It’s a swell life on the Drake

Thursday 9 February 2023

Day 10 – 26th Jan, first day of the Drake Passage on the journey home

Our journey home began in the wee hours, the Drake Passage greeting us with a rollercoaster of a night! The magical mattresses saved us from toppling out of bed once again as we swayed with the ship cruising over 4-7 meter swells.

With more well-established sea-legs, confidence was at a high going into surveys bright and early immediately following breakfast. I was on the marine mammals 2 survey team, so I had a little more time to gather my layers and prepare for the wind and the waves.

At 10am sharp, marine mammals group 2 went on effort. As we gazed hopefully across the seemingly endless ocean, our eyes began to tear from the wind and possibly from looking into the same direction at nothing for an hour and a half Marine mammals group 1 came on effort at 11:30am to relieve us for lunch and a surprise activity – boot return!

Marine Mammals survey team on Observation Deck 7 and our view across the Drake, no blows as far as the eye can ‘sea’ (by Heather)

With our last landing behind us, it was time to return our Hurtigruten issued boots and Cape Petrel patches. Though we cleaned our boots after each landing in the snazzy boot wash contraption, the boot return required an additional cleaning and check for any mischievous pebbles trying to hitch a ride. Boot cleanings were especially important throughout the trip to limit the possibility of bringing non-native species to landing areas. I thought I had done a thorough job at the boot wash station after each expedition, but I had to spend about 20 minutes tweezing tiny pebbles out of the bottom of my boots and scrubbing them down with the brushes provided. It turns out penguins aren’t the only potential pebble stealers!

After the boot return, we were back on effort. Staring harder at the white caps did not prove successful in turning them into blows, and the day continued this way with zero marine mammal sightings. That said, marine mammals group 2 thoroughly enjoyed riding the waves as if we were at an amusement park.

Though surveys may not have been the most exciting in terms of sightings, there was one major success of the day – Sonja was able to secure the long-awaited height measurements of deck 6, deck 7, and the bridge after attending the bridge tour! These measurements will be crucial when we return to St Andrews and are calculating the relative positions of the marine mammals sighted to the ship.


Survey teams on deck 7 from the bridge (by Sonja) and a Drake rainbow! (by Heather)

Noniko Hsu serenades guests with a wonderful flute concert (by Heather)

Dinner was at the usual spot at the Aune restaurant, though with two unexpected guests: a beautiful rainbow over the ocean and an Ashy-headed goose! The Ashy-headed goose was particularly interesting since it had no business being in the middle of the Drake Passage and is a land bird found in Chile and southern Argentina. Unfortunately, this means it likely either was blown out to sea in a storm or popped onto a cruise ship at port in Argentina for a joyride and then hopped off at some point in the Drake Passage, effectively marooning itself at sea. Another reminder that even if precautions are taken, there will inevitably be unintended ecological consequences as more vessels journey to Antarctica.

We ended the day with a flute concert in the Explorer Lounge performed by one of the Hurtigruten Staff members, Noniko Hsu. Not only was she an incredible flautist and had prepared a beautiful visual presentation combining photos and videos from our trip and other spectacular places she has visited, but she played while standing the entire time as the ship shook and rocked through the waves. To give a sense of how turbulent it was, I fell back into my chair from the rocking as I went to stand for the applause at the end.

We were then off to bed with parting words from the captain informing us we were increasing speed to beat the storm that was brewing. Life on the Drake is pretty Rock & Roll.  

Written by Heather


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