The Drake, named after Sir
Francis Drake who was blown off course and into these waters in 1578, is unique among ocean passages. At this latitude the Circumpolar Current, a broad eastward flow generated by fierce westerly winds, runs
unchecked all around the globe. The only constraint to its path is the narrowness
of the passage (a mere 620 miles) between Tierra del Fuego (Cape Horn) and the South Shetland Islands off the tip of the Antarctic
Peninsula. Here the waters constrict to become the strongest, deepest current
marked by the most consistently rough weather of all the world’s oceans.
Nevertheless, it was just
an ocean crossing and I was resolved not to be seasick. With a little help from
a Dramamine tablet purchased from the ship’s store, Benny and I went to bed, lulled by the sensation of a cradle rocking. In the morning I was up, but Benny didn’t get out of bed, and judging by the
sparse turn out at breakfast, he was not alone. I took advantage of the quickest breakfast buffet line I was to encounter
on the voyage and repaired to the upstairs lounge for the morning digital photography workshop offered by master nature photographers
Kennan and Karen Ward.
G.A.P. had made
the extraordinary offer of free rentals of a Fuji digital camera, free rechargeable batteries, and free battery recharges
to all passengers, so the morning workshop was mostly an instruction in the mechanics of Fuji camera operation with a few
tips on composition. The most valuable piece of advice was Karen’s urging to go out and take pictures now – lots
of pictures. I ventured onto the stern deck to take snap digitals of whatever appeared, and there I discovered Ken Wright,
the “bird man.” Our ship was followed by a wake of birds, and ornithologist Ken helped us sort out the dolphin
gulls, the pretty black and white cape petrels, the black-browed albatross, and the sooty albatross that buzzed us unexpectedly
along the starboard deck.
Then a sharp-eyed passenger
noticed something different across the water. Could that unexpected puff of spray
be a whale surfacing? It was. Ken confirmed it and the fortunate few passengers
who were still up and alive crowded to the rail to see the dark gray back of a finback whale resurface and “blow.”
What excitement! And as a side benefit we had experienced the best preventative for seasickness - to watch the sea, savor
the fresh air, and enjoy the adventure.
That evening the seas seem
to have calmed. Blue sky appeared near horizon and the sun coasted beneath and
between the clouds in a splendid display of gold and crimson that continued for