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Kayaking While Cruising Antarctica to Alaska – It Will Change Your Perspective.

I spend a lot of time writing articles about luxury cruises and expedition cruises, but I think not enough on another form of boating:  Kayaking.

When I was young I would canoe the lakes of Vermont and Upstate New York.  I loved the sound of the water hitting the hull, the breeze (hopefully) on my skin, the smell of the water, and the sense of being in control of my journey.  Back then kayaking wasn’t that much of a “thing”.

As I grew older, I would head out up the rivers and coastline of the Jersey Shore in my 19-foot center console fiberglass fishing boat.  I had many of the same sensations, but felt a bit more distant from them as the sides of the boat kept me just that much further from the water than my canoe did and the engine noise and smells interfered with my senses.  Back then kayaking wasn’t that much of a “thing”.

As I grew yet older, I discovered yachting and cruising throughout the world.  I had many of the same sensations but felt even more distant from them as the yachts and ships held me yet higher and more protected from the water.  Back then kayaking wasn’t that much of a “thing”.

Seabourn provides you with a dry suit when kayaking.
Not exactly a fashion statement, but it keeps you dry and warm

But now Kayaking is a Thing!  And I can again love the sound of the water hitting the hull, the breeze (hopefully) on my skin, the smell of the water, and the sense of being in control of my journey.

Kayaking is now available with a significant number of cruise lines visiting Alaska, Antarctica and other remote regions of Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland and more.  Whether it is Seabourn, Silversea, Windstar, Lindblad Expeditions, etc., the option is there and it is one that I highly encourage you to experience.

To put the rarefied experience of kayaking in Antarctica into perspective:  There are only about 65,000 people that visit Antarctica in a year. That includes those that cruise by (never touching land), researchers and all others.  Of those how many do you think actually have and take advantage of the opportunity to kayak?  It is a very special experience.  (And while more people kayak in Alaska, think about all those mega cruise ships with thousands and thousands of passengers and the fact that maybe a dozen will kayak and of those that do, most will not experience it as it should be.)

My kayaking experience in Antarctica with Seabourn and Humpback whales
What a view! What sounds! What an Experience!

During my Seabourn Quest Antartica journey in January 2019 I was fortunate to spend a good bit of time with two kayaking legends: Trevor Potts and Robert Englstaff.  They, in two very different ways, gifted me with some great kayaking perspectives.

Trevor Potts is a character; a rough and ready Scotsman to be sure, but if you spend time with him, he is actually a big softy with a heart of gold.  In 1993-4 Trevor successfully recreated Shackleton’s 1916 epic rescue mission from Elephant Island to South Georgia in a replica of the 24 foot (7.5 meter) boat, the James Caird. In 2001 he completed Shackelton’s mountain crossing from King Haakon Bay to Stromness on South Georgia Island; a 22 mile (as the crow flies) journey over glaciers, snowfields and icy slopes with a 4,500-foot rise.  Trevor has also engaged in such other incredible events as kayaking from Alaska to Russia across the Bering Sea.  Interestingly, in all the hours I spent with him, we spent almost no time actually talking about these feats, but on a more personal level.

Robert (Bob) Egelstaff is a far more outwardly introspective (yes, that is a thing) individual, but as a 30+ year dear friend of Trevor, equally adventurous and was Trevor’s companion crossing the Bering Sea and recreating Shackelton’s boat journey as well as hiking the Himalayas, European Alps and the polar regions among so many other journeys.  But as much as they have in common, Robert shared more than the actual experiences with me, he shared the emotions of those experiences…and that is what touched my soul.  We spent some quality time together.

I will always recall the three of us walking back to the ship in Punta Arenas after meeting up at Shackleton’s Bar.  Over the few miles, we walked I mostly listened…to two mates talking about educating youth and their various adventures creating those experiences.  You would never know what lay within these two men’s past. Amazing and truly awe-inspiring!

During one of Bob’s talks on the Seabourn Quest as our time in Antarctica drew to a close – as we crossed the Drake Passage heading to the Falkland Islands – he offered us a poem he wrote during our time there.  He gave me permission to share it with you:

“Seals snort a greeting close to our dipping paddles”
(c) Robert Engelstaff – January 2019
ANCIENT CRAFT – in praise of kayaking in Antarctica.
(A celebration of the collective achievement of all the guests who kayaked in Antarctica) 

What do those crazy kayakers do? We go to secret places where the birds and animals are curious about us and are attracted by our silent approach and our yellow boats.

Penguins look at us with curiosity and swim over to say “Hola”. We watch the them torpedo through the water and see the whale raise its tail.

Seals snort a greeting close to our dipping paddles and the Wilson’s storm petrel shows us the yellow webs of its feet as it patters across the surface of the sea. 

We see the small silver fish in the tern’s beak, hear the coughing bark of the bathing Gentoo and smell the nests of the roosting blue-eyed shags. 

We feel the sting of snow on our faces and smile at the headwind, tucked in tight to the sea-washed, grey-granite shore and know we are secure and living our lives at that moment in time in wild Antarctica. 

That’s why we return to the ship with rosy cheeks and wild eyes, recounting tall-tales of incredible exhibits in nature’s art gallery and the bobsleigh event at the Penguin Olympics. 

(c) Robert Engelstaff – January 2019

One stormy day we kayaked on a narrow strip of calm-water tucked in below the cliffs on the far-side of the bay. As the storm gathered we cruised the waters beneath terminal moraines and shattered basalt towers, tucking-in close, wrapped-up tight and keeping our paddles low. 

A careful line was paddled to ensure that our kayaks were far enough out from the glacier to avoid tsunamis from calving ice and close enough in to avoid being blown out to sea by the wind.

Williwaws spinning across the surface of the ice-enclosed bay beneath thunder-grey skies as our small, yellow-craft weaved their way beneath the turquoise, heavily-crevassed ice-walls of the glaciers. 

We beached on the black sands beneath the old whaling transit posts and reflected on our achievement and contrasted our experience to that of the sealers from 200 years ago and acknowledged the resourcefulness of these desperados who’s “pain and hunger was driving them home” in the short Antarctic summer when “it’s hard to tell the night-time from the day”. 

Fortunes were made and lives were lost in those far harsher times but the cappuccinos in The [Seabourn] Square were calling and, after a wild Nantucket Sleigh Ride on the Zodiac, the warmth and comfort of the ship encompassed the returning kayakers back from their paddle on the wild side. 

We attempt to imitate for others the sound of the wind and the music from the flutes and hollows of icebergs. Sometimes we appear to be distant as we reflect on our crazy adventures in snow-storm and sunshine, and we know, for sure, that for that short time in our kayaks, we have lived our lives to the fullest.

© Robert Egelstaff – Drake Passage January 2019 

Now, imagine yourself being guided in your kayak by these two expedition leaders or others with extraordinary experiences, as opposed to a guide that simply knows how to kayak. And then imagine coming back to the ship and sharing your experience with them on a one-on-one basis.  It gets personal…and memorable…and, alas, very special.

I will be sailing on the Seabourn Quest on December 19, 2019 for my third journey to Antarctica.  If you would like to join me or discuss other kayaking and expedition options, give me a call, drop me an email or send me a Facebook message!

US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898)
UK: 020 8133 3450
AUS: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530 562 9232

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