KAYAKING AROUND AN ICEBERG
About 3 years ago Peter (the man of the house) woke up one morning and decided that he would kayak down the Murray River. We had never kayaked and knew nothing about kayaking but this of course was not seen to be a problem. In our search for information we found Canoe SA and in particular the Adelaide Canoe Club and the 2 Davids. This not only enabled us to gain skills and knowledge: it also introduced us to other kayaking/water options and we became keen to do more once Peter had achieved his Murray River goal.
At one weekend paddle David Masoulf had photos of his rafting trip down the Franklin River. Wow! This looked great. A couple of weeks later, the company that David had used also had an advert in a newsletter from Canoe Aust. It was fate! After a chat with David we booked our trip. Next time, before considering one of DavidÕs trips, I will read the report a little more closely. Although it was great, the scenery fantastic etc there were moments when it was quite frightening and challenging.
The season for the Antarctic is the same as for the rafting season in
Tasmania so we tacked it on to the end of our rafting trip. As South America, where we needed to catch the boat to Antarctica, is so far away we thought we might spend a bit longer there and achieve another dream of walking the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu. A 2 week holiday had grown to 2 months. The one day home between the Franklin River trip and leaving for South America was not enough for the bruises and scratches to heal but I had recovered from the mild concussion (when the river guide says Ôduck!Õ do it before thinking about it and you wonÕt hit the tree). We repacked our bags and were off.
To catch the ship you need to get to Ushuaui in Argentina at the bottom tip of South America. It has a population of about 30,000 and is as well known for its winter sports as for the Antarctic cruises. There is a large National Park (Tierra Del Fuega), with the oldest still remaining Antarctic Beech forest close by. We were able to spend one day there to bush walk and canoe before boarding our boat. The boat that we had chosen only took 47 passengers and as we approached the wharf it looked very small in comparison to the other boats docked there. We kept telling ourselves that it had done it before as we went aboard. The ships dock between 0600 and 0800 and leave the same day between 1600 and 1800. There is a lot of activity in order for this to happen: we of course tried to board early and only added to the confusion.
It takes approx 2 days to cross the Drakes Passage before sighting the South Georgia islands and our first penguins, icebergs, etc, so there was time for the emergency drills and information on the joys and hazards of sailing in the Antarctic. Drakes Passage in particular is notorious for rough seas. We were very lucky initially as it was unexpectedly calm. The support crew consisted of the Expedition Leader with a Marine Biology degree and an extensive background in whale research, a New Zealander who had spent 3 tours with the Australian and New Zealand Antarctic division and a lot of time on Macquarie Island and now with the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife, another marine biologist specializing in seals, a geologist, and a very passionate historian. The one of most interest to us was the person in charge of kayaking. Tim Thomas, an American, spends 6months in the Antarctic and the other 6 months teaching outdoor education at a teachers college in the States. He was passionate about kayaking and the Antarctic and was determined that we would spend as much time as possible on the water. On meeting our fellow kayakers we found to our surprise that we were the most experienced. Of the 8 other people, one had a lot of experience in canoes but the rest had spent less than a week training and only because of this trip. Apparently it is not unusual to have people that have never been in a kayak taking the paddling option so this was a good group. We were issued with a dry suit, Wellingtons, PFD, Pogies, Spray Deck and Deck bag. At all times that we were in the water a zodiac would be on patrol in case of problems. Kayaking depended on the weather and this would be decided at each landing. At each landing the 6 kayaks (5 doubles for us and a single for Tim) were taken to shore first, followed by us kayakers, and then the other passengers. After spending sufficient paddling time we were able to join the other passengers and spend time with the penguins and other wildlife. The pre-cruise information had said that we could expect about 4 paddles but, as it turned out, we were able to get out for 7 paddles in 8 days – only 1 paddle was cancelled because of winds greater than 30 knots.
Our first paddle came on the evening of our 2nd day at sea. Drakes Passage had been so calm that we had made good time. At about 1730 the call came – we were paddling! Getting into all the gear takes a bit of practise but we were ready on time – if a little apprehensive. The weather was a little grey and the water quite choppy with 10-20 knot wind but with the kayak master being very calm we left the boat and landed ashore. Surrounded by 60,000 penguins I wasnÕt sure that I wanted to kayak. What to do first? Look at penguins or get in the water? We had come all this way to kayak and the penguins could wait. After a quick refresher on paddling techniques we were in and off. We had come a long way and at last we were in the water.
Nowadays we are all spoilt with wonderful wildlife programs and big clear TVÕs to watch them on: it is easy to pretend that we are there. I am sure that we all have disappointing memories of visiting places that have not lived up to our expectations; the Antarctic is not one of these. The air, apart from the smell of penguins and seals, is clean and the light amazing. As far as you can see are penguins, icebergs and seals. The only ship in sight was ours and the only people for miles were our fellow passengers. It was better than we had thought it possible.
During our 8 days amongst the ice we docked at 12 bays/stations, we had 7 kayaking experiences, with only one being cancelled for winds greater than 30 knots, we saw thousands of penguins, touched lots of icebergs, saw seals, whales and albatrosses etc. We swam at Deception Bay and spent a night camping out on the Antarctic continent. It coincided with our wedding anniversary. Just me and 2 men in a small tent at minus 5 degrees Centigrade. We saw glaciers calving and an iceberg bigger than most houses roll upside down. We kayaked amongst the brash ice with penguins and seals porposing around us. We sat quietly amongst the icebergs and listened to the ice creaking and cracking. And on the final day we followed 2 humpback whales playing in the Antarctic water. I would have been happy to kayak around 1 or 2 icebergs but I had a choice of thousands. The ship travelled through both the Lemaire Channel and the Gerlache Straites – both known for their spectacular beauty. The scenery was pristine and spectacular, and the wildlife not at all interested or afraid of us. I developed enormous admiration for the sailors and men that had explored this spectacular continent and for those that are trying to preserve it. There is nothing that I would change or add to the trip that we had, except of course the infamous Drakes Passage that got its revenge on us on the way home. I would recommend this experience to anyone.
If you have any desire to see Antarctica I would recommend a small boat with a kayaking option so that you can get up close to all the wildlife and icebergs etc. It will enrich your experience and give you the most amazing memories.
Arrienne and Peter Wynen