The Drake Passage or Paso Drake connects Antarctica with the rest of the world: it is a gigantic maritime passage that has been crossed by many of the most famous explorers on the planet.
Is it named after the British explorer Sir Francis Drake?
Its discoverer was the Spanish navigator Francisco de Hoces who discovered it and crossed it in 1536 during García Jofre de Loaísa’s expedition to the Moluccas. It is the reason why in the Spanish-speaking world, this pass is called “Sea of Sickles” and not Drake Passage. Where does the confusion come from then? It turns out that the British explorer Francis Drake did cross it, but sixty years later . Drake realized that there might be a connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans after passing through the Strait of Magellan in 1578. That’s when they discovered what would come to be called Drake Passage. However, despite being a later denomination, it is better known by the latter name than as Mar de Sickles.
This waterway is 1,000 kilometers wide and connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans between Cape Horn (the southernmost point of South America) and the South Shetland Islands, located about 160 km north of the Antarctic Peninsula. It is a climatic transition zone that separates the cold and humid subpolar conditions of Tierra del Fuego and the icy polar regions of Antarctica, hence its waters are considered the most dangerous or stormy on the planet. It forms a massive convergence of waves, wind and currents. The region is very dynamic and cyclones can form in the warm Pacific before being dragged into the Drake Passage. The waves can reach 9-12 meters high.
It should also be noted that the Drake Passage is also a very deep body of water, with an average depth of 3,400 meters and a maximum depth of 4,800 meters around the southern and northern limits of the Passage.
The Passage restricts the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) to a narrow geographic region, making it the best place to measure ACC properties.
Before the Panama Canal
In the days when commerce was based on ships, this transport and its crew had to overcome arduous tests to successfully traverse stormy seas and icy weather conditions. It is a very dangerous crossing (needless to say for the wooden sailboats of the time).
And it is that, despite the difficulties involved in navigating it, this place proved to be an important part of future international trade routes in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, before the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914.
As we have discussed, although the Drake Passage is located in one of the most remote parts of the world, it is one of the main ways to reach Antarctica. In general, although modern ships can cross the region safely, the journey takes approximately 36 hours from Ushuaia, Argentina (the southernmost city in the world) and the experience of experiencing their navigation as the greatest explorers in history, remains an ambitious challenge and desired by many lovers of the sea.
As a curiosity, the waters of the Drake Passage are rich in plankton and krill, an essential food source for blue and fin whales, squid, emperor penguins and crabeater seals.