“It’s going to be blowing 60 knots, with 10 metre seas”, Zeek says very matter-of-factly. We all just look at him in silence, searching for his emotion to know if we should be worried, or totally petrified. I try to imagine what it would actually feel like to be blown by such strong gusts and bounced around by a swell – or multiple competing swells – twice the height of the tiny yacht. That’s force 11 – a violent storm with exceptionally high waves. “The sea is completely covered with long white patches of foam. Everywhere edges of wave crests are blown into froth”. I had heard people talk with wide eyes about crossing the Drake Passage in 40 knot winds, so was 60 knots suicide? The notorious 500 miles passage from the Antarctic peninsula to Cape Horn takes around 4 days and 3 of those were likely to be “rough”. But we have flights to catch from Ushuaia so there is no way to delay our departure more than a day. Zeek comes up with a plan to try to avoid the worst of the tempests which has the bonus of us spending an extra 24 hours in Antarctica.
“It’s hard to leave it, isn’t is”, I heard Lonan whisper to Gry.
I had just crawled inside my tent and snuggled into my sleeping bag for the night but my tent is still unzipped and I gaze out the door at a dozen dark fur seals curled up on the rocks 50 metres away, then glance to the sea where 40 white crab eater seals lay slumped on ice floes within spitting distance of the shore. A few gentoo penguins stand on the snow, or swim about around the bay looking for krill. Behind them, the jagged black peaks of Booth island rise impressively towards the sky. Crevassed glaciers lay on top of and around all of the rock, covering every inch of rock that isn’t near vertical.
It’s hard to stop gazing at the view or watching the animals go about their daily business. They aren’t bothered by us at all. The fur seals break into spontaneous play fighting at regular intervals and occasionally a crab eater seal will slide into the water, or shoot up onto a floe. At one point, 2 penguins lept out of the water in a hurry and Dave spots the reason why. The powerful, prehistoric head of a leopard seal breaks the surface a few metres behind them. The predatory seal cruises around the bay for a while, looking for any less careful penguins.
We spent 2 nights camping on Booth island. On the beautiful sunny day in between, we wander from our campsite up a small hill, then past thousands of nesting Gentoo penguins. The chicks are losing their fluffy down and are nearly in their swimming plumage. Soon they will be ready to go to sea. We climb 250 meters up a rocky hill, past more penguin nests. The parents carry food up to their hungry chicks to a height of nearly 200 meters, presumably every day.
Our beautiful day on Booth island is one of only 2 days where we don’t paddle in the 2 weeks we have been in Antarctica so far. One other day 30 knot winds changed our plans and instead of kayaking, we visited the historic hut and museum at Port Lockroy and went for a walk amongst penguins and whale bones. Every other day we have paddled past incredible carving glaciers, crossed through brash ice to remote rugged islands and weaved through rocky islands in the mist. Humpback whales occasionally join us, as did a couple of minke whales. The weather has been mostly fairly good with mostly light winds. We had a few days of rain and a couple of days where snow settled on our kayaks and veiled the mountains. We threw snowballs at each other using the snow that settled on brash ice.
In my tent, I smile at Lonan’s comment. It certainly is hard to leave but I’m tired and I reluctantly zip away the view and shut my eyes. I fall asleep listening to penguins chattering in the distance.
I am so excited to be able to finally tell you that I was voted the winner of the Media Professional category at the “World Paddle Awards” today. The organisers told me the fantastic news back in November so I would have time to arrange travelling to Portugal to pick up the ‘golden paddle’ award, and it’s been really hard to keep it a secret since then. Unfortunately I am in Antarctica on a sailing and sea kayaking trip. I guess truthfully, it’s never unfortunate to be in Antarctica, but it’s unfortunate timing, as I would love to be in Portugal meeting the judges and other recipients.
Justine is proud to be interviewed on the ‘Tough Girl’ podcast and had a good laugh doing it. This interview is part of a series carried out by Sarah Williams, who is no stranger to adventure herself. Every Tuesday she published a podcast with a female adventurer and they are very information and entertaining.
I am in Antarctica when it publishes, but tried to set up my blog to publish the news at the right time! It should be live at 7am UK time on Tuesday 14th February – so if the link isn’t working it may be too early. It may not be everyone’s idea of something to do on Valentine’s Day, but you may enjoy it at some point!