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Guide to Antarctica: Drake's Passage

Written by Thomas Power | 12th January 2014 |


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Drake's Passage is the famously rough 400 miles of open sea between the southern tip of South America and Antarctica. As sailors used to say: "Below 40 degrees, there is no law. Below 50 degrees, there is no God."

Drake Passage

At Pura we are strongly of the opinion that flying to Antarctica is not acceptable as it will quickly lead to unsustainable increases in visitor numbers.

The boat crossing of Drake Passage maintains the White Continent for those dedicated enough to make the crossing.

What is it?

Drake's passage is the shortest crossing to Antarctica at 'just' 400 miles. However, it is entirely open water with no land anywhere around the world at these latitudes.

This allows for the unimpeded flow of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current which spins around the continent, connecting the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean basins.

There is nowhere else in the world where the oceans flow freely around the globe so this really is a unique experience.

Now for the handy facts and figures! In Drake's Passage the flow of water is said to be equivalent to 135 times that of ALL of the rivers on earth.

That's 135 Sverdrups for the technically minded.

Yes, there is a unit of measurement for the flow of all rivers on earth, who knew'

It is this Circumpolar Current which spins around Antarctica, cooling it and creating the ice-cap itself.

Presumably it's the same physics that says a bottle of beer will cool more quickly if you spin it in ice rather than just let it sit.


On September 6th 1577 Sir Francis Drake had just cleared the Strait of Magellan on his second circumnavigation of the globe.

He was blown south of Cape Horn by a storm into the area where the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans met.

This turbulent stretch of sea was a new discovery and proved that Tierra del Fuego was not connected to the southern landmass as previously thought.

The passage was named after Drake and has since earned a reputation among travellers and explorers as being one of the world's toughest stretches of water.

Crossing today

We often get asked about seasickness. Even if it is a very calm crossing, the roll of the boat will be an unfamiliar feeling at first.

You are likely to feel nauseous for a couple of hours but you should then get your sea legs and be fine for the rest of the trip.

There is no particular time of year when the sea is calmer. It is widely thought that the end of the season in March is the roughest time as winds are typically stronger.

But March 2009 saw the calmest crossing the crew had experienced in years and they temporarily renamed it Drake Lake.

Either way crossing Drake's Passage is part of the adventure of visiting Antarctica.

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