John: After a night of sliding back and forth in our beds, we awoke to feel the full force of the Drake Passage, as the ship rolled from side to side. Our cabin was a mess, with the things we thought we’d put away safely, now all over the room. Kristen was up and ready for breakfast straight away, full of excitement, whilst I slowly staggered and swayed up to the dining area, sick bag in hand, not looking forward to the next few hours. I didn’t last long before having to head back to bed.
Day 1 Drake Passage. Down for the Count.
The first day was definitely the hardest, with some tough swells and big waves – which in sailors talk is called pitching (up and down movement) and rolling (side to side). I felt terrible despite taking my tablets and spent most of the day in bed being sick. We don’t know where Kristen’s sea legs come from but she was one of a very small number on the boat who didn’t take any kind of seasickness tablets and didn’t get sick.
Kristen (filling in the gap because John was ill): The first day on board was quiet, as most people were zoned out (a side effect from the seasickness medicine) or being ill in their cabins. At each meal throughout the day, the numbers became less and less. But for those of us that made it, each meal became more of an adventure. Respect to the wait staff that could carry trays of food to us in the pitching and rolling we were experiencing. Everything was put down on non-slip mats but occasionally the roll was so big, things would go flying down the table.
An engineer on board had an app that recorded us rolling at angles up to 45 degrees each way. It was amazing seeing the crew walk through the boat without holding on, moving at all kinds of weird and wonderful angles to stay walking in a somewhat straight line – something we all got better at over the first few days. It was mesmerising sitting in the common area watching the horizon rise and fall with the roll of the waves, and seeing the various birdlife, including the albatross, gliding over the waves.
The first day passed fairly quickly even through it was quiet. The crew kept us amused with organised lectures, based on their specialised areas including Antarctic history, geography, politics and marine biology. The talks were really interesting and a great introduction to the area before we arrived. It’s just a shame most people couldn’t make them due to being ill.
Day 2 Drake Passage. Our first Iceberg!
Back to John: I started to feel better by lunchtime on the second day when the waters were calmer, just in time to join Kristen on deck to see our first iceberg off in the distance. No one moved over the next hour or so as the iceberg got bigger and eventually we had our first sighting of land – the South Shetland Islands.
The crew told us that our Drake crossing was graded as above average (around level 6-7) so I felt justified in my sickness. If you want to see what the experience was like, there are some great videos on youtube if you search the Drake Passage.
To end our last day at sea, we had all our mandatory briefings before dinner. First up was the briefing on the IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operations guidelines, covering responsible travel to Antarctica and the rules we were expected to follow to ensure we didn’t disturb the environment or the wildlife, which we happily signed our names to and were pleased Antarpply Expeditions who we were travelling with, took this very seriously.
We were then given our numbered lifejackets and boots we’d wear the next 5 days and did the safety briefings for the zodiacs and landings, before doing the evacuation drill.
With all that out of the way, we were told to eat up and get a good nights sleep, as our day would start at 7am. Before breakfast we’d be taking our first steps on Antarctica!
Our trip to Antarctica was with Antarpply Expeditions on the MV Ushuaia in March 2014. Review to come (but in short they were fantastic). Contact us if you have any questions – we’re more than happy to help and share our experience.