Monday, September 23, 2013

2. Ushuaia, The Beagle Channel and Drake Passage

Ushuaia in Argentina is called the most southern town in the world, or like the Argentinians like to call it el fin del mundo.
It has a very interesting history and you can still see that not too long ago this was still a pioneering town, but those days have gone. Nowadays the town is thriving on tourism and big cruise ships visit the town daily (in summer). Penguins can be seen everywhere, in the form of  unatttractive souvenirs (except for the beer mug in the form of a penguin that I forgot to buy), even in the form of  pastries.
The countryside has several good hikes to offer which I did at the end of my trip. But my first days here I just spend acclimatizing and preparing for the adventure ahead. The Bark Europa was already in the harbour but I could only gaze at it.

On the 7th of February we were allowed on board, we were all wondering how to stow away all our luggage in the tiny cabins but we all managed. After a warm welcoming speech of the captain everybody started to get to know each other and I remember some Japanese tourists thinking that we had a party and suddenly they were on deck as well, but unfortunately for them they were not allowed on board.

The 8th of February was departure day.
After first filling the tanks with fuel and freshwater and probably some paperwork we finally departed.
We got instructions on how to behave on board, safety procedures and which tasks were expected from us.
We were all divided in three watches, the task of the watch would be to steer the ship and be on the lookout for any object that could be in our way, like floating containers or maybe even sleeping whales, not that anyone of us had an idea how a sleeping whale would look like though.

The first hours through the Beagle channel we still had a mandatory pilot on board, after he had left we raised the sails and took over. Dolphins and some Magellanic penguins accompanied us, the weather was calm and nice.

That would change though.

During the night we entered the ocean between South America and Antarctica, the swell was increasing and the waves grew bigger.
So when it was time for my morning shift, I tried to get breakfast, was wondering how anyone could feel comfortable in these conditions and before I knew it I had to run our bathroom to get rid of my breakfast as fast as possible: seasick.
That first watch was not meant for me.
Fortunately for me I recovered within a few hours after which I truly enjoyed the conditions out there.
Not everyone was so lucky though, some of us were stuck to their bed for the whole ocean crossing.
Safety lines were spanned across the ship and we were strongly advised only to go on deck with a harness on  and to secure yourself on those saftey lines.
The library was off limits after a fellow passenger crashed into one of the tables and broke it.

After that first day the weather became calmer and we got to see blue skies again.
It took us 4 days to cross the ocean. Actually it was a good experience that you do not arrive instantaneously at your destination. This was a journey, not a holiday trip and you need to have some determination to get there.

It is a spectacular feeling to be in rough conditions with absolutely nothing else in sight than the ocean and birds accompanying us. Also in the skies above you would not see any trace at all of airplanes, we had just entered another world.

This album here has mainly pictures of Ushuaia, the Beagle channel and sailing on the Drake Passage.
It has 41 pictures.

click here for the album

And here is a video, play it with the sound on (and best to see it full screen):

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