Between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands lies the Drake Passage. It was created when the connection between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula broke millions of years ago. From tha moment in time, and ever since, an enormous amount of water has funnelled through the Drake Passage—from the western Pacific Ocean and into the Scotia Sea in the east.
The Drake Passage is as mythological as the man who first discovered it, the famous Sir Francis Drake. That was in 1578, though some claim Spanish navigator Franciso de Hoces saw it even earlier, in 1525; the Drake Passage is referred to as Mar de Hoces in Spanish. The first reported crossing was made by a Flemish expedition led by Willem Schouten in 1616.
Who came first is not as important as the fact that you now have the opportunity to witness this dramatic stretch of water with your own eyes. Imagine: No matter what name it has, almost no one has seen or experienced the exact place that allows a current to flow around the entire globe, connecting all southern oceans with nearly 40 billion gallons of water every second.
There is no other way. If you want to visit the Antarctic Peninsula by ship you have to cross the Drake Passage. Ships need one-and-a-half to two days on the journey, depending on the weather conditions. It can be very calm, known as a Drake Lake, or it can be bumpy, known as a Drake Shake; usually it’s somewhere in between, with ideal conditions for watching birds at sea.
When crossing the Drake Passage, you should be out on deck as much as possible. After one day on your way south, you will feel a distinct change in temperature: suddenly it drops about 5 - 10°F, and in that moment, you can be sure that you have crossed the Antarctic Convergence, an area where the cold Antarctic surface water meets the warmer Sub-Antarctic water—the accepted boundary to Antarctica.
Suddenly it becomes obvious why you brought a cap, a scarf, gloves, and warm sweaters.
Welcome to the Great White Continent!