22 March, 1999

March 22, 1999

Hello from the Drake Passage! When I woke up this morning, the Antarctic Peninsula was no longer visible. We are now in the Drake Passage, and we're traveling north toward Punta Arenas, Chile. We still have about two and a half more days of travel before we arrive. It's really weird to be leaving. We are still keeping log every 15 minutes, but that will only continue until sometime tonight. Once you are within 200 miles of a country, you are not allowed to continue gathering data. Tomorrow, we won't even be taking log. We will, however, still be editing data (ping editing) as well as packing for the trip home. As you can probably imagine, we have lots of stuff to pack up from our six weeks at sea.

Let's take some time to look at yesterday's question, "Who was Francis Drake?" Francis Drake was the second person to circumnavigate (go all the way around) the world. But before we talk about him in detail, let's get some historical perspective. The early Greeks theorized that there was a southern continent in order to "balance" the weight of the lands in the northern hemisphere. Aristotle (384-322 BC) reasoned that since the Northern Hemisphere lay under the constellation of Arktos, the Bear; then the unknown land to the south must be the total opposite . . . Antarktikos. The Egyptian geographer, Ptolemy (150 AD), named this unknown southern land "Terra Australis Incognita." Although we know today that Antarctica does not exist as a balance to the Northern Hemisphere, this belief kept early explorers searching for this unknown land.

In 1588, Vasco da Gama went around the Cape of Good Hope (the southern tip of Africa) and reached India. This helped geographers to understand that Africa was actually connected to the known world; and that Terra Australis Incognita, if it really existed, must be connected somewhere else (if at all). In 1519, Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan became the first person to lead a voyage to circumnavigate the globe. On his way, he found a small waterway connecting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans that cuts through the tip of South America. This narrow strip of water is now called the Strait of Magellan, and we'll be driving through it in just a few days. By going through this small waterway, however, Magellan was not able to prove whether or not Terra Australis Incognita was actually connected to the land south of the strait.

Englishman Francis Drake was sent to the South Pacific Ocean in 1577. He was to enter the Pacific Ocean through the Straits of Magellan and explore the southern coastline to find the great southern continent. Although he didn't know it at the time, it could be said that Drake led the first Antarctic expedition. He reached the Straits of Magellan on August 17, 1578, and they encountered their first penguins a week later. On September 6, 1578, the small fleet cleared the strait . . . but the next day they were hit by a severe storm and blown off course. They ended up going around Cape Horn (the southern tip of South America) -- proving that the southern continent was not connected to any part of South America. The waters between South America and Antarctica are named the Drake Passage after this famous explorer.

One other early explorer who's very important to mention is James Cook. James Cook actually circumnavigated the world three times between 1768 and 1779, and he was the widest-ranging explorer who ever lived. During his first voyage, he discovered the whole east coast of Australia and the islands of New Zealand. On his third voyage, he explored the Arctic coasts of North America and Siberia. On his second voyage, he penetrated further south than any other person before him -- making him the first person to cross the Antarctic Circle. He discovered both South Georgia and the South Shetland Islands. He was also the first person to sail all the way around the continent of Antarctica. Ice, however, prohibited him from getting close enough to ever see the continent itself. His journal was so pessimistic about the cold, windy, icy conditions that he actually discouraged other explorers from seeking the great southern continent for decades after him. His observations about large numbers of seals and whales, however, brought lots of people from many different countries who were interested in making a profit off the wildlife. Nearly a third of the subantarctic and Southern Ocean islands were discovered by sealers. Antarctica itself, however, remained unspotted until 1820 (see journal entry for March 13).

Well, now that you know how the Drake Passage received it's name, I have two other questions for you. "Why is the Drake Passage known for commonly having very rough seas?", and, "What kinds of things should be done on a ship in order to deal with such conditions?" We'll look at those answers in tomorrow's journal. You are still welcome to send email questions to me through Wednesday night or Thursday morning. Also -- if you've sent a question and didn't receive a reply, please send it again. Lots of mail has gotten "lost" between the U.S. and the ship. We'll continue our adventures from the Southern Hemisphere tomorrow . . .

Kim Giesting

Latitude: 59 degrees 59 minutes South

Longitude: 63 degrees 21 minutes West

Temperature: 2.9 degrees Celsius

Barometer: 986.7 mb

Wind Speed: 26.8 knots

Wind Direction: 323 degrees (from the Northwest)

Sunrise: 07:11

Sunset: 19:25

This is a picture of the Nathaniel B. Palmer as taken from Palmer Station just a few days ago.

Yesterday's scenery at Nansen Island was absolutely gorgeous!

Here's Julia standing on the glacier that's behind Palmer Station.

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