Category Archives: Kayaking

Back in Blighty

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We are back. In fact we have been back six months. How time flies!!

It took us a while to get back into the swing of things & even longer for our prized table top book to arrive from Australia.

Packed with memories from our Polar Pioneer adventures; our daily journals & photos brought together in a one off edition, for us & our fellow passengers..

With thoughts now turning to where we will go for my big birthday in 2016 – Patrick……if you are reading this, there is something I need to ask you! – plus our imminent trip to Sri Lanka to celebrate a friend’s wedding & check out elephants, we thought it was high time to recall the highlights…..

Our bucket list holiday delivered everything we could ask for – & so much more – up closer than close encounters with mighty humpback whales, curious & playful leopard seals & more penguins than we could possibly hope to see. We didn’t think much could top this – & then we went to the Galapagos Islands. Nature once again blew us away as we literally had to pick our way along paths & beaches littered with iguanas & seals, saw an enormous number of other species & swam with penguins.

There were other highlights of course; the mournful tango watched in an old dancehall in the heart of Beunos Aires, savouring wines galore in Mendoza & the first jagged peaks of Fitzroy coming into view…. Patagonia, a playground we will surely return to.

Even now, when someone asks us “so how was your trip” a wry smile passes our lips as we try to put into words just how utterly a-mazing our holiday was. We can’t. We dubbed it as a an adventure to the end of the world; it was all that & so much more.

Matt & Jules xxx

For anyone interested in reading our mini adventure in Sri Lanka, go to the link below:
mjules2013.wordpress.com

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Kayaking and penguins parts II and III

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Feeling time at gentoo colony on port lockroy

Feeding time..

We couldn’t get used to two things… How bone numbing cold our hands got paddling and how easy it was to while away time watching penguins – Shooting through the water like missiles on a bizarre and bumpy course (who said penguins can’t fly?!), waddling along well worn tracks along the shoreline, popping up out of the surf one by one and generally going about their lives.

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Cierva cove colony

As we neared Cierva Cove (named after the Spanish chap who invented the autogiro) we saw and smelt the 5-6,000 strong colony of gentoo penguins. Gingerly we picked our way along the shore, avoiding the pink stained rocks of the rookeries. We had literally never seen so many penguins in one space, as the chicks fell over each other in search of a playmate or food from their parents, whilst some of the adult penguins posed meditative-like and others lay ‘belly-flopped’ on the stones.

Bleached whale bones on Cierva Cove beach

Bleached bones

Walking along the beach to the farthest end of the shore, we picked our way through whale bones, washed out and bleached by the Antarctic sun. Further along, the main rookery came into view that stretched for a good km and then some.

Happy kayakers

Happy as…

We never tired of how blessed we felt paddling – through swathes of brash ice, slipping across tranquil and glassy coves or navigating our way past tricky and tight-nit ice floes. Even our epic return to the ship in gnarly white capped conditions, took us onwards to our next exciting experience. Once in a lifetime, for sure.

At Port Lockroy (home to the Antarctic post office plus colony of adelies) we were greeted by tufty moulting chicks along the craggy shoreline as we surfed ashore. Similar to Detaille Island’s restoration of Base “W”, the British Antarctic Heritage Fund had put its volunteers to good uses, renovating Base “A” as well as monitoring the penguin colony.

 

Bentos hoisting the flag at port Lockroy

All together now.. God save the queen….

Pingus at port Lockroy post office

Penguin post

We were pleased to learn from Flo, one of the volunteers that regular interaction with humans had had no ill-effect on the colony at Lockroy; with half the island off limits to all but penguins, a four year study had concluded no damage done… Probably just as well, as we were literally tripping over penguins who seemed just as keen and curious as we were to see the painted images on the walls of the old living quarters and pick up souvenirs from the post office.

Up Close and Personal….

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Over the radio came the call to action. “Howard to Judd, Howard to Judd come in please, humpbacks by the ship” …….

Three km from the ship, we headed back. Quick. Double time. The first of our truly closer than close encounters that made us appreciate, just how privileged and insanely lucky we were on this trip, came about as were heading back from our landing at Cierva Cove. Arms aching from pushing and pulling our paddles at breakneck speed, we headed back to the Polar Pioneer and the bobbing Zodiacs, unsure of what to expect. Whales, yes but which ones and where were they?

