Port Lockroy blog 1: Rolling in the deep

In his first blog post of the season, Port Lockroy wildlife monitor Jerome Viard takes us through a night of the ‘Drake Shake’.

Port Lockroy blog 1: Rolling in the deep

In his first blog post of the season, Port Lockroy wildlife monitor Jerome Viard takes us through a night of the ‘Drake Shake’.

Port Lockroy blog 1: Rolling in the deep


Wildlife monitor Jerome Viard takes us through a night of the ‘Drake Shake’.

Our new and exciting adventure started at London Heathrow on the 27 October. After 24 hours of travelling by plane from London to Frankfurt to Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, we finally made it with our 14 pieces of luggage to the world’s southernmost city.

The team in Ushuaia (Credit: Laura Büllesbach/UKAHT)

After checking in to our cosy B&B, we spent four days in Ushuaia, studying the huge Port Lockroy base operations manual and going for hikes around the stunning Tierra Del Fuego National Park to break up study time.

We boarded the beautiful MV Sylvia Earle on 1 November, our shiny ride to Antarctica and Port Lockroy! We were the first passengers to board and spent an hour running around exploring the ship, in awe of the luxurious facilities. She has a library, several restaurants, a sauna with a sea view, an outdoor swimming pool and two jacuzzis!

We settled into our cabins and came right back out to meet the expedition team, ship crew and passengers. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming.

After the mandatory briefings and evacuation drill, we set off and left Ushuaia through the Beagle Channel. Antarctica here we come!

The team visited Tierra Del Fuego National Park (Credit: Laura Büllesbach/UKAHT)

We met the lovely and extremely welcoming Expedition Leader Florence Kuyper who is a 2012/2013 Port Lockroyian. Florence was so excited for us to take on what she says is the best job in the world! 

She also understood the challenges of living at Port Lockroy and wanted us to have the best possible time and experience while on board Sylvia Earle before facing the precarious living conditions of Port Lockroy. 

Once out of the Beagle Channel, we entered the Drake Passage, where the fun started…

Within the first hour of leaving the Beagle Channel, I already regretted not taking my seasickness medication. Poor Clare was extremely sick despite putting on a seasickness patch and was confined to her bedroom.  

Bridie, Laura and I decided to brave dinner. We were welcomed by the head chef and staff. They had prepared and displayed the dishes available on the a la carte menu this evening on the side so that we could see what to expect. It looked amazing!

We just about managed to take a seat – by now, it was challenging to walk around without holding onto something. Not many people made it to dinner as I expect passengers were probably feeling rather seasick and preferred staying in their cabins. 

One passenger started to look unwell while at her table. The waiter reacted with lightning speed and launched towards her, just managing to place a bag under her mouth in time! The bag was promptly removed and the passenger resumed her meal as if nothing happened. 

High seas on the Drake Passage (Credit: Jerome Viard/UKAHT)

We ordered our food, miso soup for starters and salmon for the main. Then the ship started swaying from side to side violently, being hit by huge swells sideways. Every eighth or ninth was a bigun and the chaos started… then the chaos really began. 

Cutlery and glasses slid off the tables, empty chairs toppled over. We grabbed onto everything we could on our table. People started screaming and laughing at the same time. Then the soup arrived.

The waiter was juggling a tray of soup and we grabbed our bowls with both hands but still needed to hold onto the table and cutlery and glasses. We tried to keep a good grip by spreading our legs and feet on the ground. We drank our soup so quickly, counteracting each wave as much as we could! 

Every swell sparked exclamations from customers and sent crookery and cutlery crashing onto the floor. Salt shakers and glasses were rolling from one end of the room to the other. Then a huge wave hit us. 

Feeling a little green over dinner (Credit: Jerome Viard/UKAHT)

Chairs were ripped from their shackles; passengers fell to the floor; bottles and plates smashed on the floor. It was pandemonium. 

The waiters – bless them – tried to carry on as normal and even apologised for the delay in getting us our food! I felt so sorry for the people in the kitchen, it would have been impossible to cook let alone produce a fine dining dish. Shabs, joined us at the table, telling me everything was flying in our bedroom and he tried to secure things as best he could. 

Our main course arrived. By that time I was eating with a fork I had rescued from the floor and a butter knife. The dish was somehow still beautifully presented – the dedication of the staff was unreal – anywhere else, that kitchen would have closed ages ago!

The rocking continued; people kept screaming; plates, cutlery and glasses kept crashing; wine spilt all over the carpet. At one point a whole row of chairs slid from one end of the restaurant to the other, missing someone standing and stopped a few centimetres short of the bay window. A bucket of water went over and towels were hastily thrown over the spill. A cabinet door came off its hinges and flew across the room, narrowly missing Shabs. It was pure carnage. 

Throughout, calm lounge music played in the background. 

The head chef appeared and received a warm round of applause. That was our cue to leave the madness and head to our cabins.

The 'Drake Shake' does its stuff (Credit: Jerome Viard/UKAHT)

En route, we passed the shop where all the items were strewn across the floor. At reception, the receptionist was holding her computer screen and printer. 

We bounced along the corridor like a pinball, laughing hysterically, in part to conceal our unease! When we reached our cabin, the beds were twisted out of place, the chair was on the floor, the phone and handset were dangling from the plug, our bags were sliding up and down the floor, and the coat hangers were rattling in the wardrobe. We slowly gathered the loose items and shoved them into drawers while trying to stay upright. 

Laura and Clare’s cabin was in disarray. Clare was still suffering but, somehow, had remained in her bed even though it had been completely turned around!

Laura and Clare decided to take shelter in Bridie’s larger cabin, lying on the floor using their feet as anchors wedged underneath their beds.

The Expedition Leader came on the tannoy and asked all passengers to stay inside their cabins and not to open any windows.

It can get a bit chilly down south! (Credit: Bridie Martin-West/UKAHT)

Shabs and I decided to watch a film (The Menu) while gripping our mattresses. Shabs’ bed was sliding towards the window so I grabbed the frame and tried to hold it in place. After the film, we attempted to get some sleep. 

Lying on my front, I gripped my mattress like a starfish, using my arms around the mattress and my feet gripping the other end of the mattress. It wasn't comfortable but if I let go, I promptly fell out of bed. I managed to fall asleep at some point, but always woke up when I felt I was rolling off my bed. 

What a night! They don’t call it the ‘Drake Shake’ for nothing.

– Jerome Viard, Wildlife Monitor, Port Lockroy

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