Where we are

November 5, 2019 • 7:30 am

The ship’s live antenna camera is working at last. You can see it here, and it shows the expanse of the Drake Passage between Cape Horn and Antarctica, but perhaps you’ll also be able to see birds. We’re seeing tons of them, as well as high seas, out our window. Click on the screenshot to see the livestream:

The Drake Passage, one of three ways to get around the tip of South America (the other two are the Beagle Channel (through which we traveled yesterday) and the Strait of Magellan), is the most treacherous, as the Drake involves a transit through open—and often high—sea joining the Atlantic and Pacific.  Here’s its history from Wikipedia:

The passage receives its English-language name from the 16th-century English privateer Sir Francis Drake. Drake’s only remaining ship, after having passed through the Strait of Magellan, was blown far south in September 1578. This incident implied an open connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Half a century earlier, after a gale had pushed them south from the entrance of the Strait of Magellan, the crew of the Spanish navigator Francisco de Hoces thought they saw a land’s end and possibly inferred this passage in 1525. For this reason, some Spanish and Latin American historians and sources call it Mar de Hoces after Francisco de Hoces.

The first recorded voyage through the passage was that of Eendracht, captained by the Dutch navigator Willem Schouten in 1616, naming Cape Horn in the process.

Here’s the Beagle Channel (photo by Ted Wakabayash; all pix from Wikipedia). It’s about 240 km (150 miles) long. But it, like the Strait of Magellan, is narrow, hard to navigate, and thus the biggest ships still go through the Drake Passage.

A map of the Beagle Channel, named of course after HMS Beagle that carried Darwin through it:

The Strait of Magellan, further north than the Beagle Channel and also said to be treacherous:

And the Drake Passage (the line marks the boundary between the economically claimed offshore territories of Chile (l) and Argentina (r):

Our position at 5 a.m. Chicago time from “cruisemapper“; several ships are heading south with a Quark Expedition vessel in front of us:

A zoom in (the Roald Amundsen is circled):

Last night we were holed up for five hours for “clearance” in Puerto Williams (population 2,874 in 2002), considered by many to be the world’s smallest city. As Wikipedia notes:

The port attracts tourists going to Cape Horn or Antarctica; its tourism industry developed around the concept of “the world’s southernmost city”. Based on some definitions of what a city is, Puerto Williams could in fact be the southernmost city in the world. However, others dispute this because of the town’s small size and population in favour of Ushuaia or Punta Arenas. Chilean and Argentinian media, a bilateral agreement between Chile and Argentina, and the Puerto Williams administration identify it as the southernmost city in the world.

. . . The Navy is based here in part to enforce national fishing rights in the exclusive economic zone around the southern part of Tierra del Fuego, where lucrative Lithodes santolla fishing is an important industry.

Lithodes santolla is the Southern King Crab, which has been served several times on the ship, and it’s delicious. But it also helped precipitate the “Beagle conflict” between Chile and Argentina:

The lucrative centolla fishery around Tierra del Fuego led to an incident in August 1967 when the Argentine schooner Cruz del Sur was found fishing 400 metres (1,300 ft) from Gable Island and had to be escorted out of Chilean waters by the Chilean patrol boat Marinero Fuentealba. This event among many others led to the Beagle conflict in the late 1970s.

Here’s Puerto Williams, which really is tiny. We weren’t allowed to go ashore, but there’s also a large naval base there, and the remnants of the tugboat that saved the crew of Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition (1914-1917) on Elephant Island.

And you can read about “the Beagle conflict” at the link above.

The seas were very high and rough last night; the captain just told us they are 4-5 meters high. But we are heading steadily south towards the penguins and seals. There are tons of birds soaring and fluttering around the ship, mostly petrels and albatrosses hoping to get some fish stirred up by the ship.

Breakfast was deserted, probably because many people are seasick (not me), and walking during this turbulence is very difficult, even on a ship this large. One often has to walk sideways like a crab. Our bottle of wine toppled over onto the floor last night, but fortunately remained intact. Not so the entire presentation of bread, rolls, and croissants this morning, which crashed to the floor in the dining room, making a terrible mess. I have a nice picture of the staff scrabbling on the floor and cleaning it up, but smiling and giving the thumbs-up sign. I’ll post that when I have the ability to post pictures.

35 thoughts on “Where we are

  1. So many are having trouble finding their sea legs. Really good reporting on the passages and the weather. In some places here in the middle, a population of 2874 would be a sizable town. It might even get you county seat in many counties in western Kansas.

    Just a guess but would imagine everything in such a remote part of the country would be very expensive. Does that big city have any kind of airport?

