Location: Drake Passage | - 58° 34' 29.39" S, - 62° 54' 20.39" W | Temperature: 36°F / 2.4°C
The Drake Passage encompasses 600 nautical miles of open ocean between the most southern tip of Chile (Cape Horn) and the most northern tip of Antarctica. It connects the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean with the southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean. It is widely regarded as one of the roughest ocean crossings on the planet.
The average depth of the ocean here is 11,000 feet. We know that because of oceanographic surveys like the one we're currently conducting with XBT probes. According to NOAA:
Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) has been used by oceanographers for many years to obtain information on the temperature structure of the ocean to depths of up to 1500 meters. The small, torpedo-shaped XBT is dropped from a ship and measures the temperature as it falls through the water. Two very small wires transmit the temperature data to the ship where it is recorded for later analysis.
We drop XBT probes throughout the crossing, working four hour shifts in pairs. I take the 4am-8am shift, and have the pleasure of working with the lovely Sabrina Heiser. I snap photos of the sunrise and chat with Sabrina about her experiences in Antarctica. At the age of 27, she has already completed two of the most extreme things you can do in Antarctica (in my opinion) — scuba dive and winter over. In fact, she spent the better part of two years at the Rothera Research Station, the largest British Antarctic base, located on Adelaide Island to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula. There is a twinkle in her eye when she talks about it.
After our shift ends, I immediately collapse back into bed, and sleep hard for the next three hours. At some point in the afternoon, having skipped breakfast and lunch, I wander into the galley and pour myself a bowl of cereal.
Dave Johnston walks in a minute later and asks how I’m feeling.
“Fine,” I say automatically. “I’m glad I'm not nauseous— but I’m exhausted. I’ve been fighting to stay awake all day.”
Dave nods knowingly, surveying the bags under my eyes.
“Sea sickness can present itself in different forms,” he says. “Sometimes it’s nausea. Sometimes it’s general fatigue.”
“You should rest up,” he says, patting me on the back.
I nod and take his advice. I manage to stay awake for the afternoon, half-heartedly writing and editing photos, then I go back to bed and sleep for another 12 hours.
When I wake up the next day, we can see Antarctica.
Curious about the blog title? A pagophile is any living organism that thrives in ice. Pago is a word of Greek origin, meaning cold, frost, freezing; fixed or hardened.