Day 15–Drake Passage aboard MV Ushuaia

Overnight we have been piloted through the Beagle Channel and have started our way over the Drake Passage. The roll of the ship took a little getting used to in our cosy bunks but so far I have been pleasantly surprised and think we are doing very well in terms of a calm journey.

According to Wikipedia the passage is 800 kms wide and covers the area between Livingstone Island and Cape Horn. The volume of water running through it is approx 600 times that of the Amazon river. having never seen the Amazon that probably doesn’t give me any context, but from looking at at the seemingly endless ocean I can tell you there is a lot of water out there.  I don not have that number in Olympic sized swimming pools or Sydney harbours so don’t ask.

Crossing of the Drake can be very rough, youtube shows some amazing footage which you should check out if you have the time and inclination. This is my favourite (not our video, not our trip but this is the ship we were on).


There are others on board who would disagree with my assessment of a nice gentle crossing and many people have been knocked about with serious sea sickness. That would normally keep the ship’s doctor, the petite Colombian Dr Grace, busy enough, but we learnt this morning that one poor lady met with misadventure overnight, and to prevent a slip in the shower grabbed a door jam just as the heavy door swung closed. Partial thumb amputation by ships door is not a ideal start to an Antarctic voyage. We will be changing our plans a bit and steaming towards the nearest airstrip, on the South Shetland Islands, to allow her to be flown back to civilisation for further medical treatment. So far she is doped on on pain meds and members of our tour have medicated her husband with contraband chocolate.

As mentioned previously, In our min group most travelers opted to go with the Scopoderm sea sickness patches. I’ve never been sea sick before, but there are times when there is no point taking chances so we ordered our patches on the internet from New Zealand.  They aren’t available in Australia. Some others are using anti-nausea wafers and other pills and poultices.  Poor Brigitte seems to be copping the worst of the sea sickness in our group, and Kirsty has brought a nasty cold with her form Disney World and is tucked up in her cabin with the small pharmacy of drugs Todd has stashed away.

While we are on the open ocean there isn’t terribly much to do aboard ship apart form get used to the movement and bird watching on the upper decks. Fortunately this is am amazing experience for me. We have a range of sea birds, albatross, petrels, shearwaters and the much maligned skuas who, for whatever reason, love to glide about the stern of the ship. And they get unbelievably close. So close in some cases that my 70-200 lens couldn’t focus, and it has a minimum focus distance of 95 cms…
This is an uncropped portrait of a skua hovering just above my head and clearly trying to figure out what I was up to.


In addition to my friendly Skua+ we spotted Black-browed Albatross, White Chinned Petrel, Cape Petrel, Giant Petrel and Wandering Albatross, Our daily lecture delivered by Pablo, one of the three biologists on-board, talked a bit about these pelagic birds. It was very interesting to learn that only some birds have a well developed sense of smell; vultures, kiwi and pelagic seabirds like the albatross, shearwaters and petrels.

+This skua photo was actually taken closer to the Shetland islands, but I hadn’t reset my camera dates to the new time zone. Stay tuned for a lessons learned post later this week.

We started on the first full day of the breakfast, lunch and dinner regime. Breakfast consists of toast, fruit croissants, cereal, yoghurt, scrambled eggs, bacon, tomatoes, cheese, ham etc buffet style. The coffee is pretty ordinary, but it is served to you by some of the funniest, friendly people alive so that is forgiven.

Note: Seeing as I am finishing off these posts after the fact I am going to cheat a little bit and include some information I didn’t know at the time where it makes sense to do so..

The serving staff in the dining room are, in no particular order were;

Fabian, who advised us to  walk-like-a-penguin to avoid losing your balance aboard ship. He also demonstrated the technique to us and Kingsley spent the day practicing. Fabian and Lorri and having a competition to see who is the smiliest person in the universe.  Fabian has the edge only because Lorri is a little green around the gills.

Alvaro, who reminded me of the genius Alexei Sayle, is a man of a thousand and one facial expressions. Working with people who all have different languages means that being able to express yourself using your body language and facial expressions is a great skill, and this man is the master.
Carlos, who came around the dining room every meal to see who was opting for the vegetarian option each day (believe it or not this varied more than you might think). For some reason he would look at me every day as if expecting me to choose the vegetarian option. I didn’t, and can’t help feeling that I disappointed him.  Something about me must look vego for some reason. Carlos has eyebrows that speak volumes.

Over the course of the trip the vegetarian dishes went from the basic to the out and out weird. The corn and white sauce lasagne was perhaps the one that stood out most in my mind.  I wish I’d had the forethought to take pictures of each dish for reference.

Maria Jose played the straight man) to Curly, Larry and Mo. I don’t think she has been on the Ushuaia as long as the others, but she is equally lovely and helpful.

Lunch and dinner are three course affairs, aimed at giving people something to do as much as a attempt to provide a balanced and nutritious diet I think. Edible but not a gastronomes delight would be my summary.. The best thing about the food  were the lovely soups, all served with mountains of fresh bread. Sadly after the last two weeks I have had both bread and cheese up to the eye teeth. Still, no chance of going hungry as there is plenty of food on offer.

Being a captive market I expected the bar prices to be high, but we have been pleasantly surprised.  A very generously poured glass of the house red or white is $5 USD, a bottle of wine ranges between $20 and $40 USD and a cocktail $10 USD. Soft drinks come in at about $3 USD and the tap water is drinking standard, though may start to taste a bit sub standard once the ship has to start processing its own.

Our bar tender for the trip was Alejandra. We quickly discovered that the trick to having drinks with dinner was to purchase them in the bar beforehand and then take them with you to the dining room. Otherwise poor Alejandra was running backwards and forwards from the bar at one end of the ship to the dining room at the other for 88 passengers, all the while keeping one hand for the ship and one for the beverages and glasses. While I’m sure that kept her fit it was also time consuming and you could get to dessert before getting something to wet your whistle..

The bar runs on a chit system, where you bill is accrued during the journey and you pay in cash (USD) at the end or by part payment by credit card two days before return to Ushuaia. This system worked fine, but you need to keep an eye out on the dodgy Australians who try to put your cabin number down instead of their own. 

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