Landfall. Anyone fancy a swim?

Saturday, 15 March

Crazy day. We awake to relative calm and Lynn (the Oceanwide leader) announces that we are in Antarctic waters and we can see land. We are heading through the South Shetlands to Deception Island, right at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. By the end of the day I will have done two extremely unlikely things and injured myself in the process, although I have no idea how.

Deception Island is an active volcano – active if only in the couch potato sense. It just sits there with a caldera full of the Southern Ocean and grumbles a bit now and then. The caldera is Whaler’s Bay, on whose shores lie the remains of a whaling community abandoned in the early 1900s. We plan to make landfall, dig a spa in the volcanic sand, and perhaps go for a dip. Yes, that’s right! swimming in the Southern Ocean. Without dry suits. On purpose.

Briefed and geared up for our first kayak excursion, the wether turns on us and a clear day turns to sleet and wind – not at all suitable for kayaking. We were warned of the changeable weather and for trips ashore, to be prepared to be marooned until the weather clears. This is where it hits home that it’s not a paddle in the park. We have brought backup medication for Cim and I carry the spare set at all times, just in case. You don’t want to suffer kidney rejection anywhere, but this remote, it could be a disaster.

So, bad weather means no kayakig and we rely on the zodiacs (dinghy with outboard motor) to ferry us ashore. As we skim across from the ship a rock shag spots us and heads over, flying at about 10 feet above the surface, parallel to the boat, with head cocked towards us, as if to check us out. He stays with us for a minute, decides we’re OK and flies on.

Snow has transformed the dark grey volcanic landscape quickly, although the scene is still bleak and of a ghost village. As we hop out onto the beach, a gentoo penguin, our first encounter, emerges onto the beach to see what the fuss is about. He waddles right up to us to inspect. It seems we gain his approval too, as he hangs around us.

There’s a choice of what to do in Whaler’s Bay: explore the abandoned settelment and graveyard, or go up to the cliffs to inspect Neptune’s Bellows – the entrance our ship took to the caldera. Or stick on the beach and build a spa. We decide to do the latter. At some point I injured my hand.

Digging below the high water mark in the gravelly beach soon brings up the volcanically-heated water. It’s not scalding but it is comfortable. Soon, in the wind-driven snow, we have a passable jacuzzi with room for 8, and then we notice the zodiac has slipped its mooring and is drifting offshore. Gerry, already stripped off for the spa, dashes into the sea after the zodiac. He reaches it ok, but it’s impossible for him to get hold of the slippery rubber in the cold, and he is forced to come ashore to the warmth of the spa. Good job we have radio contact with the other zodiac, otherwise we would have been stranded.

After Gerry’s heroics, there’s no excuse for any intending spa users not following his lead. We brave souls strip off down to trunks and swimming cos-ies and wade or plunge into the icy waters. I’m usually a big wuss when it comes to bathing outdoors, but I decide there’s no other way and run as far as I can and dive headlong. The shock is, well, if not indescribable, then at least unprintable. I leap up feeling like a sea monster from 70-s Dr Who and panic my way to the beach and plunge into the relief of the spa’s gritty bath. With the snow still pelting down.

Those of us in the spa can’t quite believe what we’re doing and we start blokey chat -even though there are women present.

Getting dressed again was trouble. My hands didn’t want to work and I was glad to have Cim’s help with socks and thermals. At this stage, still no indication of my injury. Perhaps it was the numbness. I only notice anything when I thaw out in the sauna on board the Professor Multanovsky. It is quite swollen and extremely sore.

The swimmers feel very proud of ourselves and are certainly in party mood. Which is appropriate, as Victoria has organised a pirates party, with help from Louise and Georgina, they have fixed up pirate maps and runes and treasure. My contribution is the rum punch – no surprise for my friends at home. And with help from Alan the bar manager, we concoct a tasty brew.

The party is welcome relief from the tension of the Drake’s Passage crossing and fitting celebration of our first landfall. Although dancing is interesting as we set off into the swell of open waters and head for the peninsula.

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