Dispatch: Voyage to the Bottom of the World -- Crossing the Drake

Antarctica Dispatch series

Travel Weekly senior editor David Cogswell departed for Santiago, Chile, Jan. 3 to begin a two-week adventure to Antarctica and the Falkland Islands, sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent. He'll be transmitting on-site reports to Travel Weeklys New Jersey headquarters on a daily basis (weather and Internet access permitting).

There's no way around it. When crossing the Drake Passage, seasickness is an issue even for the staff and crew, including many seasoned sailors. On the two days we experienced the worst turbulence, some became ill who had rarely or never experienced seasickness.

Captain John Moulds was not among them, although he acknowledged, "I was seasick for the first five years I was at sea." Moulds ran away to sea when he was 15, leaving prep school in Manchester and not telling his parents. His father, he said, had done the same thing as a youth.

"I did it strictly out of boredom," he said. "I wasnt a bad student. I wanted to be a vet, and could have been."

I asked him if eventually he just got over being seasick.

"I dont think you ever get over it completely," he said as the ship pitched and rocked and spun like a top. "You just develop a higher threshold."

Although he wasn't sick at the moment, he said, "It tires you, because your body is always fighting it."

Giovanni Biassutti, the staff captain who is responsible for managing the entire crew of the Explorer, also admitted being vulnerable to the effects of the roughest seas. "But I have to be an example for my staff," he said. "It's the adrenaline, the will, that keeps it down."

Soon after we left the Falklands around 5 a.m. we hit brutally rough seas, and it became apparent we were not going to be spared another round of ocean violence. By breakfast time an announcement over the P.A. system informed us that we were experiencing swells of 36 feet, so only one restaurant would be serving breakfast.

I went to the restaurant and the stress was visible on the faces of all the staff members who were still functioning. Their faces were pale, with dark circles under their eyes and expressions on their faces that spoke of suppressed fight-or-flight reactions. They struggled to maintain their footing as they crossed the heaving floor, taking hold of railings or chained-down chairs. Tasks normally carried out with eager smiles were now approached with grim determination.

I tip my hat to them for their strength of will and their dedication. One of the women tending bar told me she gets very seasick at times. She said she looks forward to a time when she can work on land. But for now, she said, her family in the Philippines could not get along without the money she sends home.

"We are a third-world country, and it is very difficult," she said. "My parents work, but without what I send home, it is very hard for them to get by."

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].


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