20th - 22nd December - Drake Passage
Having waited for years since first realising that it is possible and months since booking, finally I was visiting Antarctica! The night before embarking I met two Canadians who had just returned and they spent the evening regaling me with tales of their trip. I was far too excited to sleep. The only instance I can remember ever anticipating so eagerly is awaiting Santa on Christmas Eve when I was younger.
Once on the Maryshev, the crew brought the bags up and I unpacked. Having spent the past three months backpacking it was a joy to have a wardrobe. My cabinmate, Daria from Russia, had been looking out our porthole which faced the bow. I could hear a hullabaloo outside and assumed it was a regular part of loading supplies until Daria informed me that a passenger had `gone for a swim´. Somehow the gangplank had become unfettered as Lee was re-crossing it to take photos from the dock. He plunged down into the cold waters of Ushuaia port but amazingly was unhurt, albeit rather chilled.
The crew acted quickly to rescue and look after him. So quickly in fact that the fire brigade with diver on board arrived about five minutes too late to be of any use. During his impromptu swim he had lost his glasses and camera but the first mate lent him a camera for the duration and another passenger had spare glasses of a similar prescription. Despite this inauspicious beginning we were soon on our way.
After a quick briefing on safety including a lifeboat drill and a talk on the proper conduct when visiting Antarctica we sat down to our first meal. Myself and my tablemates enjoyed rather too much wine so I can attest to the fact that being severely hungover while crossing the dreaded Drake Passage is not a pleasant feeling. Luckily, our crossing was relatively calm but the numbers eating still dwindled due to suffering sea-sickness. There were only two chefs on board and how they managed to provide all the passengers, staff and crew with such a high standard of food for the duration, I don’t know.
The crossing offered us the opportunity to attend lectures and get to know our shipmates. There were only about fifty passengers so it was easy to mix. Each time you went up on deck there were seabirds flying nearby. It was amazing to see how close they fly to the waves. It is almost as if they can sense how large a wave will get. Either that or they have fabulous reflexes. Soon it became commonplace to spot an Albatross but it was never a banal experience. Hours could be passed watching them soar effortlessly.
We passed the Antarctic convergence where the temperate waters mix with the cold polar seas but there was no appreciable difference in the temperature aboard. After two full days of sailing we were given a briefing on the Zodiacs. These are the small, inflated, rubber boats with outboard motors which were used to ferry us ashore. You could feel the level of excitement heighten as we went to bed anticipating waking early for our first landing.