Despite the fact that our 110 meter ship looked like a toy in an icy bathtub, the bay felt oppressively small. Low clouds obscured the tops of surrounding jagged peaks and tidewater glaciers terminating into the blackness of the water. The windless morning, dark and thick with sodden mist dampened the continuous squawking of gentoo penguins. It was eerie. Somewhere on the other side of vast Neko Harbour, unbeknownst to us, a glacier had calved a massive hulk of ice from its face, creating another colossal iceberg.
I had just picked up Tammie who had anchored the zodiac she was driving 100 meters off the beach, out of the reach of the dropping tide. On our way to shore, we paused to take in the scene. Floating amongst small blocks of brash ice, the intensity of grey, white, cold, and damp resonated a deep chill to the bone. Penguin highways stained brick red with guano weaved their way like frozen arteries up the white snow slope to a rocky outcrop. Gigantic blue seracs hung precariously from the glacier beyond, creating an ominous backdrop as the penguins obliviously hopped around on the rocks, collecting and stealing stones for their nests. Small waves lapped at the bouldery shore line as I pulled up to our landing site. Tammie and I hopped out and began to secure our boat when a larger wave violently crashed into the stern of the boat, sending a shudder through the rubber pontoons.
Waves marched in without a hint of warning, successively growing larger and as they reared out of the water carrying blocks of ice with them up the shoreline. With each blow, the boat was thrashed erratically about, pushed higher and higher up the pink granite boulders. Tammie had seen the futility and danger in staying near the boat and made her way to higher ground, while I stubbornly hung on to a line secured to the length of the pontoon as the boat came to rest on a large pedestal 20 meters from the waterline. Two other guides now joined me to make sure I hadn’t been pinned or crushed by the force of the water.
With only a few seconds before the next, and by far the largest wave reached us, I climbed into the boat and instructed the other guides that when I was lifted by the wave, to turn the boat so the nose was facing down hill towards the water. Crashing up the rocks, the wave swept me off the boulders, pulling the boat down the beach with barely enough water under the keel to keep me a float as the wave retreated. Seeing a gap in the rocks, I lowered the engine and managed to get enough of the propeller into the water to gain some forward momentum as another 2 meter wave hit, threatening to take me up the beach and into the rocks once again. The engine screamed as I hit the throttle, spraying a rooster tail of water as I struggled against the shoreward momentum. Then, as the wave receded, I was free! The waves dissipated as quickly as they had come and once again, the only audible sound were the penguins.
- January 2015