Crossing the Drake
How many oceans are there on earth? Most of us learned about four - Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic. But there is a fifth called the southern ocean that surrounds Antarctica. We need to get across it. This is also often referred to as the Drake passage. The winds have free rein to go all the way around the earth unimpeded by any content in this region. So, yeah, swells, big ones. And, uhhhhh seasickness for many many passengers.
I’m getting a little ahead of the story, but the early morning trip to the airport and the charter flight to Ushuaia were uneventful and pretty uninteresting. After arriving we took a motor coach tour of Tierra del Fuego, which was interesting since we had been there before with much more time to hike, so we kept trying to remember exactly where we had hiked. We pulled up to our yacht at 3:00 and were among the first passengers welcomed aboard. No lines, no reception checkin. Here’s a glass of champagne! Sit on the couch here and let me scan your passport and take your picture on my phone. OK, here’s your key, you are now checked in! We were scheduled to leave at 6pm but we were told that due to the holiday things were running behind. By the time we headed to bed right after dinner we were still in port. We were too tired to care, and we slept until 8AM the next morning. Between the time change and the lack of sleep it felt great.
At our first briefing of the day we learned that not only had we left late, but we had also picked up 20 passengers from our sister ship that was having engine trouble after passing through a storm on the Drake passage days ago. We learned more about our excursions off the ship and that the first three rules are “be flexible” The captain and the expedition leader work together to find the best, safest, most interesting landing spots for the day. With changing conditions that is often not known until hours before we are told and ready to go. We were so impressed with the expedition crew! Lots of specialties and advanced degrees in all kinds of fields will be leading us.
By the time of this first briefing we were well into the Drake and there were a LOT of seasick passengers. I know I am not immune to it, but I am lucky that I don’t get seasick easily, so far so good. Jerry and Jane have not felt the best but thankfully they haven’t got sick either.
Later in the day we got fit for our parkas, life jackets and boots that we will wear whenever we leave the ship. We also had a fascinating lecture about the Albatross in the drake passage. This is the best place in the world to see them, and we have enjoyed watching them soar and dive amongst the swells. They can literally fly for up to 9000 miles without stopping. With their 12 foot wingspan they are some of the largest birds in the world. Unfortunately they are endangered. As creatures of the sea (they are only on land to breed and hatch and care for their young) they have been really affected by plastics in the ocean, and by bad fishing practices. Eat your seafood responsibly people! And, do what you can to reduce your use of plastics.
By dinner time we were all feeling pretty good. We had a very nice meal and enjoyed some after dinner entertainment by our cruise director before turning in for another good nights sleep. The winds and the swells were predicted to increase during the night, and that proved to be the case. We were definitely rocked and rolled to sleep. Waking up a few times as the bottles in the mini-bar all clanged together. During the recap briefing we were asked to predict when we would see the first iceberg. Not “bergy bits” or pieces of floating ice, but a real true titanic size iceberg!
I didn’t expect to see one on day two, but there it was just after lunch! I was looking out the window of our room and for a moment thought it was another ship in the distance, but once I got the binoculars it was clear that it was a berg.
Of course the other side of the ship had an even bigger one to see!
We still have a good long distance to go before reaching Antarctica, but things are going to get more and more interesting.