Captain Sascha had spotted two ‘sleeping’ humpbacks earlier and they were, some thirty odd minutes later still spy-hopping, ‘spouting’ fishy breath, diving and showing their flukes to the passengers and crew of the ship, who watched in awe and astonishment from the four zodiacs… Thankfully some with Go-Pros and decent cameras!!

Suddenly the pair turned their inquisitive nature towards us and the rest of our band of merry kayakers, slipping under us, literally and quite scarily, (all 15m of their length gliding within a metre of us) performing underwater acrobatics to reveal their barnacled flippers beneath the surface of the water. The whales sauntered off, circling and spouting en route, to check out the Polar Pioneer with the crew running from side to side, watching what the gentle giants were going to get up to next.

Frigid with cold and excitement we didn’t capture many decent images, but what we took away with us was the most incredible memory; one of the most majestic creatures there is on this earth honouring us with it’s playful presence. It truly felt like we were in our very own ‘Frozen Planet’ episode… Minus the cameramen.

We are sooo looking forward to sharing the video footage – it was THAT incredible and really quite difficult to put into words alone!

The very next day our whale blowing experience was replaced by seal sirens…. One leopard seal in particular took a shine to Judd (or his kayak) and led us a merry dance through the labyrinth of ice around Cape Renard.

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Crystal clear water around the cove

Not only was the vista amazing with shifting colours of blue; azure, indigo and turquoise troughs of water and icy sculptures capturing our senses, we also were on the look out for the numerous penguins and seals that were in nearby waters – lone seals where seen hugging the edges of the bergs and floes, a herd of fur or Weddell seals popped up out of nowhere and swam across our path, followed closely by a raft of penguins powering by in the opposite direction – we were left wondering where to look and point our kayaks!

Leopard seal heading over to J's kayak

Leopard seal at large

A particular leopard seal and his few friends came to the rescue. They came right at us before neatly turning and deftly sliding behind a berg. We started to turn our kayaks, trying to keep up with their high speed ballet in the water, only to find they, or one leopard seal in particular, returned to “play” with us, swimming beneath our kayaks in turn; nibbling at our rudders and gently knocking the underside on the way. Not forgetting they do have a set of very sharp (read flesh tearing teeth) Judd sensibly told us (Matt) to keep his hands out of the water.

Shadow of leopard seal under kayak

Shadow leopard seal …

Awkward on land they were so graceful and energetic in the water; twisting and turning beneath the kayaks, to pop their curious heads up our of the water, one within centimetres of Judd numerous times and all three staying within 5 metres of us for sometime.

The Weddell Sea and Antarctic circle….

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This trip became a first for not just us, but the crew and expedition team too… Not one ship had managed to make it into the Weddell Sea this season, with pack ice far too thick and treacherous to push through.

Captain Sascha, who headed up our all Russian crew, skilfully pushed through the farther than anyone had; the craggy buttress of Rosamel island marked the entry point, skies brightened and an eerie silence fell on the deck, broken only by the sound of ice cracking loudly beneath the hull, as we slowly slugged our way through the frozen waters.

Tabular iceberg stretching as far as they eyes can see

Tabular iceberg

Polar Pioneer pushes her way thru ice into Weddell Sea

Pioneer pushes into Weddell Sea

We passed ice floes bearing lone crab eater, Weddell and fur seals and the most incredible tabular berg stretching for miles and miles – in fact as far as the eye could see.

 

Sadly we had reached the point of return, as the skipper conceded safe passage could not be found around the peninsular. BUT with perfect conditions, icy calm clear waters it was once again time to jump (not literally for obvs reasons) into kayaks and zodiacs to check out leopard seals we had seen dozing.

Crab eater seal taking a nap on

Napping on a floe

A HUGE consolation prize for not spending time in the Weddell, we would now be able to head further South, 66 degrees 33′ to be precise and actually cross the Antarctic circle!!

Yippeee!!!

