Home » Your guide to tackling Drake Passage, the gateway to Antarctica

Your guide to tackling Drake Passage, the gateway to Antarctica

They say you must serve Antarctica. I do not know who ‘they’ are, but I assume that what “they” mean is that you must sail across a mighty body of the open sea to reach the Antarctic Peninsula. And not just any open ocean – this is Drake Passage: the only unobstructed stream of ocean on Earth.

The circumpolar flow of the southern ocean moves clockwise around the bottom of the planet, taking speeds, storms and hurricanes along the way. To make it even more exciting, when the southernmost tip of South America and the northernmost tip of the Antarctic Peninsula face each other like Michaelangelo’s angels in the Sistine Chapel, creating a landmass funnel through which the wild circumpolar currents must then push themselves.

Now I have to be honest with you: I got seasick along the Amalfi Coast in the Mediterranean. I used to get seasick on the ferry from Dover to Calais. I get nauseous on the Manly Ferry as it passes the heads of Sydney Harbor. I’ve even been known to get car sick in the back of taxis.

So I was definitely expecting some issues with Drake Passage. But it’s been my lifelong dream to visit Antarctica, so I decided to put on my big girl pants and take care of everything Drake could throw at me. The important thing to remember about Drake is this: it’s worth it. Because at the end of a challenging journey, you will be rewarded with the last unspoiled wilderness on the planet. Not a bad barter.

And here are the experiences I have learned:

Get some seasickness medicine from your doctor before you travel

Unless you’re some kind of master and commander, you’ll probably feel a little nauseous. Although it is not full-blown bedridden seasickness, most passengers on a cruise to Antarctica get sick. And no, the little seasick bracelets will not work here. The good news is that every Intrepid Antarctic departure has a doctor on board and a doctor’s room filled with seasickness tablets. There will also be an opportunity to talk to the doctor before departure, to raise any concerns you may have.

Pack a bag before sailing

Going under deck every time you need something is the worst. When your ship leaves the Beagle Channel and you start going into open water, you will soon start to feel nauseous. And until then, moving around will not be very fun. Then pack a mini-survival bag that has everything you could want with you (your camera, purse, extra layers, etc.). The less you have to go downstairs, the more you will win The War on Seasickness.

Get some fresh air

The worst thing you can do in case of seasickness is to stay horizontal, in bed and not leave your room. When you feel nausea begin, try going to one of the outside tires and get some fresh air. Wandering albatrosses tend to follow our boat across Drake so you can take your mind off your stomach (and maybe get some good photos at the same time). There are penguins and icebergs to see while we sail. Crossing the Dragon is all part of the Antarctic experience, so you might as well start experiencing it as soon as possible.

Keep an eye on the horizon and a hand on a stable rail (apparently)

This is designed to fool your senses into thinking you are stable. That ‘you have it, right?’ feeling. By staring out at the horizon, your eyes and ears are apparently calibrated to make you think you are on a stable surface, and the hand on a sturdy surface is meant to do the same.

Stay away from booze

It’s all too easy to get into the cruises of cruise life on your first night; you leave the Beagle Channel, everything is ordinary, the atmosphere is buzzing with anticipation – oh, let’s celebrate a naughty champagne! Do not do this unless you would like your drink to visit you again in a few hours. Alcohol is the worst enemy of the war on seasickness.


The good news

The good news is that the Drake passage is limited, and for every moment of illness you experience, just remember that you are getting closer to the frozen continent at the end of the world. The dragon is a real rite of passage, and once you reach Antarctica, you will know that you have earned it. It is our experience that most travelers get nausea on the road towards Antarctica, but very few get similar symptoms on the way home (your body has then had time to adjust to the boat).

Our ship, Ocean Endeavor, also has an ice class of 1B. This means that it is a dedicated polar vessel with hydraulic stabilizers to keep the ship horizontal (like) in turbulent water. It’s not like the ferries and cruise ships you’ve used in the past. Try to relax on board – you are in very good hands.

As soon as you reach the sub-Antarctic islands and the Antarctic Peninsula, the water will calm down and you will start to feel like a billion dollars – there is no happier person than one who has seen the inside of the seasickness hell and come back from the edges.

Ready for a real adventure? Check out our Antarctic tours over here.

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