Lady Luck Was With Us

Lady Luck Was With Us

Drake Passage. Lat: 56° 43’ S, Long: 64° 55’ W

Wind: 13 Knt N, Temp: 7° C (8 AM)

Life on the Ushuaia…Day One!  Lady Luck has been with us so far on this voyage! Maybe it’s the fact that our ship is FULL of women and we bring such a positive energy to this Homeward Bound adventure!  Whatever the case, our journey through the Drake Passage has not been too rough so far.  More on that in a bit…

We weren’t the only ship in the harbor, but we certainly were one of the smallest ones.  A huge container ship was next to ours, dwarfing it in the process.  Other large cruise ships were also ready to depart from Ushuaia.

Here’s our ship!


The two ships below are both working ships…transporting goods



And this is one (below) of the larger cruise ships… a bit more luxurious than ours, but I love our small ship!


Below:  About to get on board the Ushuaia!  Yay!


Shelley (Canada), Melissa (Utah) and I ready to go!


Heading up from dock to ship, we were ushered to the lounge level where we turned in our passports, handed over our contract of carriage (document for release of liability), and received our room assignments. Roommate still a mystery, I carefully navigated the steep steps to the lower level…to room 632.  FINALLY, met Nicole Webster, my roommate for the first half of the voyage.  We will be switching rooms and roommates in about 10 days.

Our cabin consists of two twin beds up against the wall, a small desk in between those beds, a cabinet with shelves to store our clothing and another cabinet for hanging clothes and storage.  And, our bathroom is tucked into the entrance way of the room.  Actually, I was impressed with the size of the bathroom.  Having been on several ships before, I knew that the bathroom might be tiny, but this one isn’t so bad.


I decided to unpack immediately, since I knew that task might become difficult if the sea got rough later on.  It was good to get settled in and make sure I was organized.  I’ve been hauling that giant yellow duffle bag around for nearly 7 days…and it felt great to empty and flatten it and slide it between the cabinet and a bed.

As we gently pulled away from the dock in Ushuaia early last night, there were shouts of joy and excitement from our merry band of women in science from around the world.  Photos being snapped as we had first stood alongside out ship led to photos being snapped on deck.  I felt like everyone’s enthusiasm burst out all at once, like one of the Jack-in-the-box toys where the “Jack” pops out, and you gasp!  I’ve been on ships…large and small, but never with such a sense of anticipation; months of planning…and our departure was really happening.


Off to the lounge area again, we enjoyed champagne and appetizers as a welcome to the Ushuaia (remember, our ship’s name is the same as the port we left from).  I was a bit wary of eating right away, so worried about impending sea sickness once we entered the Drake Passage.  But, I was so hungry that I gave in.  Would I regret this later?  That remained to be seen.

Safety information is extremely important on the ship, so our first meetings with our expedition leader Greg Mortimer (from Australia) and Monika (from the ship) were all about life on the ship and how to stay safe.  Simple things like always having a hand (or two) free to hold onto railings, which are generously available all over the place, or safety out on deck and on stairs are going to be critical in the next 20 days.



We practiced donning the life-saving vests and reporting to our muster (rendezvous) station (the lounge) and moving to the life boats connected as a human chain.  Our scenario was the ship full of smoke and having little visual ability, so we would have to be touching the person in front of us to navigate to the life boats.  It was a fun drill, but taken seriously as well.  Everyone agreed that we’d not be very comfortable in the pod-shaped life boat, strapped in while wearing a life jacket, but we knew that’s would it would be in an emergency situation.

Here is my roommate for the first half of the voyage…both of us in our life vests!


One of the lifeboats for our ship!  This would be a cramped space!


Drill and information sessions completed, we had a bit of free time before dinner at 8:00 pm.  I sat on my tiny bed and opened the first few cards/letters of support from back home.  Austin’s was first and as I read his words I immediately burst into tears…even the youngest supporters write the sweetest things.    I am SO thankful for the approximately 100 messages I received to take with me on this expedition.  That connection with home and family/friends is a reminder of how many people supported me on the journey toward this Homeward Bound experience.



This ship is roomier than I imagined; it didn’t look that big while docked in Ushuaia, most likely because it was “parked” among such large container ships or super-sized, more luxury cruise ships.  As Monika reminded us in our opening session…the Ushuaia is a working ship.  It was built and designed for ocean research, later used as a spy ship, and now used as a smaller ship option for cruises to Antarctica.  Our relatively small size will allow our ship’s captain to navigate the vessel into channels and areas where large cruise ships can’t go.  I like that option, and I can’t wait to get to Antarctica to have this experience.


