Adventure, Antarctica, Destination

Into the Dreaded Drake Passage

Drake Passage on Bark Europa

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.

Drake Passage Waves on Bark Europa

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.

Waves Coming Overboard on Bark Europa

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.

Bark Europa in the Open Ocean

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.

Ice in Neko Harbour

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.

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35 thoughts on “Into the Dreaded Drake Passage

  1. Anita Archer says:

    I’m so sorry you got sick and got soooo sick! But I’m glad you wrote about it! With your adventuresome spirit, it seems like nothing is too tough or impossible. It almost seems like life is just a bed of roses! But, no, you’re one of us! And, like us, you need friends! And that’s what it’s all about!

    1. Lesley says:

      There are so many things that I struggle with during my adventures. I hope I don’t come across as only writing about the good stuff. I try to include all the ups and downs of my experiences, even if it means writing about crying in a public park because I miss my daughter or falling at going aloft on the ship because of irrational fears.

      I’ve been on an amazing journey the last couple years and I will always push the limits but I won’t always succeed… the first time. 😉

  2. Janice Stringer says:

    Fantastic post about the realities of sea travel and the opportunities and possibilities it provides. Loved your words and pictures Lesley!

    1. Lesley says:

      Thanks Janice.

      While it was the greatest adventure of my life, I didn’t want to only share the positives. Even though it was the sickest I ever felt in my life, I did feel like positive relationships developed because of it; not just with Andy either. There was a huge sense of comradery among everyone on the ship. We were in it together. It was our home at sea.

      🙂

  3. Janice Stringer says:

    Fantastic post about the realities of sea travel and the opportunities and possibilities it provides. Loved your words and pictures Lesley!

    1. Lesley says:

      Thanks Janice.

      While it was the greatest adventure of my life, I didn’t want to only share the positives. Even though it was the sickest I ever felt in my life, I did feel like positive relationships developed because of it; not just with Andy either. There was a huge sense of comradery among everyone on the ship. We were in it together. It was our home at sea.

      🙂

  4. Kirsty says:

    I dread of visiting Antarctica one day but I get accused of getting seasick in the bath! If I get the opportunity I definitely think I’ve got to seek out a more stable boat. And one that I can just lie in my cabin all through the Drake Passage!

    1. Lesley says:

      If you go on a cruise ship, they have stabilizers to help with the motion. I normally don’t get sick and I love sailing so I wanted to make the journey as much a part of the adventure as the arrival. It was the greatest travel adventure of my life. 🙂

  5. Kirsty says:

    I dread of visiting Antarctica one day but I get accused of getting seasick in the bath! If I get the opportunity I definitely think I’ve got to seek out a more stable boat. And one that I can just lie in my cabin all through the Drake Passage!

    1. Lesley says:

      If you go on a cruise ship, they have stabilizers to help with the motion. I normally don’t get sick and I love sailing so I wanted to make the journey as much a part of the adventure as the arrival. It was the greatest travel adventure of my life. 🙂

  6. Jen Joslin says:

    What an amazing adventure! So sorry you got sick, but glad it was worth it in the end 😀 We would love to do this someday!

  7. Jen Joslin says:

    What an amazing adventure! So sorry you got sick, but glad it was worth it in the end 😀 We would love to do this someday!

  8. What an amazing experience, Lesley! I envy you so much 😉 I would love to do that kind of thing too, but I know I would definitely get seasick too!

  9. What an amazing experience, Lesley! I envy you so much 😉 I would love to do that kind of thing too, but I know I would definitely get seasick too!

  10. Wowwww…
    What an amazing adventure and so well written… Congrats!!
    Love it from the beginning to end, actually now I want to know more about your time in Antarctica and all this surreal experience!
    Tks for sharing the best and the worst.
    Saf journey,
    Nat

  11. Wowwww…
    What an amazing adventure and so well written… Congrats!!
    Love it from the beginning to end, actually now I want to know more about your time in Antarctica and all this surreal experience!
    Tks for sharing the best and the worst.
    Saf journey,
    Nat

  12. Dana says:

    I want to visit Antarctica, but don’t think I could handle sailing the Drake Passage. I get seasick on pretty much any boat, even in calm waters. It sounds like you had a wonderful experience and met great people. You survived the sailing – without throwing yourself overboard and ended up having an amazing adventure.

  13. Dana says:

    I want to visit Antarctica, but don’t think I could handle sailing the Drake Passage. I get seasick on pretty much any boat, even in calm waters. It sounds like you had a wonderful experience and met great people. You survived the sailing – without throwing yourself overboard and ended up having an amazing adventure.

  14. So worth the sickness I would say! the view is fantastic! how did you get back?

  15. So worth the sickness I would say! the view is fantastic! how did you get back?

  16. zof says:

    Sorry to hear that you were sick, but the article sounds like you managed to have an extraordinary, beautiful experience anyway. It sounds like a fantastic, wild place. I’d love to go one day. I hate cold, but still, I feel like it’s worth it. Also, the last picture is awesome. I could frame it and hang it somewhere.

  17. zof says:

    Sorry to hear that you were sick, but the article sounds like you managed to have an extraordinary, beautiful experience anyway. It sounds like a fantastic, wild place. I’d love to go one day. I hate cold, but still, I feel like it’s worth it. Also, the last picture is awesome. I could frame it and hang it somewhere.

  18. Wow, this was like straight out of a movie! I would feel like a pirate at sea! 🙂 Love the photos! Now I totally want to go do this!

  19. Wow, this was like straight out of a movie! I would feel like a pirate at sea! 🙂 Love the photos! Now I totally want to go do this!

  20. Anda says:

    OMG! This was quite an adventure. You must be quite daring to embark on such a ship. Nothing terrifies me more than being on the vast ocean during a storm. Just looking your pictures (gorgeous, by the way!) gives me the creeps. Interesting experience, anyway.

  21. Anda says:

    OMG! This was quite an adventure. You must be quite daring to embark on such a ship. Nothing terrifies me more than being on the vast ocean during a storm. Just looking your pictures (gorgeous, by the way!) gives me the creeps. Interesting experience, anyway.

  22. I know the seasickness feeling all too well! I also have had the unfortunate experience of throwing up in a sink. But, I couldn’t agree with you more, for some reason, going through that personal hell made the trip at the end so rewarding. It looks like an amazing experience. How did you fare on the return trip?

    1. Lesley says:

      One day of the return got me but it ended quickly. Where were you headed when you got sick?

  23. I know the seasickness feeling all too well! I also have had the unfortunate experience of throwing up in a sink. But, I couldn’t agree with you more, for some reason, going through that personal hell made the trip at the end so rewarding. It looks like an amazing experience. How did you fare on the return trip?

    1. Lesley says:

      One day of the return got me but it ended quickly. Where were you headed when you got sick?

  24. What an amazing experience to be part of a crew on a ship like that! and in Antarctica of all places! I can’t imagine seasickness but i know how much being hung-over sucks, i can only imagine it be worse!

    1. Lesley says:

      Haha Lindsay. It is very similar to being hung-over and I know that feeling a little too well. The only difference is I deserve the hang over but I didn’t deserve the sea sickness. 😉

  25. What an amazing experience to be part of a crew on a ship like that! and in Antarctica of all places! I can’t imagine seasickness but i know how much being hung-over sucks, i can only imagine it be worse!

    1. Lesley says:

      Haha Lindsay. It is very similar to being hung-over and I know that feeling a little too well. The only difference is I deserve the hang over but I didn’t deserve the sea sickness. 😉

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