    1. I tried reading one of Johnson’s books. I stopped when in the intro he was ignoring the natural selection part of evolution and claiming that changes to populations were totally random. Once he made that assumption, it was obvious this was a waste of my time.

  2. If you get a tour of the bridge while you’re underway, boss, it would be great if you could snap a pic and post it when you get back. I’d be interested to have a look.

  3. “the entire presentation of bread, rolls, and croissants this morning, which crashed to the floor in the dining room,…”

    It seems strange to me that a major sailing company with much experience would allow this to happen. Food crashes sound like the Marx Brothers. It’s like this is their first voyage in rough conditions and didn’t anticipate any rock and roll. I’d think they’d let the passengers eat out of high sided troughs, or some such.
    Nontheless, I wish I was there.

    1. I should think that on a ship of that type, most things that can be are mounted on gimbals, though I suppose that’s not feasible for buffet tables or food carts.

      1. Things which need gimbals get them – the compass binnacle. Communications dishes. That’s about it.
        Humans have built-in gimbals – they just need to learn how to use them.
        Look through from the mess room serving hatch to the galley and you’ll see that the cooking pots etc are held in place by rectangular grids around the hotplates. They’re “fiddles”.
        Unless the vessel actually turns turtle, the pots are going to stay in place. The dining tables can be fitted with fiddles too, if the weather gets a bit lumpy. Soup probably won’t be on the menu – except in a mug. (Well, all the boats I’ve worked on had that as standard equipment ; it might not get used in the North Sea or Med, but get out into the Atlantic and out it would come.)

        1. Perhaps you could dust of those memories, put pen to paper and delight the rest of us with a novel incorporating these lessons learned on the high seas. Melville had to join the whalers to write his great novel. I sense you could write the next Moby Dick.

    2. People tend to get confused when you fit the fiddles to the tables. You get more spillages because people put things down on autopilot instead of looking at what they’re doing.
      Mind you – I’ve never seen a mess room table which didn’t have at least a raised edge to it as part of the structure. I guess that’s a down-grade from standard to “landlubber-grade” equipment.

      Living and working in 10m seas isn’t difficult, but you do have to think about everything you’re going to do, before you do it, and not expect the floor to be where it was at your previous step. It needs concentration every step.
      If you think it sounds bad navigating a corridor or a dinner table, try swinging 5-ton by 30m lengths of pipe to line up end-to-end on the drill floor. There has been drilling in this area.

      1. Your experience speaks volumes. If you retire or are retired, there’s a nice consulting job waiting for you in passenger freight. 😎

  4. My friend, who is an MD and his wife took a Hurtigruten trip to Antarctica a few months ago. He swears by Scopolamine patches to prevent getting seasick. I would love to go to Antarctica, and Hurtigruten has by far the least expensive, but high quality, trips, but I would also want to go to South Georgia Island which adds a lot more expense. I know that I get seasick. Learned it the hard way.

  5. This is a thrilling tale of exploration history!

    I can’t subscribe to each, but I’m reading each through email.

  6. The antenna camera is working great. I got a good view of Puerto William when you stopped there yesterday. It looked just like cities/towns in the Alaska panhandle that I’ve seen. It is about the size of Wrangell, which also claims city status.

  7. In 1969 I was a teacher aboard Chapman College’s World Campus Afloat, along with 500 students and 40 faculty. When we went through the Straight of Magellan on New Year’s Day the sea was like glass. Our captain aboard the Ryndam (a Holland-American liner) said he had never seen it or even heard of it being so calm.

    Thanks for sharing all the travel news; it brings back memories.

    1. The Chapman College (now University) World Campus Afloat is a remarkable program. It exposes thousands of students to cultures all over the globe. I find it very encouraging that such exposure has been occurring for decades now. the U.S. is so isolationist. What better way to educate than to expose students them to other cultures?
      I was amused, on reading, to discover how often things have not gone as planed on these voyages. At the Wikipedia site, the section on “Incidents” was quite interesting. World politics, in particular, seems to have affected the routing.
      In contrast to seas like glass, this film shows one ship in the system filmed in a violent storm:


      1. Yes, we had a violent storm going around the Cape of Good Hope on our way to Cape Town, South Africa. A crew member got washed overboard and we had throw him a life ring, turn the ship around, get a lifeboat down in heavy winds, and rescue him. Amazingly, the attempt was successful despite the fact that the crewman was attacked by seagulls throughout the process.

        Sadly, however, Cape Town itself was the occasion of the first two deaths in the 10-year history of the program—one student had a brain hemorrhage climbing Table Mountain and another was hit by a car on his first day ashore and killed instantly. The latter was a Black student, which was especially traumatic because most of the Black students on board had elected to boycott Cape Town on account of apartheid (this was in 1969) and not go ashore.

