On the morning of our first official day in Antarctica, we awoke to the usual announcement by one of the staff members over the intercom system that it was time to rise and shine and that breakfast would be served in half an hour. Looking out of our port hole we were relieved to see that it was a spectacularly sunny day outside, and gathering in the restaurant for a healthy breakfast we excitedly discussed the days events ahead.
Before any landings on shore were allowed to take place, all passengers were taken down to where we were all allocated a clock card that we had to swipe through the electronic system each time we exited and entered the ship again. Due to the fact that we would be making many stops and landings, this was just to make sure that no passenger ever got left behind somewhere.
Back in the observation lounge we found out that our group would be the first to go kayaking that morning, whilst other groups would go snow shoeing. The staff onboard had to ensure that everybody got a chance to do all activities in the week that we would be out there. I was glad that I was a guest and not a member of staff at that point because boy oh boy, they had a mean juggling act to perform throughout the entire expedition. We were told that because the continent of Antarctica was still considered a pristine environment, that there was a strict rule about cross contamination. We were all instructed to fetch all our clothes, boots and any other kit that we had brought along with us from our cabins and bring them up to the observation lounge. We then all had to use vacuum cleaners and attempt to get our clothes, hiking boots and other kit free from potential contaminants such as pollen etc.
It was then down to the kit room in the ship which is a massive room where they keep all the equipment which we obtained for our kayaking excursion. We put on thermal underwear and any other warm clothes possible, and then proceeded to squeeze into the neoprene suits (dry suits), spray skirt, waterproof booties and life jackets. Not one of my most flattering fashion moments but hey, it was safety above everything else. I soon realized that from the time anybody boards the ship to the time that they disembark at the end of the expedition, their vanity has to take a back seat. There’s no room for trying to look pretty. This was not like any other cruise…it was truly down to business on this ship.
Once we were all kitted up, we went onto the outside deck towards the back of the ship where we were instructed on how to row and steer the kayaks. We all soon realized that these kayaks were nothing like what we’d trained in and it took a while for us to get the hang of them. The arduous task of lowering the kayaks into the water then began. With the help of our instructor Louise, we all worked as a team, lowering the kayaks using ropes down the side of the ship and into the water, where another staff member in a zodiac was already waiting on the water to receive them. The man on the zodiac would them use the ropes to tie the kayaks together until there was a long row of kayaks behind him. It was a back breaking task and used half our energy reserves before we’d even started, but once that was done we could board the zodiac, where we rode out onto the water about 50 meters away from the ship to start our activities. I was nervous. My main fear was falling into the water. We had the dry suits on but even with that, you would for sure feel it if you fell into that sub zero temperature water. Slithering slowly and awkwardly, we all eventually made it onto our tandem kayaks. I felt relieved to be rowing with a team mate and not on my own, but she absolutely finished off my nerves because she seemed to think she was invincible and was whipping around taking photo’s, rocking the kayak from side to side while doing so. After telling her to settle down, we both started to row. I was in front and so had the job of steering. Just as we really started to enjoy ourselves and get the hang of things, we all noticed that it had started to snow, the wind had picked up and the water was becoming choppy. The instructor Louise radioed in for a weather update and with that, found out that we had to head back to the ship. With our tails between our legs we headed back and once again, began the tedious process of getting all the kayaks back on board the ship again, pulling on the ropes with all our might.
Feeling like an exhausted beached whale, I struggled out of my dry suit and after a shower, was relieved to be feeling human again. We enjoyed a much needed lunch while we set sail once again for Deception Island and onto yet another adventure.