With a loud exhale, the strong prehistoric neck of the leopard seal broke through the water 5 meters from my kayak. His piercing, beady eyes looked straight into mine as he cruised through the sea towards me. I didn’t know if I should be scared, but I couldn’t help admiring the muscular form of the efficient killing machine. I had time to examine his spotty neck and rippling shoulders before he disappeared under the water with a splash and headed off looking for a penguin for his lunch.
I was fortunate to spend a month sailing to and from Antarctica and exploring the Antarctic Peninsula by kayak. Our team of 7 left Ushuaia in a 61 foot yacht, the Spirit of Sydney, and sailed 500 miles across the notorious Drake Passage. Once on the icy peninsula, our goal was to paddle along the incredible glacier covered landscape, island hop and enjoy the many penguins, seals and whales that feed on the abundant krill that surrounds the Southern Continent.
We covered almost 200 nautical miles over 16 days of paddling. Our excursions varied from tracing the contours of ice cliffs a hundred meters from shore, to visiting noisy, smelly, vibrant colonies of Adelie, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins. From weaving in between low rocky islands, to open crossings dotted with multiple icebergs.
Four times we camped overnight on the ice; feeling totally at peace and privileged to be sleeping on such a pristine, unspoiled wilderness, with views of craggy glaciers, towering icebergs and the resident penguins and seals.
We bashed and dodged our way through dense rafts of bergy bits, from cup-size to chair size, and temporarily adjusted our compass bearing to weave around larger bergs. A gentle swell rolled under the carpet of ice, and unencumbered by its dense load exploded onto the small rocky islets that broke up our journey.
Get out points are rarely easy or abundant along the icy coast of Antarctica and lunch spots were snatched on low rocky headlands or islands, often shared with a couple of lazing fur seals.
I feel lucky to have experienced this wild, untamed land by kayak, which surely has to be the best way to see all the nooks and crannies. We have had time to linger, to take in the vast vistas and the tiny lichens. We’ve seen krill swimming and whales breaching, ice cliffs tumbling into the sea at the end of a thousands-of-years journey and penguin chicks ready to take their first plunge into the same ocean at the start of their own life.
The journey back across the Drake Passage was scary, with a maximum of 67 knots of wind and 10 meter seas. But the stormy passage in some ways intensifies the whole experience, putting it into context, adding an extra edge of appreciation of life in general and specifically to the only continent where man is unable to live full time.
Our team of paddlers relied on Kokatat dry suits for the near freezing air and sea temperatures in Antarctica. My trusty Gore-Tex Meridian dry suit kept me totally dry every day on the water, and my MsFIT Tour PFD had plenty of pockets for my VHF, safety gear and plenty of snacks!
Justine will be running another kayaking trip to Antarctica in 2019. Get in touch with her for more details at www.cackletv.com
"Our team of paddlers relied on Kokatat dry suits for the near freezing air and sea temperatures in Antarctica."