Sea Swells

Over the winter break we took a family trip to Antarctica. There were many highlights, which I hope to share here over time. The first one concerns sea swells.

On our particular trip, the ship followed a triangular route, comprised of three long “crossings” on the open ocean:

1. Ushuaia, Argentina to South Georgia Island (crossing the South Atlantic Ocean, two days at sea)
2. South Georgia Island to the Antarctic Peninsula (crossing the Scotia Sea, two days at sea)
3. the Antarctic Peninsula to Ushuaia (crossing the Drake Passage, two days at sea)

These crossings can be calm, easy and restful (e.g., “Drake Lake”), or rough, difficult and barf-inducing (e.g., “Drake Shake”). On our trip, crossing #1 was rough and crossings #2 and #3 were calm, which we were told is about average (three calms or three roughs is rare).

Our rough crossing– the one from Argentina to South Georgia Island– lasted for the full two days. Many people got seasick, including some of the crew, so most people used the seasickness patch (scopolamine). During these rough stretches deckhands place barf bags all over the boat, tucking them behind handrails and lamps, and stacking them on bars and tables. The on-board PA announcements remind you to “give one hand to the boat,” and in fact you are always holding onto something because of the roll of the ocean. When a big wave breaks against the ship, items slide off tables and out of shelves (waiter trays, glasses, cups of tea, etc.). Overall it takes some getting used to, but the patch does work and you do find your sea legs.

On day 1 of the crossing we had 15′ seas, and we were mesmerized by the mountains of water rolling across the ocean, lifting and dropping our large ship over and over. On day 2 the swell increased to 25′, and again we were mesmerized. I tried mostly in vain to photograph these swells, hoping to capture their volume, height and personality, but their scale against the endlessness of the ocean and the uniformity of its color resulted in boring photos.  At first I took pictures from Deck 6, looking out over the sea. Here’s the best I could do.

(click to enlarge)

At the moment when I took this photo, the boat was cresting one swell while I photographed the approaching peak of water that you can see in the middle of the photo. I was not thrilled with this image, so I asked the on-board photographer for help. He offered no useful tip, except “keep trying”.

For my second effort, I went down below to the dining room on Deck 2, to photograph the waves through the window. For reference, here’s the ship.

(click to enlarge)

You can see the big windows of the dining room on Deck 2 at the stern of the ship, in the gray painted area. (I snapped the Deck 6 photo from the open area at the stern, next to the French flag.)  For more context, here’s a picture of the dining room.

(click to enlarge)

We are sitting at our usual breakfast table, and you can see a window in the background. (On the first day, we tried sitting at the window table but we got queasy, so we moved inboard to this table.)

So by going to Deck 2 I wanted to capture what it felt like looking up at these swells from below. Here’s a photo looking out the window from the perspective of the queasy table.

(click to enlarge)

Because you can’t see the horizon, it is hard to measure the size of this swell, so again I felt stymied.

Finally, I took this video out the same window. You can see the table setting at the bottom of the video. It is 50 seconds long; try to hang in there until the 30-second mark. Make it fullscreen if you can.  




Filed under Editorial

2 responses to “Sea Swells

  1. Porter Gifford

    Is the video taken from the top level of dining room windows, or the bottom? Either way, I’m barfing.

  2. Priscilla Wolff

    Wow! Amazing pics. Glad you came back alive.

    Happy New Year!


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