The 7th Continent: Motorcycle to Antarctica
Deepak Kamath refused to give up on his lifelong dream of riding a motorcycle in Antarctica. Even if that meant sailing for 3 weeks and 500 miles just for a slim chance to ride between a Russian and Uruguayan military base in polar conditions for cookies! Here’s his mad story…
The 7th Continent
I had ridden across six continents and my dream for the last 25 years has been to ride on the seventh. I believe that dreams should never stay dreams.
So, when two friends and I rode the Americas, I knew it was now or never. We rode 32,000 miles over 99 days from Anchorage, USA to the Arctic Ocean, crossed over to Canada for the Top of the World Highway and then headed all the way south to the end of the road in Ushuaia, Argentina.
Once we had completed the trip, my friends flew home and I stayed behind to try and fulfil my lifelong dream of sailing to and riding in Antarctica. But unfortunately, while we were in Vancouver, one of our team members had a bad crash and we lost four weeks. The delay meant that I missed the sailing dates from Argentina by about a week. By the time I got there, nobody would take me and my motorcycle.
But I refused to leave, I stayed for nearly two months, praying day after day that someone would take me. It was all made a lot harder after a recent incident with a British woman, who also took her motorcycle to Antarctica but failed to pay the agreed amount to the company who took her once she returned. It set a bad precedent and that company refused to take me because of it.
I received a phone call and rushed to the AFASyN Boat Club: the nerve centre for all sailing vessels that enter and exit Ushuaia. I was introduced to Captain Daniel Gavrilov from a company called Rusarc – a person who would change my destiny.
I immediately took a liking to Capt. Dan because he was stern, had a never give up attitude and was willing to risk taking me and my motorcycle to Antarctica, but with no assurances that I would get to ride there. The only assurance I got was that we would sail and try to land the bike. That was enough for me, at least I was finally sailing to Antarctica with my motorcycle.
Four days later, on December 25, we set sail through the calm Beagle Channel, which eventually merges into Drake Passage: one of the most volatile passages in the world with wave heights of over 15 metres. I didn’t know what to expect as I have never sailed in my life. Luckily, we only hit four metre waves on our 500-mile journey.
On New Year’s Day my heart almost burst with joy when Capt. Dan landed my motorcycle on an iceberg!
I was still coming to terms with reality as we sailed around the Antarctic Peninsula when Capt. Dan unloaded and set my motorcycle down three more times. I didn’t have permission to ride the bike on those places, but was so happy to see the tyres touch snow.
Enterprise Island, Foyn Harbour
Our next landing spot was beside a 104-year-old shipwreck of the Norwegian whaling vessel: Governoren. It has been lying in a secluded bay since 1915 and is now a rusting testament of Antarctic history. The whaling factory ship used to hunt whales and pull them aboard to separate the fat and usable meat. These factory ships also had huge boilers to turn fat into valuable whale oil. During a routine end of season party, a fire lamp was knocked over and set the ship on fire. The crew managed to escape but the oil caught alight and the ship was engulfed in flames. It’s now been reclaimed by nature as a nesting ground for migrating birds.
Deception Island and Whalers Bay
Next up was Whalers Bay on Deception Island. It’s currently administered under the Antarctic Treaty System and is a result of a large volcanic crater formed by an active volcano that completely destroyed the local scientific stations in 1967 and 1969. Remains of huge rusting boilers and tanks, an aircraft hangar and a British science station torn out by volcanic eruptions remain as a reminder of nature’s fury. At this point I started to realise just how volatile and dangerous Antarctica can be…
This is a small inner harbour entered from Shopski Cove between Glacier Bluff and Spit Point, indenting the south-west side of Greenwich Island in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. Yankee Harbour was known to both American sealers and the British (who called it Hospital Cove) as early as 1820, and this name is now established in international usage.
It was a foggy morning when the entire Rusarc crew climbed into the zodiac (an Arctic dinghy) and headed to the shores of Bellingshausen Island: home to four Antarctic stations belonging to Russia, Chile, China and Uruguay.
