Antarctica Expedition Cruise: How To Make Crossing The Drake Passage Tolerable

Guest writer Tamera Trexler cruised to Antarctica on Silver Cloud in November of 2018. 

The only miserable part about an Antartica voyage is crossing the Drake Passage. On our most recent Antartica cruise, we had to cross the Drake Passage twice. Once from the Falkland Islands to Antarctica and then again on our way back from Antarctica to Ushuaia, Argentina. The seas were rough, and ranged from 12 to 24 feet at various times during the trip.

Antarctica changed me: I became one with the penguins. © 2018 Ralph Grizzle

Each crossing left us confined to the ship for two days and for most of those, I spent my time in the cabin. The ship rocked all day and night. You could hear the ship creak and groan in the waves. It was unsettling at times. We watched the servers in the restaurants run from table to table trying to catch the glassware before it crashed to the floor. Once in a while, furniture would slide across the room. At lunch one day a huge wave smashed into the dining room window with a crash.

We would have to secure our cabins by shutting doors and putting valuables on the floor. Reception provided tablets for seasickness, which I took. I did not get sick but I was queasy, woozy, and drowsy. I slept a lot and ate very little. Lummi, our butler, was very helpful in restocking the minibar with ginger ale, soda water, assorted crackers, ginger candy, and green apples – but I could see that Lummi was feeling effects of the Drake Passage as well. I had a hard time during the crossing, but some people seem not to feel sick at all.

My Tips For Making The Drake Passage Crossing More Tolerable:

  • Midship, mid-deck is the place to be – you will feel less movement. Out on deck is good too, as long as the weather permits.
  • Being outside helps, breathing in the brisk air electrifies your brain.
  • Look out the window and look at the horizon. Stay out of the closet and the bathroom, it’s worse there.
  • Lay flat on your back.
  • When the ship rocks, watch your fingers in the doorways so they don’t get slammed.

When I was not struggling, I tried to be up and about. I went for a walk on deck, went to lectures that the geologists, ornithologists, kayak guides, marine biologists, historians, and anthropologists presented. I learned about the Beaufort scale for gale force winds, Darwin and HMS Beagle, krill, whales, rocks, birds, penguins, The Antarctic Treaty and IAATO, dogs on polar expeditions, and more. We paid for a tutorial in the photo studio, where I learned about Adobe Lightroom. There is plenty to do aboard, even when the TV stops working, which it did for 36 hours.

People get creative when they unplug, hence the snowmen. © 2018 Ralph Grizzle

During the crossing of the Drake Passage, many people played board games, read, and socialized. The Fitness Center was a good place to be – mid-deck, midship with a view of the sea. Some people even braved the hot tubs in the snow. One sunny day, some people even swam in the 82-degree Fahrenheit swimming pool – which was like an amusement park wave pool because of the way the sea rocked the ship.

Although I am not a fan of crossing the Drake Passage, it is part of the experience that is memorable. And while the luxury of the ship feels like a floating floating hotel, this is an expedition cruise. It is going to Antarctica, a harsh, remote and wild place. No humans live there. It’s luxury, but it’s daring.

The Drake Passage can be rough in the moment, but it reminds me of the long distance hikes I have done. Sometimes during the journey, I told myself, “This is awful, I wouldn’t ever want to do it again.” At the end of it all, I look back and tell myself, “I am so glad I did that; it is an unforgettable experience of a lifetime.”

Join the Conversation

Joel says:

We just crossed the drake passage twice in January aboard the Azamara Pursuit. It was really like the “Drake Lake” in both directions. The seas were almost dead calm.

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