Day 8 — Feb 22
Today becomes magical very quickly! First up after breakfast, we suit up for our first kayak trip. Pulling on wool socks and long johns. Fleece lined pants and insulated top. Throw on a sweater on top of that.
And now to pull on the Dry Suit. A challenge that will improve as the trip progresses. But this first time, it’s kind of like, step into it and pull the footie parts up. Then pull the legs up your body. Follow that with finding the armholes. Sounds simple, right? Not so much. Once the armholes are found, you have to pull the neoprene stretch neck down over your head at the same time. Easy! I lie. How the heck does this work? Oh. Ok. Here it is. Got it. But there’s a huge gaping hole across the front from over my shoulder down across the front to my waist. And a zipper. Wait, the zipper starts over my shoulder behind me. I think I saw a pull strap, like a wetsuit of sorts. Got it. Give it a tug. Not moving, hmmm. Maybe pull it this way. Hey, it moved. Pull again. Here it goes. Yeah, I’ve got this! Pull it all the way around. I feel like a contortionist. Ok, give it that last tug and make sure it’s sealed. There.
Oh wait, not done yet? Oh yeah, the life jacket. Well, at least this is the easy part. It’s just a couple of tubes and straps. Hmmm, I think it goes this way. No wait, pull that strap around this way. Ummm, I think that looks right. What’s that? My booties, I forgot my booties. Where are they? Oh, over there. Here, sit down and put them on. Gloves too? Ok, got them. Can we go to the kayaks now? Don’t forget the camera. Got it, ok, let’s go.
So we head out of the room and around the corner and down the stairs to the lounge where we have been told to meet. Walking in the dry suit feels like a penguin waddle. But not to worry, when we get to the lounge, we find 20 more dry suit penguins waddling around, looking quite like us. We mingle and swap waddling jokes as we start to overheat inside the ship. So we all head outside on the back deck and the stewards check us out onto the list of kayakers for the morning. Soon, we are instructed to step into the sanitizing foot bath and we all head down and board the zodiacs for our first trip into Antarctic waters.
The zodiacs take us away from the ship with the kayaks in tow like a mother duck and her ducklings. We arrive near a set of ice flows and now to learn how to get from the zodiac into the kayaks. Sit on the rail like this? Oh, okay, I can do that! now put your feet into the kayak. No, don’t tip it! Remember the lesson on the deck of the ship? Oh yeah, that’s the way. Now slide down in. Easy peasey! Wait, I’m not done? Oh yeah, the skirt. Okay, put it on like this. Hey, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Where’s my paddle? Oh, thanks, here it is! Push off now and I’m on my own in the Antarctic!
We’re in the kayaks and the excitement builds as we start to paddle. After several minutes, we come to a stop near a small iceberg. We have been cautioned against paddling close to the icebergs as they may calve without warning. And then, here we are! Kayaking in the Antarctic!
Life is good. Hands are cold. Views are wonderful. Hey, let’s paddle over there. Take a picture. Paddle some more. What’s that over there? Hey, that’s kind of cool, a shipwreck! Let’s get closer! This is fun, but I wonder why the shipwreck is 20-30 feet above the water? We never get an answer to that question but we continue to kayak through the frigid waters and enjoy our first kayak excursion in the Southern Ocean.
After a couple of magical hours kayaking through glacial waters and around ice flows, we reluctantly re-board the zodiacs and head back to the Ocean Diamond. Back on board, we go through the sanitizing process of stepping in disinfectant and then into the hallways and back to our room where we reverse the procedure of suiting up and figure out how to get our dry suits off. The challenge this time is doing it with cold hands and feet!
Back in the hallways of the ship, we chat with other passengers and swap stories as we head for the restaurant for a buffet lunch. The ship is underway to our next stop while we eat and share amazing stories with our fellow guests.
Then it’s back up on deck with our cameras to get shots of ice flows and frozen mountains as we near our afternoon stop.
Soon the ship drops anchor at Cuverville Island & Goudier Island (Port Lockroy), a British Port that has a working Post Office. We go ashore and are immediately greeted by hundreds of Gentoo Penguins that call this place home. Colorful signs and buildings, some of them built on stilts on the rocky shore assault our vision and we hike up the short trail to the Post Office. To save us time and give us more time to explore, a ships employee goes ashore with everybodies Passports and has them stamped for us!
Inside, we find not only the Post Office where our Post Cards are mailed home, but we find the building is pretty much a museum celebrating the early life of researchers that lived there studying the weather and wildlife. Researchers still live and work in the Port, however they have newer buildings and facilities and we never saw any people. I can only assume they avoid nosey tourists that would only disturb their way of life. So for the couple hours that we are there, they stay pretty much out of sight even though we can see their buildings. The paths to these buildings are roped off and signage tells us to stay away.
We get our fill of this wondrous place and board the zodiacs again. We take a zodiac ride while the second half of our ship visits the Port. For this day I have brought the big camera rig with the good glass and the long zoom lenses and start capturing Penguins and Seals from a distance, although we did get close at times. But the ride comes to a close after a couple more hours and we head back to the ship for the evening. Back on board, we disinfect and take our excursion gear off for the evening and head for the dinner hall.
At dinner, we are informed that we have a Medical Emergency on board and have to turn around and head back to King George Island where there is an air transport available to evacuate an elderly passenger that has already contracted pneumonia. So the ship heads back north tonight. We had been speculating that we would step foot on the actual Antarctic Continent today but our hopes for that have been dashed. (So far, we have only stepped foot on islands, not the actual Continent!) But everybody is in the right spirit as we all hope for the best for our shipmate and her safety and welfare. One has to wonder about the age of someone in their 80’s wanting to visit Antarctica. But I have to say that I would want to visit at any age, but we decided a few years ago that we didn’t want to be in our 80’s to go so that is why we are here now! I can’t tell you how bad I would feel if we were the reason a ship like ours had to turn back!