No Rules

Andrew Mcauley getting back from that harrowing first day
Andrew Mcauley getting back from that harrowing first day -You can see the Camera housing sitting on the back deck

"I don't want to die, I don't want to die" -, these were the words I was yelling, at my self convincing myself to to stay alive in a 60-70 knot Katabatic wind that had just attacked us on our first day's paddle along the Antarctic peninsula in early 2006 .


Three days earlier, My self myself, together with, Stuart Trueman and Andrew Mcauley were attempting to paddle unsupported along the entire length of the Antarctic Peninsula.

We were attempting to in honour of an early Australian Antarctic explorer John Rymill, an explorer who is credited with charting the Peninsula between 1934 and 1937.

We had just been dropped off at our start point at the old British base of Hope Bay at the very northern tip of the peninsula and had packed our kayaks ready to start our trip.

However, we but spent the next few days frustrated from bad weather and unable to paddle. Finally, after three days of strong winds we awoke on the 09/02/06 to calm seas and fair winds and off off we paddled to what would be an eventful first day but also a gruelling 30 day paddle along one of the harshest coastlines in the world.

Day One


We left Hope Bay and paddled off south around the corner, excited about finally starting., we were only about 5Five kms into the first day, when we had our first of many close calls. We were straight lining from head land to head land due to the load of the kayaks (weighing in at approximately 200kgs each without paddlers), we were a one third of the way across a big bay that was surrounded by high ice cliffs when we first noticed a light head wind. , it slowly at first the wind strengthened and then it increased within half an hour we had to a full gale force wind of at least 70 knots. A good size sea was hitting us with a good size sea to contend with dangerously blowing Andrew's and my kayaks uncontrollably beam on to the wind. This left leaving us fighting individually for our lives as we had become separated in these winds, independently deciding to turn and run back to Hope Bay. Stuart who was in the only skeg operated kayak - a Nadgee Expedition - simply put his skeg down and surfed back to safety behind the last head land, but it was Andrew and I in ruddered boats that strangely had the handling problems strange !.

y

I was fighting for my life screaming "I don't want to die, I don't want to die", fighting off large chunks of ice bergs that were being tossed around on the 3mtr seas that the winds had unleashed. I began to cramp from the cold and the exertion of having to high brace into the beam on waves in the energy zapping cold water. I was beginning to struggle in the elements., Finally after a lengthy battle, I made enough ground to be in the lee of the ice cliffs offering protection from the winds. As I paddled on wondering what had become of my mates, I rounded a small headland to see Stuart Trueman in his Nadgee Expedition excitedly waving his hands, glad too see some one else alive. We rafted up for a few minutes but quickly decided that if we were to survive we had to keep paddling to keep warm. After a few hours we crossed Hope Bay safely making it back to the Argentine Base quickly deciding we would give Andrew 30 minutes before notifying the authorities of his no- show . Just as we notified the authorities we spied Andrew coming around the corner heading back to where we were, thankfully.

 

In hindsight this was a blessing as we learnt that Antarctica was the master and we were at his peril. We quickly had learned that there are NO RULES in Antarctica, something we would see many more times over in the coming weeks. 

Understandably we took the rest of the day day off and the next off as well as the next to recuperate and get our heads together after coming so close to tragedy the day before .

Days two to eight

Because of our first days experience, we all had the jitters badly. It was with  trepidation that we again headed off into the unknown.

This time we saw no katabatic winds (after initial nerves finally relaxing ) we start enjoying the spectacular scenery before us.

We paddled past 100 ft ice cliffs (that were actually collapsing infront of us) with large ice chunks calving into the ocean. We showed our respect by keeping a fair distance from these flying ice cubes.

 

We spent the next week or so slowly paddleing from camp to camp in-between gales.

This was made more frustrating as I had taken an unknown kayak on the expedition, finding out the hard way that it didn't' handle well in headwinds and was slowing me down considerably; extra punishment that I just didn't' need at this early stage of the expedition.

Our first camp was on a small rocky out crop that held us down for two days.

We landed on the rocks at high tide and found out that the tide receded so far out the next morning (although fair conditions for paddling) that we had to drop-off from the rocks by abseiling down to get to the water.

This obstacle also need to included our 3, 18foot 200+kg sea kayaks. So we took the soft option and waited (and waited and waited ) for the tide to rise.  Nearly 24 hours later, allowed us to quickly slide off our rocks and resume our paddle

 

We work well as a team, an developed some orderly domestic dutys. ( on communal cooking etc ) but the worse job was washing up, in the Antarctic this was complicated , as obviously this entailed getting your hands wet in the freezing water to scrub the pots. ( resulting in you having to hold your hands under your armpits for the next 5 minutes to get feeling back in your hands -  I tried to be to busy when it was my turn).

 

This initial first third of the trip was always going to be the hardest as it had more exposed coast line and bigger crossings, with one bay being a 7 hour crossing and being notorious for katabatic winds.

After our first day's paddle fresh in our minds we tentatively started the crossing, quickly finding our selves engulfed in a mist that had visibility down to about 10 meters. Leaving us to navigate by compass for the rest of the crossing.

 

We finally rounded Cape Rockmoral only to find ourselves stuck in a giant field of brash and pancake ice that looked impenetrable.

