Entering the Drake Passage!

This morning we checked out of our hotel in Ushuaia and headed to Tierra del Fuego national park. The name translates to ‘land of fire’ and comes from early explorers after seeing the campfires of the indigenous people in the area. It is here that the Andes mountains end, the southernmost national park in the world. We saw another caracara in the national park and also were treated to a pair of black-necked swans.

dsc02147We spent the morning hiking along some of the trails in the park before having a late lunch at a nice lodge. I worked in Alaska when I was younger and am familiar with lupins – a flower that resembles a Texas bluebonnet. But in Ushuaia, the lupins are huge. Our guide said this is because Ushuaia gets so much daylight in the summer. Regardless, the lupins in Ushuaia are amazingly bright and colorful.

After the national park visit we had a little time in town to do some shopping and then we boarded the M/V Corinthian and prepared to set off for Antarctica. The Corinthian is owned by Grand Circle travel which is the mother company to Overseas Adventure Travel — the company we booked our trip through. The ship is not an ice breaker but it has an ice-strengthened hull and is well suited for the Antarctic travel. It holds up to 100 passengers but we had 88 on our voyage.

 

There are almost as many crew members as passengers! The crew includes kitchen staff, hotel staff, dining staff, the folks who maintain the ship itself, and expedition leaders. The expedition crew consists of experts in various fields including geography, mammals (especially whales/dolphins/seals), birds, and history. Everyone pitches in as needed and many of the crew members take on multiple jobs.

As we boarded, the Corinthian was parked next to one of the huge cruise ships that come to Ushaia. The picture below shows the Corinthian in front with the cruise ship looming over it. We boarded at the same time that the cruise ship passengers were returning to their ship – it’s a very different experience. There was a long line to get on the cruise ship – while we were boarding a huge wind camp up very suddenly and started blowing water from the ocean up onto the dock. I’ve never seen anything like it – one minute it was calm and peaceful and the next people were running for cover. The wind only lasted a few minutes and then it was gone.

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Once we were on board, we dropped our gear in our cabin and waited for the safety exercise that was needed before the ship could depart. For the safety exercise, everyone learns how to put on the life jackets and figures out where our muster stations are in case of emergency. Once we were ready, we headed down for dinner and the ship left Ushuaia and headed through the Beagle Channel on its way to Antarctica.

To get to Antarctica from Argentina, you have to cross the Drake Passage which takes about 40 hours. The Drake Passage is one of the most dangerous crossings in the world. It is the intersection of the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean and the Southern Ocean. Crossings can be lucky and calm – nicknamed the Drake Lake, or they can be wild and crazy – nicknamed the Drake Shake. If you are unlucky and cross during the Drake Shake it isn’t uncommon for passengers to be confined to their rooms for entire days and have meals brought to them.

So once we started heading through the Beagle Channel we were given instructions to ‘Drake Proof’ our rooms. This means securing anything in your cabin that could roll or fall over if the boat hits bad weather. We took everything off the tables in our room and stuffed things into the couch cushions in the room or put them into drawers. It was all too real when we realized that the chairs in our room and the chairs in the dining room are literally chained to the floor. They aren’t messing around!

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To combat the seasickness, many of us brought seasickness patches with Scopolamine. Some people used bracelets, some took Dramamine, some brave souls took nothing at all and some used the patches. Mom and I decided to use the patch as it lasts for 3 days. It has some pretty real side effects and you’re incredibly thirsty and tired when you use it, but it did the trick and we were never even slightly nauteous despite having a ‘Drake Shake’ our first night at sea.

On a scale of 1 to 10, our crew said our first night was about a 5 for Drake crossings. We were rocking and rolling all night and had trouble sleeping but were still able to walk around the ship. And we were able to catch the beautiful sunset as the ship left Argentina and we were finally on our way to Antarctica!

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