It started as a barely discernible rattle that drew our eyes to the glacier. A few small chunks of ice bounced down the sheer face and hit the sea with a thud. Before you could move, or get your camera out, a block the height of a 2-story house disintegrated in mid-air and collapsed with a roaring clap of thunder, slamming into the sea, pushing up a vertical wall of water with frightening force. We all silently evaluated how far away we were and how much energy the wave would have when it reached us. We had paddled as close to the living ice cliffs as we thought was safe, but the scale in Antarctica is deceiving. There are no trees, or plants or people on the ice to help you judge distance. Was the calving glacier 20 meters or 200 meters tall? As we sat and waited, we realized we were actually further away than we had thought. Seconds passed, and nothing happened. Slowly we discerned that the multiple blocks of floating ice from dinner plate to campervan size were being lifted and dropped by a rolling swell. By the time the waves rolled under us, they were probably 30cm tall and bore no threat. You could hear the energy though, as brash ice and icebergs shook besides us. In a second icefall later, a van-size iceberg was rolled multiple times by the ensuing wave. It was humbling to watch the power of nature and realize there was no way to predict what would fall when. I also felt lucky to be able to witness such a spectacle of nature – the changing shape of the landscape.
An hour later, we pulled ashore on a rare rocky point which wasn’t overshadowed by an overhanging icecliff. As we munched on sandwiches, someone noticed tiny krill in the shallow clear water – the lifeblood of the Antarctic foodchain and what brings all the whales, seals and penguins here. Just after we launched, a strong sleek head emerged from the water with a noisy exhale. The leopard seal wasn’t phased by 7 kayakers heading towards him. He stared right into my eyes, giving me a wonderful view of his spotty strong neck, although I was happy that he kept going.
We have paddled 3 days so far after we arrived in the Melchior islands on Tuesday evening. On Weds, we explored that cluster of islands, enjoying calm serene waters on the south side and dynamic swell and boomers on the north. The morning was bathed in sunlight with blue skies and view of the dramatic 1000 meter+ peaks on neighbouring Anvers and Brabant islands. A few chinstrap penguins hung out on the rocks while fur seals sprawled out on low snowy islands. A snoozing humpback was chilling out in the bay while another couple were feeding ahead of us.
On Thursday, the yacht moved us to the West coast of Anvers island and we spent 5 hours exploring Chiriguano bay, the scene of our icefalls and incredible scenery. Our captain and 2nd mate, Zigg and Santi, then moved the yacht to Enterprise island on the other side of a choppy Gerlache Strait, as we huddled inside eating and drinking tea.
Today it started off raining, windy and misty, not inspiring conditions for a paddle but we are only here once so most of us put on an extra layer and headed out to explore relics of the whaling industry. They weren’t hard to find as we are moored up to the 100 meter wreck of a whaling boat that caught fire in 1919 and was ran aground purposely. On nearby islands, small wooden whaling boats have been left to rot and whale ribs lay discarded next to glaciers and under the water. Dave picked one up on the end of his paddle until he realized how rancid it smelt. At some point the rain turned to snow and began to pile up on our decks and PFDs (buoyancy aids), and on the rocks and bergy bits. Hundreds of fur seals watched us, ignored us, or went totally silent as we passed by.
Tomorrow should be nicer weather and we plan to explore Wilhelmina Bay, where there are often lots of humpbacks so fingers crossed. Meanwhile,it’s 7pm and there is some glacial ice onboard that is asking to be combined with some gin, tonic and lemon so I’ll sign off and help it out.
I am in Buenos Aeries on my way to Ushuaia for a month long sailing and kayaking trip in Antarctica. 9 of us – 2 sailing crew and 7 kayakers – will sail across the notoriously rough Drake Passage to the Antarctic peninsula. During the 4-5 day journey, we’ll take it in turns to be on watch on the yacht. Once there, we will have around 2 weeks to sea kayak alongside ice cliffs and rocky spires, weaving between ice bergs, paddling alongside whales, penguins and seals. The yacht, Spirit of Sydney, has a blog that we will be updating every so often with our news. Check it out at http://www.spiritofsydney.co/blog/
Very excitingly, Justine has been nominated for an award at the prestigious “World Paddle Awards” in the ‘Media Professional’ Category.
