Seasickness and the Drake Passage

Lorna Griggs

10 Apr 2017

Seasickness and the Drake Passage 

For most people, the most daunting thing about booking a trip to Antarctica is the thought of sailing across the Drake Passage. While some ships offer fly cruise options where you land smoothly at King George Island skipping the sailing altogether, most ships still sail to and from Ushuaia, meaning you have to cross the notorious Drake Passage to get to the Great White Continent.

The Drake is known for being one of the roughest stretches of sea anywhere in the world, so understandably, it can be intimidating, with only two settings – the ‘Drake Lake’ and the ‘Drake Shake’ as they are affectionately known by ship crews.

If you get a Drake Lake crossing, chances are you'll still feel some movement from 2 - 5 metre waves. This is pretty normal, but it can be unnerving for people who haven't spent any time on ships before. If you're unlucky? You might experience the full force of the Drake, and you’ll truly earn your way to Antarctica. For those that embrace the Drake Shake, it can be exhilarating standing on the bridge of a ship, watching the magnificent waves crash over the bow as albatross soar around you in the wind.

Why is it so bad?

One of the reasons the Drake is so rough is due to the sheer volume of water traveling through this narrow passage. The Drake in total stretches for around 1000km and this is the place where the Pacific, Atlantic and Southern seas all converge, creating a tumultuous current which, on a really bad day, even the most stable ships can't resist. The currents at this particular latitude don’t meet any resistance from a landmass anywhere on the planet either, which combined with high winds, makes for a stomach churning 48 hours.

A typical crossing takes two days, but if the weather is good and the crossing is smooth, then you can usually see land in the early afternoon of day two. The afternoon and evening will then be spent travelling down to the first landing site.

What’s the best way to deal with seasickness? 

The best advice for anyone concerned about this crossing, is to make sure you are on a ship that can handle the challenge! Some ships have advanced stabilisation systems which are better able to handle the conditions, so ships like the Akademik Ioffe and Akademik Sergey Vavilov are best placed for those travellers who want to keep their feet on the ground and their head out of the toilet bowl!

Doctors are also able to recommend medications to help with the effects of seasickness, and there are some good over the counter medications available now too. For those wanting to avoid medications and go down the herbal route, ginger is the best natural medicine. 

Ginger tablets, sweets, biscuits and ginger ale, are all fantastic for settling an unhappy stomach.

Sea bands, or pressure bands are also a widely used alternative to medicines, and can help relieve the symptoms of seasickness. Keeping focussed on the horizon with your feet on the ground, getting some fresh air, and distracting yourself with some photography out on deck is also a great way to enjoy days at sea. Sitting inside in a warm room is sometimes the worst plan – although if you’re feeling really rough, then laying down and catching up on some sleep is also a remedy. Remaining horizontal seems to help most sufferers. You might miss a few activities on sea days, but you’ll arrive in Antarctica feeling great and ready to explore!

Avoid the champagne! While it might be tempting to celebrate the beginning of a journey to Antarctica, toasting with alcohol is not recommended for anyone worried about sea sickness. Stick to the ginger ale, and drink in small sips over a longer period. Having large volumes of water sloshing around in your stomach will only make you feel worse – you can imagine how unpleasant it is with alcohol!

What’s the good news? 

The most important thing to remember, is that while the seasickness might feel horrible for a brief period, as soon as you arrive to the peninsula, and the seas calm, you’ll feel absolutely fine – it’s not like a stomach bug that lingers, sea sickness will disappear as quickly as it arrived! Those that felt really awful during the crossing, will only appreciate even more the beautiful flat calm of the waters in Antarctica.

The seasickness will be a distant memory until you head back out into open ocean, and by then? You’ll be on your way home, and it will undoubtedly have been the most incredible trip of your life – so the few hours of not feeling so hot will be worth it.

At the end of the day, you could worry endlessly about something which may never happen – so my advice is book the trip, prepare as much as you can, and know that Antarctica is the most incredible place on the planet – I promise it’s worth it!

Still not convinced? Give me a call. I’ll book you a fantastic fly cruise!!

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