The Drake gets Gnarley

Conditions in the passage have gotten a little rougher. At 20:30 last night we crossed the Antarctic convergence, where 8-9 degree waters of the north meet 2-3 degree waters of the south. Geographically, we are now in Antarctic waters. Since I last wrote the swell has become progressively more pronounced. Last night I spent some time on the top deck looking out over the ship’s bow as we navigated the waves. It was a lot different to Thursday night when we stood star gazing in comfortable clothing. Last night I was dressed in full wet weather gear, the wind was howling, the air was cold, spray was washing over the surface of the deck and I had to hold on tight to maintain balance. I loved it.

Overnight the swell picked up and I awoke this morning to an invitation on the tannoy up to the captain’s bridge. I eagerly got out of bed to watch the ship battle the swell from the bridge, with the occasional wave spraying up onto the windows. All decks are closed, with the exception of the smoker’s area on the lower deck outside the lounge. We are in a storm of force 8, but I am advised the swell is coming from a larger storm, with winds of up to 80 to 90 knots reported on the South Shetland Islands (where we are heading). The waves have had a sufficient period of time to become organised, and the report from the bridge is that we have been in waves of up to 40 foot, peak to trough. This afternoon we were in “hove to” mode (I think that’s how you say it) which means we had two engines running, but were not actually going anywhere. The aim was just to let the swell pass and wait for flatter sea. This is the first time that Robert Swan has been in such a position. I believe we are moving now, but only at 5 or 6 knots until the waves subside in the early hours of tomorrow morning. It has set us back a bit, but not by too much.

All that aside, things onboard are rosy. The Ioffe is more than equipped to handle these conditions with its stabilisers and experienced crew. The ship is swaying wildly as I sit in my cabin, and there is the odd crash and creak as the waves test the strength of the vessel, but nothing has stopped us from enjoying the usual three course meal in the dining room and a customary drink at the bar.

This evening we gathered in the dining room to hear the first part of Robert Swan’s story and his trip to the South Pole in the footsteps of Amundsen and Scott, the first unassisted walk of its kind. We learned about his seven years in London scrambling for the funds and resources to make such a journey and the first half of the expedition itself, up to the sinking of the Southern Quest which was due to take the team home on their return from the pole. It is utterly inspiring, listening to the achievements of Rob and his team, whilst bobbing around in the middle of the Drake Passage in a force 8 storm.

There was definitely light snow when I sat outside the lounge on the lower deck earlier, and according to Jumper the temperature has now dropped to sub-zero. Signs that we are getting closer to the continent. I’m just off to relax in the lounge for a bit before bed.

Like most people seem to have done, I spent a lot of the day in bed. I haven’t been physically sick as many have, but I am certainly not immune to feeling the effects of sea sickness. The medication I am taking also causes drowsiness, which doesn’t help. There’s a trade-off between feeling sick or feeling drowsy, both of which seem to lead to more time in bed. At least I am not missing much with the closure of the bridge and all decks outside. As a result, I am now wide awake. I am growing accustomed to feeling below par. Hopefully I will be able to get a reasonable amount of sleep tonight in order to be fresh and alert tomorrow morning when we are scheduled to arrive at our first destination on the peninsular.

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