        But yes, overall it was/is a great program. It’s now called Semester at Sea.

        1. Sad about the deaths. Realistically, travel of any sort comes with risks. It’s important that we do move about the globe, though, and keep cultures in touch.

  8. When the weather starts getting lumpy, the landlubber quill-smith himself has some words to shout into the wind :

    Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!You cataracts and hurricanoes, spoutTill you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!Crack nature’s moulds, an germens spill at once,That make ingrateful man!

    But don’t leave it too late – if the weather gets really lumpy, the Master would be well within his rights to order the exterior doors dogged shut. “Secure for heavy weather”, as the saying goes in English. After such a bout, they’ll need to do a search of the vessel exterior for dislodged, removed or damaged equipment.
    Lifeboats have been stowed into cabins, through the wall of the vessel. You don’t want to be out on deck without a good reason.

    1. Bloody WordPress doesn’t do BR tags

      Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!You cataracts and hurricanoes, spoutTill you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!Crack nature’s moulds, an germens spill at once,That make ingrateful man!

    2. I’ve been on many large ships, all of them docked but I have noticed that no matter how big they are they all have those heavy multi-point rubber sealed sea doors.

      Do you really work lining up pipes in such conditions? It seems extremely dangerous.
      It’s hard enough lining things up with brisk breeze let alone swell.

      And, did you ever do lifeboat drills and did you ever have experience with the lifeboats mounted on the stern, on a ramp angled down where it looks like the lifeboat would sccoot down the ramp, plunge into the water and surface some way away.
      I always wondered about those.
      Do you have any idea what I am talking about?

      1. Freefall lifeboat training with a 30-odd metre drop is compulsory if you work in the Norwegian sector on vessels with freefall lifeboats. Fortunately, I’ve only worked in Norway on boats with conventional davit-launched lifeboats. It is terrifying. Vomiting is not uncommon, my friends who have done it say. Certainly, when they got back to the staff flat, their coveralls were caked in vomit.
        On the other hand, getting the fsck away from a platform going all Piper on you is a desirable outcome. When I have worked on platforms with freefall lifeboats, I’ve done the PAPA drills, strapped my head into the headrest, tightened the 6-point harness to the agony point and clenched my guts to brace for impact. From the smell, some people shit themselves in the drills.
        If the vessel motion is low enough, you’ll carry on drilling through heavy weather. When I was on my first trip, “Hurricane Fish” hit us. But the wind was so strong that the rig motion didn’t get above 6m and we had an 8m heave compensator, so we drilled ahead. Waves breaking over the main (60ft level) deck, so move around the rig on the 72ft deck, or through machinery spaces when possible (not always possible). I got drenched on more than a few occasions that night and had to time my dashes from shakers to geology shack to try to make the run between waves breaking.
        One guy got hurt that night. Off shift, he rolled over in his sleep and fell out of the top bunk.
        If it looks as if the weather is going to go out of operating parameters, you need to pull the pipe back off bottom by 15-30 m (so you don’t stand up and bend the pipe as the rig weight comes onto the pipe), then go to tripping mode to pull back another [water depth + 20-30 m], set what we call a “hurricane packer” into the drill string, then trip that back into the hole until it seats into the blowout preventers (sitting on the seabed, “BOPs” – they’re the things that didn’t work properly in the Deepwater Horizons / Macondo blowout) Close the BOPs around the hurricane packer and you can then pump seawater into the bottom of the marine riser (oh, sorry, I didn’t explain those), to displace [however many barrels volume] of drilling mud (typically $50-200 per barrel) into storage tanks on the rig (so, of course, you need to have tank space available). Oncer the riser has been emptied, you can then operate the left-hand thread on the top of the hurricane packer to trip the drill pipe back out of the hole. Replace those handling tools and you can pick up the top section of the BOPs (the so-called LMRP, Lower Marine Riser Package) to clear the BOPs by 40-50m … and your rig can bounce around as much as you like. You’ll slack off the anchor chains (or the Dynamic Positioning, for water depths over ~300m) to move away from the wellhead(s) and pull the ROV from the water – another dangerous trip through the splash zone, but they’re pushbutton operations, not particularly dangerous.
        – Yes, you do drill this. This cost money.
        – Yes you repeat those drills with every crew.
        – Yes, you calculate every pipe measurement, travelling block height, tank volume and chain length for every step of the operation before the weather hits. Before it even comes close. Before it even appears on the weatherman’s radar. Because if you get it wrong, the consequences of having to “shear off” and leave the well uncontrolled are very imaginable and even before Macondo were thoroughly unacceptable. And more dangerous than swinging pipe in heavy weather.

