We departed Ushuaia and headed south by way of the Beagle Channel. By the following morning, we were well into the infamous Drake Passage.
Passengers in the know called the rough sea we encountered the “Drake Lake.” The “Drake Shake” is far more formidable, I was told. While it may have been true, it didn’t matter. I spent the early morning kneeling on my bathroom tile. Sweaty and cursing my feeble inner ear, I took the seasick pills the ship’s doctor gave me and spent the early hours in my room.
Drake Passage 1, Susan 0.
Challenges like this are part and parcel of a true adventure. While unpleasant at the time, I never felt unsafe, and I would deal with the seasickness again for an experience as rich as this. The good news: I––and most of my fellow guests––developed my sea legs quickly, and while we met with two-story waves and gale-force winds during the cruise, I wasn’t sick again.
If consider the Drake Passage a hard pass, don’t fret. Aurora and other cruise lines offer fly-in options that land on King George Island in the South Shetland archipelago. It’s a proverbial hop, skip, and a jump from the Antarctic Peninsula.
Landings and Conservation
On our second day at sea, we began our firsts. We spotted our first iceberg at 9:45 am, and our first landing was a couple of hours later.
We went on two landings a day unless at sea or if weather conditions became prohibitive. The weather at the bottom of the world is mighty volatile and a major factor in the day-to-day decisions on an Antarctic expedition. Flexibility in our expectations was essential. For travelers who like guarantees or strict schedules met, Antarctica is not for you.
Before our first excursion, we vacuumed our outerwear and packs to comply with biosecurity protocols. Dirt, seeds other contaminants must be hoovered to ensure we didn’t track anything we shouldn’t onto the beach.
“A number of alien species have been introduced to the subantarctic and Antarctica,” our Expedition Leader John Kirkwood told us.
In 2004, 100 penguins died from a bacterium transferred from one colony to another by mud. As a precaution, we scrubbed our muck boots (provided by Aurora) and stepped in a liquid decontaminant before and after each landing.
On land, visitors are limited to a maximum of 100 to reduce the impact on the terrain. The Greg Mortimer is a small expedition ship with an average 126-135 capacity (Any ship under 200 guests is considered “small”), including a group of kayakers who paid extra for the pleasure. We easily stayed within the 100 maximum, allowing us to stay longer. Larger ships must conduct landings in shifts, limiting the time for guests to explore.