Thursday, March 10, 2016

Drake Passage Northbound

[Kyle]As Expedition made her way north, the weather deteriorated and the seas became rougher. By morning, the motion was enough to knock unsecured things over and require that a hand be always available for the ship. This wasn't helping poor Maryanne's state, although she did seem to be slowly getting over the worst of it.

I went upstairs as usual for coffee, where Kathleen had a fresh pot ready even though I was the only taker. I'm sure most of the people suffering in their cabins wouldn't think so, but I was kind of enjoying the feel of the ocean swell. By Begonia's standards, the motion was probably a low medium, which my mind has come over all of the miles Maryanne and I have sailed to subconsciously associate with pleasant offshore sailing. For those used to hotel rooms that never move, I can understand why their experience was different. Of course, we were actually in the Drake Passage, and conditions were not that nice. It only felt like it because we were in a 100m steel ship.

I went outside for a look. The wind was biting cold. Six meter (20ft) waves were hitting Expedition right on the beam and exploding into spray that got blown away by the wind. That made for much more roll than any other wave direction would have. I popped into the bridge. Their instruments were reading winds in the high 20s to low 30s (kts). I noticed that the weather chart they had posted was indicating that we should just be getting into the worst of it.

We went for breakfast, where we had my choice of seating (Maryanne was feeling better, but not fully recovered, she had some toast). It seemed as if only about a quarter of the passengers were present. We were all doing that funny walk with our plates where we would wait until the ship tilted just so, walk fast until it reversed and then wait again.


As a means of distraction, the ship's historian, Scott, gave an excellent lecture about Shackleton's escape from Antarctica to South Georgia Island and the subsequent rescue of the rest of his crew from Elephant Island after their ship was crushed by the ice they had been trapped in for months.

Next up was Gerard. If you ever need a guy to act like the worsening weather was nuttin', he's it.

If you recall, he was the guy I mentioned who was stationed at Port Lockroy. Subsequent to that, he was hired as a cook for the British Halley Base. Cook seems to be a tremendous understatement. Gerard showed us photos of mini pastry cities he made that took up whole tables. One of the winters that he was there, the base's generator developed a terminal coolant leak. Two weeks later, it failed and they were left without power or heat for the rest of the winter. Gerard brought a camping stove into his kitchen and continued to crank out yummy stuff by the light of his headlamp. He said they had a period of a week or so where the inside temperature was around -20°C (-4°F).

As he regaled us, he kept having to brace himself and the screen upon which his slides were being projected kept jumping around.

Noon log: Moderate visibility, clouds, overcast; Wind: N F7; Sea: very rough; Air Temp: 5°C (5-7m swells)

Lunch was up to about 50% attendance, including Maryanne, who was cautiously getting her appetite back.

We got a whale lecture next from Kevin, the bouncing naturalist.

Maryanne and I paid another visit to the bridge, where the wind was now nudging 40, with seas that had moved slightly ahead so they were striking the port bow. Expedition was now pitching and rolling, with occasional shudders going through the structure. I went to the top deck just to be out there to see it. That required both hands and both feet. Yikes! I would definitely NOT want to be out here in our boat. Expedition's bow came over a wave and crashed into the next one. A couple of seconds later, I got hit in the face with salty spray.

The bridge was a great place to visit

At dinner, 20 feet below on the fifth level above the water, there were about half a dozen times when the windows were completely covered by spray. We heard crashing plates a couple of times and I had to brace myself to keep from falling out of my chair. A lot of us did on that one. Mostly, everyone in attendance seemed to find it amusing, although the staff seemed to be gritting their teeth through their smiles.

We visited the bridge again before turning in. The wind seemed to be the same, but the seas were getting larger and farther apart. A look at their chartplotter showed their next waypoint to be Cape Horn, although they were heading just a little leeward of that course. The ETA was around dawn. Well, that would be exciting to see. I made sure I set an alarm.

Conditions seemed to slowly get worse through the night. Expedition would roll slowly, then groan and shudder. Roll, groan, shudder, over and over. Sometime either very late or very early, things got noticeably worse. The ship seemed to be rolling a lot more and things we thought we had secured reasonably well started falling. Once, Maryanne and I (and I'm sure at least half of the rest of the ship) woke up as we started sliding off our well-secured mattresses. The ship repeated this a couple of times and then the motion smoothed considerably, allowing us to go back to sleep.

In the morning, I went upstairs for coffee. The library's floor was covered with books and magazines. Almost all of the stock in the ship's store was on the floor. Kathleen was trying to stabilize herself while sweeping up broken glass from the bar. I offered to help, but she was just finishing. She told me to relax and have some coffee. She still made the coffee! She knew I'd be the only one there for a while, but she still made sure it was made BEFORE cleaning up the glass so it would be ready for me!

The Bridge was closed, so I had a look at the repeater display. It appeared they had turned upwind (and into the waves) for Cape Horn for a time, maybe about ten miles, then gave up and turned for a downwind run to the Atlantic Beagle entrance. That explained the night's motion. Oh, well. The weather was bad enough that we probably wouldn't have seen it anyway.

As I was drinking my coffee, I noticed I was eye level with a few of the wave tops. Where I was sitting, that was probably an eye height of about thirty-five feet above the waterline. What oceanographers call the 'significant wave height' (the height of the top third) was probably around thirty feet. I have often said that I hope I never see a thirty foot wave. Well, it looks like I may have. I still definitely don't ever want to see one from my boat. Captain Nesterov later said the crossing was an eight on a one to ten scale for roughness. Maryanne's finally with me on this one: We're never sailing down here.

Noon log: Moderate visibility, clouds, overcast; Wind: WSW 8; Sea: very rough; Air Temp: 7°C (6-8m swells)

The ship closed on the continent. As we entered the lee of Tierra del Fuego, the seas dropped to flat in a matter of a few hours. Everyone came out of their cabins to witness our return to South America.

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