Last week I wrote about my love of Greenland and some of the trips I have completed there. I made mention of the Gino Watkins 1930s Basecamp Expedition and Watkins' tragic death in a kayak accident. After his passing, Watkins' second in command, South Australian John Rymill, assumed command of the expedition.
Rymill popped up in Antarctica in 1934, a year after the Greenland expedition. He led the B.G.L.E or British Graham Land Expedition from 1934 to 1937, establishing two bases in Graham Land on the Antarctic Peninsula and completing important scientific work.
Just before leaving for my expedition to paddle to Watkins camp in Greenland, I received an email from world-renowned long-distance sea kayaker, Paul Caffyn, inviting me to join a sea kayak expedition in Antarctica the following year. The plan was to paddle sea kayaks from Enterprise Island to Winter Island, a distance of roughly 300 km. Winter Island was the site of Rymill’s northern base.
This was an opportunity not to be missed so the following January saw me flying to South America to board the 20-metre yacht Icebird for the 1200 km voyage south to the Antarctic peninsula.
We were fortunate with the weather for our crossing of the feared Drake Passage, one of the world’s roughest pieces of water and 4 days later we moored next to a wrecked whaling ship, the Governoren, in Foyn Harbour at Enterprise Island. This ship caught fire in 1915 and was sailed to the island before being abandoned. The crew were rescued by another whaling ship.
Over the next two and a bit weeks our group of seven paddlers made our way down the peninsula, sometimes camping onshore on the ice, at other times sleeping on the yacht that roughly shadowed our progress.
We had a mixture of weather, from superb sunny calm days to rain, snow and violent katabatic winds. On one day in particular, when we were unable to get a forecast by radio from the yacht, we spent our time paddling into increasingly nasty conditions. Culminating in surfing large waves across a 4 km wide fjord with 40-knot blasts of katabatic wind hitting us from behind while trying very hard not to hit the car-sized blocks of ice floating at water level all around us. Rescue in those conditions would have been difficult, if not impossible. It was a relief to eventually gain the shelter of Cuvier Island where we had arranged to meet the yacht.
This trip was a truly fabulous experience that very few people have the privilege of doing, travelling independently in Antarctica, making our own decisions when and where to go, where to camp and what to see.
Any trip like this to Antarctica is an incredibly serious undertaking and equipment needs to be well tested and bombproof. I used a Mont Epoch expedition tent, as solid as they come, along with a very warm Spindrift sleeping bag. During the day when not paddling, I wore full thermals, Mont fleece layers and an Icicle jacket. Warmth (apart from my hands when paddling) was not a problem. I wore a drysuit with Mont thermals and fleece when paddling.
I’ve been fortunate to have had a few “trips of a lifetime” and this was one of them.
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Choosing a new tent is one of those moments that calls for serious research. It's a big decision, and a potentially risky one, if you get it wrong you may have to live with the consequences for a long time. I live in Tasmania and love exploring wilderness Alpine regions, especially winter camping.
So, my non-negotiables in a tent are it being waterproof, that's #1, then weight and space. Ok, looks play a part, but they are a bonus :)
I first visited Iceland in 2012 on my way to East Greenland. My time in Iceland on this first trip included driving around the Ring Road, the road that circumnavigates this incredible country. Since then I have been privileged to fly into Reykjavik’s airport, Keflavik, a further 5 times.