Sailing the Drake Passage

I’m typing this in my cabin on the Sergie Vavilov, our ship to Antarctica. We have had an interesting first day on ship and hope that it increases as get closer to the Antarctic continent.

We assembled at the prescribed meeting point in the Ushuaia foreshore car park yesterday afternoon at 4.00 pm. We were then bussed along the wharf, through security such as it was, to the ship where we had time to unpack and explore. Before leaving port, we had our compulsory life boat drill – all turning out in appropriate gear and life jackets out onto the boat deck.

We set sail at 8.00 pm while we were having dinner. The food was a very nice 3 course dinner served by the crew. We have 101 passengers, 15 Peregrine staff and a ship’s operational crew of 45. It was a very smooth pleasant night as we sailed along the Beagle Canal for the first four or five hours and then it became a lot rougher as we entered the Drake Passage.

I am sharing my cabin with Conor, an Irish Postman. The cabin is only small – about 2.5 metres wide and 4.5 metres long. Conor’s bunk is the left of the door with a bulkhead at the end of his bed. The desk is on the other side of the bulkhead and then my bed is at 90 degrees and parallel to the wall. We have a cupboard with shelves and hanging space and just inside the door to the right is the shower and toilet which we share with the cabin next door.

I woke this morning to find that the waves were 5 to 8 metres in height. Now, in the evening, they have calmed to about half that size. It has been quite difficult to walk around and although no one has fallen, several glasses, cups and other items on shelves have fallen off as the ship has rocked and rolled. Our expedition leader told us that hese conditions were quite average for this crossing.

I haven’t felt sick yet, although I have been careful to take my pills. There were very few people at breakfast this morning although those of us that did turn up had a nice meal of bacon and eggs.

It was very difficult trying to have a shower as the ship rolled through the waves. I gave up trying to stand on one leg in order to wash my foot and just bent over – all the time grasping for the handrail for support. I lay in bed for a while this morning watching my jacket swing in an arc of 20 degrees to the left and right of vertical as it hung on the hook at the end of the bed.

Throughout the day we have had a series of talks by staff members, each of whom has a special interest, or set of knowledge. The talks have been on whales, birds, photography and ice / icebergs. I spent a half hour on the bridge but there wasn’t much to see. The officer of the watch (1st mate) spends his whole watch standing behind the controls staring out to sea and occasionally monitoring the ship’s systems. The only wild life that I have seen today has been three albatrosses.

I have found that the best place to sit is in the bar / lounge area where I can see the horizon. At lunch time, I wasn’t sure that I really felt like much food, but I found that I was hungrier than I thought. There are only a series of small portholes in the dining room and I wasn’t sure how well I would feel if I was in there for a long time. A few more people turned up for lunch, but it wouldn’t have been much more than half the number of passengers. I guess that the others are in their bunks riding out these seas.

(Quick pause here as I fell sideways off the chair and onto my bunk as a big wave rolled through. The waves are now coming from the west straight onto the side of the ship, rather than from 45 degrees behind us as they were this morning.).

We should cross the Antarctic convergence zone sometime tonight and probably reach the South Shetlands tomorrow afternoon. Then we can expect calmer waters. Jill would not have liked this first part of the voyage at all. Now I’m off to happy hour at the bar.


Bruce is a keen traveller and photographer. This web site describes his travel and family interests

3 thoughts on “Sailing the Drake Passage

  1. Visualized your shower adventure and couldn’t stop myself laughing. Sorry Bruce. But if I had been there I think my bacon and eggs would have become seagull food!

  2. I’d need lots of ginger I think. I am imagining Ferdinand(?) Magellan & Francis Drake on their trip around with out the comforts of modern times, they are watching over you as is Caoptain Cook etc

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