        1. Thank you very much for your reply.
          It sounds insanely interesting and exciting.
          I always assumed those freefall boats were to get out and away as quickly and far as possible.
          The straddle carriers I used to drive I sat about 30 meters up and some of those lifeboats seemed even a bit higher. They must hit with a mighty whack.

          I have driven various types of cranes to do with loading and unloading ships, shipside and shoreside, including the old union purchase if have heard of that, but my cranes were quite stationary except for wind and swell generated by a passing vessel.

          I did the rounds in Aberdeen many moons ago looking for as a roustabout and had a brief chat with a toolpusher who was more interested in my crane experience.
          He didn’t come back the next day and nothing else happened so I missed out on what sounds like quite an adventure.

          And they emphasized being isolated for however many months it was, as though that could be a problem. I would have loved it.

          A guy I knew who did that work said a hot shower an amazing thing to have.

          1. Oops, I made a mistake, my straddle carriers were about 13 meters up.
            And, what is the PAPA drills?


          2. Freefall lifeboats are normally sited (they’re a common retrofit) at the lowest point of a fixed structure. I’m not sure what their design launch limits are, but 30m bow-to-waterline is common (so, 40m stern to waterline – they’re big).
            Yes, the design is to get the escape craft under way away from Bad Things, ASAP. The cox’n is instructed to start the engine before hitting the bomb release (can you think of another context in which you’d design a hook to release while carrying a load?). but the engine can only run for a short time out of water.

            As a potential Crane Op, being cox’n would have been on your training agenda.
            In theory, the Design & Construction Regulations of 1997 required accommodation to be at minimum dual-occupancy cabins, with “facilities” shared by adjacent cabins. On new build, that is followed in the UKCS, exceeded by Norwegian new build, and ignored by American (or for-American) new build. The import of the Noble Julia Robertson into the UKCS from the Gulf (of Mexico) via Rotterdam in 1999 or 2000 undermined attempts to circumvent those regulations, as people (specifically yours truely, with others) documented the 8-man cabins with a shower block at the end of the corridor (also, stewards who didn’t understand either spoken English or their evacuation duties), and the vessel was sacked from it’s original contract, returned to drilling, then forced out of the North Sea. Last heard of rusting to death and drilling HPHT wells off Myanmar. As a floating shit pile, the prospect of that tub doing HPHT (High Pressure/ High Temperature) work is pretty scary. Dangerous pile. In a 4-month well, only one service hand returned to it – companies were having to hire new staff to fulfil their service contracts, expecting them to threaten to quit if sent back there. Suppression of dissent and reporting was one reason that no communications were available outside of the senior staff, but those of us who had mobiles found we had a signal, because we were within sight of land.

            An ancilliary part of the DCR1997 imposed a personal duty of care for all personnel onto the Offshore Installation Manager, which union representation (again, significant input from yours truely) interpreted as meaning that shifts offshore be limited to average equal-time, which most people interpreted as meaning 2-week or at most 3-week hitches offshore. That applied all over the North Sea from about 1998 (thank you, Norwegian Unions, for insisting on cross-border transparency over this ; my Boss tried dealing from the bottom of that deck with me, with my agreement, but once I’d documented that to the union we blocked that channel of abuse too). But outside the North Sea, I’m not aware of there being any effective regulations. “Abroad”, month&month is the norm ; 2 months is rare but not unknown (I hate flying so much that I’m happy with 2 months, but it is hard to find someone willing to do the back stretch of 2 months). I’ve pushed 3 months because of people quitting while I’m on the boat, and that is getting to be a big stretch (I had 5 days onshore because of FUD over whether we’d finished the well or not. Then Ebola fsck-ed our re-crewing.) I heard, once, of a chef planning on 6 months, but getting to 4 months before taking a meat cleaver to the rest of the galley crew. Somehow, I don’t think that even the Koreans are going to repeat that experiment – a medivac of an unsedated homicidal maniac is not a nice procedure even when you’ve got plenty of Big Strong Boys to secure the flight.

            Ah, interesting times. Past tense.

  9. I had no idea there were three passages between the Pacific and Atlantic down there. I didn’t know of the Beagle.

    I was in 15-foot seas once on a Ferry from Homer AK to Kodiak Island. Lots of people were sick and hanging out in the bathroom. I’ve never been seasick; that makes me lucky I guess.

  10. The passage is known as the Drake Shake or Drake Lake, depending on how the sea is behaving. Guess you got the Shake, as did we when we crossed in December last year.

  11. The Beagle Channel appears to have interesting features of topographic, glacial and marine conditions. Strategic placement of webcams in broad and narrow stretches could catch views of spectacular phenomena and made available on (what else?) The Beagle Channel Channel.

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