Not many people are able to say they’ve visited the vastness of the Antarctic continent. I didn’t think I’d ever be one of them. And I didn’t want to do it the simple way either. I figured if I was ever going to go all that way, I was going to do it right. I wanted to be part of the crew sailing there. I wanted to work for the journey and make it the greatest travel adventure of my life. Bark Europa gave me that opportunity. For 22 days, I sailed as part of the training crew on a tall ship to Antarctica. Rather than comfortably relaxing in my cabin while a cruise ship glided over the waves through the Drake Passage, I was in it; rocking, rolling…. Wave after wave, I helped set, shorten, take away and stow sails, man the helm, stand on watch, and actively be part of the adventure, but I wasn’t able to do any of that until I got over the debilitating seasickness. It got me good too. There is a saying about seasickness. At first you’re scared that you’re going to die and then you fear that you won’t. It was so miserable that I just wanted to throw myself into the icy waters and get it over with. I wished for death. Here’s how it all came about.
The crossing of the Drake Passage is approximately 450NM from the lighthouse on Cape Horn. The seas around Cape Horn have the reputation to be stormy and most passengers on Bark Europa experience seasickness. I was an idiot; I assumed I wouldn’t experience it. I didn’t even bring medication. I was too much of an adrenaline junkie to get seasickness. I piloted planes, did aerobatics in the sky, rode the most extreme roller coasters, and sailed on rocking ships. I was never more wrong in my life.
After my 4-hour watch on the first day in the Drake, I went inside and started to feel quite hot. Down the stairs I went to my cabin, holding the rails on the way. Was I dehydrated? Did I need to eat? Did someone turn on the heat? Nope, this was the beginning of seasickness.
I opened the door to my cabin and took off my jacket. Then, I went into the bathroom to pee. As soon as I sat down, I knew it was going to happen. It came over me so quickly that I couldn’t even get the garbage can open. I did the only thing I could do – I threw up in the sink. I was miserable. My stomach was doing back flips, I was sweating, I felt dizzy, and my eyes couldn’t focus. Again and again I threw up. It got in my hair and on my shirt and I started to cry because I was alone and I had no one to help me. I didn’t know anyone well enough to ask for help and I certainly wasn’t going to ask someone to clean up my throw up. The more I cried, the more sick I felt. So I took a breath and pulled myself together.
Damn it! I can’t leave that in the sink. And I can’t wash it down. I’m going to have to clean it out.
I picked up the garbage can and began wiping it out with toilet paper. The more I did, the more I threw up. I was in a cyclic Hell.
Finally, I made it to my bunk but I’d forgotten to turn off the light. It was shining in my face and there was no relief. With the light on, still dressed in my deck boots, two pairs of socks, offshore pants, and thermal layers, and the smell of puke all around, I closed my eyes and waited for death. It couldn’t come fast enough.
Luckily, I remembered to grab a plastic bag from the top bunk before laying down. The rest of the evening was spend like this.
At 4 am, Andy, my watch partner, knocked on the door to wake me for my shift.
Embarrassingly, I had to ask for help. Andy took out the garbage and pulled off my boots. He left for a couple minutes and returned with several bottles of water, a box of crackers, and a bucket. This was the beginning of a friendship that blossomed into a close connection. We started to rely on each other and stand by one other. I learned that you can’t go it alone. You need help when you’re on a ship for 22 days. You need friends and support and encouragement. I didn’t just find it with Andy either. There was a group of us that connected. We may have been from different corners of the Earth and different generations, but that’s what makes up a family.
There wasn’t a moment when I woke up and suddenly felt better. I had to suffer through it and drag myself out of bed. After about 24 hours of wanting to jump off the ship and end it all, I finally sat up and slowly changed my clothes. I made my way on deck and let the smell of the salt water and the fresh air do its magic.
Getting sick was miserable but it made me feel like I’d earned my passage to Antarctica. When it ended, I returned to the watch system and helped sail the ship. The darkness of sickness had made the light that much more glorious.
Would I recommended sailing the Drake Passage on Bark Europa rather than a cruse ship even after the Hell of seasickness? Without a doubt. Getting sick was a small price to pay for the most rewarding, challenging, beautiful travel adventure of my life. Once you experience Antarctica on Bark Europa, you will forever dream of being at sea.