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“It’s the price of entry.”

That’s one of the expedition guides commenting to me—we were chatting about the time I’d lost while below deck.

But first things first.  Let me tell you, with complete honestly, that I was only truly uncomfortable once.  For about three hours.  Apparently I’d turned pale enough to worry my roommates.  Off they went to fetch the ship’s doctor.  Then, thanks to the medication he gave me and an hour or two of sleep, I felt a million times better—so much so that I went up to the dining room, absolutely ravenous.

The rest of the time I was just sleepy.  I was using the patch (Scopolamine) for seasickness and it was making me drowsy as all get out, so much so that I dozed through most of the first day.  I felt the swells, certainly, and I slid up and down in my bunk each time the water hit the ship—but the crew was relaxed and the wind was behind us, pushing us across the Drake, helping us make excellent time.

And then, after that brief period in which I wished it was all over, it was, well, all over!  We had entered protected waters.  The surrounded peaks were reflected in the mirror of the channel and I feasted on toast and brie.

If you go out, you must come back, of course.  Prior to our return to Ushuaia, I chatted with the doctor and, again, I slapped on a new dose of Scopolamine and slept away the first day of the crossing.  But by morning of the following day, I was hungry.  And bored, dreadfully bored of being holed up in the cabin.  And, even though there was still a swell, I was fine.  Completely fine.  And, again, ravenous.

I went up on the deck.  There was still a decent swell going; the ship was still moving.  Sometimes I looked down at the horizon.  Sometimes I looked up.  And I ate my cereal with yogurt, and I went up to the observation deck and had a cup of tea.  And I was done, really done, with feeling even the tiniest bit unbalanced, even though the seas did not calm for another twelve hours.

But once those twelve hours had passed—oh, what an ocean!  We sat up on the stern deck behind the bridge, while the good ship Plancius slid across a slightly rippled sea.  The bridge protected us from the wind.  I fetched lattes from the coffee machine on the observation deck.  Dolphins threw spray into the air on the far horizon.  And all around us were the beautiful—and utterly calm—waters of the Drake Passage.  It was as though the ocean had decided we had done our time and wanted to give us this gift of a day of smooth sailing as a reward for our efforts.

There is, of course, no telling what the waters will be like should you make this trip yourself.  If you follow the news, you will read scary accounts of high seas and storms.  But it’s not a certainty.  I can tell you—from firsthand experience—that crossing the Drake is wildly variable.  And, sometimes, you will be blessed with good fortune—with a calm cobalt blue sea, with dolphins frolicking in the distance, and with coffee on the deck during a breezy afternoon filled with salt air and sunshine.

Related: Keeping a calm belly on rough seas.

Photo: Crossing the Drake, March 3, 2011 by Pam Mandel

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