Surfski Paddling past an iceberg in Antarctica

Surfski paddling in Antarctica

#MockeinAntarctica: Our last Antarctic Days. Story #3 of 3.

Our ship is now departing Antarctic waters. On our stern I can catch a final glimpse of the South Shetland Islands as we enter the famed Drake Passage. We have just spent three days exploring Antarctica – paddling, hiking, and swimming (yes, that’s right) – working on Project Antarctica 2020, establishing marine protected areas around the continent.

As head of water safety (i.e. safety paddler 😉) I could select the craft of choice, and decided that we would use surfskis.

As far as I know, no-one has ever paddled surfskis down here, nor attempted to explore possible downwind paddling routes. They worked incredibly well and, with the right gear, are a fantastic way to explore this place.

Paddling Halfmoon island was exceptional. We covered 15kms all along the rocky, snowy, and ice laden shoreline, exploring beautiful icebergs, and riding swells generated from calving glaciers.

The first ever Antarctic downwind was also memorable! To do the downwind paddle required some deftly maneuvering off the side of the ship. That was followed by a 2.5km push into 30 knots of, literally, ice-cold wind. I turned at the top of the bay, very carefully. Then I did the first surfski downwind paddle in Antarctica, squeezing in 3.5kms before needing to return to the ship. A longer run will have to wait until next time.

Here is a link to my Garmin Connect track:

Calm water with ice in Antarctica
We were paddling through dead calm water, chunkc of ice all around us.

Yesterday we were paddling in a bay surrounded completely by glaciers. There was one calving “crack” which silenced us all as it echoed off the high mountain walls. Then it began to snow, heavily. We were paddling through dead calm, ice cold water, through chunks of ice and snow falling all around us. It was the most surreal experience.

It is, however, impossible to highlight any one day’s paddling. Just getting on the water and floating off into these freezing waters is enough. This continent has an untouched, wild serenity about it. Its beauty is so simple – mountains, snow, ice. It’s a captivating vastness that draws you in and can hold you for hours. Even the silence is breath-taking. But it’s a dangerous tranquility, broken by sudden thunderous cracks of glaciers calving or moving, reminding you of exactly how tiny you are. When you’re on top of a peak in Antarctica, or paddling past an immense chunk of blue glacial ice, thousands of years old, you don’t just ‘feel’ small; you realise that you ARE small!

Our main goal during our time here was to conduct a number of demo swims and also for Lewis to do a live speech to the COP23 Climate Change Conference in Bonn. (I can’t decide what I’m geeking out about most – swimming on 0°C water, or a LIVE speech streamed from ANTARCTICA!)

Also, paddle as much as possible.

We achieved all our goals. 😉

We did manage a hike too. Overlooking the bay, sharing the view with chinstrap penguins (it’s so funny watching them waddling up the mountain) we just stood there: watching, looking, gazing. Captivated.

Hiking up a mountain in Antarctica
Hiking up a mountain in Antarctica

On our way down we decided that to be considered part of the Lewis Pugh team we must all at least jump in the water. We bravely spent about 20 seconds in the water each, most of which was spent “getting out in a hurry”; pale (excuse the pun) in comparison to Lewis’ 2min, 5min, let alone 20min, swims!

Somewhere over the next 2 days sailing, between here and Ushuaia, we will sail through the Antarctic Convergence zone. It’s on the edge of where the world’s oceans meet the circumpolar current, a magnificent engine that God designed, using the cold water off Antarctica, to feed the oceans of the world and power its weather patterns. At this convergence zone we’ll sail into a thick mist. The wind dies down to a puff and it feels as if you’re doing a type of crossing over from one world to the next. In a way, that’s exactly what’s happening. Vast, tranquil, ageless, other-worldly – Antarctica lies behind us, for the most part, untouched, a different world.

I want to thank Lewis for trusting me to keep him safe in the water. What a privilege to visit this place!
I would also like to thank Peter Grantham for joining as a fellow paddler and assisting me on water safety. It was wonderful sharing these moments with you and I would like to thank you for your support of the Lewis Pugh Foundation.
Thank you also too the rest of the team: Miguel Booth, Olle Nordell, Steve Peters, David Bush, Jacqui L’Ange, Merle Melvill and Roger Melvill