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The scene around me is a strange one. Lumps of ice float on top of the water and sub-zero winds are whipping viciously.

On shore, meanwhile, one very confused penguin waddles between piles of heaped-up clothes.

Strangest of all are the humans. Near naked, they surround me.

They’re trying to swim, but mostly they’re just swearing … very loudly.

The air, as well as our bodies, is turning blue because we’re taking a dip in the Antarctic Ocean and unsurprisingly, it’s bloody cold.

Indeed, you’d survive about four minutes in these waters, but we’ve no desire to test that limit.

Barely able to breathe and with the glacial waves lapping like daggers against my flesh, I last less than 60 seconds before staggering back to Deception Island’s black volcanic sands.

With our Antarctic bath accomplished, a million-and-one layers are frantically thrown back on and soon grins dominate every face.

It’s a look we’ve grown accustomed to on our 10-day expedition to the Great White South.

Crossing Drake Passage

Getting here, which involved crossing the infamous Drake Passage, has been no small feat.

I’m on board the MV Ushuaia, with 83 other passengers, having left its namesake Argentinian port a week before our icy plunge.

The 500-mile stretch of water is renowned for being among the world’s roughest. Indeed, one travel agent had jovially informed me that getting sick on the Drake is “just the price you pay” for getting to see Antarctica. That had not been what I wanted to hear. 

The passage is named after English sea captain Sir Francis Drake, who passed south of Cape Horn in 1578, but sadly, my sea legs aren’t a patch on his.

And so, filled with dread ahead of a potential two days of gut-wrenching seasickness hell, I wave goodbye to south Patagonia and the beautifully sheltered Beagle Channel, before getting drugged up to the eyeballs and assuming the recommended anti-nausea position staring at the horizon. And there I wait.

At one point I notice sick bags have been Sellotaped to every inch of the boat. But then, halfway through day two, the best news ever arrives.

“Conditions are excellent,” expedition leader Monika Schillat informs us. 

“We’re making great time,” she adds, before the final cherry on the cake: “So great in fact that we’ll make our first landing, ahead of schedule, tomorrow.”

The grins start to appear.

Against the elements

Over the coming days, which now involve 24 hours of light, the landings come to dominate our waking moments.

The anticipation is on another level and what to wear becomes a major part of the ritual.

Should we squeeze into three pairs of socks, or four?

Most of us lump for basically everything we have. Think gumboots, multiple socks, thermals, trousers, waterproof trousers, more thermals, T-shirts, ice-breaker, fleece, ski jacket, scarf, hat and gloves.

With a life jacket thrown in for good measure, it’s a miracle any of us can move, but move we do, like a hyperactive line of Michelin men, waddling ecstatically to the deck. 


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