Antarctic Blizzard Calamities: Foyn Harbour & Drake Shake + Polar Plunge Reprieved

One last Zodiac excursion was in our future, instead of the few we were supposed to embark on. Foyn Harbour, which surrounds Enterprise Island, is home to a couple of ship wrecks. Normally, the Zodiac operators can circle the entire wreck, however, the blizzard was upon us. Mounds of snow and ice blocked the waterway around the ancient vessels, and there was no navigating to the ruined boats. Our guide said he had never seen anything like it. The tour started with rougher waters, but nothing outrageous. Once again, I was perched at the front of the zodiac. I even tried to sit in another position, but the driver forced me to move down. Jerk. To help avoid splashes, our zodiac captain moved at a slower pace as we meandered through the bay. Alas, his efforts were in vain as the waves almost immediately started picking up. Shortly thereafter, I was drenched yet again (have you noticed a theme here?). Nick was again sitting next to me, but my small frame was incapable of saving him from the briny tide. We were both soaked from head to tow, and the sea was aided by the sky as snow started coming down in heavy, wet flakes.

For the next forty minutes we motored around the bay, my hands growing increasingly cold and painful. The raw cold crept into my many layers, and the frigid water slithered through my “waterproof” pants, dampening my fleece-lined leggings underneath. Suddenly, our chauffeur got word that we had to return to the boat. The weather was taking quite the turn for the worse. Instead of the slow journey out, he had to high tail it back, tossing me around like a rag doll. The squall was upon us.

The water was so insanely choppy, we had to abandon the port side to get back on the Ocean Endeavour. Not that the starboard side was much better. The waves were crashing violently against the side of the steel floating device. It took several attempts to even attach the zodiac to the gangway. Half the people had to crawl to the step to board with the help of several crew members. I was the last to exit, and just as I was attempting to climb on to the step along with the zodiac operator, a fierce wave knocked us backwards (backwards meant overboard if I hadn’t dropped to my hands and knees as quickly as I did). During a tiny break in the turbulent surf, I clambered out of the craft and was yanked aboard the ship by two crew members.

Once dry and warm again, we were told to meet in the Polaris Lounge for a few announcements. The crew relayed the disappointing news that we would not only be missing out on a couple of excursions, but we were also going to be departing Antarctica early. Obviously, camping was cancelled yet again, and now so was the polar plunge off the side of the Endeavour as the swells in Foyn Harbour made it too dangerous to take the leap. We were told, and shown, the brutal storm that would soon be plaguing the Drake. Another ship had already departed Antarctica the night before. Well, shit. And with that, the captain began the journey back to Argentina with a very sad populous onboard.

An hour before dinner, two events transpired, one of which would redeem the bad news from earlier and the other had the potential to ruin the next three days for me. Beginning with the good news, we were motoring towards Deception Island, an active volcano that last erupted in the 1960s. The protected Whaler’s Bay was calm enough for the Polar Plunge! The second event threatened to sideline me from the fun… I VERY suddenly became nauseous, developed a headache and my body temperature skyrocketed. I reclined on a couch in the library with a view of the snowy horizon. Thinking my condition was improving, I attempted to eat dinner – a single dinner roll, two tiny bites of steak, and two bits of veggies later, and I was done. I retired to our cabin, where I promptly curled up under the blankets and fell asleep. Sea sickness struck it’s first blow.

Two hours later I awoke and peered out our porthole to see calm indigo water flowing through Neptune’s Bellows and into Whaler’s Bay. The short reprieve in rough seas appeared to be all I needed. My sickness had faded completely and never came back again!

Donning our swim suits and white robes, we headed into the bowels of the boat for the Polar Plunge. We all anxiously waited our turns to step out onto the gangway in order to leap into an active volcano filled with freezing waters in the Antarctic Peninsula. So awesome! Now to set the scene…

Upon reaching the gangway, the crew was clad in penguin costumes (as seen in above photo) with cameras in hand. Encouraging, loud music was blasting. Another set of crew members was in a zodiac outside with more cameras. One other batch of crew were standing by a table crowded with vodka shots, which they doled out along with a dry towel after you jumped.

We stripped off the robes, replacing them with a tether around the waist and sauntered down the gangplank. One… Two… Three… Jump!!!! The sheer cold was expected, but the intense saltiness was not. True Polar Plunge completed!

And with that, the captain navigated out into the Drake Passage. Lady Luck and Mother Nature gave us the finger, and probably let out a nefarious chuckle. Once we snuck out of the protection of the bay, we were greeted with 40 knot winds, six to seven meter waves with swells over ten meters (30 feet). This is known as Drake Shake (aka. Stupendously rough seas). We were spoiled on the trip down… Drake Lake was a dream. Should you ever take an Antarctic cruise, ready yourself for a cacophony of shattering plates and glasses during dinner, dodging flying objects such as chairs and sharp cutlery, walking at a 30 degrees angle, sliding off your bed in the middle of the night, walking like a drunk while stone cold sober, and if you’re really unlucky… getting really sick and puking. It’s just for two days, that’s no big deal! Heh… thanks for the send off, Antarctica!

Drake Drunk Walk in Action

Then one morning, we awoke to with our mattresses in place… we had successfully made it to the Beagle Channel. The staff and crew met with us for the last time. The captain addressed us for the first time, stating, “You didn’t like the Drake Shake? You didn’t want to go on a roller coaster ride? My bad!” Apparently, we had to claw our way due north to try to stay slightly ahead of the impending eye of the storm, otherwise, we would have been rocked even harder and taken an extra day to get back to Argentina. Unfortunately, they over shot and had slow down, allowing the swells to carry us east. This made for even more intense multi-directional rocking.

While trying to film the ferocious seas through our porthole, the ship rocked hard and I fell over

We spent one final day wandering the wonderful Ushuaia before it was off to the airport. Note: Do not try to walk to the airport if you are a little short on time. There are no cabs on the road to the airport, so good luck hailing one. However, ignore the signs warning against hitching a ride. A helpful gent pulled up next to us and offered to drive us the remainder of the way up the winding hill. We tossed our bags in the bed of this truck and hopped gleefully in the cab. He even refused a small payment for his efforts. And with that, I have FINALLY finished my Antarctica posts. It only took nine months!

Our Regular Dinner Mates, Heather and MarkYes, this photo looks like a family affair, parents and two children

Next up: Costa Rican and Panamanian adventures!

5 thoughts on “Antarctic Blizzard Calamities: Foyn Harbour & Drake Shake + Polar Plunge Reprieved

      1. Omg, how terrible! Knowing that could allay your disappointment somewhat that some things were cancelled and cut short. They seem to be appropriately careful about your safety. And I expect hypothermia sets in very quickly at those temperatures.

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