For the next three hours, we struggled slowly, weaving and bashing our way through the ice struggling trying to find a way through. Finally breaking into a clear path that allowed us clear passage round the Cape line.

Rounding the majestic Cape was inspiring as we were now heading into a more protected part of the trip with the possibility of human contact from the scientific bases stationed in the area something we were looking forward too

 

 

Days Nine to Nineteen

 

 

 

We had just enjoyed a rare sunny day that had allowed us to paddle alongside Minke whales as they glided along beautiful shaped bergs with crystal clear water. The water was so clear that it allowed us to watch these gentle giants swimming along while we with us paddling with them in their own surroundings. , as we left the whales we and chanced upon a rookery of penguins that allowed us uninterrupted views of them swimming up to us under the water, quickly darting left and right.

 

We only had a short paddle to our next destination at Spring Pt and as we arrived that early afternoon to a sheltered bay that had an endlessly calving glacier thundering away at one end and an old disused Chilean Army hut on the west side hut that hadn't seen any people in it for quite awhile, , it was nice to at least not have What a joy not to have to pitch a tent that night!.

 

After an enjoyable sunset that lasted for hours in clear skies, we tramped off to our hut for the night, only to awaken in the morning to a bay totally covered in brash ice, it was only in our immediate vicinity!!! Just 3 km away was Clear Ocean, as it was a great day for paddling and, this had Andrew frustrated as he isn't wasn't one to sit still for too long. So we pushed off and attempted to paddle through the thick ice only to find that after only less than 50 metres off shore we were stuck hard in the ice. As the ice slowed us down considerably we were unable to turn our kayaks and this was frustrating Stu as he only had a skeg in his kayak. and even though Andrew and I were not much better off in our ruddered boats, we could slowly turn and I mean slowly! We spent the next 2 hours stuck in this thick soupy ice mix that slowed us to a crawl and had us fighting to turn our boats. Finally Andrew and I managed to turn our boats to point to shore and as we pulled ourselves through we bumped our bow onto Stu's stern and shoved his boat the right way so he could also make it safely to shore.

After another half hour we finally reached our little cove that only had room for one kayak at a time so we slowly emptied each kayak then dragged each boat up a steep bit of ice cliff only to find we had made only 100 metres distance for about 4 hours work !!!

 

Whilst climbing our kayaks out, I slipped and managed to chip a bone in my elbow that became swollen and would see me miss 3 days of the trip further on although but I didn't know this at the time .We were quite frustrated with the day and decided to pack it in and walk the 300 metres back to the hut for another night .We awoke the next morning to again find ourselves iced in, deciding to carry all of our gear around the next small headland, trying to get closer to clear seas., to achieve this we had to carry our gear first up a 500mtr steep rocky hill, then along a jagged ice cliff then down a crampon assisted climb down onto large bouldering moraines. and then finally, we climbed along to a sheltered cove that gave us a fair chance out of there. Eventually after 8 hours of humping, climbing and pulling we were carrying the last of the gear down into the cove when an unexpected off shore breeze quickly pushed all of the pack ice in our little bay out to sea in about 20 minutes, to say we were frustrated was an understatement !!

 

 

We spent the next five days plugging our way down the coast exploring uncharted bays and camping in some pretty wild places. On a small uncharted Island where after a long day in the boats, we found our selves on the only bit of flat rock that allowed us any chance of a landing. We could only sleep out side as there wasn't room for tents. We spent the next 8 hours watching the tide creep up onto our little bit of rock, finally at going to sleep finally about 2 am we finally went to sleep having seen the last of the flood tide.

 

Our kayaks at this stage had been taking a battering and with Andrews Mirage and my Sea quest had sustained sustaining damage that had required a few repairs along the way, however but Stuarts Kevlar Nadgee Expedition had held up well .It's amazing the little damage they all sustained from the hard rock landings and the constant battering into icebergs we gave them. Stuart had the best idea, running a strip of Kevlar along the keel line of his boat as a wear strip resulting in hardly any damage to his keel at all

 

 

 

Day Twenty to Thirty Three

 

After arriving on at the Ukrainian scientific base Vernadsky, we had finally caught up with our yacht that was planning to pick us up soon,, Luckily they were there as my elbow was quite swollen, desperately needing rest, and requiring no other choice but to sit out a few days paddling, hoping we could meet up maybe in a few days. , it It was sad devastating to admit defeat to something that had taken three years of planning and cost thousands of dollars to get there, I and I was quite depressed by being beaten by something I had no control over, despondently watching the fellas paddle off the next day.

 

 

We were now very close to the Gullet, the main crux of the whole trip the Gullet;, an area of the coast known for ice to pack in even in summer, not allowing access to any vessel. We had knowledge of a Chilean Navy ice breaker that had attempted to push through but had failed so we were sure our little fibreglass and Kevlar boats didn't stand a chance.

 

We only had another two days of paddling left, having been forced to abandon our trip on the Kidd Islands. After paddling south one final time to ensure we paddled over that imaginary line called the Antarctic Circle, sadly our trip was over

We had paddled over 850 kms, in over a total of thirty three days, camping out on the Antarctic Coastline - A once in a life time adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrew Maculey