Drake Passage, Northbound at Night

The half-moon watches, standing low on edge in the midnight sky as the swell takes us. Our bow rises in slow motion, geometry pitching the bridge backward as she comes up. Then the void of water moves on, below us, and we hurtle forward and down, again with the speed of a dream. We feel the impact before we see it, and a broad, heavy curtain of white erupts from the surface, enveloping everything ahead of us. As it clears, we feel the bow rising again, again in slow motion, again to repeat the endless pitching dance of crossing open sea.

The winds are strong from the west, but the swells are coming almost head on, sparing us from most of the queasiness-inducing rolling. Really, like this, I can close my eyes and remember being a kid, on the bunny hill by the old lodge at Arapahoe Basin in the winter. We’d climb up the hill by moonlight with inner tubes or cafeteria trays and launch ourselves down, surrendering any pretense of control to let gravity have its way with us. What a thrill that was, the rush of speed, the crush of weight as the hill pitched us up at a traverse then released us, almost weightless again to clatter down against the next stretch of hard snow.

Of course, without my blessed Promethazine, I expect this little fantasy would be quickly replaced by excuse-me-I’ve-got-to-lie-down-right-now, but so be it: I’ve never been slow to embrace better living through chemistry.

The weather map shows us skirting a lovely set of storms building to the west, a gaggle of low-pressure systems that have been crowding the gap between Tierra del Fuego and the Palmer Peninsula like eager for the starting gun. We’ll outrun them, but to do so we’re running all out against 40 knots on the bow and ten-foot seas. Rob, our Second Mate, assures me that this crossing is an easy one, then gauges my expression, presumably trying to decide whether to tell me a story about some or another crossing that wasn’t so easy. He decides not to, and conversation turns to the music on the bridge PA.

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