What’s it like to…swim in Antarctica

Phyllis Pepper and Phyllis Pepper

It’s darn cold. You do it once or twice in your life, and then you say that’s enough, even if you have the opportunity to do it again. You come off the ship, and you’re bundled up for Antarctica. You’re traveling on Zodiacs – rubber raft-type pontoons – and you’re wearing heavy winter clothing, a parka and knee-high Wellington boots. You step out on a black sand beach, and you say, “This is the dumbest thing I’m ever going to do.”

You wear a bathing suit underneath the parka, and you get out of your clothes. Your feet start to burn – you’re on the beach of a volcano.

You sit down as soon as you get in the water because the wind’s blowing above you, and the ambient temperature outside is about 30 degrees. And then you realize the water is really hot, and you scooch out further on your bum in the water. You’re sitting with your shoulders out of the water, but you’re trying to stay in to stay warm. And then a wave comes, and it brings cold water and you’re like a little kid, trying to mix the cold and the warm together to make it comfortable.

When you’re done, you’re soaking wet, and you walk out onto this beach. Your friends are standing out there with big towels. You say to hell with it, and strip off the bathing suit. I didn’t bring any panties with me, but it didn’t matter at that point. I had a sweat suit. You pull that on and cover your face and your ears as fast as you can. And then you say, “Enough is enough! Can I go back to the ship?”

And that’s pretty much how it goes. But the real reason you go to Antarctica is to see the penguins and to see the magnificent ice that nature produces. It’s indescribable … glaciers and icebergs that are bigger than buildings…