The winner is decided partly by a committee and partly by a public vote. If you appreciate the many inspiring films that Cackle TV has brought to you over the last 12 years, or have enjoyed a presentation or magazine article by Justine then we’d really love you to vote for her. It only takes a few seconds. Just click here – or on the photo above – and click ‘like’ or the big black thumb at the bottom of the page.
Check out some of the other nominees in all the categories.
Thanks very much!
Black choppy waves thudded chaotically onto my deck, the frigid water smashing up into my face. Heavy rain hammered down noisily and stung my face, while a headwind blew the cold into my bones. The small island I was hoping to camp on was a few miles away but had disappeared into a black haze. Darkness would soon follow. Ahead of me was a long rocky carry with the kayak from the low water mark and I was already shivering. Why then was I laughing wildly into the elements, my Cheshire cat grin plastered with rain, my sodden hair hanging limp around my rosy cheeks, my tired body only just warm enough after 10 hours of paddling? It was day 5 of my circumnavigation of Vancouver Island and I felt truly alive. Wonderfully, happily vibrant and alive. I felt only joy at being immersed in nature, shrouded in a private wet and wild bubble. I had wondered how I would deal with challenges by myself, with no-one to help me, to delegate to or to blame. I surprised myself by my almost unwavering positivity – perhaps when there is no-one to moan to, the only sensible option is to get on with it?
I set out from Orcas island in America on a warm, sunny, calm day at the end of April 2016. The current helped me across the international border to the Gulf islands. At a small marina, I phoned Canadian customs, gave my passport details and assured them I had no drugs, weapons or vegetables in my kayak. A gentle push from wind and current combined with first day excitement to help me cover 60km to Wallace island. This was pleasingly more than the 35km/ day I had to make to finish in the 32 days available to me.
Every day was different around Vancouver Island. Up the East coast, I often had a view on both sides as I threaded up through islands, admiring everything from small rocky outcrops to magnificent snow-capped mountains. I enjoyed jumping on conveyor belts of tidal current to accelerate my progress up the middle of channels, watching the large scale change in scenery as another mountain appeared around the corner or the clouds changed from whispy threads to puffy cotton wool pads. When the current opposed me, I loved dancing along the rocky shoreline, manoeuvring my kayak inches from the steep granite outcrops in the eddies, admiring the coarse crystals, bright red anemones & hardy lichens and sniffing the musty aroma of the many trees whose roots had found weaknesses in the rock.
I didn’t feel alone. Eagles made their piercing calls from the air while the evocative pining sound of the loon never failed to pull at my heartstrings. Seals slid into the water as I passed and quietly popped up behind me. Otters seemed able to detect me coming from at least 100 metres away, no matter how quiet I was. They would bob their heads up like Meer cats, looking for several seconds at this strange object coming towards them, before they disappeared into the depths. I never tired of seeing them carrying babies on their bellies, wrapped up in kelp or in rafts with dozens of others. Grey and humpback whales were frequent companions passing by with a pffff and a beautiful cloud of sparkling breath lingering in the air for several seconds before fading away to nothing. On the north coast, 5 orca cruised by the beach I was camped on, purposefully heading towards the horizon, one magnificent male with a steely black fin that cut the water like a dagger. On the East coast, dozens of sea lions lazed around on the surface, snoozing with their friends in the sun. Sometimes I’d slip by unnoticed, on other occasions they’d wake up with a noisy splash, followed by an even louder display of snorts and grunts. On the exposed west coast, their long craning necks often pierced the turbulent water besides me as I was concentrating on weaving though a boomer field. The more critical my route choice was the noisier and closer the excitable bobbing seemed to be.
I paddled for 3 weeks without taking a day off. This wasn’t through design. Headwinds slowed me down along most of Johnston Strait, but they were never so bad that I couldn’t paddle, and the forecast always promised a change for the worse, so I constantly thought I better make the most of being able to make progress while I could. Rounding Cape Scott was one of my rougher days, with 8 foot breaking waves slamming around my kayak at Cape Sutil. Off the notorious headland itself, the biggest challenge was a 5 foot swell exploding onto the many offshore rocks with an intimidating crash. The current had recently turned against me so I was trying to stay as close to shore as possible while avoiding the boomers. A 15 knot wind opposed the 1 knot current but conditions were manageable, with much smaller waves than at Cape Sutil. It was a matter of keeping cool and choosing a safe passage. I easily passed through 2 small tidal races, with breaking waves lapping over my deck. Still, I was very glad when I entered the safety of the next bay. I celebrated by successfully completing my first solo wee at sea. I managed to put a small glass jar through my pee zip and fill it. The only issue was that I usually filled that jar two and a half times so I had to be very careful about making sure I stopped the flow at the right times!
