How I got there:
I was really broke after I’d lived in Lebanon for 10 months when I received an email from an old friend who told me he was supposed to go to South Georgia to film an expedition, but had to cancel since he got sick. Finding a replacement for a 6-week expedition is extremely difficult but since he knew I was a sailor on previous trips and always up for an unplanned adventure, (LINK) he asked me if I could replace him. I was still confused about this South Georgia so I asked him where it was. I mean there is a Georgia next to Armenia, and there is one in the States so I wasn’t exactly sure. When he said it was in Antarctica I started packing. I soon realized they couldn’t pay me but I figured it was most likely a once in a lifetime chance, plus I’d be able to hang out with some Penguins so I accepted the offer.
My job was to film the kayakers circumnavigating the Island which is the “Mount Everest” for sea kayakers. I met the team in Oslo, we flew to Chile, and then to the Falkland Islands where we got on a boat and started sailing towards South Georgia.
The weather systems in the South Atlantic are notoriously known as the worst in the world, so the kayakers had our sailboat trailing them for security and safety reasons. It was just an added bonus for me since I’d be joining them on their journey. Sort of.History:
The Island was first ‘discovered’ in 1675, then James Cook annexed it on behalf of the English King. He described it as wild and inhospitable with High snowy mountains and no trees at all. Later Norwegian Whalers inhabited it and stayed there until they practically whaled the place dry.
South Georgia is said to be one of the world’s most biologically diverse Islands. The wildlife is totally “in your face” with seals and penguins everywhere. The penguins often send out a delegation to greet you when you arrive at the beach, which they did. Each delegation usually consists of three penguins, with at least one tall and one short one. Seems like that is how they roll. While we were on the expedition, the male Fur seals occupied the beaches trying to get the best spot in order to get the best women. They are quite ferocious and attack anything that enters their territory. It’s a real pain in the ass when you are camping on the beach.
The Kayakers’ goal was to become the first self-sustainable kayak expedition to paddle around the Island, which had only been kayaked a few times before. For Sigrid, Dag, Tormod and Simen the dangers they faced were: the weather, and the millions of frenzied fur seals breeding on the beaches.
The tall mountains of South Georgia exposed the kayakers to catabatic winds descending along the glaciers. The winds were so fierce they could bring the kayakers out to sea, which would have ruined the expedition and worse.
The Fur Seals were just as complicated. The male seals would land a spot on the beach and wait for the females to arrive. The better the spot, the better the woman or more women he gets. While waiting, they would guard their 3-square meter spots so intensely that if you entered the imaginary zone, they would bite you. And, because of their total lack of hygiene, you’d probably get infected.
First Kayak Expedition to circumnavigate South Georgia Self Sustained:
Blog and Photos:
DAY 2: Glaciers, fog and good effort:
Sigrid woke in the middle of the night, worried the team’s tent was under attack by the seals surrounding them. Tormod calmed her by reminding her that the seals had been there when they had gone to bed and they hadn’t moved any closer. The time has now come to get used to camping in a colony of over one thousand screaming fur seals. After four hours of kayaking, just after dawn, the group passed the Fortuna glacier and moved into thick sea fog. This reduced their speed a little as they were forced to stay closer to land. Simen, the sly fox, who according to Dag Marius has kayaked for more than a hundred years, led the group to a camp site next to Prince Olav’s Bay. The harbor, which is named after the late King of Norway, is a disused whaling station, but looks more like a rusty old cowboy town for fur seals. After having clocked approximately 32 km of kayaking, the team report that they are ahead of their non-existent schedule.
DAY 4: The wind is picking up:
After an easy start, the weather on South Georgia has finally started to show its true strength. Strong, offshore winds with powerful, katabatic gusts have given the kayakers a tough day on the water. Fjords have been crossed, but not without the constant threat of being driven out into the open ocean by these unpredictable winds coming down off the high mountains.
In addition, Sigrid was attacked, strangely enough, by a fur seal. It happened while she was kayaking. One is not always equally welcome in these foreign, inhospitable waters. At the end of the day, the team were looking for a suitable camp site amid thousands of King Penguins. At least one is never alone when camping in the coastal zone of South Georgia…
DAY 6: Kayaking through the realm of King Penguins:
This morning the team was visited by a baby elephant seal who had snuggled down inside one of the kayaks. This sausage like villain just wanted a cuddle while his parents were out fishing. At one point, he thought he could somehow suckle some milk out of the tent. After clearing up this misunderstanding, the team continued on their way, kayaking into sunshine, past the legendary Salesbury Plains where hundreds of thousands of majestic King Penguins reside. Keen to paddle as far as possible in the fine weather, they quickly inspected the enormous crowds of this funny bird that cannot fly, then continued on their way.
