Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Setting sail for Antarctica

Plancius in dock
Having made our way by bus from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia, despite the best efforts of the fishermen blockading the roads, we were ready to set off for Antarctica.  The boarding time couldn't come fast enough and we were there right at the start of boarding time.  Ship staff marked up our bags with our cabin number so that they could load them on for us, and we were onboard in no time.

Fin whale in Beagle Channel
Our ship was the Plancius and we had booked a basic twin cabin, though in fact we were given one with a window rather than just a porthole.  It was a great little cabin, with a good ensuite bathroom and that luxury of a hair dryer.  I was quite pleased about that because while I have been letting my hair dry naturally for months, I wasn't sure that would be such a good idea in the cold of Antarctica.  Up in the lounge, we were given a glass of champagne to get us underway and we were soon off up the Beagle Channel, already spotting our first fin whale.
Nic in lifejacket
We weren't quite able to relax yet though, as we had a mandatory drill for evacuating the ship.  We knew it was coming, and had been told what to do, so when the alarm sounded we all trouped off to our cabins, put on some warm clothes, grabbed our very large, very bright orange life jackets, and returned to the muster area.  Once there we had the roll call, which was amusing with the somewhat dubious pronunciation of the more challenging names, and after the leaders had informed the captain that everyone was there, they signalled the alarm to abandon ship, and we all made our way to our designated lifeboats.  Thankfully we didn't actually have to get in the lifeboats, and could soon be back in the lounge with a drink, making the best of what we knew might be our last evening of being able to walk without falling over for a few days.  And no, that prediction had nothing to do with alcohol.

We soon hooked up with a few people who had been in our hostel and others that they had found, including a group of three people who had met back in August on a trip to the Arctic.  A number of the group are from the US and the UK and we all spent some time discussing the different usage of words and pronunciaton of English.  The US contingent seem to find our accents highly amusing!  We had particular fun towards the end trying to teach one of the US people to do the Catherine Tate 'is this face bothered' piece.  Trouble was she kept putting on her best posh English accent to do it, so it didn't quite work.  But she is still practicing....

To get to Antarctica, you have to spend about two and a half days crossing the Drake Passage.  The Drake is the convergence of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and is notorious for being one of, if not the, roughest sea crossing there is.  Waves can reach over ten metres in height and the storms can be violent.  Whilst I have never had sea sickness before, Nic doesn't even like roller coasters, and you never know if it is going to hit you, so I went to the doctor before we left the UK and got some scopolamine patches.  Although initial forecasts suggested that the Drake was fairly calm, it can change at the drop of a hat, so we decided that prevention was better than cure in this instance, and both put on our patches before we got there.
Drake crossing
We entered the Drake during the night.  In the morning we awoke to a definite rolling motion that made it impossible to lie still in your bed let alone walk straight and to find that many of our fellow passengers had already succumbed to sickness.  During the crossing we weren't allowed outside on any of the lower decks due to the waves breaking across them.  We often saw the waves up and over the windows in the dining room on deck three, and sometimes over the lounge on deck five.  The idea of keeping your eye on the horizon didn't really work either.  Looking out of the windows, one minute you could see high up into the sky, the next you were looking down into the water; you were lucky if you caught a brief glimpse of the horizon on the way up or down!

Meals were fun too.  Wine bottles always had the cork wedged back in and could not be stood on tables as they soon fell over breaking glasses as they went.  We had to abandon any tall glasses in favor of heavy low ones, and we often had to catch runaway cutlery.  We started to get the hang of when the bigger waves were hitting and you had to hold on to everything.  I frequently had to hold on to the table to stop my chair sliding away, and a couple of ladies actually toppled over in their chairs.  But although this was choppy, it wasn't even nearly as bad as it can get, so we were actually quite lucky.

Potato -v- seasickness
Luckily for us, either we aren't prone to seasickness, or our patches worked, so we felt OK during the journey, but the doctor was kept busy with many people who thought they had stronger stomachs than they did.  One of the staff caused some amusement with his less conventional seasickness cure; he strung a fork around his neck with a large raw potato hanging from it.  We weren't convinced  that it was anything more than a placebo effect, and it didn't catch on.

The Plancius sailed on through admirably, often followed by a few black browed albatrosses and occasionally a lone wandering albatross.

Antarctic brash ice
Two days later, we reached the shelter of the South Shetland Islands and passed into the Gerlache Strait, the motion dropped back to normal levels, and we suddenly started to see lots of new people at meals who had previously been flat out in their cabins.

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