We found ourselves on a bright sunny Tuesday morning in a Zodiac boat, being delayed by three humpback whales on our way to say our vows.
I’ll be honest; this was not my idea. We had booked a wedding ceremony in Bristol followed by dinner with friends. I don’t have anywhere near enough imagination to think of something as epic as getting married in Antarctica. But Alex, our friend, set up a trip of a lifetime heading south, really far south, to get married. Thanks Alex!
We set sail for Antarctica from a small scruffy town in southern Argentina called Ushuaia. The most southerly port town in the world. From there it is a two day sail to the Antarctic peninsular. This sail can either be rough as Poseidon’s fury or calm as a mill pond. We had it somewhere in between, and the vessel we sailed on, the Hebridean Sky had state of the art stabilisers, which meant we had a pretty smooth crossing despite some speed bumps along the way.
Arriving into Antarctica, especially if the sun is shining, is like arriving nowhere else on the planet. It’s like diamonds, and ice cream, and your best ever Alpine holiday. Breathtaking. Our captain turned the Hebridean Sky to Starboard and we headed directly for the Neumayer channel, a narrow stretch of water with mountains reaching straight up a thousand meters from the icy seawater.
As we sailed further south through the channel we ticked off a bunch of firsts, our first humpback, our first Fin whale, our first penguins, our first sea ice, our first iceberg. The list was as thrilling as the air was chilly.
We had opted to kayak, and if you ever decide to go to Antarctica and a kayaking option is available to you, take it. Pulling paddles through glassy water still water speckled with brash ice, humpbacks blowing just yards away, and water so clear you can see flying penguins darting below you, is a memory that you will regale at dinner parties for years to come.
The silence that kayaks offer over the motorised zodiac boats, and the freedom to slow down and breath in the frigid air, is worth the effort. The Kayaking instructors were excellent, filled with knowledge, ensuring our paddle complimented the vivid memories we were making, and expertly answering any questions we had, whilst ensuring we were safe, even when a humpback cruised right underneath us.
Ultimately we would end up using our kayaks as our wedding chariots, with a large JUST MARRIED poster taped to the side of it.
Our wedding day was awesome. Most peoples’ is, but ours, really, really was awesome. The Hebridean Sky is a vessel operated by an American company called Polar Latitudes who fuse luxury and adventure perfectly.
So, our wedding day started with a breakfast fit for kings and queens. After breakfast, we wandered back to our suite and changed into our warm clothes ready for the day ahead. I slipped on a shirt and bow tie under my jacket, and Tara a pretty white jumper.
Next on the agenda, a citizen science project, where we took water samples which measured some chemicals released by Krill, the goal to discover a yet undiscovered truth about how humpbacks find their food. Fascinating stuff.
The Kayaks of course awaited, and a paddle out into the warm sunshine, yielded humpback sightings so close that our instructor told us to raft up, each kayak holding onto the next, we formed a large surface area as the humpback cruised literally feet from us. This was no accidental encounter, the humpback swam around us for a good five minutes, as curious of us as we were of it. Spectacular.
We had been waiting for the perfect weather and the best location, so the exact date of our wedding had only been chosen that morning. Hopping out of the Kayak into the Zodiac boats, Tara and I, with our guide, headed towards Recess Cove, a location selected by Polar Latitudes for our marriage. It was perfect.
With several guests, and a couple of guides watching on, our celebrant wandered towards us. She was dressed in…a penguin costume! This was a surprise for us, and I can understand how the more earnest of persons might find the person who is about to marry you dressing up in a penguin costume as a bit niche, but we laughed our heads off, what fun we had.
The stress of remembering vows and not dropping rings in the snow evaporated and all that was left were several short simple words that would guide Tara and I through the rest of our lives.
We travelled onboard the Hebridean Sky, a vessel operated by an American company Polar Latitudes, renowned within the industry as being one of the very best for fusing exploratory voyages with a touch of luxury. We booked our trip with Swoop Antarctica, based in Bristol UK, who will be able to help organise your voyage south and if you fancy it, a wedding there too.
Ensuring your marriage is legally recognised: To ensure your Antarctic marriage is legally recognised, you will need to register with the British Antarctic Survey, to get a marriage licence. Do so several months before you set sail. And talk to Swoop about which vessel operator will be best to help you make your special day the very best day ever.
You can follow John and Tara travels on their YouTube channel
See their photos on Instagram @vanlifenewbys