Nov. 21, 2006: Traversing the Drake Passage
November 21, 2006
On board the RV Yuzhmorgeologiya
Drake Passage steaming towards Antarctica
Tierra del Fuego
The intense rolling motion in our stateroom awoke me near midnight. The Yuzhmorgeologiya had altered course to a more southern point early in our traverse of the Drake Passage. The ship had become a calliope of sounds: the clinking of glass striking glass, the metal squeals of doors swinging open and then slamming shut, and various thuds of unidentifiable objects hitting the deck. Though I had secured most of my gear before retiring, nagging uncertainty required that I rise to check on its status.
By morning the ship had settled into a constant rolling motion. Fortunately, no one on our team became seasick, but everyone had acquired a drunken-like stagger to successfully negotiate the corridors below decks.
Yesterday we took advantage of the calmer sea conditions to practice “Abandon Ship” procedures. The Yuzhmorgeologiya is equipped with both life rafts and two lifeboats. The covered decks of the lifeboats are reminiscent of a submarine, ensuring that high seas would not overwhelm the hull. Even the life rafts are covered, but they don’t possess engines like the lifeboats.
We expect the crossing of Drake Passage to require cruising at 10 knots for at least two days. Calmer seas and clear skies have afforded Kate Stafford, our marine mammal specialist, and Andrew Young, teacher and artist-in-residence, excellent opportunities to spot cetaceans, pinnipeds, and abundant sea birds. Using a Global Positioning System, the two of them keep watch and record important sightings of Fin and Minke whales, and the occasional pod of acrobatic, bow-surfing dolphins. Because of the variable, often high-velocity winds in the Drake Passage, birds that venture the long distances are expert gliders. Some of the popular species include prions, Giant Petrels, Antarctic Fulmars, and the ever-elegant Black-browed and Wandering Albatrosses with wingspans pushing 10 feet. They are curious about the ship, perhaps looking for food or an opportunity to congregate. Twice when we have slowed to conduct experiments, we were fortunate to have the company of clownish Chinstrap penguins. As the expedition nears Antarctica, we expect to see a shift in the populations of birds and mammals frequenting the vessel, climaxing with a visit to a Gentoo penguin colony on King George Island.
We stopped for three hours near the middle of the Drake Passage for a Korean experiment. Using Yuzhmorgeologiya’s yellow “A” frame they deployed a large instrument called a “box grab” off the stern. The box grab collects bottom sediment for analysis. We held stationary about three hours since the bottom was 3500 meters (>11,000 feet) below. Unfortunately, they couldn’t retrieve a significant sample, since the sea floor bottom in this area was too compacted.
Tonight, we will continue to steam to the south through Drake Passage. We hope to recover the single hydrophone that was deployed here last year.