Antartica’s weather delivered one final surprise before our departure. We had expected to board our flight to South America in a day. However, a low cloud ceiling had set in for the foreseeable future, and our plane could not fly into Antarctica to pick us up. The captain and crew considered options, and they decided the best course of action to get us back to our flights and home for Christmas was to sail almost 700 miles across the notoriously rough Drake Passage, which is the water separating the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula from the southern tip of South America.
This was a journey we had not expected to take. In fact, we had paid significantly more money to fly over the Drake than to sail through it. But, we had quickly learned travel in Antarctica is consistently disrupted by weather, and this was the grand finale of all travel disruptions.
The sail across the Drake lasted about two days. According to the expedition leaders, they rated the Drake roughness at a 4 / 10. We saw 60 knot winds and 14 foot seas, and the Southern Ocean left us feeling pretty green.
After a couple of rolling days on the open ocean, with not much to do but watch for seabirds, eat meals, and attend lectures (if the stomach allowed), we finally sailed around the historic Cape Horn and into calm waters at Puerto Williams, the southernmost city in the entire world.
We came alongside the dock at Puerto Williams for the night. The next day, worn and tired, we caught a chartered plane from the tiny Puerto Williams airport to Punta Arenas, Chile, where we were supposed to have landed on our flight from Antarctica.