11 March 2012
This morning we woke up to promising news. Despite most of the passengers feeling that the cruise was rough and rocky, the journey was going well and we were on track to reach the outlying Antarctic South Shetland Islands just after lunch – and with any luck, we would manage a bonus landing.
The morning was busy – we had a briefing on Zodiac landings and how to behave with the wildlife in Antarctica. The planned landing was in the Aicho Archipelago on Bariolechos Island (my spelling isn’t right), however where there were penguins, but the crew wouldn’t give anything away – we had to be prepared for any change to the weather.
We also had the fitting of our kayak suits – this was the one time I didn’t feel sick all day as I was concentrating on getting several layers of clothes under a dry suit that made us resemble some weird superheros but far less attractive. After lunch, we were then fitted into our kayaks – I was in the stern with my roommate Cathy – so had control of our direction (not sure that was such a great idea!)
After lunch we were on deck as the first land in days came into view, and more birds including the huge Albatross, started following the boat.
At just before 4pm it was announced we would be going ashore. As a kayaker, we had the option to go on the zodiacs, or to kayak ashore and make a beach landing in the kayaks – which we all opted to do.
The first rush to the mud room to prepare was a bit muddled but we got there, and through the launching of dual kayaks from the side of a ship! It was surprisingly easy. A tough paddle through some strong waves and we made our first Antarctic landing.
‘Let’s have a quick meeting just near the Elephant Seal’ said kayak master Ian – not something you often hear. We had about an hour or so to walk around and take photos. It was truly incredible.
As I put my SLR around my neck, the cold fingers seemed forgotten as Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins approached us, we were just metres from this huge elephant seal. I took hundreds of photos, and then just stopped to take it all in – felt so excited.
Walking back to the kayaks we passed a number of fur seals and whale bones before dragging the boats back to water. As we paddled out a fur seal popped its head up to say goodbye – it was so funny.
Back on board we warmed up over a drink for Happy Hour – now the waves stopped it was all OK – and there were lots of stories to swap – the things we saw as kayakers – and the slight feeling of disappointment that the others had seen a leopard seal, but I was still smiling – will the rest of the trip top this?