The captain of the 290-foot luxury cruise ship Clelia II, who has navigated the Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica more than 150 times, says the conditions he encountered Dec. 5 were the most intense he's ever seen.
The cruise ship, with 88 passengers - all American citizens - and 77 crewmembers encountered 50-knot winds and 30- to 35-foot seas, according to Travel Dynamics International, which runs the 12-day adventure cruise to Argentina and the Antarctic.
Click play to watch a video of Clelia II tackling 35-foot seas. Mobile users can click here to watch.
Passengers who were interviewed after disembarking described the experience as terrifying.
The ship was violently shaking and twisting, Frank Dougherty told the Philadelphia Daily News. "I thought this was it," he says. "I never came so close to cashing it in."
The ship left Port Lockroy in the British Antarctic Territory and was transiting the Drake Passage, which runs between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands.
Clelia II reduced speed once it encountered the heavy weather and was cruising slowly toward Ushuaia, Argentina, according to a release on Travel Dynamics' website. "Tuesday morning, Dec. 7, the storm intensified, and at 10:40 a.m. an extraordinarily large wave hit the ship, breaking one of the bridge windows. Water entered the bridge, damaging some of the electronic equipment."
One crewmember, a Bulgarian bridge officer, was knocked down and slightly injured when the wave broke the starboard window. He later resumed normal duties. None of the passengers were injured, according to a report from the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators.
Contrary to several reports, the main engines and electric generators were not affected and continued to operate, according to Travel Dynamics, but communications were lost.
"It has been reported that the ship sent a distress call. It did not. It was also reported that the ship lost power. It did not - even at the height of the storm," the company says.
There was no damage to the hull, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators.
The expedition ship National Geographic Explorer, operated by Lindblad Expeditions, was about 20 miles away and sailed close to render assistance, if needed. The crew from National Geographic Explorer helped to restore Clelia II's communications and stayed nearby for about two hours. Clelia II resumed its schedule and reached Ushuaia on Dec. 9.
Travel Dynamics confirmed that the next scheduled voyage to the Antarctic Peninsula, which was intended to embark Dec. 8, was canceled. A Lloyds Register surveyor was in Ushuaia to inspect the Clelia II on arrival, along with a team from Harris Corp., which will survey the electrical systems.
The sinking of the 246-foot M/S Explorer in November 2007 incited calls for limits on Antarctic tourism. That ship had about 150 people on board when it is believed to have hit a growler in Bransfield Strait, 75 miles from the peninsula that juts out from the South Pole toward Cape Horn.Click here to read Soundings' full report on the sinking of the M/S Explorer.