Observed water temperature -0.5°C. Giant petrels screeched overhead, looking for carrion. Dark water waited below. Could I do it? Could I jump?
The ship’s aft platform was eight feet or so above the water. Gentle waves slapped the dangling ladder that would bring me back up to the platform. The coordinator of this polar plunge adventure offered me a rope to tie around my waist. “Just in case…” he said. His words drifted away like the icebergs large and small that filled the bay
What if I got tangled in the safety rope? I balked and shook my head. Four others stood ahead of me, the first jumped with a war cry. I moved forward as the next volunteer leaped, splashed about and swam for the steps.
I’d signed the waiver of liability without a second thought, glancing past the paragraph that ended “…including possible death.” It’d be a horrible way to die, but more ugly would be the regret to have the chance and not seize it. I would likely never return to this place. No time for thinking, planning, organizing, my usual modus operandi.
I stood at the platform’s edge, looked down and did it. I jumped. Time suspended with me as I floated in air and entered the water. My head bobbed to the surface. Paralyzing cold sent confusing messages to my lungs. My diaphragm shut down. I couldn’t breath.Panic. Find the ladder. Get to the ladder, out of the water. No time to brush the wet hair from my eyes. My arms morphed into a windmill of motion, propelling me forward. At last I arrived and grabbed the ladder’s icy metal rails. I pulled but had no grip and fell back into the water with the realization my hands didn’t work.
Somehow, I still don’t know, adrenaline forced the blood that had rushed to save my core, into my hands. I levitated up those steps, not holding anything.
A woman bundled in a parka held out a towel and wrapped my shivering body. Nearby, I joined fearless jumpers in a bonding of vodka shots and a hot tub soak. I never let on that I wasn’t one of them as I rinsed my terror into the warmth of the bubbling water.