Sigrid has reported cramps in her rib steak (!?), while Tormod and Simen are both suffering from water and blood blisters. It remains to be seen whether they will manage to keep up the fast pace they have had til now.
Day 7: Rounding North Cape… in the throws of a storm:
It has been a long, hard day for the team fighting their way forward against strong headwinds stroke by stroke. The fur seals, which occupy the shoreline, are waiting for the ladies, and they are becoming increasingly agressive as the arrival of the female seals draws closer. As a result, Dag Marius now has a bite hole in one of his paddles after defending himself during one of many seal attacks. Being bitten by one of these creatures would most certainly be the end of this adventure, as medical treatment from a doctor would be required, due to the high risk of infection. Dag Marius, who is used to tough calls from his time in the Forces, has no problem though continuing with a couple of bite holes in his paddle.
It is perhaps not so strange that the man who discovered South Georgia, James Cook, wrote of the place: “…a land doomed to perpetual frigidness, whose savage aspects I have not words to describe.”
Towards the end of the day, the team were paddling close to land in order to round the North Cape against catabatic winds with gusts up to 50 knots. When the photo was taken, the team reported that they had found a place to spend the night somewhere on a cliff face…
Day 8; Strong swell slows the pace:
After heroic efforts, the kayakers have made it round the northern tip of the island and are now weather-bound amid 60 fierce fur seals on the south-western side. The powerful breaking waves that met them as they rounded the tip measured up to 5 metres in height and gave a foretaste of what they can expect to face along the coastline that fewer than 10 people have ever kayaked before. Today, after trying to paddle southwards, they were forced to beat a retreat. Breaking waves out at sea almost overturned Simen and Dag and there was no other option than to find a safe harbour. The weather forecast for tomorrow is even worse, but the team is preparing to get up at 4 am to see if they can make better progress. As the team says: When nothing is certain, everything is possible.
Day 9: Damaged kayak and sandstorms:
4 million fur seals are too many for this little island, declared Sigrid, a little in despair after a night without much sleep. She had been attacked twice by seals and was glad to leave the beach and the 60 aggressive animals. She was excited about her kayak pointing southwards, and had plans of paddling at a distance from the reefs to avoid unpredictable breakers. With the wind behind them, and with what Dag Marius calls intense padling, they made good progress. By lunchtime, they sought refuge at Elephant Cove to repair one of the kayaks that had been battered along the way. Elephant Cove appears to be sheltered, but the team report sandstorms and difficult camping conditions. The kayaks are now bound together and they are trying to ride out the storm as best they can. Even though the team has now kayaked for a week, they are not planning on taking it easy this weekend… so weather permitting, they will be setting off for new shift tomorrow.
Day 10: Weather-bound at Elephant Cove:
Due to strong winds, large waves and poor visibility, the kayakers have been weather-bound at Elephant Cove all Saturday. After more than 20 hours of rain and strong winds, they are hoping to get back on the water early tomorrow morning and head for Holmestrand. Holmestrand is just one of many spots with a Norwegian name along the coastline of South Georgia. Norwegian whalers have clearly left their mark on the island; the kayakers will also pass Sandefjord, Larvik and Horten as they make their way along the southern side.
Day 11: Knocked back by the wind:
Early this morning, the team were back out at sea, and the plan was to cross King Haakon Bay and Queen Maud Bay to make it to Holmestrand. At first, it looked as though it was going to be a good day, however, that was was before the wind picked up. With 50 knot headwinds and a very choppy sea, the team realised they were best off stopping at Nilse Hullet. This is a bay overflowing with wildlife. The penguin eggs are starting to hatch and the seals are giving birth at an intense rate. Amid all of this, the kayakers have pitched their tent employing their new stormproof technique. They will set off again tomorrow at 04.00 hours…
Day 12: Back on Track:
After a few days of limited progress, the kayak team are now back on track. After getting up early, they managed to cover 55 kilometres, before they set up camp at Sandefjord. They had paddled past Horten, Holmestrand and the glaciers that lie between. Sandefjord was a little tricky to find due to a map error, and the spot is governed by a couple of large elephant seals. Nevertheless, with their new get-up-at-the-crack-of-dawn-and-paddle-as-though-your-life-depends-on-it strategy, the kayakers hope to cover the same distance tomorrow. Weather permitting, of course.
