Pittaraks in South Georgia [30]

By Wade Fairley

The barometer was plummeting and a heavy sea mist had rolled up out of the South West quickly blotting out the sun and casting the world in a uniform steel grey light. Huge Southern Ocean rollers swept up in relentless rows out of the South West. Here at 56 degrees South, the Southern Ocean literally belts around the bottom of the globe and aside from a few tiny sub Antarctic Islands like South Georgia. there is no land mass to block the path of these massive waves. The huge Southern Ocean bommers gather momentum and power then explode with terrible force against South Georgia’s rocky cold shores.

We steered our Pittaraks through a thin channel between the cliffs of a small rocky island and the main land. A huge grounded ice berg partially blocked the narrow lead. To go around the island would add a couple more kilometres of paddling. so we opted to try and sneak by the grounded ice tower. The heaving swell burst against the glistening ice blue slick walls. Angus had the lead. the fastest of the three of us. We each paddled a five meter single kayaks. Angus and I in Pittaraks. The two boats that two years before we had taken to the Antarctic peninsular. And kayaks we knew we could thoroughly rely upon for serious expedition paddling like South Georgia.

Tentacles of kelp appeared on the surface, this meant the water was getting dangerously shallow and some of the larger rollers began exploding randomly about us. 1 Between swells I would see Angus I bobbing ahead so tiny against the power engulfing us. I saw him surfing down a larger roller its crest starting I to collapse into booming foam. As the wave steeped Angus picked up 1 too much speed. Already that day we 4 had paddled a very hard and I nervous six long hours, now tired he I was slower to react, he broached on I the steep crest and buried the i kayak’s nose. He corkscrewed and I cartwheeled as the wave broke : about him. The next moment he was over, on his side, head in the I freezing water.

This I thought was the dreaded moment feared. We’re all on our own I we had agreed, though we were three, a rescue in such rough seas would be impossible. It would need be roll or Angus foundered for a moment, the Pittarak’s high bow and stem keeping the kayak and him on it’s side rather than going completely up side down. Angus simply gave little more than a hard support stroke and he was up. We are all experienced kayakers and we’ve I rolled kayaks between us thousands I of times. But this was different -this I was too real, too serious.

The sea huge and exploding about us, the water temperature hovering just above zero and the shore line an impenetrable cliff line. I remember being frankly sceptical about Pittarak’s claim of being an almost’self righting’ kayak. But I had just seen a very timely demonstration and in that instance the craft’s very clever design may have saved our lives.

This was our second kayaking expedition in the Southern Ocean. Two years previously we had made the first unsupported kayaking expedition to Antarctica. Obviously equipment was a major concern to us for that expedition. We had a modest budget but needed to somehow get the best kayak money could buy. Many sea kayaks had sprung onto the market but after searching about it seemed to me that the Pittarak was a good bow length ahead in thoughtful design.

Now with two committing kayaking expeditions behind us and our Pittaraks. the wisdom of that decision and the wisdom of the boat’s very intelligent design have become very evident. Though a very responsive and sporty kayak, for the South Georgia expedition we were still ab~ to load aboard enough food and equipment to travel self contained in a polar environment for some fifty days. The boat with it’s long keel-Iine tracks beautifully in even in strong cross winds and keeps a steady course even in rough choppy conditions. The recessed deck hatches offer litt~ windage or wave resistance when paddling in waves.

Our Pittaraks are left in storage in Chile and I look forward to more expeditions with them in the Southern Ocean.