Sliding into the frigid teal water, I’m instantly glad for the three pairs of socks I’m wearing inside my dry suit. I slowly skirt the jagged edge of an iceberg flaring out beneath the surface, careful not to veer too close should it suddenly flip and take me with it. Trying not think about the many ways I could meet a grisly end in the icy abyss of Antarctica, I shift my focus to what’s directly in front of my snorkel mask: thousands of tiny gelatinous creatures that look like they come from another world.
“We can go to the moon but there are still so many things on this planet that we don’t understand,” muses expedition team leader Florence ‘Flo’ Kuyper at the beginning of our voyage. Indeed, out here, in one of the wildest and most remote corners of the planet, I feel like I’m observing an alien species through my goggles.
Then, suddenly, there’s a flurry of flippers and GoPros as it comes to the attention of our small group of polar snorkellers that we’re not alone. Momentary terror at the sight of a dark shape moving towards us under the water converts to sheer joy, as I realise it’s just a curious fur seal pup moving in for a closer look at the brightly coloured intruders bobbing in its icy turf. Playfully swimming rings around us, the young seal momentarily pauses to stare at me with big, round inky eyes before shooting off in a flash of glistening silver-grey fur. Gratefully accepting ‘Scuba Pete’ Szyszka’s help to haul my frozen body back into the Zodiac (it now makes perfect sense why the strong-armed Polish-Australian guides this activity), I’m so overwhelmed by our unexpected encounter that happy tears begin rolling down my crimson cheeks. I had expected my first trip to Antarctica to be an emotional experience, and I was right.
Only offered once or twice each season by small-ship operator Aurora Expeditions, our Wild Antarctica itinerary takes us directly through Antarctica’s ‘back door’ into the Weddell Sea, which laps the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Described by Sir Ernest Shackleton as “the worst sea in the world”, the Weddell is legendary for its immense tabular icebergs, year-round sea ice and its role in maritime history — the latter making headlines in 2022 when the icy wreck of Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, was discovered almost 10,000ft beneath the surface. With its treacherous waters given a wide berth by the increasing number of polar cruising vessels now plying Antarctic waters, this lonely sea feels about as far off the grid as it gets, though I discover the satellite wi-fi still works surprisingly well on board.
There’s an undeniable savageness undercutting the surreal beauty of the Weddell Sea. Between the sea ice that’s still perfectly capable of trapping a
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