By: Marc Scriver - I just returned from paddling SUP, kayaks and overnight camping with One Ocean Expeditions on the Antarctic Peninsula. It was late spring but that meant we had snow several times during the 2 week trip and temperatures averaged just above of zero Celsius.
The landscape is spectacular! It’s big and beautiful and there is, of course, a lot of ice. Rugged mountains frame ice sheets and glaciers while icebergs and pack ice dance with the wind and tides. On a bright sunny day after a fresh snowfall, it is really magnificent with pure, white slopes and cliffs and steep jagged peaks everywhere.
The wildlife is definitely a highlight. Starting in Ushuaia we saw a lot of seabirds. The southern ocean is a very abundant ecosystem, rich with plankton krill and fish that support large populations of penguins and sea mammals. Out of water penguins are awkward and hilarious with fascinating social behavior. In the water, they are graceful, and playful. It is pretty cool to see them scooting around under your boat or porpoising along in groups of 10 or 20. We had some curious seals having a close look at our kayaks. While we were there, the penguins were claiming nesting spots and had just started laying eggs in some of the rookeries. We also saw Humpback, Minke, Beaked Whales and Orca. The Orcas were spy hopping and breaching near a leopard seal stranded on an ice flow. With a coordinated effort, they created a wave, trying (unsuccessfully) to tip him off.
We sailed from Ushuaia, Argentina aboard the very comfortable 96 passenger Akademik Ioffe, an ice class research vessel in the off season. After crossing the Drake Passage with moderate 2-meter seas on the way down (but a Force 10 gale on the way back), we cruised around the Shetland Islands, the Gerlache Straight and the Danco coast, making frequent landings at penguin colonies, scientific stations. There were great views from the ship but getting out on land or in the zodiacs and especially getting into a kayak or SUP were the best ways to explore coastal Antarctica.
The kayaking was just amazing, paddling amongst bergs, pack ice and tidewater glaciers. The kayaks were lowered by crane to the water on a zodiac, and then towed to where we wanted to start kayaking. This was a pretty efficient way to get on the water, and with a zodiac at our disposal, we had the flexibility to combine paddling with shore visits. We would paddle the coast or explore islands, sometimes going ashore to visit penguins and then call in the zodiac for a speedy return to the ship. On our overnight camping, we were sleeping tents on the snow and enjoying wonderful long sunsets of the Austral spring with an early and warm sunrise. We had a few paddles on calm, magical days and a got in a few down-winders with good stiff winds and swell.
I was really glad to have taken along a Starboard inflatable SUP standup paddleboard and a 3-piece Werner Fuse Paddle. I had a couple of great sessions and even caught a couple of waves. The SUP gave a better vantage point to see penguins swimming underwater, the beautiful colours of underwater ice and made it easier to see a route through the brash ice.
I left Antarctica deeply moved and eager to go back.