Sunday, November 29, 2009

Transformed by Southern seas - the cold beauty of the ice.

Hey we survived! We're back in Ushuaia, after having visited the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. Somehow I feel different, having experienced some challenging and fascinating experiences, together with with some very interesting people – especially, but not only, the kayaking bunch.

Gold Harbour in South Georgia is the paddle that springs most readily to mind, not because of the glacier calving right in front of us, but because of the standing waves that greeted us as we addled out of the glacier's lagoon. The tide had dropped, and the swell outside had increased markedly, but Marie and I faced up to those waves like the old pros that we aren't, paddled hard and strong through the break, and then back through the heightened swell to the challenging climb back up on the swaying lurching ship. We heard later that those conditions for reboarding were too extreme, but we did it anyway.

Seeing Shackleton's grave, plus the cross erected in his honour by his men at Hope Pt at Gritviken brought a lump to my throat, and also walking the last 5kms he, Crean and Worsley walked from Fortuna Bay over the mountain to Stromness was very evocative, and helped me understand the struggles they had, especially when I was nearly thigh deep in thick snow.

Peltier Channel from Pt Lockroy on the Antarctic Peninsula was another remarkable paddle, and hasn't been paddled in its entirety by a group from the ship before. The weather had cleared again, miraculously, and here we gliding along through spectacular snow encrusted peaks set against an azure blue sky.

The beauty of the Lemaire Channel in the evening was almost overwhelming, awe inspiring, and very very beautiful. I could hardly bear to tear myself away to go and enjoy the fabulous BBQ that had been prepared on the back deck in case I missed some of the unfolding beauty of the channel.

I think with amazement back to the grandeur and majesty of the landscapes we've seen, the wonderful weather we had, and also to the cohesiveness and friendship of the paddling group plus other passengers – and also the challenging paddling! South Georgia was every bit as wild and ruggedly beautiful as I thought it would be, and I'd love to go back – there's so much that we didn't see.

Hmmm - yes I did say that the weather was great - and yes I am including 2 days of Force 8 - 9 winds and 7m swells coming back through the Drake Passage. Not sure Marie will agree with that thought though!


I loved the Falklands and South Georgia, but also the Antarctic Peninsula equally. Paddling the Peninsula seemed to fall into a pattern. Up early, zodiac set off with non-paddlers, and then we paddled off after climbing down a rope ladder, into a zodiac and then into kayak while our trusty guide kept the kayak steady. Did the paddle, back to ship for lunch, the ship moved on and then the whole procedure happened all over again.

One particular paddle comes to mind. Half Moon Island, the wonderful shapes and colours of the icebergs with blue sky and flat sea, penguins, birds – what more could we want. And a lot more.

There was always the thought of chunks of ice falling and creating small tidal waves etc. In particular Paradise Bay which had a huge magnificent glacier. We paddled down towards it while hearing booming noises in the background which to me sounded like chunks of ice breaking off the glacier. Paddled through a large patch of brash ice and on way back wind etc.

Big swells and wind on way back through Drakes Passage to Ushuaia with two days open sea. Still all worth it.

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