What to expect from the Drake Passage

Back in the heroic era of polar exploration the Drake Passage was a feared adversary. It's been a hard reputation to overcome, despite the fact that nowadays ships with advanced stabilisation systems and GPS technology sail through safely through all season. 

  • It takes around 48 hours to cross the Drake Passage by boat, but you can fly it in under 2 hours.
  • Around 1 in 4 crossings will experience turbulent seas.
  • Captains are experienced and well equipped to avoid the worst weather, and change course regularly for the smoothest path.
  • There's a wealth of wildlife to be found here, including albatross, dolphins and whales.

Crossing the Drake Passage

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Loli says

Crossing the Drake Passage

What is the Drake Passage?

The 500 miles between Cape Horn and Livingston Island (part of the Shetland Islands) is the shortest distance from Antarctica to another landmass. The powerful Antarctic Circumpolar Current squeezes water through this small gap towards the Scotia Sea and South Atlantic Ocean, and as you cross over to Antarctica, you're traversing this current at right angles. 

There's no 'perfect' time to cross the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula, the weather can be extremely unpredictable throughout the season. However, captains don't set sail blindly, and accurate systems are used to predict what's coming, and to allow them to change course. Your crew will brief you on what to expect during your journey, and you can even check the predictions in advance on weather websites.

The Drake Passage

Drake Shake vs Drake Lake

Believe it or not, some people have a completely smooth crossing to Antarctica. With good conditions the Drake Passage can be wonderfully calm, and even enjoyable. If you're lucky enough to experience the 'Drake Lake' you can expect to be lulled by small swells and soft winds, and to spend your time out on deck spotting your first albatross.

The far more famous experience is the 'Drake Shake'. Wind speed and direction both play a part in a rougher crossing, and swells can reach up to 8 metres, enough to cause discomfort to most. To minimise sea sickness, it's worth picking a ship with a more sophisticated stabilisation system, and stocking up on medication in advance. 

The Drake Passage
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Liz says

Drake Passage sea sickness

The Drake Passage

Sea sickness is a huge problem for some, others will happily stroll the decks of a rolling ship. Be prepared by researching the tablets, wristbands and patches in advance, and talk to your doctor if you're worried. If it suddenly hits,  your qualified onboard doctor will be able to prescribe medication. 

Help prevent sea sickness by keeping hydrated, eating small amounts regularly (ginger, dry biscuits and green apples are good), being well rested and sitting where you can see the horizon. Some say restricting alcohol can help, for others a stiff drink worked better than any patch or pill they tried. If sea sickness is a real problem, consider avoiding the Drake with a Fly and Cruise trip.

Choosing the right ship

Do your ship research carefully. Some ships, such as the Island Sky, Hondius and MS Expedition, are blessed with superior stabilisation systems which greatly reduce the rocking and rolling in bad weather, and lots of bright relaxation spaces where you can focus on the view.

If you are going to be confined to your cabin counting down the hours until Antarctica comes into view, picking a comfortable space with a large window, or even a balcony, means at least you'll be able to relax with some fresh air and a view of the horizon. 

The Drake Passage
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John says

Can I avoid the Drake Passage?

Fly and Cruise

There is a shortcut to Antarctica, ideal for anxious sailors, or those who want to maximise their time. Instead of spending two days sailing, get straight to Antarctica in two hours by plane. On landing in the South Shetland Islands, you'll board a ship and get straight out onto the water, ready to spot your first whale.

The luxury of flying does come at a higher price, but gets you right to the action. Worth considering for anyone nervous about the Drake Passage.

The Drake Passage

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