Sunrise 0443, Sunset 2203
Position 64 degrees 35.60′ South, 62 degrees 41.54′ West
This lunchtime I took the plunge – literally. All passengers on board the Explorer were invited to do the “Polar Plunge”, a quick leap into the 32 degree (0 degrees Celsius) waters of the Southern Ocean. Admittedly, not many chose to accept the invitation, being much too sensible. But I just wanted you to know that this was not another one of my bright ideas.
I couldn’t resist the challenge, especially when I thought of my friend Lynne Cox (who wrote a blurb for Rowing the Atlantic: Lessons Learned on the Open Ocean). She swam an entire mile in these waters. Wearing nothing but a normal swimsuit, she climbed down a ladder from a ship and swam to the continent of Antarctica. It took her half an hour. (See this report on the CBS website for more on this incredible feat, or read her inspiring book, Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer.)
Inspired by her example, I donned my gym gear (hey, it needed washing anyway) and made my way down to a lower deck, the designated jumping off point. As I went down the ladder to the Zodiac, the ship’s doctor, Patty Schiff, was on hand. “Mind out for the ice,” she said, pointing to a chunk of clear ice bobbing on the water nearby.
Once we’d pushed the ice out of the way, and before I had a chance to think about it too much, I held my nose and jumped in. The water was not as shockingly cold as I had expected. Bracing, but not mind-numbingly freezing. Having said that, I was quite happy to hop out again. I was not tempted to try and match Lynne’s achievement.
My friends at the South End Rowing Club (not as south an end as THIS south end!) include a number of open water swimmers, who swim in the chilly waters of San Francisco Bay every weekend, all year round. I also know some people who swim every Sunday in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London, even when they have to break the ice first. They tell me that after the initial sharp intake of breath, they get a huge rush of endorphins. I don’t know if I’d go quite that far, but it definitely got the circulation going, and taking the plunge was a good thing to add to the list of amazing memories from this trip.
Thanks to fellow traveler Jeff Hillman for the photos of my plunge.
Today was our last day in Antarctica, before we head back north across the Drake Passage to Ushuaia in Argentina. I am sad that our trip is drawing to a close. Already I am trying to figure out how soon, and in what manner, I will return to this mysterious, beautiful continent at the bottom of the world – and what I can do to help protect it.
The Antarctic Peninsula is being affected more than any other region of the world by climate change. Since records began 50 years ago, it has already experienced a rise in mean annual air temperatures of 2.8 degrees Celsius, or about 5 degrees Fahrenheit. (Source: British Antarctic Survey) This is already having significant impacts on the biodiversity of this vibrant region.
And so, as I get ready to head north to Australia, and as I’m trying to figure out how to fit my new red Antarctic parka into my suitcase, I’m also thinking about what else I’m taking back with me – memories, photos, but also a new appreciation of this wonderful world, and an renewed passion to do all I can to save it for future generations.