Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Antarctica trip Day 6: The Drake Passage (still.)

I used the word ‘still’ in the title on purpose. Look at the sea. Today we well and truly had the Drake Lake! Also, as promised, the bird photos I’ll be using were taken by other people – these photos are shots taken while we were crossing the Drake Passage.

I slept pretty well, though once or twice a ‘swish swish’ noise floated from somewhere. It didn’t disturb me much and I was woken by the morning announcement by Pippa , with her Scottish accent:

“Goood morning everyone! It’s 7:30 on a beautiful day in the Drake Passage. We have calm seas, blue sky and a forecast top of 3C. Breakfast will be served in 15 minutes. After breakfast, we will have the mandatory briefing on how to board and disembark from the zodiacs, followed by a lecture by Josh about the race to the South Pole. Have a good day!”

We all met in the dining room. SamFrank was there and I realised that this was the first time I’d seen him since the day we set sail. He sat down at the table next to me.

Breakfast started out great! A huge buffet with all sorts of options to suit everybody. Intending to get my money’s worth, I sat down in front of a plate brimming with bacon, scrambled eggs, fruit, yoghurt – even a breakfast pastry.

As I started tucking in, I made the mistake of saying to SamFrank, “I don’t think I saw you yesterday.”

“No, you didn’t see me,” he said earnestly. “I was very seasick. Every time I put anything in my mouth I vomited it straight back up.”

“Oh no, you poor thing,” I said. “Didn’t you buy a patch from the doctor?”

“No, I didn’t,” he said. “At first I thought I was fine, but then I felt some vomit come into my mouth at dinner so I left very quickly.”

Um… this isn’t the sort of conversation I wanted to have over breakfast. As he kept talking about vomiting, I began to look at my scrambled eggs with a queasy eye.

“At first I was bringing up food, but soon it was just watery…”

“Hey, Frank!” I interrupted. “Let’s not talk about vomiting, ok? It’s not something I want to get in my head when we’re at sea. I’m feeling great and I’d like to keep it that way.”

“Ok, yes,” he said. “But what you don’t understand is that as soon as I tried to eat anything it just came right back up ag…”

“Frank! You’re still talking about it! Please stop!”

This time he got the message and after a few moments of conversation with the others at my table, I was able to look at my breakfast, including the scrambled eggs, with a renewed appetite.

Eneko then needed a point to be clarified.

“So, if you need to go to the bathroom when you are on land, that is ok, no?” he asked.

“NO!!!!” we all said at once.

“Oh, not for number twos, of course. But if you need to pee in the snow, that is alright, yes?”

“NO!!!” we all said again.

“You cannot pee in the snow,” said Morgan firmly. “If you need to go that badly, they will take you back to the ship on a zodiac.

I thought of my pee bottle and felt a little smug. I’m really hoping that I don’t have to use it and can bring it back to use as an actual water bottle.

This breakfast was turning out to be quite the exploration of bodily functions…

(This is a Wandering Albatross, for those who’ve read ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.’)

The bottom two decks are below sea level, so when we are getting in and out of the zodiacs we’ll be doing so by two big doors at sea level on deck 3, which is also the deck that our cabin is on. How convenient!

In the mandatory lecture on zodiac safety we were told that when getting in and out of the zodiac, or whenever we need some help steadying ourselves on sea or land, we’ll need to grab each other’s arms just past the wrist and hold on to each other like that. Simply holding each other’s hands isn’t as strong.

When we get into the zodiac we have to sit on the edge straight away, then slide on our bums over to where we’re going to sit. Same thing when we’re ready to get off. You don’t stand, you slide over to where you’re going to manoeuvre your way out.

Backpacks are on your back when you get in, then once you’re seated you take them off and put them at your feet. Put them back on again just before you disembark.

We were then reminded about the strict rules against sitting, kneeling or lying down on the snow, to try and mitigate the risk of avian flu, which is decimating bird numbers in the northern hemisphere.

Immediately after that reminder, we had the stupidest question of the whole voyage, asked by some doofus guy with an American accent:

“ Can we do snow angels in the snow if we move away from the penguin nests?”

Heavens above. The saintliness of our team leader, Pippa!

“No you can’t,” she said patiently, ” because that would necessitate lying down…”

It must be so hard to answer stupidity like this with courtesy and patience. This is why I like teaching teenagers. I can turn and bang my head against the whiteboard when I get questions at this asinine level and we can all have a good laugh.

Listening to the Scott /Amundsen lecture, I looked out and saw my first albatross soaring against the deep blue of the sea and sky. Drake Lake today. 

The lecture about the race to the South Pole was really interesting. The guy included lots of photos and gave lots of information giving us the context of the situation and also what happened afterwards. When I was a child I remember seeing an old black and white movie called ’Scott and the Antarctic’ so his end didn’t come as a surprise. Actually, I still remember the scene when Oates sacrificed himself so the rest of them had a better chance of survival.

Just before lunch I had a great idea. I grabbed my coat and lurked around the dining room door and when it opened I was the second one inside. I ate quickly and then made my way to deck 7, where the bridge is located.

