Harrowing adventure

Posted on 17 December 2010

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.
Comments (9) Comments are closed
9 Monday, 20 December 2010 01:42
stan lloyd
almost like passing Hatteras during a weather change
8 Friday, 17 December 2010 23:21
Cap'n Crunch
In the age of Wooden Ships and Iron Men, this would not have made the evening news, because there were no bridge windows to smash, no electronics to douse. The salts would've scrambled up the rattlin's, furled the tops'ls and sailed right through it.
7 Friday, 17 December 2010 22:21
Great job captaining the ship. A crew of 77 for 88 passengers helped. NGE coming to assist is what makes the fraturnity of sailors so special.
6 Friday, 17 December 2010 20:46
john ennis
I'll go to sea with that captain and crew . Magnificant ship handling.I've ridden bronc's that couldn't buck like that ship did and all the passengers rode her right to the pier
5 Friday, 17 December 2010 19:19
Jeff R
Several years ago I was able to enjoy a nice ride one of the sister ships between Nevis and St. Maarten. Nothing like the 35' seas mentioned, but a good pounding none-the-less. Nothing puts respect into you like the feeling of the entire ship shuddering under your feet as it pounds into the next wave.
4 Friday, 17 December 2010 18:54
Jim R
Reminds me of a trip to Bimini one time.
3 Friday, 17 December 2010 18:47
Steve Hayes
Well, they do call it "adventure tourism" but most passengers probably don't expect this level of excitement.

The crews of both ships are to be commended for their handling of their vessels and for being able to render any assistance at all.
2 Friday, 17 December 2010 18:10
Tim Kramer
I saw a personal interview with a passenger on this ship from Independence, MO. He was very positive about the cruise and had lots of video and pictures to share. He said it was a great trip. They just got caught in a storm and where just riding it out till the storm passed. A hand rail broke loose and knocked out a window on the bridge causing some minor damage. He mentioned some of the famous people that where on board. Not as big as a story as the media made it out to be! ( Imagine that )
1 Friday, 17 December 2010 17:21
Jim S
Scary Stuff!