Kayaking in Antarctica
“Kayakers meet in the library in 5 minutes” echoed through the intercom system on the MS Expedition. My dad looked at me with his ‘you better get moving’ look and I froze in fear and excitement. Immediately I closed my laptop, packed up my things, told dad I’d be back in a bit and hurriedly raced to the library. Three minutes had gone by, but by the time I entered the library, 12 of the 16 of us were already in the room. I let out a sigh of relief realizing that I wasn’t the last one to show up. First rule of ‘Kayak Club’ in Antarctica is that you are not late to kayak club meetings. The second rule of kayak club is that you ARE NOT late to kayak club meetings.
Our fearless leader, Ian, ran a tight ship. He had us trained well and I was impressed with how quickly a whole bunch of strangers who were on vacation fell in line and followed instructions! We all became a pretty tight knit group. The first time we went out, I was excited and nervous, but the moment I got in the kayak I realized why it was so special – you were at a whole different perspective – at water level. Immediately, I felt more one with my environment. As we paddled away from the ship, my senses were heightened as it felt like my whole view of the landscape had changed. One of the most beautiful things about kayaking was the fact that it was quiet – super quiet. You were able to get close to the shore and cliffs where the other boats couldn’t go and it was then that you realized just how massive the icebergs, glaciers, and mountains were. I felt small. But I felt wonderful. That first day out on the water, I told Ian that even though I really love my job and what I do, that he may just have the best job in the world.
We used 2 people kayaks that were extremely sturdy for sea kayaking. The rear person did the steering with pedals and the front person (me) simply had to paddle. We were also provided with waterproof suits, booties, pogies (waterproof hand covers), a skirt, and lifejackets. Since you were working pretty hard paddling, it didn’t take long to generate heat in that waterproof suit and you were quickly sweating! So you didn’t really need many layers under your suit. Sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat are also an excellent idea to bring with you. Granted, I don’t know a ton about kayaking – but I do know that we did have top notch gear.
Each day we’d have a meeting and Ian would discuss the kayaking plan for the day, weather conditions permitting. We went out a total of 8 times – which made it a great value. Each morning we were able to decide if we wanted to go kayaking or if we wanted to skip it and do a zodiac landing instead. I typically did one kayaking outing a day and one zodiac landing with my father.
As soon as we got in the water, Ian would take us in the opposite direction of the other non-kayaking zodiacs and people. We’d soon be in complete silence and the ship would no longer be in sight. It really did feel like you were at the end of the world.
At the end of the voyage, we received a paddling log that recorded every outing, describing the area, the distance we paddled, the weather conditions, and a reminder of things that we saw. The group as a whole paddled 33.38 nautical miles and was out on the water for 15 hours and 4 minutes.
What was the paddling like?
Gorgeous – but challenging. The kayaks were sturdy and could get through lots of obstacles – more than I ever imagined. We paddled through many, many long patches of brash ice, which was hard work. We were also able to paddle up onto fast ice (a thin layer of flat ice that has ‘fastened’ itself to coasts), where often times seals were napping. Our guides, Ian and Mark, were really professional and knowledgeable about the area and wildlife. They could answer any questions and made sure that we were supported at all times.
What did you see?
Penguins practically jumped in our kayak at times! In the shallow water it was so clear you could see them swim under the water. We saw many seals napping on icebergs, and we did even see a whale. Actually – we first heard the whale breathing and then it came up around our kayaks. It was a bit of a shock as that’s about as close as you’ll ever get to a whale! Everyone was so startled though, so no photos were captured. You were also treated to some of the most pristine views possible. Since our kayaks didn’t create a lot of disturbance in the water, the glass like conditions created some amazing reflections.
We all received a Certificate of Completion and photo that was slightly tongue-n-cheek – stating
“Sherry Ott was among the adventurers to ply the frigid waters of Antarctica in a sea kayak. Amidst brash ice and icebergs, among seals and penguins, through wind and swell, under cloud and sun, she has paddled in a true polar wilderness, and is entitled to all the bragging rights thereof. This document hereby certifies that the above named is among the rare few on the planet who can claim to be an Antarctic Sea Kayaker!”
If you planning on cruising to Antarctica, and you want to be active and see a completely different perspective, then sign up for the kayaking if it’s offered. If you don’t have a lot of experience kayaking, then do yourself a favor and take a few lessons before you go as this is really an opportunity that you don’t want to miss out on. It was easily my favorite thing I did in Antarctica!
Sherry Ott is Travel Blogger and Co-Founder of Meet Plan Go.