The ship has an open bridge policy, so unless they’re in the middle of navigating through really bad weather, people can pop up there and have a look around at pretty much any time.

To my surprise, I was the only one there. Well, apart from the guy actually steering the ship, of course. We had a bit of a chat, in between him doing his duties. He’s from Russia and spends half his year up North doing Arctic cruises, then he comes down here for Antarctic cruises.

I spent some time there just gazing at the horizon. There was nothing to break the even line between sea and sky no matter where you looked. It felt like we were in the middle of a huge bowl. The sea was placid, birds were swooping around and it was all so peaceful. It’s strange to think that by this time tomorrow we could be seeing icebergs.

After I’d seen enough, I zipped up my jacket and went out on deck. Not 2 minutes later, I saw my first whale. It wasn’t leaping out of the water or anything… I saw the back breach the surface of the water and a spray of seawater was flung upwards. Then, about 20 seconds later, its back broke the water again.

Then, as if to really hammer home that this trip is really happening, it started to snow. OMG.  Zoom in. Those white flecks are snowflakes. This is only the 4th time I’ve seen snow falling. I was very excited, much to the bemusement of a guy from Wisconsin.

“This isn’t really a snowfall,” he said. “This is nothing.”

I didn’t care that it only lasted about 4 minutes and then vanished into clear skies again. It’s snow and I’m definitely counting it!

I didn’t care that it only lasted about 4 minutes and then vanished into clear skies again. It’s snow and I’m definitely counting it!

My hands were so cold from trying to take photos of the birds following the ship, but the rest of me was toasty warm. We were warned that windchill is a factor here and clearly the jacket I hired was good at stopping the wind. 

Before the afternoon lecture on seals, we were treated to ice cream cones. Very civilised. Then, when the lecture finished at 5:30, the call went out… 

… the first sighting of land! Smith Island was on the horizon. Suddenly, it’s real.

We’re almost there!

At dinner, we sat at the table next to Ming and her friends. She’s very easy to spot, because as soon as she set foot on the ship, she put on every layer of polar gear she brought with her and, to the best of my knowledge, she hasn’t taken it off. Her outer layer of Gortex is a bright yellow jacket, so on a ship where everyone is dressed in trackie dacks, jeans and light jumpers, she certainly stands out.

Corinna leaned into my ear, after looking around to ensure no one could hear her.

“Hey Frogdancer, didn’t you and Morgan say that SamFrank said that he worked for the FBI?” she asked.

“That’s what he said when we dropped off the luggage,” I said. “Why?”

Her face lit up with merriment.

“One of the American guys told me that he said that he was in the special forces… as a general!”

We both started laughing.

“Only a couple of days ago he was a captain,” I said. “That’s quite the promotion!”

“The guy said that SamFrank said that he couldn’t tell him what his current mission was, but that he couldn’t be photographed on social media.”

We couldn’t wait to tell the others. And yes, they enjoyed it as much as we did.

Morgan was originally going to share a quad cabin with SamFrank as one of the roommates, but he and Baptiste were allocated different cabins by the ship’s staff, so Morgan organised a swap.

Eneko is stuck in SamFrank’s cabin, but the boys, much to their relief, are not.

We stayed up pretty late – this ‘no sunset until well after midnight’ thing really fools you – and went to bed knowing that when we woke up, the view from our porthole was going to be very different.

I wonder if there’ll be an iceberg?


  1. IM-PCP

    Your daily updates are so interesting! I’m so happy for you that you actually got to go. (Also, embarrassed for my snow angel loving countryman.)

    • FrogdancerJones

      Haha! Stupid comes in every country, more’s the pity.
      After he read this post, Morgan reminded me of an even more stupid question that a Vietnamese woman asked. I’ll reveal it tomorrow.

  2. sandyg61

    Can’t wait to read the next SamFrank story. … But really to wake to seeing land will be so exciting.
    You are reminding me a little of our Alaska cruise and our day in Glacier Bay. I woke to see the National Park Ranger’s boat pull alongside the ship and the day was filled with glaciers all around us and a wonderful commentary throughout the day. I was lucky enough to film calving so I can watch it again when I like.
    I would have been excited by the snow as well, coming from Brisbane.
    PS Mikhail takes some great bird shots. I love No 3.

    • FrogdancerJones

      Mikhail is so lovely in sharing his shots.
      I’m thinking that, once Christmas is over, I’ll buy one of his photos to hang in the man cabe.

  3. Carmel

    Love your Holiday Story and Photographs Frogdancer
    Looking forward to more chapters 🙂

  4. John Nicholson

    This is a great read. I can’t wait for the next episode! Thank you for sharing.

    • FrogdancerJones

      Thanks. I have to go through MANY photos so it might take a little while longer.

  5. Amy

    Thanks for your updates – I’m really enjoying reading about your trip. I can’t wait to see the shots of land, out there in the middle of nowhere. I hope the doctor on board has mental health experience – it sounds as though SamFrank may need some support.

    • FrogdancerJones

      I think that SamFrank was having the time of his life – it was his cabin mates who probably needed the support!

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