The Bigger Picture: Kayaking with dolphins on the Strait of Magellan

'The Bigger Picture' is an occasional series where I share the story behind some of the images in my portfolio.

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A Peale’s dolphin leads team East Wind as they kayak an unusually calm Strait of Magellan during the 2013 Patagonian Expedition Race.

The Patagonian Expedition Race is an adventure race par excellence held in the wilderness of southern Chilean Patagonia. Teams of four are challenged to navigate a remote 700km+ course, with minimal support, that demands advanced skills in the disciplines of mountain biking, trekking, mountaineering and sea kayaking.

Team East Wind are a professional adventure race team from Japan who compete in expedition races around the world. They are led by team captain Masato Tanaka, a venerable adventure racer who continually proves that the best way to lead is by example (Masato continued competing in the 2016 Patagonian Expedition Race even after a mountain bike accident on stage 4 of the race fractured his nose and forced him to wear an immobilising neck brace). Masato is an experienced captain who skilfully picks his team according to their strengths and, most likely, their appetite for suffering.

I captured the photo above on stage 17 of the 2013 Patagonian Expedition Race, as Team East Wind kayaked the Strait of Magellan ahead of their final 100km mountain bike into Punta Arenas. I was aware dolphins swam in the Strait of Magellan, having researched the history, flora and fauna of Patagonia thoroughly for a book I’d written on trekking in Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park. I also had a feeling they would follow boats on the water, based on my understanding that dolphins are naturally inquisitive. It was a combination of this knowledge and, likely, some luck that led me to drive down a dirt road in a 4x4 along the shore as I followed the kayakers and waited for a dolphin to emerge. Every time one did, and sometimes there was more than one, a cheer arose from Team East Wind, their enthusiasm buoyed as they battled their way to a second place finish.

Published in: Patagon Journal