The Drake Strait or Passage is that wide stretch of sea between the south of South America and the north of the Antarctic Peninsula. It has a minimum width of 800 km.
Why write about a place like this at Christmas time? Because there I spent a Christmas day, specifically the worst of my life, and that’s because its waters are considered the most stormy on the planet.
The ship arriving in Tierra del Fuego on the way back from Antarctica
Why does it have two names? Because it was discovered by the Spanish navigator Francisco de Hoces in 1526 on an expedition to the Moluccas (an Indonesian archipelago), much coveted for its spices, but the Englishman Francis Drake crossed it and returned through the Strait of Magellan in 1578, demonstrating that Tierra del Fuego was actually an island.
Did the British of the time have a better marketing team than the Spaniards, and because of this the name of Hoces is barely known? Historians tell us that the following happened:
- Hoces and his crew were part of an expedition of 7 naos of the crown of Castile there, but in Tierra del Fuego they were surprised by a storm. The Hoces’ ship, called San Lesmes, could not take refuge, and was forced to separate from the others and go further south than known to avoid the storm, being the first in history to cross the Sea of Hoces, meeting later with the rest of the expedition and telling what they had discovered. Members of that expedition were the ones that told the world what had happened, since Hoces’ ship never reached the Moluccas nor returned to Spain or other known territory.
- Unfortunately, in a second storm, the San Lesmes separated again from the other ships and never met again with the rest of the expedition nor anything was known anymore about them until recent history.
- Discoveries from the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries indicate that they reached the shores of some of the islands that today form French Polynesia, where several ship’s cannons have been found in addition to a genetic trail, given that some sailors stayed in those islands for life; There are also indications in the religion of those communities similar to Catholicism of the 16th century, types of boats and even structures similar to Galician granaries. Years later, some of the crew rebuilt the ship and the signs suggest that they reached the shores of New Zealand and subsequently Tasmania and the east coast of Australia, where the trail is lost. These discoveries seem to confirm that the Spanish were the first to arrive in French Polynesia, and suggest that they were also the first to discover the two great countries of Oceania, 230 years before James Cook did.
- 52 years later, Sir Francis Drake, a privateer in the service of Great Britain, went around Tierra del Fuego, gave his name to that, and made sure that everyone found out.
So the answer is a resounding yes, the British had a much better marketing team than ours. And also a reflection that comes to mind: those poor sailors are not to blame for anyone recognizing the possible merit of having discovered Australia and New Zealand, since it is believed that they died before they could come back and communicate their findings, but in the case of French Polynesia… after years of paradisiacal life there, which is more than understandable considering that their ship should be very damaged and that they arrived at one of the best edens on the planet, once they think about to rebuild the ship, and being aware that they were the only Europeans in that area, why did they think of continuing towards the Moluccas instead of returning to America and reporting the discovery? Maybe now that would be Spanish Polynesia… Anyway, Francisco de Hoces, extraordinary seafarer with a marketing agent of the worst.
In relation to travel, the Drake Strait is a must for cruises that go to Antarctica from Ushuaia, and it is by far the worst part: we face two full days of sailing on the way and two more on the way back, 4 in total, by one of the most moving waters on the planet, for the following:
- As we all know, or should know, the Earth makes a rotation movement, from west to east; this movement drags inertia to the water of the oceans. Therefore, the oceans have a tendency to form currents from west to east.
- In the main oceans, the Atlantic and the Pacific, the currents eventually reach the coast of Europe and Africa in the first case, and America in the second, and there they deviate.
- But what happens in that little piece where there is no land between the end of America and the northern part of Antarctica? Not only is there no land that stops the currents, but between Patagonia and the Antarctic Peninsula they form a narrowing like a bottleneck. All that water passes by, accelerating in the narrowing and without land later to stop it.
- The consequence is that the currents in the Drake Pass are very intense all year. It is the so-called Antarctic Circumpolar Current, the most indomitable in the world, where waves of more than 10 meters high are common.
THE PERFECT SICKNESS
Of course, they don’t tell you that anywhere, since many would give up the trip, and after having lived it I can’t say I don’t understand them. That is what happened to us. A posteriori, it was very fun to tell that 90% of the passengers we spent Christmas day lying in bed dizzy not being able to move, but at the time was not even slightly funny. I usually presume that it is very rare that I get dizzy in a means of transport, and there was no one who would take me out of bed in the two days of sailing on the way there, having to walk on 4 legs through the cabin to go to the bathroom, and about to throw up every time I saw the waves peeking out of my hatch on the 4th floor of a 5-story ship.
Apparently, so much wobble is not usual, it was said that even some sailors had become dizzy. Even so, it is fascinating to see how one cannot move while your cabin mate is able to eat and read without the slightest problem in the middle of that rise and fall. The return, with a quieter sea and a scopolamine patch provided by the ship’s doctor, was much better.
Even with the extraordinary dizziness, it was worth it to get to Antarctica, but please, nobody should think I exaggerate. On the way back, when we were about to cross the Pass again, a man who had been thrombosed in one leg was transferred to our ship after two full days lying in bed due to the dizziness caused by the waves of the Drake Strait, so take note, dizzy or not, you have to do to move a little.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO ON THE CRUISE DURING NAVIGATION IN THE DRAKE STRAIGHT
If the day allows it and there is no extreme dizziness, there will be activities, mostly talks, on the boat, some on the fauna that we are going to see, other instructions on how to behave in Antarctica or the basic rules of moving in zodiac boats; One of the most interesting was a talk with tips for photographing animals and Antarctic landscapes.
We could even sit and chat in the common area and have a drink
It is likely to spot large birds, to highlight albatrosses of various types, as well as whales and dolphins if you are lucky. On the way back, in the middle of the storm, I saw nothing at all, and just a few large birds around, but the connoisseurs could distinguish 3 types of petrels and 3 types of albatrosses, including the two largest, the wandering albatross and the royal albatross.
You can also see the midnight sun if it’s summer
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