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Confessions of a Novice on his first watch in Drake’s Passage

Everyone knows that Drake’s passage is the “interesting” part of the journey down to the Antarctic and Eric certainly warned us of the likely conditions at our evening briefing.  However, as I struggled into my clothes at midnight from a nice warm bunk in heaving, shaking and rolling conditions I realized that conditions had changed from the benign daytime along the Beagle Channel.  Fitting a relatively unfamiliar harness was a big challenge in those conditions.  Couldn’t cross the main well deck so had to go down from the deckhouse and then up onto the poop deck bouncing like a pinball from side to side along the corridor.  I was very glad of the lifelines that had been rigged to keep us secure as I adjusted to life on deck and waved good bye to the few people left from the previous watch – depleted by cold and seasickness. 

Helming the ship was a challenge – much unlike the dinghies I normally sail where a small touch on the rudder gives instant feedback.  Now you give a few turns of the wheel and wait a while to see if anything is going to happen.  A squall arrived while I was on the helm. It seemed to lay the ship over a long way.  Even the iPad – which gives us the true course – decided it would go from Portrait mode to landscape – while the magnetic floating compass went almost vertical in its gimbals.  All the crew seemed unfazed by all this, so I tried to look as if I was unperturbed despite inwardly wondering what was going on!

I felt I had passed my rite of passage when the end of the watch came – still wondering how I was going to cope if these conditions continued all our way down to the South Shetlands. As I made my way down below at the end of the watch my stomach decided to catch up with me but luckily a fellow voyage crew member was holding a bucket just ready for me! Off to bed ready for another day – I had completely forgotten that it was Christmas Day. 

Written by:
Myles Ripley | Voyage crew

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