On the edge: Extreme sports to experience by superyacht

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Polar Diving

Cierva Cove, Antarctica (December - February)

Words by Kate Lardy

For those brave enough to go diving in Antarctica, the rewards are huge: magnificent sculptural ice formations, graceful penguins and mighty leopard seals. “It’s not for the occasional, recreational diver,” says Ben Lyons, CEO of EYOS Expeditions. “You have to be proficient and have 25 dry-suit dives.” Diving these frigid waters is a speciality of EYOS’s director of expedition operations, Kelvin Murray, who lived and worked in Antarctica as a dive officer for the British Antarctic Survey.

One of his more memorable experiences is an encounter with an aggressive 500kg female leopard seal, which loomed over his left shoulder baring her huge teeth while he adopted a submissive pose on the sea floor. When he returned later in the day, the same seal caught and delicately dismembered a penguin just a metre from snorkelers, who were spattered with flecks of gore. “There are few places in the world where you can get so close to an apex carnivore while it stalks, hunts, kills and eats,” says Murray. “There is an ugly beauty to leopard seals; I love them.”

Other draws are penguins, which appear jet propelled underwater and show no fear of divers, and the ice, which Murray describes as “staggeringly beautiful in its simplicity and scale”.

Accessible only by boat, Cierva Cove, on the western edge of the Antarctic Peninsula, is a particularly good place to spot leopard seals. To get there Lyons says most of his clients skip the erratic Drake Passage and fly directly from Ushuaia, Argentina (known as “the end of the world”), to King George Island, where they meet their yacht.

Picture courtesy of Jody MacDonald.

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Kitesurfing

San Blas Islands, Panama (December – March)

Kitesurfing isn’t like mountain-dependent sports; it can be done anywhere there’s wind and water. Jody MacDonald and her partner Gavin McClurg are in the sixth year of their Cabrinha Quest, an expedition on their Lagoon 620 catamaran to seek out the world’s most remote and dynamic kitesurfing locations.

They have a top 10, culled from 54,000 nautical miles at sea, visiting 50 countries, and one spot on their list melds perfectly with yachting: the San Blas Islands. “It’s like a kiting playground. It has beautiful, protected water and it’s cranking wind,” says MacDonald. “There are also a lot of really shallow areas. You can be a mile away from the boat and can stand up if you need to.”

In addition to the superb flat-water kiting courtesy of trade winds that blow unfailingly each winter, one of the reasons MacDonald calls it a highlight is the local culture. Panama gives a lot of autonomy to its indigenous populations, making it one of the most culturally interesting countries in the Americas. The Guna people (formerly called the Kuna) who populate the San Blas archipelago have been fiercely protective of their ways since the Europeans arrived.

Access to the islands is difficult for the average land-locked visitor but ideal for yachts, which should clear in at El Porvenir. Once there, tourism infrastructure is extremely minimal, which means the San Blas is no place for beginners – there are no kiting schools here.

Picture courtesy of Jody MacDonald.

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Heli-Skiing

Maniitsoq, Greenland (May)

“I have heli-skied in Alaska and the Alps and there’s nothing better than Greenland,” says Swiss resident Hans Solmssen, owner of Greenland Heli Skiing. “You get 2,000 metre runs, 6,000 metres of descent, all off-piste. The terrain is so huge and vast with no restrictions.”

Add to this that you can end these powder-filled runs at your yacht’s tender, and it’s obvious why it’s the ideal place to ski by yacht. “It’s the ultimate in convenience and luxury,” adds EYOS Expeditions’ Ben Lyons. “Go right from the yacht to the mountain peaks for incredible scenery overlooking the sea and prime skiing directly down to the water’s edge. It’s absolutely fantastic.”

Part of what makes the experience unique is the rugged beauty of the coastline, with coloured hamlets dotted along the shore. Maniitsoq may be the country’s sixth largest town but with only a couple of thousand inhabitants, there’s not much in the way of amenities. A yacht provides all the lavishness lacking at the local three-star hotel.

Solmssen recommends May as the ideal month to experience the best that Greenland has to offer. The days will last longer than you can ski, as twilight sets in around midnight. “In addition to deep powder, corn snow is out in full force then. It’s like skiing on silk,” he adds.

Peak-to-beach backcountry runs start at more than a dozen summits in the archipelago that surrounds Maniitsoq, with Adam Peak, at 2,000 metres, towering over the rest, its slopes dropping skiers to the shores of Eternity Fjord. During the spring, the west coast is ice-free at this latitude. “As the season progresses, yachts can track farther north to new ski destinations that still have prime conditions,” says Lyons. When you reach the Arctic Circle, 65 nautical miles north of Maniitsoq, cap off the skiing with a dog-sled ride for a change of pace.

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Paragliding

Ölüdenz, Turkey (March – October)

As in Greenland, mountain slopes touch the shoreline in southern Turkey but the Taurus Mountains are the base for an entirely different adrenalin fuelled activity – paragliding.

