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Crossing The Drake Passage – The World’s Roughest Seas

By Annual Adventure Adventure

The Drake Passage is famous for containing the roughest seas in the world. It’s also the main route most visitors to Antarctica take when they depart from Argentina. Therefore, if you want to see the amazing landscapes of Antarctica, you’ll have to endure the Drake Passage.

Sailing the Beagle Channel towards the Drake Passage
Departing the Beagle Channel for the Drake Passage.

Preparing For the Worst

Boarding my ship, I was ready for everything the Drake Passage could throw at me. I had my game face on, and seeing the handrails of the ship lined with empty barf bags every 3 feet only served to excite me further rather than make me nervous. All tables were bolted down and chairs were affixed to the floor with chains. This was going to be it! I was in for the ride of my life!

Now I wasn’t so naive as to think that I wouldn’t get seasick on the roughest patch of ocean around, so I came prepared. I read up on all of the recommended remedies for seasickness that wouldn’t knock me out cold (I’m looking at you, Dramamine), and packed a strong supply of Sailors’ Secret Ginger TabletsSea-Band Wristbands, and Motion Sickness Patches. I was going to try my best to stick with only the ginger tablets, as they seemed the most effective anyways, but I was ready to hit my motion sickness hard with everything I had.

Meeting all of my new friends on board, I saw many of them already wearing their wristbands and patches at the end of the first evening in anticipation of our departure of the Beagle Channel and entry into the Drake Passage. I figured I would hold out and see how I felt in the morning.

The Drake Lake, Or The Drake Shake?

There are two personalities to the Drake Passage, and which one you get is pretty much a roll of the dice. On my way from Ushuaia to Antarctica, I was lucky. So lucky, in fact, that I took it for granted. I had gotten the Drake Lake, and I was a little disappointed.

Sure, I had prepared for the worst and in return had only received a gentle rocking back and forth, and yes, this did make for a fairly comfortable trip. I spent my 2 days crossing the Drake Passage on the deck of the ship watching the sea birds dive bomb my camera, wondering exactly what they were doing this far away from everything in a place that was notorious for terrible conditions.

Cape Petrels in the Drake Passage
Yeah, you guys!

The problem was that I was going to Antarctica, and I wanted every aspect of this journey to be the biggest adventure of my life! I selfishly wished for rough seas so I could go home with a feeling of accomplishment. I couldn’t very well tell my friends that I had sailed the roughest seas in the world when conditions weren’t much worse than a Caribbean cruise!

Of course, all of my FOMO about the Drake Passage was quelled when we spotted our first bit of Antarctic land in the distance, and my anticipation of an awesome trip came to a full boil.

Our first sighting of Antarctic Land.
Land, ho!

Be Careful What You Wish For…

Well, I made it through my trip to Antarctica and it was amazing. The adventure certainly lived up to all of my expectations, and I couldn’t have asked for a more incredibly journey. There was just one thing missing from my Antarctic bucket list…

Thankfully, the sea was in a giving mood. To make up for our gentle ride to Antarctica, the Drake Passage decided to give me the gift of her full fury on my return trip. I was about to see what the roughest seas of the world were made of!

Things started off a bit slowly, although the seas were clearly rougher as soon as we had cleared the protection of the continent. From the dining room on the lower level of the ship, our view out of the portholes alternated regularly between ink-black ocean waters and grey skies, teasing us with fleeting glimpses of the horizon as it zoomed by with the rocking of the ship.

Still, our first lunch service was fairly well attended, with noticeably more people wearing their patches and wristbands and making sure to take a Dramamine with their meal. I myself had even began popping my ginger tablets in anticipation for what was coming our way. Still, despite the roughness, it was reasonable. Drinks and meals stayed on the table and no crashing or screaming was heard.

The Drake Passage Shows Its True Colors

Things quickly became more unstable after our lunch break. As I retired to my room, I could feel my freshly devoured meal going through a spin cycle in my stomach thanks to the lurching of the ship. Hey, maybe the shaking will help my food digest more quickly, right? I was sure to grab a barf bag off the handrail just in case.

I slowly trudged my way up the steps to my 5th floor cabin, making full use of the mercifully sturdy handrails. The higher I climbed, the more the ship rocked me back and forth. I was walking like I had downed a bottle of whiskey despite responsibly enjoying a sensible salad with a side of water for my meal.

