PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — Antarctica Journey, Day 3: Drake Passage

Today was all about the Drake Passage and acclimatizing to the ship and sea travel.

The Drake Passage is the body of water between South America’s Cape Horn, Chile, Argentina and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. It connects the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean with the southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean.

According to Wikipedia, “The Drake Passage is considered one of the most treacherous voyages for ships to make. Currents at its latitude meet no resistance from any landmass, and waves top 40 feet (12 meters), giving it a reputation for being “the most powerful convergence of sea.”

For any of you who know the surface waves of Lake of the Woods on a rough day in a canoe, imagine that on steroids.

Basically, you hope when you go on one of these trips is that you get the Drake Lake as opposed to the Drake Shake. Our voyage so far has been somewhere in between. According to most of the crew to whom I’ve talked, it’s a pretty typical journey. But that does not translate into easy going as we’ve had waves from 4 to 6 meters.

I’m fortunate with the fact that I don’t seem to have any issue with seasickness whatsoever and actually find the roll of the waves while lying in bed to be quite soothing. However, it does take a while to get one’s sea legs, and I’ve gotten to know some people with more force and intimacy than I normally would when they have crashed into me or I’ve returned the favor.

Sadly, Janel has had some issues and struggled for most of the day after an unfortunate attempt at breakfast and spent most of the day in bed. The good news is that the patch that she put on appears to be working, and she joined me for dinner. She is not alone as several people are struggling with seasickness. That is one of the challenges of the Drake. If you have any issues with it whatsoever, it will definitely leave you feeling ill.

While Janel slept, I spent a good portion of the day attending a variety of required classes on proper etiquette when landing on the continent and finding out about some of the optional activities we will be able to participate in if we are selected, as well as understanding how the zodiacs will go ashore, getting our landing boots and vacuuming all of our exterior clothes, so we don’t bring any foreign fauna with us when we land.

Only 100 people are allowed on the continent at any time, so they stagger the boats to provide the greatest depth of opportunity. We are divided by larger animal groupings and sun groupings with any animal. Of course, I wanted to be a penguin. We all know that. But I have accepted being a leopard seal, as long as I don’t see a leopard seal eat a penguin while I’m on this trip. Or I will need therapy for the rest of my life.

As I mentioned earlier, Hurtigruten has a very egalitarian approach to the activities, so you register for them and see if you were drawn in a lottery. I rather like that it is not about who has the most money to buy the top spot but rather a system of chance that determines who goes. The Europeans are completely comfortable with this approach, but it is apparent several Americans are quite nonplussed. I don’t think they understand fully that there are places in the world where money cannot buy everything.

That said, nonetheless, most of the people I have encountered have been utterly delightful, and every time I turn around, I am having another amazing conversation with new friends I just met. In fact, I signed up to do kayaking with the retired former head of ophthalmology at the University of Arizona Medical School. His wife was not as keen on kayaking. We bonded as he got his PhD at Case Western just like my dad.

I’ve also been using my German a lot, especially thanks to my new friend, Wilfred. Wilfred is from Essen, Germany, and was widowed a year ago. He went on the cruise alone and has some English, but not a lot, so I serve as an interpreter during our dinner. It was great to push myself linguistically and also serve as a source of solace for someone stepping out of his comfort zone with the trip. He said my German was excellent, but I think he is just a nice man.

We’ve also begun some of the learning about the science portion of the trip, as well as history lessons that Hurtigruten provides every evening. But I think the crew understands that for many people adjusting to the Drake is quite a stretch, so the day has been well-paced. Just enough activity to keep us engaged, but not so much that we are overwhelmed.

Later in the evening, I ended up doing puzzles in the lounge to decompress before bed, and it paid off! The sunset as we just “officially” entered the waters of Antarctica was stunning. And long. Apparently, the sun doesn’t set for a few hours yet. One of the mysteries that makes Antarctica a truly unique place.

The more time I spend on the ship, the more impressed I am with the entire experience and the more delighted I am, by the choice we made to go with Hurtigruten.

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