Most days were well within my comfort zone with beautiful scenery and plentiful wildlife to keep me entertained and smiling. I was lucky that the swell was rarely above 1.5metres. I tried to do what I felt like every day whether that was paddle fast with the current, or meander all the way around a bay, landing on beaches to search for glass fishing floats or have a wash and swim in a waterfall pool. I talked to myself, I talked to otters and eagles and headlands. I laughed out loud. I’m not sure whether I needed to talk, or needed to be heard.
I only felt lonely amongst people. In the wilderness, my expectations were of finding my own happiness from within and my surroundings whereas in a town I craved a meaningful human interaction and felt sad if none materialised. But mostly the people I met were wonderful, kind souls who laughed with me, fed me, put me up and shared stories. Carole cooked me prawns and squash in a remote cabin, Dan regaled me with stories of bears, cougars and near death experiences, Gina whisked me from a beach to her house and bbqed fresh oysters.
A challenging day was the 45km from Vargas island to Ucluelet. A 3-4 metres swell hit my right side while a 25knot wind pushed me along in the right direction. I mostly stayed far out to sea but around headlands and boulder fields all my senses were on high alert. Making contact with one of those rocks with this much energy around would be a very bad thing. I paddled inside the line of rocks when it felt safe to do so as I like being in that zone where the energy is diluted. My heart was in my mouth getting there, as the waves increased in size over the shallower water. Even though I had been watching my route for 20 minutes and making sure it was clear, I was still afraid that a rogue wave would appear and tonnes of water would topple over and hit me like a brick wall.
I was nervous of paddling by myself. Would I get bored or lonely? Would I manage to get out of bed? Would a bear eat me? Would I be over confident and get myself into trouble? There are so many reasons why I could have backed out and not done it but I am so happy that I went ahead. I am a richer, more balanced person now. It’s great to know I can survive alone and enjoy my own company. I can achieve goals and be happy doing it. The trip also reinforced the feeling that I am never more content than when I’m immersed in nature, whether it’s sun warming my limbs or rain drumming on my cheeks. There is a simple, pure joy that comes when sitting on my very own beach at the end of a long, satisfying paddle, eating my dinner while watching the sunset and listening to the sea crashing onto the beach.
I love good company on a trip. I enjoy sharing the physical and mental challenges and having someone to laugh, talk and share special moments with. My next trip will probably not be solo, but I will keep seeking out some time alone in the future.
I used a Valley Nordkapp sea kayak and Mitchell blades bombora paddles. On the water I wore a Kokatat Merdian dry suit with a drop seat and a pee zip, a MsFit Tour PFD/ buoyancy aid, Kokatat wool core thermals, and Keen Gorgeous boots on my feet. It’s the first time I wore these shoes and I loved them as they were lightweight and comfortable while being supportive with a good sole.
I used a fabulous Hilleberg Allak tent. It’s a 2 person tent so was a bit overkill but I decided it would be nice to have extra space if I had many weather-bound days – plus there was a bit more space between me and any bears or cougars that decided to investigate! Not that I had any visitors, or any weather-bound days in the tent! But the tent was super easy to erect and I loved the free-standing nature of it. I slept in comfort on an Exped DownMat 7.
I cooked on an Optimus Nova+ stove with an Optimus Terra HE pan set which I love due to it’s neoprene cover. I start cooking my pasta or rice, then put it in the neoprene cover to continue cooking while I cook my vegetables and sauce. This feature and the heat exchange on the bottom of one pan meant that I used less than 1.5 litres of fuel for the entire trip. Admittedly I cooked on fires a few times and was fed by others on occasions but I was still very impressed with how little fuel I used.
I also got some stylish fabulous blue KEEN Saltzman shoes which I had intended to wear on land, but they were too nice to cram into my kayak so I now proudly wear them around town instead!
Big thanks to Karel Vissel who sent me daily weather forecasts to help keep me safe and to Iridium for lending me the satellite phone which also allowed me to send daily updates. Karel has sent me forecasts many times in the past but it somehow felt more key this time as I was by myself and sometimes Karel was the only person I communicated with on a particular day.