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12 Days till Christmas – Day 4. In for the Swim

12 days till Christmas - reflections from a leadership journey for Women and non-binary in STEM focusing on sustainability, climate change and global challenges- culminating in an expedition and leadership journey to Antarctica.

It might sound ridiculous to travel to the end of the Earth and to feel the need to go for a swim, or “Polar Plunge”. But more than 80 of us took-up the opportunity and challenge to take to the Antarctic waters.

Deception Island. Top R-L: view towards Neptune's Bellows from the central crater, basalt with vesicles (solidified in-situ volcanic gas bubbles), black-dots on the white snow - our team walks up towards a crater. Bottom R-L: a black and white pallet outlines the landscape, in for the swim (photo credit: Kit Jackson), iceberg at the entrance to the inner crater. November 21st, 2023.

We pull through Neptune’s Bellows, the entrance to the secret interior of Deception Island at 6.45am. This is a special place, a shield volcano with a submerged central crater that is rimmed by icy volcanic hills. The crater is a calm natural harbour, and the peace and mirror-like flatness of the internal waters are a restful change after our 2.5 day voyage through ‘interesting’ seas in the Southern Ocean. We land on the beach at Telefon Bay and start our walk up towards the active cater. The visual pallet is black and white. The dark volcanic rocks and black beach sands stand-out against the luminous white of the snow. The views and contrasts are stunning.


Back on the beach we gather and contemplate the icy waters. A tarpaulin has been lain down for our clothes and bags. We are adhering to strict biosecurity protocols, normally nothing but boots touch the ground (which are pressure washed, scrubbed, and dipped in virkon* after every landing) to avoid introducing non-native species and viruses to the Antarctic ecosystem. In groups we undress and head towards the sea. The mood is celebratory.  Some run and scream, some quietly contemplate the calm and specialness of the place and scenery, some pose for photos, most dip-in and hurry backout to grab towels and change out of wet gear into thermals, hats, and insulated boots. A raft of penguins joins the swimming celebration demonstrating their deftness and agility in the water. A stark contrast to our laughing, wailing, splashing efforts, but both their display and ours are a joyful spectacle amongst the black and white landscape.


I started swimming outside all year round during COVID with a bunch of female friends. The solitude, the giggles, the yelps and post swim tingles, coffee, and cake; and perhaps above all the utter absurdity of taking your clothes off in sub-zero temperatures to immerse your body in icy river water. But it was, and still is, a much-needed escape. The camaraderie is perhaps what I get from it the most, as well as numb fingers and a lasting exhilaration. If you’ve committed to get-up at 6am on a cold dark morning, to meet someone for a dip, you’d better get-up and do it. The water and friendship wash away any regrets and it feels like you’ve snuck in something secret and special that sets you up for the rest of the day. With a friend alongside the possibilities open and the World is a more special place. I now have 80 new swimming friends to challenge me to make a difference to them and others and to open my mind to new opportunities.


* virkon – disinfectant used for biosecurity.





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