January 8-10 On the Hero

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

Pulling Out

Down the Beagle Channel

Looking down the Beagle Channel
Looking at Ushuaia

Left: Seagull with the mountains above Ushuaia in the background (compare the snow patches with the view above).

Below: the sharp peak is Monte Olivia
Clear spots like these mystified me (left). They are far too remote and the climate is much too poor for them to be fields. Some looked like lumbering clear cuts but many were on very steep slopes and there was often no sign of roads leading to them. Some could be due to fires, to wind blowdowns, or perhaps slope failure. The oval opening at upper right is so sharp-edged that none of these explanations are entirely satisfying. This is not an environment that's likely to see many forest fires.


At the end of the Beagle Channel, a Chilean PT boat met us in the gathering dusk to escort us out to sea. The Hero stood fast for a bit as the crew readied for the sea voyage. I got ready for bed, but decided to go up on deck one last time. As I came out of the hatchway, I looked up and saw, above the Hero's mast, the Southern Cross for the first time. Nearby were Alpha and Beta Centauri, one gold, one blue-white. The whole scene was incredibly beautiful in the dark blue twilight sky.

"Smooth" Sailing

I slept in a four-man room off the galley. As we put out to sea, I could hear the water lapping the side of the hull and feel the rocking. It wasn't bad. Piece if cake, I thought. At dawn I got up to go to the bridge, hoping perhaps to see Cape Horn. I stepped into the galley. My eyes said it wasn't moving. My inner ear said it was. My stomach had a severe attack of cognitive dissonance. This isn't going to be as easy as I thought. The absolute last thing I wanted to think about now was a piece of cake. I flopped down on a galley bench and let my innards settle down. Thank Heaven I don't get seasick lying down - some people are fine standing up but can't lie down. I lurched up to a porthole and saw gray sky and heaving darker gray sea - no land. I groped my way up to the bridge and by fixating on the horizon managed to keep my stomach under control. Then I headed back down to my bunk. In the passageways, between having no visual clues and the diesel fumes, I started to lose it. I lurched into the head and barfed. Then I stumbled across the passageway into the storeroom opposite, and crashed onto the floor, narrowly missing the guys sprawled there in their sleeping bags. After a few minutes of quiet meditation, I got up and groped my way back to my bunk. For much of the first day, life was a matter of short frantic dashes punctuated by intense bouts of nausea and strenuous, not always successful, efforts to avoid losing my last meal.

The crew said this was one of the smoothest passages ever and, to be fair, it was smooth by Drake Passage standards. Swells were running 6-8 feet and the voyage only took three days. Some trips have taken far longer.

As for me, I couldn't just lay in my bunk for three days. We had a landing coming up and it might be strenuous. I would not be in much shape to do anything after three days without food. So I forced myself to get up and eat (sample crew humor: "The cook usually doesn't serve the really greasy stuff until the weather gets really rotten."), then I went back to my bunk to try and get at least some nutrition out of it. One trick I discovered was that I could use my drink glass as an artificial horizon. Fixing on the liquid and telling myself that it was level worked, crazy as it sounds. By the middle of the second day I was up and about most of the time. I had a constant headache and queasy feeling, but I could at least function.

Crew members told me they never did get over seasickness - they just accepted it as a fact of life and kept a coffee can handy for bad cases, and carried on with their jobs.

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Created 15 February 2000, Last Update