At 4 pm, we registered aboard by handing over our passports and enjoyed a welcome cocktail in the main lounge on the Clipper Adventurer. We were happy to see that Sarah, who sold us our tickets, had earned her way on the boat as well, along with her Argentine boyfriend, Gaby. Running into the gregarious couple on board was an added bonus to what was already looking to be fun-filled trip.
The engines had already been warming, and at 6:30 we listened to our Expedition leader, Alex welcome and brief us as we waived good-bye to Ushuaia and began our sail through the Beagle Channel. We learned a little about the ship, the crew and the expected events of the next few days. Alex assured us that the weather approaching the Drake Passage looked favorable for a good crossing. However, it IS the Drake Passage where sudden storms can dramatically change any forecast. We would be updated on the weather after dinner.
Happy not to have to cook, or search for the closest reasonably priced eatery we gathered in the main dining room at the biggest table we could find. As familiar faces from the pier came through the doors, we waived them over to join us. Before long, we had a full table of 8 and claimed stake over the spot for the journey. We were joined by Camilla, Paul (a 50 year-old British chef and friend of Camilla’s), Mario (late 20’s hopeless romantic, Australian, ex-investment banker and all round cool guy), Brendan (Internet marketing entrepreneur from Toronto), and Mathais (an early twenties German with a perma-smile). We were officially the international table of last-minute deals. Over the next 10 days our “little” group would progressively grow. The conversation was easy (a bottle of Malbec helps), the sailing was smooth and dinner was luxury. We had our choice of soups, salads and mains… not to mention deserts. Our waistlines were doomed. At the price tag we paid, we made a decision to go all-out and get our money’s worth in the dining room. We ate our hearts out and topped it off with 2 Dramamine in anticipation of the rough seas ahead. Our post dinner weather update notified us the crossing was to have a moderate swell (only 6 meters).
On our way back to our cabin after dinner, we noticed the décor in the hallways had changed. The hand railings had been stacked with sea-sickness bags in preparation for our crossing. Awesome. Next up was our fitting for our Quark Expedition water proof, fleece-lined parka. A very cool bonus from Quark and something we would need on deck and once we hit land. With parkas in hand, we retired early, in hopes of sleeping through the initial shock of waves as we entered the Drake Passage. We hit the Drake right on schedule. By midnight it was evident we were no longer in the calm land sheltered waters of the Beagle Channel. Lying in bed, looking across to the other twin, I could see Camilla’s body rise and fall with the boat. By 2 am, we were awakened by the banging of our night stand drawers. As the boat hit a crest, we rocked to port side, the doors slid open, the starboard side sank as we swayed back through the valley of the wave and the drawers slammed shut. Open, slam, open, slam… continuously; well at least until I decided to make use of my temporarily retired yoga mat and stuffed it in the drawer preventing its movement. Thank goodness for Dramamine. I popped another and thought about being rocked to sleep, minutes later I was zonked until our 7:30am wake up call.
“Good morning everyone. Good morning and welcome to the Drake Passage.” Alex said over the loud speaker. We had survived our first night. Alex commented on wildlife sightings on deck, our weather and crossing so far, which was better than expected. Favorable. Winds would persist up to 30 knots, with a small swell. These “favorable” conditions still required us to “keep one hand free for the ship”, as we were constantly reminded. Before exiting the comfort of my teeny twin bed, I decided to have an appetizer before breakfast as I reached again for the Dramamine, along with a few soda crackers and a swig of water; just to be safe. So far so good. Camilla, on the other hand, was not. By the time Dale and I left for breakfast, we weren’t sure she would make it. Arriving at breakfast, we noticed Camilla wasn’t alone; half the boat was absent for breakfast. Camilla eventually joined us, as did Mario and Brendan. I recall Brendan looking at his coffee with green skin and deep breaths, obviously not enjoying himself. Dale and I were both feeling fine, our heads were a little foggy but we ate like kings and decided to skip the first lecture on birds and returned to our cabin for a nap. Rough life.
After our quick nap we pulled ourselves from bed, grabbed a coffee and joined the expedition’s geologist for a lecture on ice. We were impressed with the information given to us during the Drake as a prep to what we would see when our crossing was complete. It was a good feeling being able to understand what we were seeing, rather than just being overwhelmed by the scenery. Following the lecture, we ventured out on deck for our first wild-life viewing; birds mainly. We were lucky to spot the wandering albatross, with an average wingspan from 2.51 – 3.50m, the largest of any living bird. Watching these birds soar with ease in the wind, then drop gently into the water below brought some serenity to the rough ride.
After our boot fitting, lunch followed, then an afternoon of information including a lecture on the seals of the south by marine biologist, Jimmy (a Victoria, BC native). We were also briefed on our expected conduct while on the White Continent. In particular, our behaviour around the wildlife. The wildlife is one of the reasons to embark on such a journey; we were excited to see things that we can’t see anywhere else in the world. We were taught to respect the land, and to keep our distance from the animals. We agreed to not come any closer than 5m to any wildlife. This meant that we could not approach wildlife; however, we have no ability to prevent wildlife from approaching us; enough said. As you will later learn, the animals in Antarctica are very curious creatures.
Also of importance, was our education on the prevention of introducing foreign species to the area. This lead to a thorough cleaning of all of gear that we were going to take off of the boat, which meant no seeds, food particles, etc would land on Antarctica. Following our daily recap and debriefing, another amazing four course dinner and an information session on photography, we returned to bed with our friend Dramamine for a good night sleep.
The next morning, more passengers made it to breakfast, we were up to 60 per cent or so. By lunch, it seemed everyone was feeling better as we were almost through the Drake and started to see our first signs of land as we approached the South Shetland Islands. Dale and I both felt great, we had survived the Drake Passage and put out of our minds the theory we’d heard that if you have a good crossing one way, the other way is bound to be terrible. Instead, we got a Christmas-like excitement when Alex informed us we had made such good time that he had negotiated with our captain for us to have a bonus landing that evening at Aittcho Island. Yay, by 5 pm we would be off the boat for the first time in two days! Land Ho!
Latitude 61°46.6’S Longitude 60° 04.3’W