Dinner was a time of lively celebration!  We did it!  We are on our way south.  Each dinner will be a three-course meal, and tonight’s was salad and rolls, a main dish of pasta with shrimp and red sauce, and a dessert.  I think we’re going to do just fine with the food on board….so far, so good.  The servers even dimmed the lights and brought out a cake with lit candles to celebrate someone’s birthday.  All of the crew has been very welcoming and friendly, full of smiles.  The seating is pretty tight and the chairs are firmly attached to the floor, making it hard to wiggle in/out of them.  Close quarters mean you certainly get to know people quickly!

At about 11:00 pm I called it a day…still worried about our entrance into the Drake.  The pilot had gotten off our ship as we reached the end of the Beagle Channel (about 4 hours into our voyage).  At that point the pilot boat headed back to the port in Ushuaia.  Let me explain that a bit.  In most ports where bigger ships come/go, there are pilot boats to accompany those ships in/out of the harbor.  The “pilot” actually gets ON the ship and helps the captain navigate the boat safely out of the channel by giving the proper bearings.  While that’s happening, the pilot boat follows alongside or nearby the bigger ship.  Once out in open water, the pilot leaves the ship and returns to the smaller pilot boat and turns back for the port city.  I never even knew such a job existed until a few years ago when I met my Swedish friend Ove.  Ove was a pilot boat captain as a career…so he was responsible for transporting the pilots back and forth to the ships coming in/out of the harbor in Lulea, Sweden.  Cool job…no day is quite the same I suppose.  It would be a very interesting job.

Middle of the night last night I woke up with the rolling and swaying of the ship.  I am wearing a patch for sea sickness and also something called a “Reliefband” which is a digital therapeutic device worn on your wrist (like a watch).  The Reliefband sends gentle electrical pulses through the nerves of your wrist.  I had turned it off when I went to bed, but at this point I turned the band back on to a low level. Luckily this did the trick and I slept through the rest of the night and woke only to the announcement on the PA system that it was 10 minutes until breakfast.


I’m feeling pretty darn good today…totally unexpected considering that we are crossing what is typically the roughest ocean in the world.  I ate regular meals all day and haven’t felt queasy, but some women are not feeling that great.  I took some time this morning to visit the bridge and interview the 3rd Officer who was happy to explain how things on the bridge worked.  The Captain is in charge overall.  The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Officers take turns navigating/operating the ship. To become an officer, you would go through 5 years of training, which includes one year on a ship for practical hands-on experience.

This morning the 3rd Officer, Nahuel, was on duty.  He was telling me that his family has a history of this career (not dad, but grandfather, great grandfather).  Below is a view taken from the bridge from this morning, and a photo of Nahuel working on the bridge.



In the afternoon our formal Homeward Bound leadership training began. Throughout the three-hour session we talked about our own goals for the journey, what characteristics are present in good leaders, and answered a lot of questions that had each one of us digging deep into our experiences and learning/leading styles.  It was fun because Fabian, our leader, had us pairing up with new people or shifting into small groups to discuss our responses to various questions.  It gave us more of an opportunity to meet new women and learn more about them.  We also got sent outside to walk around the deck and discuss ideas…and I really needed that fresh air and chance to move around.  There are only a couple of ways to circle the decks on the ship, but I didn’t mind repeating the loop a few times, especially with good company.

Our leadership coach and co-founder of Homeward Bound, Fabian Dattner…


The light rain from this morning stopped and gave way to fairly good visibility, then later shifted to fog as we crossed the Antarctic Convergence.  The Antarctic Convergence is an invisible and changing line where the warmer waters of the north mix with the cold water of the vast Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.  There was a lot of fog and mist late in the afternoon and early evening, which often signifies that a ship is crossing the convergence.  Drake Lake (as they call the Drake Passage when it’s calm) has been a dream come true today.  Seas have been calm, with barely 1 meter swells.  I heard only 48 hours ago the swells were 14 meters high…okay, I’m feeling fortunate now.  Waves got a bit more active later in the day, but I think, I hope I’ve gotten my sea legs!

Here are a few photos of the Ushuaia, our home until December 21st.  It’s a great smaller ship and I feel like there’s plenty of open space.

The library and work area…


which leads into the large lounge where most people hang out…


Fruit and coffee/tea are available 24 hours a day….


There are a couple of computer stations on board, but the connection can be painfully slow.


The food has been great!  Right now we have a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit.  I’m wondering how many we will have after 20 days at sea?!


The top deck of the Ushuaia…


Last one: our progress as of dinner time today, making our way across the Drake Passage toward tomorrow’s destination and first landing…



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