Capt. Dan said that he would go first and ask for permission to lower my motorcycle onto land so I could potentially ride around the Russian base. It would be the first time my Bajaj Dominar 400 motorcycle would fire up since it was hauled aboard back in Ushuaia. It’s a stock bike with standard tyres, whatever fuel was left in the tank and a tired battery… which I prayed had held on.
I waited patiently until Captain Dan’s voice crackled over the walkie-talkie and burst a string of instructions in Russian to the crew. There was a flurry of movement and somehow it was happening… the Bajaj was being lowered into the Zodiac. This was it. This was the moment that my Dominar would start rolling its rubber on Antarctica and I could fulfil a quarter-century dream.
From Russia to Uruguay
The machine fired up at the touch of a button. I let it idle as reality sunk in… I’m actually going to ride here! In the background, Capt. Dan was dealing with officers in the Russian base who were connecting with the Uruguayan base for permission to let an Indian man on an Indian made motorcycle ride 2.5 miles between them. It would be a ride from the Bellingshausen Base of Russia to the Uruguay General Artigas Station on King George Island of the South Shetland Islands.
I almost cried. I could feel myself trembling in excitement and have never hugged anyone as tightly as I did Captain Dan at that moment. He was told to ride pillion from a safety perspective and so we loaded up and set off. I had to continuously ask him to jump off as we rode over a rough path and through thick sludge and snow.
No Guns, Just Cookies
Surprised guards waited for us at the barricade in front of the General Artigas Base of Uruguay; they had never seen a motorcycle on the island before. Even though it’s a military base, the soldiers had no guns because arms and weapons are illegal on the continent as per a treaty signed by all countries that have a base there. But they did have hot coffee and cookies. They served up drinks and we spent an hour with those wonderful people in their base before an urgent call came in: a snowstorm was gaining momentum and we had to leave – now.
It may have only been 2.5 miles back to the dinghy, but the ride was pure torture. My hands were shaking while trying to hold onto the handlebars as the front wheel battled with slippery rocks. Captain Dan was hanging on and shouting instructions in Russian for the sailors to ready the Zodiac. Snow flew into our faces as the back wheel struggled for traction. Within minutes we were covered in ice and completely numb.
The windchill was unbearable, it was -21C when we left the base and dropping every second. It became difficult to breath, even harder to ride and my bones felt like they froze solid. I wasn’t prepared for that level of cold and it was the toughest and scariest ride of my life, but even as my teeth chattered, I didn’t care… all that mattered was that I was riding on my seventh continent.
I woke up the next morning on the Rusarc and looked out over the frozen island. It was covered in a rock-solid ice blanket. There was no way we could have landed if we arrived today instead of yesterday.
We heard over the radio that the weather was clear along the Drake Passage for a safe return and so we waved goodbye to the cold and headed back towards Argentina. Five days later and Rusarc Aurora docked in Ushuaia. I couldn’t believe the last three weeks were over. I had sailed with amazing people, had made some of the best memories of my life, discovered Antarctica and finally fulfilled my dream.
Fancy a go?
Antarctica is home to the geographic South Pole. It’s the Earth’s southernmost continent and is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. Most of it is a polar desert and covered in 1.2-mile-thick ice.
You can visit Antarctica on a cruise ship, but if you really want to explore, then it’s worth going with a specialist small yacht service like Rusarc who can reach the many hidden coves and inlets. Make sure you have an experienced Captain who can navigate Drake’s Passage and knows the seas.
- A lot of planning and preparation needs to go into an Antarctica trip. But if you do decide to give it a go, remember that it’s probably worth taking a jumper as temperatures can drop to -89.6C!
About the author
Deepak Kamath’s motorcycle travels started when he completed two India cross-country rides in 1990 that took him across the length and breadth of India. The 6,946 miles in 267 hours earned Deepak and his riding partner an entry into the Limca Book of Records (the Indian version of the Guinness Books of World Records). Their next record was riding two-up across 6 continents in 47 days on a Jawa motorcycle.
Over three decades of motorcycle travels, Deepak has covered more than 300,000 miles, across 37 countries, all 7 continents and he’s now planning his next big trip!
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