The beach town of Ölüdeniz is backed by Mount Babadağ, an impressively tall peak with easy road access to the top, which is why this small town hosts a whopping 120,000 commercial tandem paragliding flights a year. When you add in the solo flights, it’s one of the world’s most popular spots. “When you fly off the mountain, you’re right over the water; it’s a very rare combination in the world,” says paragliding enthusiast and catamaran owner Jody MacDonald. “That makes it really popular for paragliders learning to fly acrobatics. You can launch very high and have all this time to practice and you can land on the beach.”

The highest take-off  point is at 1,900 metres. “There is usually nice lift generated by heat differences or wind, so it’s a good site for long flights,” says local tandem pilot Emre Gürer.

As you soar over the pine-clad hills and the water that gives rise to the name Turquoise Coast, you can get a bird’s-eye view of your yacht, tucked away by what’s known locally as St Nicholas Island, the patron saint of sailors. Picturesquely lined with Byzantine ruins that extend into the sea, this is the most secure anchorage near Ölüdeniz.

There’s plenty to keep non-gliders occupied on shore, from exploring Lycian rock tombs to hiking though Butterfly Valley. For shopping, head to nearby Fethiye on Tuesdays for the open market, while in mid-October each year there’s a week-long beach festival called the Air Games celebrating all things flying.

Picture courtesy of Jody MacDonald.

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Mountain Biking

Vancouver, British Columbia (May – October)

Riders are spoilt for choice in and around superyacht-friendly Vancouver, where mountain biking is a kind of religion – kids grow up eating dirt before breakfast. There are plenty of opportunities to access trails directly from the marina, says Martin Littlejohn, executive director of the Western Canada Mountain Bike Tourism Association.

A valuable good resource is trailforks.com, which shows all authorised trails and includes offline maps on its app for when you ride out of cellular range. Zooming into the Vancouver area on the site shows just how extensive the trail network is (imagine a group of children let loose with multiple crayons).

Inland from Vancouver’s North Shore, to the north and east, is a Mecca for mountain bikers the world over and Littlejohn recommends the challenges of Mount Fromme and Mount Seymour. And that’s just the beginning. Travelling by yacht gives plenty more downhill and cross-country opportunities within the verdant old growth forests of the nearby Sunshine Coast, accessible only by boat or seaplane. Highlights include the twisting trails of Powell River, the challenging climbs of Roberts Creek and Coast Gravity Park.

On the other side of the strait, Vancouver Island attracts advanced riders. “In general, it tends to be quite technical: steep, rocky and undulating; it’s the nature of the terrain there,” says Littlejohn. Combine your ride in the Campbell River area with salmon fishing, and in Cumberland with a stroll through the quaint town, which showcases late 19th and early 20th century architecture.

For the ultimate gravity-fed adrenalin hit, cruise 20 nautical miles up Howe Sound to Squamish and chopper or drive 40 minutes to world-renowned Whistler Mountain Bike Park. When the snow melts it boasts 70 lift-accessed trails spread over four mountain zones, the most terrain of any bike park in North America. The technical trails carved from the mountain’s natural shape and the freeride trails with man made features (jumping skills required) cater for all skill levels, beginners through to advanced.

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Mountaineering

Gulfo di Orosei, Sardinia (April — June & September — October)

“The Selvaggio Blu is like a best-kept secret,” says Matthew Robertson, founder of Momentum Adventure. “It’s a famous route for those in the know, but that’s a very small group.”

The challenging trek along the Golfo di Orosei on Sardinia’s east coast is commonly acknowledged as Italy’s toughest hike, with towering cliffs and deep gorges on an untouched coastline devoid of roads and towns. It combines hiking with abseiling and UIAA grade IV climbing, involving rock scrambling using one’s hands, transitioning along edges and top roping with an anchored line and a partner taking the slack. Animal paths intersect the route, creating a tangled web, so a guide is crucial.

“The caves are absolutely beautiful, the water is stunning; it’s really, really dramatic,” says Robertson, who organises bespoke tours. He begins a hike with dinner in an olive grove amid the mountains with incredible local seafood, cheeses and wines. “There’s nothing posh about it. It’s a million miles from Michelin stars but a million times better in authenticity,” he adds.

Then once on the multi-day trip, all food and water must be brought by boat. At night, hikers abseil to the beach. “There are tiny coves with no one else around – the water is crystal clear, the beach is like something out of the Maldives. You have your friends, a glass of wine, a roaring fire and with no light pollution, the stars are super clear.”

A yacht can follow the trek, offering what’s lacking in the wild: a hot shower, soft bed, masseuse. But those who want the full experience can sleep under the stars on the beach. “You’re in your own little utopia,” adds Robertson.

Picture courtesy of Shutterstock.com / Marcella Miriello

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