In one week’s time, New Zealand ex-pat Hayley Shephard will leave her home in Alert Bay, British Columbia to sail to the bottom of the globe to attempt the first solo circumnavigation of Antarctica’s South Georgia Island by sea kayak. Lying in the heart of the “Roaring Forties,” South Georgia’s 375 miles of ice- and cliff-bound coastline is said to be among the most rugged in the world. A Kiwi team led by Graham Charles was the first to paddle around it in 2005.
Now, Shephard has secured the funds to hire a support vessel (mandatory by government regulations) and is planning to take about a month to complete her journey. For more information visit www.kayakingtosavealbatross.com.– Conor Mihell
C&K: How long have your plans been in the works to circumnavigate South Georgia Island?
Hayley Shephard: I fell in love with South Georgia 10 years ago when I first starting working as a guide/naturalist in Antarctica. I wanted to paddle around it and see it more intimately, and three years ago I decided to go for it.
C&K: What draws you to Antarctica?
H.S.: It is the most dramatic place on the planet. It tugs at all of your emotions. It physically and intellectually challenges you and keeps you constantly on your toes—the weather can be calm and tranquil one minute then furiously fierce the next. The wildlife blows you away, the animals are fearless and there are so many of them. I am truly addicted to Antarctica.
C&K: You had to delay original plans to do the expedition in 2009. What caused the delay?
H.S.: For two years I had been writing proposals, applying for grants and seeking foundations and have had very little success. One month prior to departure last year a major donor pulled their support due to economic challenges.
C&K: What’s different this year?
H.S.: I took out a loan to make sure the expedition takes place. I’m simply going into debt to achieve this dream and accomplish the goal of building public awareness about the albatross.
C&K: How have your previous expeditions (solo trips around Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands) prepared you for this one?
H.S.: My previous journeys tested me in various ways – physically, emotionally and mentally. I discovered my limitations and found out how far I can push myself. I realized how I respond to fear, pressure and various challenges. I know my capabilities, my endurance, what I can pull out of the reserve bag when necessary.
C&K: Why are you going solo?
H.S.: I have always been drawn to enforced self-reliance. You find out what you are truly made of, with no masks to hide behind. I love having no other distractions other than nature itself.
C&K: What role does the albatross play in your plans? Why kayak to save the albatross?
H.S.: Albatross and other seabirds are being accidentally killed by outdated techniques used in the longline fishing industry. My kayak journey is a catalyst to inform the public about the devastating situation of the albatross and to encourage them to put pressure on the fishing industry to also implement new techniques. There is an urgency to tell this story. The future of the albatross lies literally waiting in our hands.