I awoke at 7:30 in the morning to the sound of the ship-wide intercom system - a gentle "Bing-Bong", followed by the voice of Stephen, our expedition leader. "Good morning ladies and gentlemen, Good morning," he opened in a super friendly and calming voice. "We are in the Drake Passage," he continued, "about 100 nautical miles south of the Beagle Channel, cruising at a speed of around 11 knots." (Side note: I grew up in Nebraska. How long is a nautical mile? Are knots nautical miles per hour? And if so, why is there a "k" in front of it? Whatever. I have some research to do.). Stephen finished his notice by saying: "Breakfast will be served at 8:00, in one half hour, and as you've probably noticed, the boat is moving a bit, so take your time getting used to the motion of the ship, and always remember to keep one hand for the ship, and one hand for yourself. Good Morning."
I laid there for a few minutes, feeling myself shifting a little in bed with the boat. The room was extremely dark. At some point during dinner last night, the crew came in and shut the port-hole windows in all the cabins, effectively killing all light save for the thin lines of gold coming in through the gaps around the door. Surprisingly, I actually felt fine. I figured if I'd been prone to motion sickness I'd have noticed it during the night sometime. Seems I'm a little more sea-worthy than I thought. I sat up for a few minutes, putting my feet on the carpeted floor and felt the ship sway to the left a good bit. It was actually kind of cool to think about - I'm in open sea in the Drake Passage en route to the Antarctic Peninsula. Pretty sweet.
The thought of breakfast was a good one. I was a little hungry, and after the amazing dinner last night, I was curious as to the nature of the offering. I stood up, which the boat seemed not like, rolling strongly to the right, sending me wobbling into the wall near the bathroom. Ok - one hand for the ship, one for myself. Got it. Just take it slow.
I threw on some clothes, and took a step out the door, to which the boat again voiced its disapproval - this time sending me into the wall opposite my cabin. Right - this may be a bit of a challenge. The hallways are of course narrow, and I braced my arms on both walls as I headed to the staircase. It was quite a challenge - not only was she swaying left and right, but front to back as well, making the navigation of steps a feat of balance. I tested the integrity of the brass railing more than once on the way up. By the time I got to the main floor and started down the hallway, my head and stomach started arguing softly with each other -my head trying to explain everything was fine, my innards disputing that notion and voicing it more strongly with every movement of the floor beneath my feet.
I stayed close to the wall as I moved down the hallway, passing a few people who didn't look overly happy. I could hear the clank of dishes just ahead. A younger girl with dark curly hair was heading the opposite way, leaning on the wall - her shoulder sliding along it heavily like she was drunk. She had a pained and worried look on her face as we passed.
When I reached the dining room, I was greeted by a huge spread of food - pancakes, bacon, eggs, cereal, fruit, croissants, you name it - all laid out on a large buffet table. Silverware clattered against itself as the boat rocked sharply to the right again. There were about 30 people scattered about the room, most sitting at tables holding on to their plates, their glasses of orange juice and coffee - keeping them from sliding onto the floor. I stumbled to the buffet, using it to keep myself propped upright once I got there. Three or four people were standing around it as well, in wide stances with one hand on the buffet table - a couple fingers securing their plate, the other hand attempting to stab a piece of bacon or pour some milk into a moving bowl of cereal.
I saw someone pass me with impressive speed. It was then I noticed that the wait staff seemed nearly oblivious to the rocking of the boat. They moved about like nothing was happening, big smiles while carrying trays of plates, pouring tea and collecting dishes. It was amazing.
The boat listed to the left again, causing me to nearly drop my plate on the floor. Son of a... It was at this moment the whole experience stopped being fun. The disagreement between my stomach and head was over. My head was in agreement that this wasn't a great idea. The room slowly started to rotate just a bit, and I could feel sweat beading on my forehead. Ok. Easy now. I steadied myself, and tried to calm down - I had managed to get two croissants on my plate and had the goal of simply sitting down at a table. I really wasn't hungry anymore, but surely I'd feel better once sitting...
