Kayaking amongst the ice in Antarctica

Dale kayaking
Dale kayaking

I was born with an adventurous spirit, but that doesn’t mean I am a gung-ho adventurous person. You could say that my mind is much more advanced than my actions. However, I also like to have a go, so when I signed up for Basecamp Plancius with Oceanwide Expeditions, part of my commitment was to go kayaking amongst icebergs.

My first hurdle was that I had never even sat in a kayak. For six weeks before my expedition set sail, I rose with the sun each Friday, rendezvoused with a mate who fortunately owned two kayaks and knew how to use them, and set off across a quiet lake near my home town. Chris was a great teacher, and my ‘graduation’ involved paddling in open water on a windy day. Which was just as well, as it turned out.

Dale kitted outDale kitted out

I arrived in Paradise Harbour in Antarctica feeling fairly confident that I would be able to control the kayak. Then came time to kit out in a full-emersion dry suit, jacket, skirt, cockpit cover and life jacket – I could barely breathe, let alone jump nimbly into my craft. An aspect I hadn’t thought of was that we needed to climb into the kayak from the side of an inflatable boat called a Zodiac – a totally different experience from stepping in dressed in shorts from the beach. Another difference was that the Antarctic kayaks were doubles, and I had no idea whether the man sitting behind me was more or less experienced than myself.

Read more: Antarctica – more than something to tick off your bucket list part 1

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I slid across the rubber sides of the Zodiac, aiming my feet at the crossbar inside the cockpit, and settled into the seat. So far, so good. I anchored my waterproof skirt around the rim of the cockpit and the guide handed me my paddle. We set off at a snail’s pace. There are many times I have been outside my comfort zone, but I think this is the furthest. I noticed we were listing to port, and I wasn’t sure if it was me or my paddling mate causing this. Any confidence I had gained during my practice sessions fled. As well as feeling fearful, I felt quite cross that things weren’t going according to the script.

Our kayaking guide Paul passed and I asked him what we should do. “Shift in your seat, and it’ll be okay,” he said. I told him I was worried about falling into the water, at which he began to wiggle violently in his kayak to prove they were a lot more stable than I was giving them credit for. I laid my paddle across the front, gripped the sides with both hands, and adjusted my bum. Magic! Suddenly all was even, and as I braced my knees against the hull, all that training kicked in and we were off! The bloke behind me really did know what he was doing.

Dale amongst the icebergs
Dale amongst the icebergs

For the next couple of hours we paddled around between unbelievably blue icebergs reflected in the calm water. The water was crystal clear and I could see not only the hidden parts of the icebergs, but pebbles on the bottom. It took my breath away.

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Then, without warning, the wind blew, sleet flung horizontally into my face, the waves slapped the kayak, and we had to paddle full pelt just to stay in the one spot while the Zodiac raced across the harbour to collect us. It was a powerful feeling knowing how to deal with the wind and waves. I thanked Chris for taking me into the windy open water on my last day of training back home.

Read more: Cruising the Antarctic

Of course, clambering out of the kayak and back onto the moving rubber side of the Zodiac was never going to be graceful, and I landed face down, feet up, on the bottom of the rubber boat. I wasn’t the only one. Cause for great mirth.

That night after dinner, we once again took to the Zodiacs to land on the ice and camp in bivy bags. But that’s another story.

Have you ever been out of your comfort zone while travelling? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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