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.