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7 March, 2000

Drake Passage; Circumpolar Current; First sight of Antarctic Peninsula

Question 17: How do penguins incubate their eggs?

The Gould is about three-quarters of the way to our destination. This evening we will pass through some of the islands of the Antarctic Peninsula and make our way in the more sheltered channels. Now we are moving south through the West Wind Drift, a broad band of strong current that flows from west to east around the Antarctic continent. It is "circumpolar" and is also called the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. In places this current is several thousand kilometers wide, but in the Drake Passage (where we are) it is squeezed to about 900 kilometers between Cape Horn and the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The West Wind Drift is irregular in both its width and its exact course. It extends north beyond the Antarctic Convergence and south to about 65 degrees south latitude. It is the world's largest ocean current and flows at a rate of 153 million cubic meters per second, approximately a thousand times the output of the Amazon River. The drift and the westerly winds that drive it are unbroken by a large landmass as they continually circle the continent, so huge waves and gale-force winds frequently develop. This has been known to sailors as a rough and windswept ocean for hundreds of years. The terms "roaring forties," "furious fifties" and "screaming sixties" refer to conditions often found in these latitudes.

Last night one of the engines blew a gasket head and we were operating on only one engine. The Chief Engineer was up the entire night cooling the engine down (it took about 8 hours) and repairing it. Sometime today we should be back near full power. The seas are around 12-18 feet, and fewer people are up and about. Other than quick forays to stuff down a meal, I am spending the day lying on a couch watching movies, and I haven't gotten violently ill yet.

Just at sunset we sighted land!!! We can see Antarctica. Smith Island on our starboard side is stunning--covered with glaciers and with a pink sky behind it! We are also rolling less which is very important!

Answer 16: The wingspan (measurement from wingtip to wingtip) of a Wandering Albatross is 3.5-4 meters.

Mountains of Smith Island.

First land!

Smith Island.

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