Now this is an adventure. We get on our ship, the ‘Ushuaia’, from (surprise) Ushuaia, right at the bottom tip of Argentina. As we are sailing out of the Beagle Channel towards Antarctica, we see a big cruise ship with a massive hole in the side. Apparently they’ve hit an iceberg and had to abandon the expedition. I start to have ‘Posiedon Adventure’ flashbacks.
The first thing we do on our ship is have an emergency drill. This is the drill: when the alarm goes, race to your cabin and put all your warm clothes on top of what you’re wearing, stuff extra socks in your pockets, wear everything you can and then put your waterproofs on top. It’s freezing out there. Take your life jacket and go to your assigned assembly point. There are 87 passengers and 2 lifeboats that carry 48 people each – although they look like 12 would be a tight fit. Put your life jacket on and queue up next to the lifeboat. The life jacket is so uncomfortable. It’s more of a flotation device really, designed to keep just your face out of the water. It’s hard to breathe when it’s on. In a real emergency, everyone gets into the lifeboats while still on the ship, then they get launched over the side. The theory is that it ‘usually’ takes an hour for a ship to sink. In the lifeboat there is some food and water but no seats. The discomfort and claustrophobia can only be imagined.
As we enter the Drake Passage all hell breaks loose. The ship is rolling so violently that it’s impossible to stand up or walk. Everyone gets into their bunks and stays there for the next 48 hours. Everyone except for JH that is, the salty old sea dog, who is bouncing around the ship telling tall tales to the occasional person crazy enough to venture out of bed. In the cabin, everything that’s not bolted down goes flying around, including the metal chair and the life jackets. There are bars on the bunks to stop you from falling out but you still have to hold on with both hands and feet. The porthole is under the waves. Many people are very seasick. I’m glad I got pharmaceuticals in Ushuaia. Forget patches, bands and ginger tablets – this is a job for Drammamine. There’s a doctor on board who’s run off her feet. All meals are cancelled and staff periodically deliver sandwiches and water to people’s bedsides.
[There are no photos of this part].
On the third night we enter the Gerlache Strait and all is calm. We crawl blinking out of our bunks. Icebergs and penguins start to appear out of the fog and suddenly it’s all worth it. It’s as if we’ve sailed through the wardrobe into Narnia and entered a magical winter wonderland.