As I side-winded my way to the nearest open spot, I set my plate on the table and grabbed the back of the chair. The room was rotating a little faster, and my legs got just a little bit wobbly. I was about to pull the chair back and sit down when I made the biggest mistake possible - I glanced out the window to see the water. It was rough - and rolling - and.... RED ALERT!! That all-too-horrible feeling started in the pit of my stomach and swept through me like a current. I suddenly knew breakfast was now over. The thought of things going IN my body was now a distant memory. I whipped around and headed for the hallway, my croissants left stranded for someone more sea-worthy than I. I moved as fast as I could, clinging to the wall and nearly running over an older couple heading the opposite way. You all know the feeling of the impending and unavoidable forced expulsion. Oh, it was strong, and getting stronger. And the boat just kept rolling and rocking. I could feel it rising in my stomach - up into my throat....
I nearly fell down both flights of stairs - again internally thanking the workers for securing the railing - then wrenched my door open and slammed it shut. 0.05 seconds later I was on my knees in front of the toilet puking my guts out. I'd forgotten what a violent and horrible exorcism vomiting is. I hate it. A lot.
Fortunately, it was over quickly, and I pulled myself to the sink where I splashed some cold water on my face, turned off the lights and literally crawled into bed. I was still feeling terrible, but the level of terrible was much lower while horizontal. It took about 15 minutes to stop sweating and for my breathing to return to normal. The boat was still rocking - seemingly even stronger now, but the effects were at least minimized now. After about 30 minutes I tried to sit up for a bit. 15 seconds later I was horizontal again, feeling the bile starting rise again. The boat rolled and listed incessantly. It was truly awful. I just laid there in the dark, trying not to move. Then I thought about how I'd heard the traversing of the Drake takes about a day and a half - which meant even at this point tomorrow I'd be in the same situation. The romance of the trip over at this point - replaced now with thoughts of simply surviving, wondering if I would/could make it through this.
I fell asleep a while thereafter - roused by the "Bing Bong" of the intercom system. This announcement was to promote the upcoming lecture on the birds we'd see en-route, and while making our landings. It was to take place in 15 minutes in the lecture hall. A quick self-diagnostic told me there was no way I was making it out of the room. At the moment I wouldn't make it to the bathroom without puking, much less all the way up the stairs and over to the lecture hall. Fortunately (I guess), I wasn't the only one suffering. The announcement went on to say, "for those of you who feel like a horizontal position is more advisable, you can turn your cabin radio to channel four to hear the lecture." Sweetness. As bad as I felt, I really wanted to hear about all the stuff we were going to see. There was just no way I could do it. I was really disappointed at the thought I would miss these talks being laid up in my cabin. At least I could listen to them.
So, I stayed in bed with the lights off and listened to all three lectures that morning. The first on Antarctic seabirds the second on the proper use of binoculars (strange, I know, but actually pretty interesting), and the third on the early discovery and expeditions in/around Antarctica.
The "Bing Bong" sounded again around 12:00 announcing the serving of lunch, which seemed like a really, really bad idea. I did make it to the bathroom long enough to force down a couple of Dramamine tablets which I hoped would take effect. Over the next couple of hours, I listened to two more lectures, one on ice dynamics, and one an overview of our journey, both of which were really great - probably even better if I could have seen some of the slides...
I drifted off to sleep for a bit until the announcement of the next lecture on Marine Mammals. I found the little bit of REM had improved my demeanor a bit. Hmm. Could it be the pills were taking effect and I was getting used to this little roller coaster? I thought I'd tempt fate by trying to sit up. I accomplished this with surprisingly little discomfort. I'd dare I say I actually felt decent.
After about five minutes of standing up and sitting down to test my equilibrium and the corresponding fortitude of my gastric chamber, I gained enough confidence to throw on some clothes and attempt to make it to the lecture. The trip up the stairs and through the hallway was surprisingly tolerable. Hey, don't look now, but I was getting my "sea legs." As I passed through the dining room, I made a very conscious effort to not look at a window. No way was I going to try that again.
