Crossing the Drake.
For the vast majority of intrepid travellers venturing to Antarctica, crossing the infamous Drake is a but a necessary evil. Sure, there are fly-cruise-fly options that’d allow you to bypass this unforgivable stretch of sea, but unless you have oodles and oodles of money to burn, it is unlikely that this will be an achievable option.
The Drake Passage is the enormous body of water stretching from Cape Horn (at the bottom of South America) to the South Shetland Islands. At 800km from Cape Horn to Antarctica, crossing the Drake is the shortest way on Earth to cross from Antarctica to any other landmass.
So why is the Drake such a famous ocean crossing?
Well, when you cross, you can expect to get either the ‘Drake Lake’ or the ‘Drake Shake’.
Basically, you’ll either have such incredible weather that sailing through this passage will be like gliding over glass – or, it will be the most rough, ridiculous and rocky weather imaginable.
Of course, my experience was of the latter!
So here is a little guide to help you survive (and thrive) while crossing the drake passage.
Sure, you can hope for incredible weather, but it does pay to be realistic and realise that you are just as (if not more likely) for things to err on the rockier side of life. But by the same token, don’t psych yourself out too much.
Sure the weather may be dodgy, but if you convince yourself that you won’t cope, there’s a much higher chance that you will indeed have a miserable time.
Just be realistic about what to expect, and don’t make it to be something worse in your head than it will be in real life.
If you are prone to any form of motion sickness (or even if you aren’t) it absolutely pays to be well prepared and have a solid supply of anti nausea drugs.
I travelled with ginger tablets, dramamine, scopolamine, metoclopramide, ondansetron and stemetil.
So what do each of these drugs do?
Ginger tablets are the only option of those listed above that are on the more holistic side, so if you are opposed to western meds, this will be one of the few options for you. However, ginger is only mildly effective, and if you get stuck with a rip-roaring case of seasickness, you might find yourself praying to the porcelain gods that you’d brought something a bit stronger.
Dramamine is another common over the counter drug used to treat nausea and motion sickness. I personally don’t love dramamine as it makes me very drowsy, but it does work, so it is certainly worth having in your arsenal of meds.
Scopolamine is one of the most commonly used drugs for motion sickness and it can be found in tablet form or as patches – and it is incredibly effective – but you need to be careful not to overdose yourself. I wore a scopolamine patch for three days whilst also taking the tablets, and I ended up with completely blurred vision. I couldn’t read anything at all!
Whilst the previously mentioned drugs are to prevent motion sickness from starting – metoclopramide, stemetil and ondansetron are used to treat straight up nausea. Ondansetron (also known as zofran) is my personal favourite as I find it the most effective. It is worth noting though that this is not the most affordable of drugs – so metoclopramide may be a better option.
Try out a few methods
If you can’t manage your motion sickness with meds alone, there are tonnes of other methods you can try.
Some people swear by looking at the horizon, others say it’s best to just sleep through it, others say that those pressure point bracelet things work for them.
Personally, I find actually watching the boat go up and down over the waves to be incredibly helpful, but it certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – you just gotta find a way that works for you.
Make the most of the on board entertainment
Sure, the cruise ship will create an itinerary filled with lectures and activities to keep you busy on the way to Antarctica, but the people you meet on the ship will likely be your best form of entertainment.
When in doubt, head to the bar, strike up a conversation, make new friends and the hours will absolutely fly by!
Also, if the weather is truly hideous, set yourself up in the dining room and enjoy endless shrieks, belly laughs and entertainment as food, utensils, glassware and more literally go flying around the room.
Know that it isn’t forever
Regardless of how well prepared you are, you may just feel shitty while crossing the Drake.
Know that it isn’t forever, at the absolute worst it will only be two days of your life, and it is more than worth enduring to get to Antarctica.
We travelled in legitimate hurricane force winds for two days straight, and I would do it 100 times over to go back to Antarctica without any hesitation at all.
23 thoughts on “How To: Survive (and thrive) on the Drake Passage”
Thanks for this post. Antarctica is high on my bucket list but i’m definitely intimidated by the Drake.
A friend just went and said you just medicate yourself and if needed sleep for the two days.
Sounds like I just need to get over it because Antarctica is clearly worth it!
It is one of those things that sure, can be rough, but are always worse in your mind. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat!
Ah yes, just drink until you don’t know if it’s the sea or the alcohol making you nauseous 😉
Hahaha such wise words right there!
Anyone who has had seasickness will empathise with that post…I went on a cruise to Norway a few years back and found I was mostly fine with the waves until I moved out of sight of the ocean. Not a nice feeling.
Anyway, I have a question…in your heart, do you really think it is right that tourists can go to Antarctica 🇦🇶? I have mixed feelings about it…part of me would like to go, but part of me really thinks that pristine wilderness should stay that way, and there should be more of it in the world…
Honestly, I don’t think having tourists in Antarctica makes it less pristine… the lengths we went to preserve the environment were extensive. I think that as humans we are doing far more damage to Antarctica when we are far away from it – climate change is real and it is definitely affecting the Antarctic continent. If keeping Antarctica pristine is your passion, I think encouraging people to live greener lives would definitely be the way to do it.
Great answer, thank you. For my part, I’ve been trying to do things like cutting out plastic bags, straws etc and reusing items…it’s surprising how hard it can be at times to back out of something so entrenched in culture. I hope we can all somehow preserve the planet for all residents before it is too late…but I’m not sure mankind is capable of such behaviours and altruism.
I fear the same thing… I worry that future generations will exist in a world completely different from the one we have now… and not in a good way.
Its not the Drake passage that intimidates me, I’ve cruised on heavy seas before, it more the small ships that do the crossing on that heavy sea!
We were in an icebreaker, so i was lucky to never feel the fear of being in a small vessel!
These are wonderful tips as I am doing Antartica next year. I’m not nervous about the heavy seas as I have cruised on them before, it’s more the size of the ships heading there in the rough seas I am nervous about!
How did you get there? Is this a commercial cruise you took? It looks amazing and is top of my list. Congrats on getting there… I wish I knew the percentage of people that actually visit Antarctica haha- im sure you are one in a very large number!
I got there with a commercial cruise ship. I cruised with Oceanwide Expeditions and I’d highly recommend them!
Great experience and yes all the seasick meds would be in my bag also. Be prepared for the worst and pray for the best. Happy travels.
Absolutely! Far better to be over prepared than under!
Great post and very informative, and with a sense of humour as well. Personally, I do not even know whether I will ever get to Antartica.
Was on a boat once from Hamburg to Felixstowe so many years ago, but the memory of getting seasick is an everlasting one. And that was only for barely a few hours, comparatively. And yes, I paid homage to the porcelain gods.
On the brighter side, we did not have to watch those utensils flying. Otherwise, would not know whether to laugh or to cry.
Looking forward to read more of your travels.
The utensils flying were a highlight for me, so entertaining! I hope you do make it to Antarctica one day, and I hope that the Drake behaves for you!
Antarctica is such a dream place and all the adventures while you reach this place … Oh, a real adventure of a lifetime.
It really is the stuff of dreams and wonder… I’ll never forget it!
Thanks for the great tips. Is there a particular time of the year in which the seas are better or worse, or is this just chance with the storms?
It is the total luck of the draw! I randomly met a group of people in Santiago airport who had been on the Ortelius voyage that embarked the day we disembarked and they reported that they had experienced the Drake being very smooth sailing… lucky bastards haha
Very nice. Thanks.