Drake passage at night

Drake Passage: History and Adventure on the Brink of Civilisation


Whales, waves and wandering albatross – Drake Passage is an extraordinary introduction to the wonders of Antarctica.

As eager as you may be to reach the enchanting wilds of Antarctica, the Drake Passage provides a memorable welcome to the Southern Ocean. This ancient sea strait, among the deepest in the world, is the gatekeeper of the Antarctic – its prized marine life and legendary waters promising adventure and discovery long before you’ve reached the peninsula.

To give you a glimpse of what awaits en-route to Antarctica, here we explore the history, geography and momentous wildlife of the Drake Passage, and shine a light on the incredible journey you can expect on board Scenic Eclipse.

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Introducing Drake Passage

Drake Passage is, for many, the ultimate sea crossing. Separating South America from the South Shetland Isles, this strip of water is the place where the Atlantic meets the Pacific, and where countless explorers have navigated to reach the enchanting wilds of Antarctica.

Crossing ‘the Drake’, as it’s affectionately known, is a rite of passage for all who wish to marvel at the South Pole’s majestic wildlife and otherworldly landscapes. Many polar explorers consider it the gateway to Antarctica, and the very best way to prepare you for the close encounters and extraordinary adventures which lie beyond its horizon.

Over the centuries, Drake Passage has earned a reputation for its formidable tides and strong currents, both of which are a result of the coming together of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Until the Panama Canal opened in 1914, cargo and passenger ships seeking to reach the western coast of the Americas from the Atlantic faced crossing the Drake around Cape Horn – a long and sometimes treacherous journey.

The unpredictable nature of Drake passage has led to two affectionate nicknames for its temperament: Drake Shake and Drake Lake. Describing the passage at its most volatile and most calm, even regular Antarctic seafarers are rarely certain of which version they’ll experience on any given day. While Drake Passage has a reputation for wild waters, days of peaceful, tranquil sailing are not uncommon.

Navigate Drake Passage in Complete Safety with Scenic Eclipse

Travelling on board Scenic Eclipse is one of the safest and most comfortable ways to reach Antarctica via the Drake Passage. Our Discovery Yacht has a Polar Class 6 rating, complemented by custom-built stabilisers which are 50% larger than those of other ships – providing greater stability in Antarctic waters.

The Extraordinary Wildlife of Drake Passage

Orca whale rises out of the sea

The Drake Passage is brimming with life, its mineral-rich waters providing the ideal habitat for some of the Southern Ocean’s most spectacular seabirds and marine animals. On board Scenic Eclipse, you’ll be perfectly placed to enjoy close encounters with the legendary wildlife of the Drake – as dolphins, whales and wandering albatross beckon you ever closer to the wonders of Antarctica.

Below, we take a look at some of the majestic marine animals and birdlife you may see on your journey across Drake Passage.

Seabirds

Albatross in flight
The Drake Passage is revered as one of the best places in the Southern Ocean to encounter rare seabirds, with a variety of species using the strait as their feeding ground. Among the birds to scan the horizon for are petrels, albatrosses, prions and fulmars, while penguins can also be seen as you near the South Shetlands. There are few sights more special than a wandering albatross in flight, its vast wingspan one of the defining symbols of Antarctica’s otherworldly wildlife. Every guest receives a pair of binoculars on board Scenic Eclipse, so you won’t miss a thing.

Marine Life

Humpback whale swims with offspring

Thousands of tonnes of krill sweep through Drake Passage, carried by the powerful Antarctic Circumpolar Current. This makes the strait a popular feeding ground for marine life, with several species of whales and dolphins regularly sighted in the passage. Animals to look for include hourglass dolphins, identifiable by their black and white colouring, humpback whales, orca, minke whales and fin whales. There’s something truly special about seeing these animals as you cross the Drake, but don’t worry if none appear; Antarctica itself promises close encounters of the extraordinary kind.

Discover Drake Passage with Scenic Eclipse

Join us on board Scenic Eclipse and look forward to the adventure of a lifetime. Our Antarctic ocean cruises take you beyond the horizon, helping you see more of this extraordinary region. For more information or to book, visit the homepage or call 0808 115 6381.