Antarctica and Patagonia: An Adventure on the Seabourn Quest – Part VII (Waterboat Point, Kayaking…and Sadness)
I was up early for our last day in Antarctica aboard the Seabourn Quest. There was a good bit of wind as we sailed into Waterboard Point, but were greeted by a Minke whale that disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.
|Seabourn Quest at Waterboat Point|
Today would be my last chance at kayaking and I wasn’t very hopeful, but did not give up hope. Because the timing interfered with my group assigned time to go ashore I elected to be on one of the first zodiacs so I had plenty of time to enjoy the shoreside before hopping into my kayak.
|The sail into Waterboat Point and|
Chile’s Gonzalez Videla Base was spectacular
Today, however, was honestly a bit of a letdown after the previous days. We were not out in the wilds of Antarctica, but rather visiting Gonzalez Videla Base, the Chilean “inactive” base essentially in caretaker status and for emergency use. The land on this small point is home to thousands of Gentoo penguins that next literally right up to the concrete walkways. We were warned that this place was “guano-magedin” with deep penguin poop everywhere requiring us to have our boots powerwashed when we arrived back onto the Seabourn Quest.
|Gentoo Penguin with her egg|
When we arrived the walkways were clean…no guano. No bueno! The Gentoos were present with chicks so for those guests that hadn’t gotten that close before (or who hadn’t put their cameras down and just observed), this was the perfect place to see Gentoos and photograph preening, feeding chicks, stealing stones for their nest while another Gentoo was stealing stones from their nest.
We were able to walk through part of the facility being greeted at the front door with a ladder leading to a loft with a look out. Honestly, I felt like I was back in a 1960’s Lake Tahoe skibum’s house: ladder to a loft, old wood paneling, a marginally functional old kitchen…and a big screen TV. There also is a museum of sorts with a number of interesting photographs plus a few tables with souvenirs!
During my move to Lake Tahoe I had to go through all those souvenirs I purchased over the decades and made the decision to never buy another one. Well, it is Antarctica, so I made an exception (when do I ever follow rules; especially my own!) and bought a cap and a kinda funky life jacket for my whisky bottle.
Back on the ship I got myself ready for my kayaking adventure. Walking through the Seabourn Quest in my thermal long-johns and shorts, the crew made sure to give me a hard time (how could they not!) as I walked to The Club to get into my drysuit.
|I, apparently, needed to add a photograph of me|
in order to prove I was actually in Antarctica!
(My apologies! LOL)
Waiting on the outside deck because one will overheat if you stay inside a woman who was to become my kayaking partner (as all kayaks are doubles) came up to me and said, “I am a retired teacher, have money, am 55 and like men.” Yikes!
|Seabourn Expedition kayaks waiting for us on shore|
After a quick zodiac ride back to shore we hop into our kayak and all I kept hearing was, “Stop! I have to take a picture!” Seriously? But it changed to, “I want to take a picture but my hands are too cold!” So far my kayaking experience isn’t exactly the quiet personal moment I had been wishing for since I knew I would be going to Antarctica.
|Penguins swimming in front of our kayak|
(I took the picture of someone taking pictures rather than
enjoying the moment.)
But then it got worse. There were some guests that were kayaking that could not kayak, no less manage with the wind, so it was basically trying to keep everyone together while not going much of anywhere…paddling in circles looking at bergy bits before kinda floating about.
|A Gentoo penguin porpoising as we regrouped|
And, of course, my hyperactive kayaking partner insisted on paddling when the wind alone was moving faster than the guide. Eventually the guides gave up and we offloaded into a zodiac because paddling back to the cove where we started was not going to happen with my group.
Now that you have heard my ordeal, I must mention that most people in my kayaking group were thrilled to just be there seeing penguins in the water and the glaciers. The group prior to mine saw humpback whales and rode the wave caused by a glacier calving, so it was an amazing experience. The point is that nothing is guaranteed and much of it is perspective.
So my experience is not what I dreamed of, but I don’t think there are many that would agree that having the ability to kayak in the Antarctic for a few minutes with penguins and glaciers was a disappointment.
And this brings up the subject of various strategies for reserving space to kayak while on the Seabourn Quest.
Strategy No. 1 – I figured that the first day in Antarctica would be more of an introductory day so not the best for kayaking; thus I booked Day 2. This is generally a good theory except for two things: Due to ice and weather there is no definite location for any day, no less Day 2. Also, due to weather conditions my kayaking was cancelled, as it was for most of Day 1…and all the other dates were booked with people that were cancelled on Day 1 and Day 2. I went on the waitlists without success…until the last day opened up with numerous times available. Why? See Strategy No. 2.
Strategy No. 2 – Some guests booked every day (or almost every day) for kayaking. Now shelling out $295 per person for every day can be a bit expensive, but then again, if the kayaking is cancelled or you cancel it 48 hours in advance, you get your money back. I found that most, if not all, of the guests that used this strategy kayaked once or twice and then cancelled whatever else they had booked.
The reality is that you cannot count on there being kayaking each day or even where the ship will be. Be it weather or location, Antarctica happens so flexibility is the name of the game. Alas, it would seem that Strategy No. 2 is a bit unfair and, I guess to an extent it is. But in the end I do not believe there was anyone that didn’t go kayaking that wanted to and the vast majority (everyone but me?) had a fantastic experience. And, as I said before, you cannot tell if Day 1 or Day 5, or Group 1 or Group 4, is going to have the best experience. I had to wait until the last day (impatience is not a virtue) and if I had just gone one group earlier (luck of the draw) I would have been raving about my experience.
Back onboard the Seabourn Quest something then struck me…sort of a melancholy. It struck me and struck me hard that I was leaving Antarctica.
- Its magnificence, grandeur, excitement, unpredictability.
- Penguins (so similar, but so different from each other), skuas, petrels.
- The smell of truly fresh air. (That really got me as living in Lake Tahoe there is always the smell of pine and dirt.)
- The smell of penguin guano.
- The enthusiasm of the Seabourn Expedition Team.
- The fleeting spouts and fins of whales.
- The countless shades of blue.
- The inability to accurately perceive heights or distances.
- Captain Larsen’s emotional crossing of the Southern Polar Circle
The feeling that I just read the introduction to the best book in the world…and then left the book behind…truly overwhelmed me. I have traveled all over the world and no natural or cultural place, be it the African savanna or the history and religion on Israel, as examples, touched me in the same way. I actually shed a tear or two as we sailed off to the Drake Passage.
What will the rest of this journey be like? I don’t have a clue…other than it will be markedly different.
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