I made it up to the lecture hall unscathed, and all bodily fluids still inside. I found about 20 people in the lecture hall - some lying down on the benches surrounding the room, a few in the theater seats facing the podium and white screen.
I found a seat on the outside - thus keeping my contingency options open in case I was struck by another blitzkrieg of nausea (and yes, I just used the word blitzkrieg). I took a quick survey of the faces in the crowd. Everyone's faces seemed a little older and a lot more depressed than they had just 24 hours ago. Damn Drake Passage. I settled into my seat as the lecture started.
Now I'm not sure what the effective time is for Dramamine, but their claim of 24 hours is a bunch of BS. About halfway through the discussion, the motion of the boat started to creep its way back into my stomach and head. I started focusing less on the speaker and more on how the screen kept moving, and the sighs of someone beside me - and then I did it again! I looked out one of the damn windows and saw the water raging about. It was like a car wreck or pretty much all reality TV - sometimes you just can't turn away, though you know you're going to be much worse off for it.
As you might imagine, my head started to slowly spin, which I tried to counteract by discretely grabbing the back of the chair in front of me. This helped somewhat, but succeeded in merely transforming the symptoms. The spinning room was soon replaced by profuse sweating and a light-headed feeling accompanied by some white edges forming in my vision.
I didn't want to up and leave in the middle of the lecture out of respect for the speaker, but a problem was a brewin'. There weren't that many people in the room, and the hurried departure of a 6'9" guy would be very noticeable. Plus (and this is the selfish reason), if I got up and started out, I felt like everyone would be thinking, "Oooh - I bet the big guy's going to go puke." So, with a combination of regulated breathing and some focused concentration, I made it to the end of the session. Or at least what I hoped was the end. Unfortunately for me, the speaker asked if there were any questions, and much to my displeasure, discomfort and dismay, three or four people raised their hands. I cursed each one of them. Why weren't they sick? For that matter, why weren't these lecturers sick? I couldn't even think of my own name at this point, much less have a thoughtful question about mammals. Finally, she asked for questions once more, and everyone kept their damn hands down. When the clapping started, and people started to rise, I darted to the door, and likely set some sort of ship record for elapsed time from the Lecture hall to the 300 level of the ship. If I passed anyone, I don't remember it, and likely went right through them.
Upon hitting the door, I was fully prepped to bow yet again to the porcelain throne, but as I slammed the outer door shut, I decided to just hit the bed and try to fight it off. Though it was close, I managed to avoid the convulsions and found some equilibrium lying on my back in the dark.
So, there I was - lying in my clothes on my bed in the dark. I stayed in this position for the next five hours - afraid to move. I skipped dinner, and the evening's entertainment - a movie on life in the Antarctic. There was just simply no way I could make it. I saw visions of myself blowing chunks all over the back of someone in the seat in front of me, or passing out in the hallway and cracking my head. So, I just lay there. I was in a strange form of paralysis. The only position which was even remotely non-nauseating was either flat on my back or in the fetal position. And the ship and the sea just continued to taunt me. It would rock to the left, causing my head to mush up into my pillow against the wall, then it would list back to the right, sliding my face (and entire body) back past it's original position and then an inch or two toward the end of the bed. This went on, and on and on with varying degrees of intensity. Once in a while it would calm down, and it was somewhat tolerable. Then we'd get hit by a swell and it would start all over. It was absolutely terrible.
Apparently this is a fairly common occurrence amongst us land dwelling tourists, as around 8:30 or so, one of the hotel staff knocked on the door and brought in some crackers, which was an absolute blessing. It was wonderful to have something to eat and yet not have to move. I took the opportunity to force down a few Tylenol PMs to try to knock myself out for the night. I mercifully drifted off to sleep around 11:30 or so, with hopes of much calmer water in the morning.