Introducing Southern Ocean
The southern parts of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans form the fifth ocean of the world, the Southern Ocean. It surrounds Antarctica and isolates it geographically, biologically and climatically from the rest of the world.
Many people are anxious about crossing the Southern Ocean, but it must be done in order to reach Antarctica. Certainly the weather can be stormy. With no landmasses to impede the low-pressure systems that ceaselessly circle Antarctica in a clockwise direction, the westerly winds can reach great speeds – and the seas can get very rough.
The more than 90% of Antarctic cruises that visit the Antarctic Peninsula sail from Ushuaia, Argentina and across the Drake Passage, 1000km of ocean between South America and Antarctica. The crossing is generally accomplished in two days – sometimes faster, sometimes slower. Smooth seas are known as the ‘Drake Lake’; their opposite is called the ‘Drake Shake, ’ also referred to as ‘paying the Drake Tax.’ Once your ship is in the calm waters of the South Shetlands or the Peninsula, nearly all uncomfortable motion ceases.
The very infrequent voyages to Antarctica from Australia, New Zealand or South Africa require a longer voyage, meaning a greater chance of experiencing heavy weather. But there’s also more time for bird-watching, stargazing and possibly seeing the aurora australis.
Crossing the Southern Ocean confers a psychological benefit to your Antarctic journey, for it makes manifest the continent’s remoteness and isolation. The passage provides time to prepare for Antarctica, to look forward to it. Antarctica is not attained by a homogenized plane ride: instead, it is unveiled gradually. En route, you’ll experience the open sea circumscribing the horizon, then your first amazing iceberg, then many icebergs, then an island. Finally, the snow-capped peaks of Antarctica itself shimmer ahead on the horizon.
Last updated: Mar 2, 2009
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