Huge cause for celebration, we amassed on the forward deck and raised a glass as we crossed ‘the line’.   240 years and 42 days, to the day, we all took the same oath Captain Cook did …

“We will keep Antarctica pristine and untouched for peace, harmony and nature. So be it”

Kayaking & penguins part I

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With our half hour call to kayak, we donned our many layers and with trepidation turned our tags to let the crew know we were ‘off ship’ and headed to the stern deck. Matt discovered why marigolds are the best outer layer for hands, as his ‘seal skins’ were soaked within minutes mopping out our kayak.  Not the best start, but thankfully we packed extra gloves and layers in our dry bags.
Paddles in hand, stomachs in our mouths we made our way down the rope ladder into the waiting zodiac before clambering/sliding across the side into our awaiting kayak….bobbing gently in the water. With a water temp of below zero, we gingerly pushed off from the zodiac, careful not to upset the equilibrium and capsize.  ‘Skirts’ on, after several attempts and rudder down we were off and in pursuit of Judd as he deftly led us across choppy waters, through brash ice, past the first of many spectacular small bergs “calving” from glaciers.
Robbie & Philip heading to Brown Bluff

En route to Brown Bluff

We spotted out first fur seal, happily sleeping on an ice floe and wondered how many more we would see. With hands becoming increasingly numb from the bitter cold (in spite of layers and hand warmers)  we were glad to see ahead the flat top of Brown Bluff – our very first landing and sight of adelie and gentoo penguins.
We ‘surfed’ ashore and left our kayaks behind as we crunched a few steps along the beach, mesmerised by moulting adelie chicks chasing each other and their parents along the shoreline (some of them nearly as big as their parents).  It was nigh on impossible to observe the ‘5 metre rule’ as the penguins moved towards us, rather than away. We didn’t know which way to turn as we vainly tried to capture images of penguins at play.
Gentoo penguins on the shoreline at Brown Bluff

Gentoos on the shoreline

Cold hands were completely forgotten as we looked back to see a group of curious gentoo penguins take more than a passing interest in our kayaks!
Penguins discuss who will go in the back & steer

Flip you for who steers..

Ravenous after our morning kayak session and hours spent on deck, looking out for minke whales, we heartily tucked into our pumpkin soup and homemade bread, swapping stories with our fellow hard-core kayakers. Well we thought we were at any rate!

Limbering up our legs…

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Two days in Ushuaia gave us the perfect opportunity to test our trekking legs, limber up our limbs and practice our paddling, ready for our kayaking adventures in Antarctica.
First stop the snowcapped Cerro Martial and Glacier Martial that rise majestically above the town and well within reach of mortal man – a short taxi ride took us to the chairlift that shaves a couple of hours off the climb to the glacier. We both giggled as we waited between the painted lines ready to be transported further up the ski area to the trailhead….Neither of us have been on a wooden slatted chairlift before, and chances are, we won’t again.
The panoramic views over Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel were well worth the walk, far more so than the glacier itself, but after three days of solid rain, none of us, penguins included, really minded as it was just good to be outside… like we wouldn’t get the opportunity to see glaciers galore on the rest of our travels!
Penguins peek over the Beagle Channel from the glacier

Penguins peek over the Beagle Channel

Our first paddle in these parts was infinitely more successful. We set out with Valentine & Esteban from Canal Fun through the lush southern forests of Parque National Tierra del Fuego to Punta Luij, the starting point of our 22km paddle. Thankfully we were joined by Belgians, Sofie and Philippe, as the mosies that were lying in wait for us favoured him over the pair of us!
Millpond conditions across Ushuaia Bay

Calm waters across the Bay

As we layered up under our dry/wet suits and eyed our fibreglass kayaks, we listened to the safety brief keenly. Not having kayaked together since Marlborough Sound some eight years ago, we were both conscious of the fact we had over egged our experience to the crew of the Polar Pioneer. Not so much how much sea kayaking we had done, but how recently.
A soft breeze and gentle current was welcome as we recalled all the tips we had been taught previously; push don’t pull, wiggle don’t wobble, dip don’t dunk… Like muscle memory, it all came back to us in a flash.
Sophie & Guide Valentine paddling across Bahaia Lapataia

Sofie & guide Valentine paddling

We paddled through the calm waters of Bahai Lapataia with steamer ducks and cormorants keeping us company as we perfected our synchronised paddle strokes. A pit stop and refuel with a fabulous lunch of Milanesa carne, a local fave of breaded beef in a huge roll, was welcome as we still had two hours of paddling to get back to Ushuaia and our rendezvous with our ship.
As we neared Bahai Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel the waters turned to a perfectly tranquil and glassy millpond. As we rounded the bay the serenity was broken only by the sounds of construction; the expansion of ‘Hollywood Hills’ as the bay area is known. We had reached civilisation and the end of our epic first paddle.