top of page

To reach Antarctica, a Brazilian ship crosses the Drake Strait


Good morning, Uncle Max! It is with this greeting, at 7 am, followed by music, news from Brazil, data on location, wind speed and water temperature, that activities begin on the polar ship Almirante Maximiano, a kind of mobile laboratory of the Navy that supports the research in Antarctica.

About 40% of Brazilian scientific production in the region is made inside the ship, valued at R$ 150 million. The rest takes place in camps (20%), in automated modules (15%) and in the Comandante Ferraz Station (20%), which will be reopened this Tuesday (14), on King George Island.

On routine missions, Uncle Max, as he is called by sailors, transports 30 researchers and houses 17 equipment for geological, geophysical and meteorological studies. Among the researches are those that investigate marine biodiversity, climate change and the effect of Antarctic currents on the Brazilian climate.

The ship has a helipad and two helicopters, which transport supplies for researchers who are camped in the interior of Antarctica. Two boats also help with both transport and collection of study materials.

The ship left the port of Punta Arenas (Chile) on Monday (6), with 109 people on board, including military personnel and journalists. The maximum capacity is 113 passengers.

The cabins have “triliches”, bunk beds that sleep three people, and there is a small bathroom for up to six people. Four meals a day are served (breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper), prepared in the kitchen of Uncle Max, who, for each Antarctic mission, produces up to 40 tons of food. Barbecue, tripe, roast chicken and rice carter were some of the dishes served.

With no TV or internet access, and with the ship's incessant rocking for most of the journey, the fun on board is dominoes, foosball, video games, as well as a selection of movies. It is also possible to venture into the gym and have the feeling that the treadmill will slip away from your feet.

Warnings, such as meal times and guidance to the crew, are given through whistles, which resemble birdsong. They are broadcast on speakers installed throughout the ship.

The great expectation of the trip was the crossing of the Drake Straits, mandatory part of the trip between the South American continent and the Antarctic Peninsula and considered one of the most dangerous in the world, with waves that can reach 12 m and winds that have already reached 200 km/ H. An estimated 800 vessels sank at the site, killing 10,000 sailors.

Last Tuesday (7), just over 24 hours sailing through the austral channels, the ship's captain, João Candido Marques Dias, sea and war captain of the Navy, decided to "land" the vessel in the austral channels, near Puerto Williams ( in the Chilean region of Tierra del Fuego), due to strong winds and 6 m waves expected for the Drake region in the following hours.

According to him, the idea was to wait for a window in a more protected place to avoid damage to the vessel and people's discomfort. The wait lasted 30 hours. The Drake crossing began at dawn on Thursday (8) and ended on the afternoon of Friday (9), when the ship entered the Antarctic Peninsula.

During the journey, the waves reached up to 4 m, causing a strong swing in the vessel. It was enough to make some soldiers and journalists feel nauseated, drop objects and make a simple trip to the bathroom almost impractical.

During this period, furniture and objects on the ship were tied up. Crockery plates were replaced by plastic ones, and even the breakfast menu, which was supposed to include bologna, was changed to prevent cooks from taking risks with the slicer.

For Commander Marques Dias, however, it was a calm crossing. “It was great, we didn't get very big waves. The stop was strategic."

On Saturday morning (11), the ship anchored near the scientific base, and the disembarkation towards Comandante Ferraz station took place this Sunday morning (12).


Among the equipment used in surveys inside the ship, especially in the area of ​​oceanography, there are two winches that survey the seabed, measuring the depth and collecting data such as temperature, salinity and waste samples from the site. They reach from 8 to 10 km in depth.

The Navy also uses this equipment to update nautical charts. Brazil participates in an international agreement that conducts a hydrographic survey of Antarctica.

“It is not a place that is fully mapped, mapped. We don't have [nautical] charts of all places, it's a place under construction”, says Commander Marques Dias, who has already been on nine missions in the region.


Last year, the ship did this work in the bay of King George Island, where the Brazilian scientific base in Antarctica is located.

According to Rodrigo Tecchio, Navy Lieutenant Captain, when updating a nautical chart, it is verified, for example, whether the depths existing in the region are the same as in the previous survey.
In the work carried out on the island, for example, it was verified that the old nautical chart pointed to a certain location 679 m deep. With more modern equipment, it has now been found that the correct measurement is 620 meters.

Elsewhere, the old chart was 108 m deep, when in fact the correct depth is 396 m. “In the past, the equipment was much more archaic, the plumb line was used to check the depths”, explains Tecchio.

The ship also has an ocean current meter, which aims to investigate their behavior in a region with such extreme weather conditions, in addition to the transport of organic materials.

According to Tecchio, this information helps not only the Navy but also researchers working in Antarctica, in addition to being stored in the National Oceanographic Data Bank, open to institutions working in this area.

The ship also has an automatic weather station, which is turned on 24 hours a day, and every three hours it sends messages with data on air temperature, water temperature, atmospheric pressure, among others. They go to the Navy's Hydrography Center and serve as a subsidy for the weather forecast in Brazil.

Source: Leaf

bottom of page