Day 13: Elefant seal crushes kayak:
The dream of a peaceful night’s sleep was broken when an elephant seal, weighing approximately 2 tonnes hauled itself over Sigrid’s kayak on its way down to the sea. Elephant seals are extremely large, fat and, moreover, clumsy animals. At 03:00 hrs, Simen was awoken by the sound of a loud crack. He quickly got out of the tent and caught the rascal venturing over Sigrid’s kayak. Simen, who has become quite used to the wildlife conditions down here, grabbed his weapon (paddle) and chased the seal into the sea. He could see that one side of the kayak was totally damaged. The seams of the kayak were completely split and Sigrid’s kayaking adventure seemed doomed. Nevertheless, Simen hasn’t studied marine engineering for nothing. The kayak was brought into the tent at 05:00 hrs and given a complete service at the newly opened shipyard on South Georgia.
Both stoves were used to heat the tent so the glass fibre would dry. By 12 noon, nearly all the glass fibre supplies had been used, yet two metres of ripped kayak were now patched. At 13:00 hrs, the kayak was dry and back on the water. The team had no time to lose. Storms are forecast for tomorrow and they don’t want to be stranded on a beach boiling with Elephant seals. Furthermore, it won’t be long before the team’s ticket home becomes valid. Drifting ice and glaciers were passed. Just before their arrival at their new camping spot, Diaz Cove, Sigrid reported: “I am so pleased my kayak works!”
If the weather is not too rough tomorrow tomorrow, and if there are no more unlucky encounters with the wildlife down here, the team might just make it round the critical Cape Disappointment, which is the most southern point, sometime tomorrow…
Day 14: Eskimo rolls in stormy sea:
The team set out today intent on making it to at least Trollhull. A hurricane strength storm blew up and the waves were as big as houses. Adding to this, breaking waves off the land were making the sea choppy, so much so, that two of the kayakers had to undertake eskimo rolls after they were turned upside down. It has yet to be confirmed who it was. Antarctic water is bitingly cold, and, following the outdoor code of turning around in time, the kayakers sought refuge at Ranvik. After surfing in on the waves, they have set up camp and intend to sit out the storm. While time to make their flight home is running out, excitement is rising on South Georgia.
Day 15: Weatherbound at Ranvik:
Due to storms and a difficult sea, the kayakers have decided to wait for better weather before continuing today. This has allowed them time to check out the wildlife that South Georgia has to offer, and the team made the most of the time by going for a wander around Ranvik. Also, Sigrid’s kayak, that was damaged by an Elephant Seal some days ago, needed further maintenance work. Waiting for better weather to arrive is a test. However, as Sigrid says: “If you challenge the forces of nature down here, the forces of nature are sure to win…”
Day 16 Finally around Cape Disappointment:
When the kayakers set out this morning, they had no idea of what awaited them as they would pass South Georgia’s southernmost point, Cape Disappointment. None of them had ever paddled in sea conditions like it and they all agreed it was bordering on what was “paddleable”. Sigrid was pleased she did not know quite how bad it was, otherwise they would still have been on land. Nevertheless, in spite of enormous waves and an extremely choppy sea, they rounded South Georgia’s southernmost point in what was described as a chaotic kayaking experience. Happy to have made it passed the “steep hill”, they paddled into Småland Cove and set up camp. Cape Disappointment got its name from the time Cook had arrived here; he thought he had discovered Antarctica, but on rounding the “cape” he realised to his disappointment that it wasn’t Antarctica after all. How the glacier-clad fjord where the team is spending the night got the name Smaaland Cove remains a mystery to us. After having lost a great deal of time, the kayakers are now planning on doing an extra stint each day, to have the chance of making it round in time. Tomorrow, they will be up at 02:00 hours…
Day 17: A glorious day for kayaking:
After several days of limited progress, fortune turned for the kayakers today. Their new tactic of basically getting up at 02:00 hours, to kayak as soon as it grew light, really paid off. With more than 13 hours at their paddles, the team covered 60 km today. Seldom has such a distance been paddled in one day down here, and it is doubtful that even Shackleton in his time would have paddled so far in his desperate fight for life after a shipwreck in Antarctica. The kayakers were intent on making up for lost paddling time. With a glorious day on the water, their situation turned for the better as quickly as the weather so often does for the worse down here on South Georgia. Gone has the talk of not making their flight home or of having to call off the expedition in favour of celerating Christmas in Norway. There is now a slim, yet real chance that the team will beat the New Zealander’s time. A team from New Zealand kayaked around the island in 2005. The challenge for the Norwegian team will be to kayak like hungry, homesick penguins tomorrow, as they did today. Whatever the outcome, they will still be the first unaided expedition team to kayak around the island, as long as the weather stays on their side. And as usual, strong headwinds are forecast for tomorrow.
