandering albatrosses soaring near the ship. These, arguably the largest flighted birds on the planet, would accompany us throughout the day, and usher us along into the chillier regions of the Deep South.