Previously on the “Antarctic Episodes,” I presented a preview, talked about the Wildlife,the History, and the Science, and shared some of my favorite photos. Today, I’d like to tell you about my adventures in a sea kayak.
As you know by now, I befriended a few guys early in the trip. So, when the announcement went over the loudspeaker that anyone who was interested in sea kayaking should meet at 5:30, we looked at each other and the next thing we knew, we were in kayaks paddling among icebergs and seals.
This was something I’d never done and, admittedly, was a bit intimidated. Especially when one of the staff members told me his wife had been flipped by a whale the year before. Urban legend? Or truth? We may never know.
Doing my best to forget about the possibility of being flipped by a whale, I gathered the requisite gear and got dressed. The experience of putting on a dry suit is noteworthy. If you’re like me and haven’t tried it, head on over to your local outdoor supply company and ask to take a look at one. The “dry” part is thanks to rubber seals that cut off circulation to your feet, hands, and head. The good news? You’re dry. The bad news? All five senses are — at best — limited.
In spite of the limitations presented by the suit, let’s just say the experience was my favorite (so far). Better even than skydiving. Seeing penguins and seals from what amounted to their level was nothing short of amazing. We paddled through ice and over glassy water. While the other passengers made their landings in loud, smelly zodiacs, we accomplished the same thing in the Antarctic silence. Not to mention, we looked pretty cool walking around in our gear. Even if our extremities were blue from lack of blood flow.
The second day was equally impressive as we saw giant icebergs from up close (but not too close as they can flip at any time). For about forty minutes, we sat in our kayaks, sipped hot chocolate, and watched a group of chinstrap penguins. The chocolate only barely covering the smell of guano.
Things changed on the third paddle when the weather turned. A steady 30-knot wind blew snow in our faces. Rough ocean swells challenged our abilities. But, surprisingly none of it stifled my pleasure. I can’t wait to get in another sea kayak! But, as our Kiwi Expedition Leader pointed out,
“Having Antarctica as your first sea kayaking experience probably isn’t the best. It’s all downhill from here, buddy. No glaciers, ice bergs, seals, or penguins in North Carolina. Eh?”
Speaking of our Expedition Leader, after returning to the ship one day, his voice came over the loudspeaker announcing that anyone who wanted to prove their stupidity was welcome to come down to the ship’s gangway for a “polar plunge.”
The water was slightly above freezing and there was plenty of ice, plus it was snowing. Conditions were perfect for a swim. Allegedly.
Naturally, the guys and I were at the front of the line. I announced that I was going first (I was eager to just put the whole thing behind me as quickly as possible). I held onto a GoPro camera for posterity and you can’t miss the look of sheer terror on my face. The fear in my eyes is quickly replaced with pain when I hit the water. It was so cold that I completely forgot how to swim. Thank goodness I was tied to the ship. They dragged my shivering body back and thrust a cup of hot mulled wine into my hands. I drank it faster than anything I’d had before.
If you ask nicely, I’ll show you the video.