Drake Passage. Notorious for its unpredictable weather and claimed to have the roughest waters in the world. This 800 km passage between Cape Horn of South America and the Antarctic peninsula is the shortest crossing from any other continent to Antarctica. This is where we were going. The blue ship in the middle is our Ocean Nova. With its 73 meters, it looked tiny in comparison to the other Antarctica cruise ships in port.

Crossing Drakes passage1

It all started off so calmly. We left Ushuaia in the afternoon of the 20th of November. (Almost a year ago, I’m sorry about the delay.)

Crossing Drakes passage2

We cruised through the beautiful archipelago of southern Argentina and Chile. (Thanks Rebecca Leung for this picture.)

On board Ocean Nova Antarctica

The next day, we were woken up at 7.30 am for breakfast and lectures. The 3 days that it took Ocean Nova to cross the Drake were filled with lectures by the expedition staff and PhD guest lecturers on geopolitics, Antarctica history, geology, wildlife, ornithology, environmental sustainability and security. The first night we drank loads of wine and went to the ship library to keep reading about Antarctica.

Crossing Drakes passage4

But then we saw the storm coming up in the distance like a wall.

Crossing Drakes passage5

It started snowing.

Crossing Drakes passage7

The waves grew higher and higher.

Crossing Drakes passage8

And higher.

This Bernd Riebe video isn’t from our trip but I think it gives an idea. I didn’t even think of making any videos during the worst parts of the trip. When the swells grew to 11 meters we weren’t even allowed to walk around inside the ship, much less outside. We were sent to beds, so that there wouldn’t be any injuries or panic. Even so, a Spanish lady managed to break her arm inside the ship this day. I lay in my bed, sliding from the top to the bottom of the bed, hitting my head in the wall and then my feet in the other wall, again and again, with each wave roll.

Crossing Drakes passage6

We had a screen in the dining hall that showed our position at all time. On November 22nd 12:26 I was wondering what I was doing. 5000 m of deep, dark sea below me. And still half way left to go.

Crossing Drake's passage

I have to be a bit explicit here. The first two days on the Drake were a mere struggle to not vomit upon someone. A lot of people stayed in their cabins because of seasickness. Others took so heavy pills that they fell asleep during dinner or lectures. I was eager to stay up for all lectures, but I had a paper bag constantly at hand and ran away to throw up every half hour. However, after a while the ship doctor Sergio gave me much better nausea pills than the ones I had bought in Argentina, and after that I felt fine for the rest of the trip. (A piece of advice: If you live in a country where they prescribe motion sickness patches, bring those for your Antarctica trip. Our US and Hongkong friends with patches felt fine the whole time.)

Crossing Drakes passage9

After the storm came a beautiful sunset.

Crossing Drakes passage10

And then, after 3 days, on the 23rd of November we saw it in the distance…

First sight of Antarctica1

First sight of Antarctica2

I’ll write more about the arrival to the Antarctic islands and all penguins that greeted us in the next post…