Our very first excursion in Antarctica was some frolicking fun kayaking. Iceberg experience not required. Kayak safety briefing absolutely required!
Our first morning briefing (which should have been while crossing the Drake, but was at anchor in Puerto Williams) was the mandatory kayak safety briefing, with our fabulous kayak expedition staff. They demonstrated how to put on the drysuits, paddle grip, and how to board the kayak from the zodiac. (NOTE: It’s way easier to board a zodiac from a kayak in a drysuit than to board one from the water in a wetsuit.)
The safety briefing stated kayakers must have previous experience. Antarctica is not the place to learn. Luckily, I’d been kayaking in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam and that qualified me!
Each night we were given the opportunity to sign up for one of two possible kayaking excursions the next day. But signing up didn’t guarantee you a spot. They cycled thru until everyone had an opportunity, before allowing repeats. I signed up for both the morning and afternoon excursions the first day. (TIP: It’s best to sign up for both in case the weather doesn’t cooperate!)
After we crossed the Drake, we woke up to a gray, snowy, winterland and kayaking was possible. After breakfast we collected our drysuits, neoprene booties, neoprene mittens, and loaner dry bag and went back to the suite to layer & gear up.
My layers included:
- merino sock liners
- merino socks
- merino leggings
- merino long sleeve base layer
- merino vest
After gently pulling the drysuit on (a first for me, since I prefer to dive in WARM water), I burped the suit (yeah that’s a thing you do), I put my booties on over the suit, adjusted the neck to ensure it was flush, and had my friend zip me up.
My gear included:
- Spare gloves (for the zodiac ride back)
- Neck gaitor (same)
- Pliable water flask
My kayaking video was shot hands free from my GoPro clipped to my slim style inflatable life preserver. So you’ll definitely see some of my paddling during the video. And you’ll also see when the snow gets on the lens.
What you didn’t see in the video was the dramatic conclusion of the excursion. (NOTE: Cold weather greatly decreases battery life.) We had entered a shallow cove to check out some gentoo penguins our land based excursion cruisemates were watching.
The story we agreed upon, was while we were rescuing a baby penguin from a pod of orcas a sperm whale knocked three of the kayaks over, including mine.
The actual story, while we were watching the penguins a rogue gust of wind blew three of the kayaks over. I was dumped into the icy water along w/my kayakmate. Yes the water was cold. Yes we did have to retrieve our paddles. Yes we were fine. We popped back up and climbed back into our kayak, unassisted. I did “sacrifice” my Oakley sunglasses to the Antarctic waters.
The kayak expedition leader was also knocked into the water as well as two of my new friends. I was very happy it wasn’t just us two girls who got knocked in. The expedition staff in the nearby zodiacs raced to help. By the time they got to us, we were already back in our kayak and heading over to the rest of the group. One of my friends lost his digital SLR and lens (buy insurance or leave it on the ship) and bruised a rib on the camera when he fell.
It would have been awesome if the GoPro had captured this epic ending and self rescue. But you’ll have to take my word for it. It also would have been awesome if our Expedition Leader, Luke counted this swim as a valid “polar plunge”, but no such luck.
All in all I’d agree, kayaking in Antarctica is not a good place to learn sea kayaking, but it was epic, frolicking fun and oh so memorable!