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Drake Passage

Following winds and crossed seas on our way south 

Dark clouds loom over Cape Horn at our starboardsiode during the late night. They brought us gusts and wind changes until we left behind the American southernmost tip. 

South of Cape Horn, the 2000nm wide Southern Ocean which flows unobstructed around the world sees itself narrowed by 1500nm. Shallow continental shelf helps too in the build up of high and steep swells, and often, just like today, crossed seas from both Oceans meet. The same eastwards route take the passing weather systems, and here the land effects make them to squeeze and change their traveling patterns.

On those conditions, the Europa clears the channels and islands of South America, rolling on the 20-25kn of Northerly winds. 

All this makes a perfect recipe to start experiencing ship’s pitching, heeling and rolling. And with it, the feared motion sickness. The watches were decimated by it, and the few still around had to deal with steering, lookout and giving a hand now and then to the permanent crew to set or strike canvas under the capricious weather, that luckily later on seemed to settle down a bit more. 

A clear and sunny morning makes a day for Ocean Wanderers. Both for the Europa and the numerous seabirds that travel over Cape Horn and the treacherous open waters south of it. 

With a wingspan that can reach 3.5 metres, the largest flying birds of the world glide over and over again close to us. The Southern Royal and the Wandering albatrosses. With them, the more numerous Black-browed show up during the whole day. Slightly smaller and somewhat heavier built, their relatives, the Giant petrels soar in the northerly winds in larger numbers. 

They all seem to like the strong winds and heavy seas of the southernmost lands of South America and open waters of the Drake Passage. 

Rough seas that connect both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, south of Tierra del Fuego archipelago. Named after the English privateer Sir Francis Drake, who in 1578 and as part of a most celebrated world circumnavigation between 1577 to 1580, found out that the southern tip of the Americas was not connected to an hypothetical great continent stretching far south from the coasts of the Magellan Strait. Instead, there was a wide open sea that would allow the navigation between oceans as an alternative to the Straits, by that time dominated by Spain. 

Like on many other occasions, on that episode storms and gales played a prominent role on new discoveries around these seas. Aboard the Golden Hint, blown off the Straits of Magellan to the open waters, Sir Francis wrote: 

“The uttermost Cape or headland of all these islands strands near 56 degrees, without which there is no main island to be seen to the southwards but that the Atlantic Ocean and the South Sea meet in a most large and free scope” 

Francis Pretty, one of Drake’s crewman, noted too the events during this incident on their voyage around the planet, a trip that increased the accuracy of the world’s geography and provided new understandings of the oceans and coasts. 

The 6th day of September we entered the South Sea at the cape or head ashore.The 7th day we were driven by a great storm from the entering into the South Sea, 200 leagues and odd in longitude and one degree to the southward of the Strait. 

...From the bay which we called the Bay of Severing Friends, we were driven back to the southward of the Straits in 57 degrees and a tierce.  

Account of the historic voyage published in 1910.  

It took until 1616 to actually sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific rounding the southernmost point of the American lands. The Cape Horn route where the dutch sailor Willem Schouten, sailing for a group of merchants under the direction of Isaac Le Maire. battled the heavy weather opening this new passage. 

Venturing further south for about 500nm, would take 240 years more to discover the existence of Antarctica, across the waters between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula, which hold a dreadful reputation of being one of the hardest seas in the world.

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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