Antarctica, Inside My Head

The Drake Symphony

4 Comments 24 January 2013

Drake Lake

The ominous Drake Passage was smooth on our first trip through – but things quickly change!

Glasses and plates rattle like the percussion section. The boat crashes back down onto the water with a boom of a base drum. The constant hum and rumble of the engines provide the melody. And occasionally you’ll hear a wave crash against the boat with a swishing noise in a completely different key.

As I sat in my chained down chair at the breakfast table I watched my coffee in my cup teeter totter back and forth towards the rim of the cup. I tried to guess when it would finally go over the side and spill over into my saucer. As I fixate on the the service staff roll and pitch with large platters in their hands I overheard a man say that the today we had a very confused sea. I thought about the term confused sea and slightly chuckled to myself giving my uneasy stomach a moment of relief as my mind had something else to think about for a moment. I mused to myself that it’s not really the sea’s fault – it’s just a little mixed up as if someone didn’t provide the correct directions.

I leave after eating a couple bites of my fruit and retreat to the horizontal position that the Drake Passage requires me to be in. I don’t like the horizontal position – it gives me too much time to think. I think about my stomach, think about my life, I think about every little noise, and I think about just how much the ship is pitching and rolling.

This is what I was worried about when we were preparing for the trip.  The Drake Passage is is the body of water between the southern tip of South America and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. It gets it’s reputation as the roughest sea in the world for good reason. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current gets squeezed through this narrow gap between the South American and Antarctic continents and it is the squeezing of this current in an area of naturally high winds that is a major cause the Drake’s moodiness.

I close my eyes but the symphony continues – the popping and creaking noises never stop. Why won’t they stop? It sounds as if you are deep underwater and the popping and crackling noises are the water and pressure on your head – squeezing it like a vice.

Just as I predicted, my dad is unaffected by the sea as I’m down for the count even after taking meds. He even goes outside to the top deck to watch the chaos. He gets to see Cape Horn and gets a picture of the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean’s ‘intersection’. He comes back to the room with sea spray covering his glasses and brings a burst of fresh air into the stale room. He talks excitedly about what he’s seen as if he’s a young boy who just got off his first roller coaster ride. I can’t help but smile.

Dad enjoying the ride

Dad enjoying the ride

His energy brings life back to me. I decide I should get vertical again and try to go stare at the horizon. As I wobble down the hall it hits me – it’s as if our ship is a Labyrinth Tilt game – my old childhood game with a little silver ball that you had to work through a maze by tilting the board and avoiding the holes. You hug the hallway wall as the ship pitches to the left and then position yourself near the next door jam to your right anticipating the pitch right which will roll you through the opening and into the next hall. Ahhh – the haziness of the meds are wonderful at times.

Dad and I sit in chairs near the reception area and look out the big windows. I watch as the horizon seems to slide up and down the window about 14 to 20 inches with every swell. Yes – I actually measure this. The water is steel gray with little white caps. I stare at the sea birds surrounding the ship like the paparazzi following our every move. They are thrilled we are stirring up the sea for their hunting and providing new air currents for their gliding. They are such a contrast to the turbulent, angry sea. They provide effortless fluidity barely looking as if they are doing an ounce of work. Just watching them glide makes me feel better.

Gliding effortlessly

Gliding Effortlessly

As I started feeling better, my social side comes back to me along with my color in my face.  A friend joked, “The only way to avoid sea sickness is to sit under a tree.”  I chuckled.  Apparently I had my sense of humor back too.

There is no grand finish to the Drake’s symphony of sounds, sites, and feelings – it just putters out and my body and mind wake up out of its miserable coma it has been in for the past day.

To get to Antarctica you have to cross the Drake. Yes – it can be uncomfortable, but it’s a small price to pay to be transported to the bottom of the world and back.

Note – our trips through the passage were quite tame compared to how it can be. If you want to get an idea of the extreme side, just check out this video of the MS Expedition crossing the passage in March 2011.

You can follow in Sherry’s footsteps all the way to Antarctica. Plan your trip of a lifetime to Antarctica with ExpeditionTrips and save 5% on your voyage rate – exclusively for OttsWorld followers

Disclosure: ExpeditionTrips and G Adventures is hosting my Antarctic Peninsula Cruise. However, all of the opinions expressed here are my own – as you know how I love to speak my mind!

Your Comments

4 Comments so far

  1. pollycharlie says:

    It is comforting to know that ship can survive a Force 12 Beaufort scale storm… I was on a plane last night to Denver and there were some turbulence. I held on to the armrest so tight my knuckles were white. My seatmate joked that I should go under general anesthesia while crossing the Drake or I may break all my fingers. By the way, I really enjoy your blog.

  2. Mark H says:

    My crossing was smooth both ways – they were calling it “Drake Lake”. Somehow I have always felt like I missed out on something with the Passage not raising its fury even a little…

  3. Charu says:

    Love the description and metaphor of calling spilled dishes “percussion.” I went on a boat ride on the Hudson and the boat pitched and turned just a few degrees and it was agony. One of these days, I’ll take the passage to Antarctica…glad to see your dad having a great time!


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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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Ireland -> Belgium

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