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Surviving the Drake : Seasickness on the Drake Passage Crossing

In planning a trip to Antarctica, you have the typical four factors to consider

  1. Cost / Financial Impact:
    How much money can you afford for this tour? (See my Antarctica Cost Breakdown page)
  2. Timeframe:
    How long you actually want to go for.  Typically North Americans get two weeks of vacation. This trip at a minimum will take your entire two weeks.
  3. Effort :
    Every day while on the continent, you’ll have two expeditions and hikes
  4. Diet:
    The ship’s kitchen will not have the luxury type food that you might be expecting. Be specific about the food that you want. They’ll always try to make something for you.

I would also consider a fifth and final factor, which is your ability to withstand seasickness. Seasickness on the Drake Passage is legendary in terms of how rough it can be on the body. For our trip, we chose to fly in one way from Punta Arenas into King George Island and then cruise back to Ushuaia. I cannot stress how much this decision was a good one for us. Not only does the fly first and cruise option work out well, it’s not that much of a price difference in the grand scheme of things. From a recommendation perspective, I cannot stress how much I recommend this option. This being said, you can get one of two experiences …

  • The Drake Shake (good and rocky)
  • The Drake Lake (boring and flat).

No one can predict which you will get as its all in the lap of Mother Nature. There are many videos out there that show how rough the passage can be, but nothing really prepares you for that reality. We were very fortunate on our cruise to have an experienced captain, who circumvented most of the bad weather by drawing up plans on the fly, but we still encountered large swells (up to 7ft) that created a generally rocky boat. I couldn’t imagine being here in the really rocky times with 30ft swells.

Seasickness on the Drake is a cross between a kick in the crotch after eating 4 day old yogurt while being in a blender …

Consider that when cruising or visiting the Antarctic, there are no overnight facilities for visitors to Antarctica (unless they are part of Antarctica’s many scientific stations or you do a “camping sleep over).  This means if you’re a “tourist” in Antarctica, your ship becomes your mode of transport and your place of residence during your entire stay on the continent.  Our ship carried 113 passengers, plus crew.  It contained a variety of cabins, a window-walled observation deck and lounge stocked with piles of cookies and a coffee/tea & cocoa machine, a small library with reference books and Antarctica-themed stories, a dining room that was sometimes used as a lecture hall. You’ll probably get to know all of the facilities while you’re stuck on that 2 day sail back.

I could only take pictures from inside the bridge! Because I was afraid of barfing on people!
Hanging out on the bridge will help you get over your seasickness, since you can watch the horizon

Here is what we had planned for two days …

Tips to get you through the Drake Crossing

  • Don’t drink too much alcohol. It won’t help at all.
  • Sleep through it. The onboard doctor will have tons of drugs to get you through this.
  • Buy your seasickness patches (Scopolamine)
  • Hang out in the middle of the ship and play cards all day. Being in the middle of the ship will buffer you from a lot of the choppy seas. It’s the most stable part of the ship.
  • Avoid the front of the ship. If you can get a room away from the front of the ship, this will help you tremendously.
  • Always stay hydrated by drinking a lot of water.
  • If you must walk around, you can hang out in the bridge of the ship. Watching the horizon from the bridge will also help you beat the seasickness.
  • Use the time in the center of the ship to work on your photos, blog or whatever medium you’re going to record/chronicle your travels.
  • Attempting to read your iPad, Kindle or a book in your cabin will lead to a visit from the “Vomitorium Fairy” … so don’t read in your cabin
  • Choose a cabin as low down and as near to the middle as you can. It’s ironic that the most expensive cabins are higher up
  • Bring Ginger or Ginger tea as it is well known to counteract nausea

Here is a sample of what we had on our boat!

About Rishiray

Rishi Sankar is a Cloud HRMS Project Manager/ Solution Architect. Over the past 15+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 3 major consulting firms (IBM, Deloitte, Accenture). He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @rishiray and on Facebook at "Ah Trini Travelogue . He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at [email protected]

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