When I reached my cabin, I headed straight for the bed and stayed as horizontal as I could. I wasn’t seasick yet, but I knew it was inevitable at this point. Staring out my window was too disorienting to endure and standing on the deck to check out the seabirds was out of the question. My best bet was preventative maintenance so that I could make the most of my Drake Shake.

The Drake Earthquake

I know I said earlier that there are only two personalities to the Drake Passage, but I’m pretty sure we discovered a third. This was beyond the Drake Shake. We dubbed it the Drake Earthquake. At this point, keeping objects on desks was out of the question, as was standing up for the most part!

Drake Passage hallway example
An accurate depiction of trying to walk on the ship.

I thought I had entered the hallway from Inception as I stumbled and body-slammed my way to dinner. My preventative maintenance had worked and, although I felt a little… “off,” I was still in eating shape. The dining hall was considerably more sparsely populated than before, but those of us who were there were reveling in the experience we were having.

My group made sure to pick a table in the center of the ship and away from portholes to ensure our continued stomach strength. Just as we were being served out meals, the expedition coordinator came out and announced we were in a Storm. Not a storm like “oh hey, it’s raining outside, looks like a storm,” but an official Force 10 on the Beaufort Scale proper Storm. Those waves that were making us feel like we were inside of a rock tumbler were 45 foot swells!

My Nausea Button

I felt both excited and accomplished just for being there, although, let’s be honest, I wasn’t really doing anything other than experiencing it. Just as I was congratulating myself for my lack of seasickness, it happened. The Drake Passage found my nausea button.

As I was sitting at the table, the ship lurched and launched my chair away from the table before coming to a very sharp stop at the end of its chain. My stomach dropped.

“I have to go.”

That was it, that was my trigger. The moment my chair slammed against the end of its chain, I instantly felt my food fighting to come up as I ran to the hallway and grabbed the nearest of the thankfully well populated barf bags and let ‘er rip.

The Drake Diet

I didn’t make it to breakfast the following morning. Nor did I make it to lunch. I was living on a steady diet of water and ginger tablets, and that was about all I could bear to swallow. From what I heard, attendance was increasingly sparse with each consecutive meal, making me feel a bit better about my sorry state.

I couldn’t help but think of the fact that seasoned sailors probably saw this kind of weather (and worse!) pretty regularly and laughed their way through it. Just look at this guy having the time of his life over waaaaaaaay bigger waves than we encountered! And here I was, on a measely 10 out of 12 on the Beaufort Scale, barely able to move! I had to do something about this.

Fighting past my overwhelming desire to not stand up, I decided it was about time for my body to get some proper nourishment after a 24 hour fast. I stumbled down to the dinner service on the second evening crossing the Drake Passage, and walked into the sparsely populated dining hall. Somehow the majority of my group of friends were there.

My appetite was completely gone, but I decided to treat myself to a feast of several leaves of spinach and some other vegetables to maximize the chances of keeping it down. The ship stopped and turned sideways for each meal in an attempt to reduce the turbulence, and between that and my light meal it was just the minuscule bit of relief I needed to make it through the service.

Sleeping It Off

Things were slowly starting to calm down as I tucked in for bed. The next morning, I awoke to the news that we were approaching Cape Horn and realized I wasn’t getting slammed around in my room anymore! I had made it through a proper storm on the Drake Passage and was treated to an awesome landmark to commemorate our journey.

Sailing towards Cape Horn
Sweet relief!

I may not quite have lived up to my adventurous image during the Drake Shake, but I was glad I got to see what the Drake Passage was made of. It just further goes to show that everything about visiting Antarctica is an adventure, and the journey there was no different. Even though I was sidelined for two days, I can’t wait to do it again someday.

More Information

Fun Fact: The Drake Passage is often considered a border between the Atlantic & Pacific Oceans!

Motion Sickness Remedies I used:  Sailors’ Secret Ginger TabletsSea-Band Wristbands, and Motion Sickness Patches. If you’re really hurting and don’t mind being drowsy, just go for Dramamine.

My Tour Operator: One Ocean Expeditions, who I can’t recommend highly enough. They rock and if I return to Antarctica I’ll almost certainly go with them again.

 

Disclaimer: The Amazon links in this article are affiliate links. I’ll receive a commission if you buy these products with these links, but I only link to products I’ve used and recommend. 

Sailing the Drake Passage - The Roughest Seas in the World!

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4 comments

    1. Thanks Kereta! I actually felt guilty that I didn’t get more dramatic pictures of the storm, but I was too busy lying in bed trying not to be sick!

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