Day 18: Near accident just before final destination:
After once again starting out in the early hours of the morning, the kayakers soon covered an impressive amount of kilometres before lunch. They enjoyed the fine weather, crossing fjords and paddling between reefs. Simen and Tormod started to play in the small waves breaking off the reefs. Suddenly, a much larger wave broke, and Simen tried to support himself against the wave with his paddle, but the wave was too big. Simen ended up inside the wave and was thrown upside down while the wave rolled over the reef. Tormod, who was watching close by, was sure another kayak repair job was on the cards. Simen was thrown 360 degrees horizontally into the wave and immediately landed on a bit of reef. When the water drained from the reef, he was still sitting in his kayak, but no longer resting on the sea. When Tormod saw Simen sitting high and dry on the reef, smiling from ear to ear, and giving the classic “thumbs up” sign, he knew that everything was okay. The Dagger, who had also witnessed the event, said it looked completely “rock and roll”. They allowed the occurrance to sink in over lunch. After lunch, the wind suddenly picked up to 35 knots, and the rest of the day was spent pitched against headwinds. They have now set up camp at Luisa Bay and have only 30 kilometres to go before they reach their final destination. However, going by the weather forecast, their odds for making it tomorrow are not good. Even though it is fun paddling, the team now admit that after near on three weeks without a shower and intense kayaking, they will be happy to leave their kayaks for a while. However, while battling with the headwinds, the team thinks it’s great that so many are following them via this blogg, and they thank everyone for their support
The crew of the observer boat Pelagic, which make sure the kayakers aren’t driven out to sea, are trying as best they can to keep abreast of the kayakers whereabouts. However, it is not easy to spot low-lying craft around South Georgia. Kayakspotting has become the main activity on board. Otherwise, a lot of the time is spent enjoying the first officer Julie’s wonderful food. She is also in the process of teaching the cameraman Matias to speak French. Learning French and kayakspotting is a recommended combination. Otherwise, yours truly can report that conversation on board tends to dwell on wind, waves and weather forecasts.
Day 19 A long day in the tent:
The kayakers got up early today and agreed it was best not to kayak today. It is blowing a gale and the waves are pretty scarey. With the prospect of good weather tomorrow, the team doesn’t want to risk life and limb attempting to finish today. Instead, they are relaxing in the tent, while the rain pours down outside. Inside the tent, Sigrid is dishing up culinary delights from their remaining food supplies. If they end up being weatherbound much longer, these rations certainly won’t last, but if the forecast is anything to go by, they will enjoy a lovely day’s paddling to the finishing post tomorrow.
Day 20: WE MADE IT!!!!
At 09:30 this morning, the team arrived at Grytviken, with everyone who works down here, about 15 persons, gathered on the beach, the entire government was assembled. Signal rockets were set off and cognac was supplied by the captain! Hugs, congratulations and cheers were enjoyed all round! The expedition had been a success! We have paddled completely unassisted around South Georgia in only 20 days.
We set this new record by being on the water this morning by 03:15 hours. Today, it has rained, and the whole way we had a slight tailwind. Great! Our grins grew wider and wider as we gradually started to recognise landmarks as we closed in on Grytviken, and safely ashore we could finally release our jubilation.
The researchers at Grytviken had heated the sauna for us, and you can imagine the looks on the faces of the tourists who arrived that same morning with a Russian ship, when we ran naked from the sauna down to the sea to bathe, amid all their hustle and bustle and passing furseals on the way. We were carrying stones in our hands, in case the furseals attacked us, but they were perhaps just as shocked as the tourists.
We have now dined on steak, drunk beer and have been well looked after, so now we’re off to the “pub” here in Grytviken. Celebrations are in order!
Tormorrow, we’ll dry and pack our equipment, and then we set sail for the Falkland Islands.I never thought I would end up in Antarctica protecting myself from Fur Seals and spotting Kayaks from a sailboat in one of the harshest climates in the world. However, I was the camera man of a Kayak expedition there, and while some became the first kayakers to circumnavigate the island unsupported, I became one of the leading Kayakspotters of the south Atlantic (someone who spots kayakers on the horizon).
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