Diverse wildlife and untouched beauty.
We expected extreme conditions. At 65° South the sky was grey, the clouds were ominous, and the water was 0°C. The aim was to document what happened to my body during the southernmost long-distance swim ever undertaken.At the start it was snowing heavily; on the way back from the half-way-mark (an iceberg) it was coming down in chunks. Tim Noakes was on the boat under a blanket watching the monitor, while Jonathan Dugas wrote vital statistics on a whiteboard to keep me informed. Suddenly, the information stopped coming. (I didn’t know it, but the pen had frozen!) Minutes passed. I pulled my head up and yelled, ‘WTF is happening?’ Tim started bellowing: ‘100 metres to go … 50 to go …’ He’d turned from doctor and scientist into coach.
When we finished the kilometre, we realised we’d forgotten to strap on the watch that carries my statistics from the heart rate monitor. We would have to do it all over again. (See Deception Island.) I was gutted. But I realised that the buck stops with me. Blame doesn’t solve problems and always leaves scars. We still didn’t have a basic checklist then. We do now.
This swim still haunts me. The idea was to see what happened to the body in extreme cold during the longest polar swim ever undertaken. I didn’t expect the setting to be so surreal – like something out of a James Bond movie. Deception Island is a horseshoe-shaped caldera with black volcanic beaches and snow-white peaks. There was once a whaling station here, and we were told that the water gets so hot during eruptions that it can melt the paint off ships. When we got there it was still an icy 2°C, and during the one-mile swim across Whaler’s Bay my core body temperature dropped to a dangerously low 33°C (hypothermia is official at 35°C).The water was shallow in places, and when I first dived in I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing: whale bones everywhere. Hundreds of them, jaw bones, ribs, long white spines … at times I was even touching them. I don’t know that there was a single turning point in my life where I realised protecting the world’s oceans was what I was meant to do, but that moment was a major awakening.