The Sea Kayaking Experience - Alaska to Antarctica

Betsy Forbes

The Sea Kayaking Experience - Alaska to Antarctica

Betsy Forbes

Kayaking in any destination is an amazing experience, and I have had the wonderful opportunity to kayak in the Puget Sound, on small ship cruises in both Alaska and Baja, and most recently in Antarctica.  While kayaking in Alaska, exploring the hidden bays, watching otters and seals from the vantage point of the water’s surface, and catching a glimpse of a humpback whale tail in the distance made the trip that much more memorable.  Kayaking on a warm day in Baja, we were free to explore within set boundaries, giving the added feel of independent adventure.  But my recent experience kayaking in Antarctica was truly unparalleled.  Traveling aboard the Ocean Diamond on a visit to the Antarctic Peninsula,  I signed up for the adventure option of kayaking, and will forever be thankful that I did. 

The program itself was so much more than I had envisioned.  We were a small group of 26 kayakers and 4 kayak guides.  We met several times while crossing the Drake Passage and the staff explained the program, covered safety information, outfitted us in dry suits, and had us sit in the kayaks on the ship deck in order to determine our correct pedal adjustments.  Once we reached the first landing, we had a choice of either participating in the kayak session or joining the rest of the passengers on the shore landing and Zodiac cruise.  Every morning we would meet prior to breakfast and the staff would go over the kayaking vs. the landing options and explain where we would be going, generally what the paddle would be like, and the landing site options.  If weather conditions permitted, this was a twice a day option and each outing was about 3 hours.  We were lucky on my cruise and didn’t have any kayak sessions cancelled, sometime a possibility due to wind rather than rain or snow – so we had eight paddles during our five days in Antarctica.

The sheer magnitude of the mountains and glaciers as a backdrop has to be experienced to be believed.  While I enjoyed my Zodiac rides, nothing compares to the stillness and quiet of kayaking in a bay, out of sight of all but your fellow kayakers.  It is like the difference between snowshoeing and snowmobiling – the chance to slow down and feel like you are really in the experience rather than just passing through it.

There were so many highlights that it is hard to pick my favorite kayaking moment.  I loved laughing with my kayak partner – a new friend from the other side of the globe – as we pushed through slushy ice in Port Lockroy Bay, navigating the mini burgie bits.  I was thrilled to see penguins ‘flying’ onto land and diving into the sea every time we kayaked close to the shore of a penguin colony.  Surprising a curious Weddell Seal was a joy and listening to logging whales breathe as they rested on the surface of the water is something I’ll never forget.  Paddling a single kayak for the first time and circumnavigating Cuverville Island is my proudest accomplishment of the trip.  The sheer delight of watching fledgling penguins belly flop as they were attempting to porpoise in and out of the water still brings a smile to my face.

Whether it’s Alaska, Baja, Antarctica or the Arctic, if you are considering adding kayaking to your next trip but are unsure, take the plunge!  You won’t regret it!  It is an experience that you will never forget.