The dreaded Drake allows time for reflection
At 3,000 metres deep the Drake Passage is a huge water mass that must be crossed to visit or leave Antarctica. Its waves are known to reach as high as 15 metres ensuring even those with the most solid of sea-legs feel woozy. On the way down we were rewarded with two to three metre swells so when our tour leader, Cheli announced the waves may reach ten metres in height over the next 48 hours, we are all slightly apprehensive. Our porthole covers are closed by the crew – “Captain’s orders” they tell us.
Fortunately the Captain has our best interests at heart and we stay in the South Shetland Islands until 2am, remaining behind the passing storm. While our return journey is a more exciting one, with 10 metres waves, for the majority it sits at five to six metres.
The sun shines and the winds blow. This is paradise for the albatrosses which ride along beside us for hours without flapping their giant wings, reaching distances of up to 1,000 kilometres a day. The Wandering albatross is spotted as are the Royal, Grey-Headed, Black-Browed and the eye-catching Light-Mantled Sooty.
The Drake Passage allows for time to reflect on what has been an incredible journey. There are more presentations that continue to inspire and inform us, sharing of photos taken, yarns of past explorers told, the odd nap or two and soon the last couple of days pass quickly and we’re clear of the Drake Passage and into the Beagle Strait, it’s our last night on Sea Spirit and time for the Captain’s Dinner.
We gather in the Club Lounge for bubbles and a toast, “To Antarctica”. We all charge our glasses together with our new found friends from countries far and wide. All of us with different backgrounds, different cultures, different reasons for coming on this adventure but we all agree we’re leaving with Antarctica in our hearts.
Dinner is spent with the people we have become closest to. Mum’s roommate Kim from Canada, Duncan and Libby also from Canada, Pricey our new found Aussie mate and Colonel Jody from the USA Airforce. We laugh, reminisce and give each other a ribbing, particularly Pricey because that’s the Kiwi way. Then we indulge on where in the world we might see each other next – the Arctic is a popular choice, as is New Zealand in February 2014.
After dinner we gather to see a selection of our photos we’ve all taken that the expedition team have set to music. We laugh at ourselves lined up during the safety evacuation drill, at kissing the fish as we cross the circle and those that braved the polar plunge. We smile when we realise the heights we’ve climbed, the panoramic views we’ve seen and the scale and artistic weathering of the icebergs we’ve almost been close enough to touch. We sigh adoringly at our friends the penguins – the Gentoos, the Adelies and the Chinstraps. Their silk like feathers, their bendy necks, the way they waddle with their arms ajar and their graceful porpoising as they gracefully slip in and out of the water. We marvel at the Leopard Seals that lay slug like on the ice and the pair of young males that found us so intriguing in our Zodiac that they rise out of the water to view us at eye level. We cherish a whale’s breath that produces a perfect spout followed by a graceful deep dive with the last remaining image its disappearing tail.
We all clap and cheer when the last photo is shown and as I look around I realise I’m not the only one quietly and quickly wiping away a few tears that have snuck up.
It really has been so very precious to spend this trip of a life time with Ed and Mum.