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6 March, 2000

Drake Passage; Southern Ocean and Antarctic Convergence

Question 16: How large is a Wandering Albatross?

Yesterday we entered the Drake Passage. Late this evening, we crossed over the Antarctic convergence. We are now in the Southern Ocean. The ocean was given that name officially only a year or so ago, but the term has been in use since the 1700s. After a search of nearly a million scientific references, the name "Southern Ocean" was found to outnumber "Antarctic Ocean" by a ratio of approximately 25:1.

The convergence is where the colder, less salty surface water from the south meets the warmer, more salty water from the north (from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans). The southern and northern waters mix in this zone, sink and slide slowly north, beneath the surface layer. The convergence circles Antarctica in an irregular pattern, generally around 50 degrees south latitude; but its location is not fixed and it varies widely with the season, the weather and the longitude. On our route south it occurs less than halfway between Cape Horn and the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. South of the convergence the surface water temperature drops to just above zero degrees centigrade. The air temperature outside should be noticeably cooler. There are Wandering Albatross outside, gliding behind the ship. Also Cape or Pintado Petrels fluttering around the water surface. There should be many other types of pelagic seabirds in this area, but I have not spent enough time standing up to find them.

The crew tells me that the seas are "normal" for this location but the ship is definitely rocking a lot. The higher you are on the ship, the more you feel the side to side motion, and the further away from the center of the ship you are, the more you feel the forward and back plunge. Since my room is on the 02 level, the side to side motion is really obvious. Everyone needs the handholds in the hallways and stairways now. We move in a series of controlled leaps, timing a rush to coincide with the direction of the ship's movement and making sure there is something to hold onto or collapse into at the end. On the stairs it is especially important to hang on. They are steep stairs, and the strong springs on the doors make it impossible to open them if the ship's tilt is against you. Even using the railings, taking a shower is an experience. If you are fortunate, your shower is oriented so you merely bash from wall to wall; if you are not, you bash against the back wall and then come flying out of the shower.

Almost everyone is still up and around, although many fewer are focused on work. The couches in the lounge are filled with bodies taking their minds off the movement by watching yet another movie. No one tries to look out of the port holes for very long, and one of the main conversation topics is the different ways to wedge yourself into bed so you can get a good night's sleep. Some favor lying spread out as flat as possible and pushing feet and elbows into the sides of the bunk; some pack themselves in place with life vests, extra clothes and immersion suits; others swear by stuffing hands and arms under the mattress. Whatever the method, you still lurch from side to side as you sleep, and our passage is not long enough for us to get fully acclimated to it.

Answer 15: The Antarctic Convergence.

Cape Petrel.

View of waves out the galley porthole (a mate estimated that they were 10-15 ft).

Ship hallway.

View off stern of the Gould.

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