The Drake Crossing

Ship 7391 October 19, 2018

Image: The bow of Kapitan Khlebnikov in the Drake Passage. iPhone 7 Plus, hand-held.

As promised by our expedition leader, we entered the Drake Passage around midnight of October 20, 2018.  I awoke to rocking and rolling around 11:50pm, and although the motion wasn’t horrible, it shifted me around in bed quite a bit and I was sick  Later that morning it was not much better as the constant tilt of the ship from side-to-side did not let up for a second.  For hours and hours, the boat rocked as it went over the rough seas of the Drake Passage.  I went up to the bridge at one point in attempt to watch the horizon to calm my spinning head.  The rocking back and forth was greater higher up in the ship but the ability to see the horizon helped.  The adventurous side in me enjoyed seeing the ship crash down into the water and waves come up over the bow.

Ship 8349 October 2018

Image: The bow of Kapitan Khlebnikov in the Drake Passage. iPhone 7 Plus, hand-held.

I learned much about the design of the icebreaker from the expedition staff as they tried to justify the excessive motion of the ship.  The ship did not have a keel or stabilizers to steady the ship in the open ocean since it was designed to have a flat bottom to be able to rise up onto sea ice several meters thick and crush it.  It was extremely effective for ice and served a very necessary purpose to get us to Snow Hill Island, but it was one of the worst type of ship for the Drake Passage.  Even very seasoned staff and passengers said this was one of their worst trips and many who did not get seasick were taking medication.  That made me feel slightly justified as I eventually resorted to getting a new medication from the ship’s physician that promptly put me to sleep.  Below is an image I took during one of the instances of the ship’s sideways tilt when I kept my phone level with the ship so that I could see how much the we angled with the horizon.

Ship 8331 October 2018

Image: The bow of Kapitan Khlebnikov in the Drake Passage. iPhone 7 Plus, hand-held.

The second night was the worst.  I fell twice, once in the middle of the night and once the next morning trying to get out of my top bunk.  Both times the ladder came crashing down on me, but I survived with nothing more than a couple bruises and sore body parts.  More alarming was what happened to my cabin mate in the middle of that day when we were in a “holding” pattern in the middle of the Drake Passage for 25 hours.  We were both in the lounge area when she sat down on a chair in front of the water station.  I sat in another chair next to a table for support as the ship rocked greatly from side to side (similar to my image above).  The ship lurched even more to the side and flung her and the chair 10 feet across the room before my very eyes.  I screamed out for her as I saw her go sideways and slide into a table.  She ended up with three injuries including a possible elbow stress fracture, making us very aware of the power of the Drake.

Ship 7375 October 2018

Although we did not like hearing that we were stalling for a day in the Drake Passage, we realized the ship was not built for passenger safety in a storm so it was a necessary delay.   We learned many details about that previous night’s storm from the staff members who had access to radar.  It turned out that we had faced 60 knot (70 mph) winds and a wave height of 7 m (23 ft) overnight.  By morning, the storm had calmed down and the weather charts looked like this at our current position on Day 2.

We were able to begin moving towards Antarctica again the following morning (Day 3) around 4am.  I wasn’t able to catch a video of the worst of the storms but on one part of the crossing during mild weather, I caught a video of the ship negotiating some of the waves.  As you can see in the images above and in the video below, I tried to keep the phone level with the ship so that you can see the tilt when comparing it to the horizon.

We were very grateful to enter the calm waters of the Antarctic Sound on Day 4.  Having never experienced seasickness for such an extended period of time, I was ecstatic! Crossing the Drake in a storm is almost considered a type of badge of honor among Antarctica veterans and I definitely earned it!

Next up, crushing ice!

 

Author: Dr. Amy Novotny

Amy Novotny is a physical therapist, marathon/ultra runner and nature photographer. She treats patients for a variety of conditions but specializes in chronic pain and calming an overactive nervous system using special diaphragmatic breathing. She has used this technique to help her qualify and run in four Boston marathons! She enjoys the outdoors and can often be found running and hiking on trails in throughout Arizona. She attempts to capture the beauty of nature with her photography both locally in Arizona and also throughout the United States. She is becoming more interested in wildlife photography and attempting to capture the emotion of animal interactions. In her spare time, Amy volunteers as a photo guide for the Arizona Highways PhotoScapes nonprofit and shares her joy of nature with others. Please feel free to contact her regarding her photography, physical therapy or running.

18 thoughts on “The Drake Crossing”

  1. Oh Amy, what a story…as much as I would have loved to go to Antartica, I will still live through your journey…not a big fan of sea sickens and I am glad you were not hurt. I do hope your friend in mending well….maybe it would of been better to sleep on the floor or a closet with lots of padding 🤔🤔….anyway you survived the seas and will always have wonderful memories…Oh the joy of being a photographer and what one goes theogh to get that specsil shot!…take care and waiting for the next chapture.of your book 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Deb! What’s funny is one of my cabinmates suggested that I sleep on the floor! I was afraid to do that just in case something else fell on me!! I have always been extremely sensitive to sea sickness, car sickness from riding in the backseat and carnival rides so I was so worried about this. I never take medications but this was one exception and totally worth it! Phew!

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  2. wow, looks exciting to say the least. so, question, do the smaller rooms have bunkbeds? i know that if I someday go, I don’t want a bunkbed (top or bottom). and by the way, Hi Fern!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So the twin and double rooms have bunk beds but the suites have separate beds and sleeping areas. It comes with a nice price tag difference though. The website had a nice description of the rooms so you should be able to make sure you don’t get a room with a bunk bed before you sign up.

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  3. Breathtaking perspective……open sea, wind, icy temperature. Love these photos Amy. I have read and heard about the crossing of the Drake passage in the way that you have experienced. Only for the adventurous and motivated for the possible joy of seeing the ice and the chance of seeing those penguins.

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  4. Any great adventure includes some hairy aspects and this part included your Drake passage across rough seas in a flat bottomed ship no less! What great memories you’ll have for many years. Thanx for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mark! I have always been sensitive to vestibular disturbances and usually get sick in the backseat of a vehicle so this was a true test for me. There were times on the crossing over that I thought it wasn’t worth it but as soon as I got there, I knew it was worth every second of seasickness and I would do it all again 100 times over.

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