2014-01-10 / Front Page

Rogers Teacher Takes A Real Polar Plunge

By Pat Blakeley


Scott and Barbi Dickison flanked by Gentoo penguins in Antarctica. Scott and Barbi Dickison flanked by Gentoo penguins in Antarctica. While a few hundred New Year’s revelers dove into local waters to usher in 2014, at least one island resident really did take a polar plunge, leaping into the waters at the South Pole. Rogers High School science teacher Scott Dickison and his wife, Barbi, took an expedition cruise to Antarctica over the holidays seeking a different type of adventure – and they found it. Rabid nature lover Scott literally jumped into the experience feet first – into the waters off Port Lockroy.

Dickison has participated in the New Year’s Day Polar Plunge at Easton’s Beach a few times but said this was at a whole different level. Leaping off the boat into the sea was tough, he said, and it was cold, adding that you do not typically see icebergs floating in waters off Newport. While the crew did have an emergency line tethered to those who braved the frigid Southern Ocean, it was only in case the jumper did not resurface; otherwise, they were expected to haul themselves up back onto the platform. “We moved pretty quickly," chuckles Dickison.


A Leopard seal. (Photos courtesy of the Dickisons) A Leopard seal. (Photos courtesy of the Dickisons) They were a particularly jovial bunch, he remarked, adding that almost half the guests took the plunge, opposed to a cruise average of 26 percent.

During the school year, Dickison can be seen around the island leading his biology, horticulture, and oceanography students in conservation and restoration projects in a long-term collaboration with Save The Bay: planting endangered grass, examining ecosystems, and analyzing the conditions of the Goose Neck Cove salt marsh. This trip was right up his alley.

Their nine-day cruise left from Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina and, after a two-day transit through the Drake Passage with steady 25-knot winds and 5-meter seas, they landed in the South Shetland Islands and began what Dickison described as a “five day walk with the penguins.” They pulled into a different port each night, and spent the next day exploring the wildlife in the area, working their way down the Antarctic Peninsula.


Chinstrap penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula. Chinstrap penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula. Half of the Ocean Diamond’s 180 guests would journey ashore, while the rest searched the waters off the coast in Zodiacs, viewing whales, glaciers and icebergs. The groups would switch in the afternoon.

During the Zodiac coastal trips, Dickison was thrilled to see Humpback whales frolicking near the small vessels. They typically were no more than 10-15 yards away, he said. He witnessed a number of glaciers “calving” – when a huge chunk of the ice mass breaks off and drops into the ocean. “First you would hear a great thundering noise,” he explains, “‘glacier thunder’ is what they call it, and then a giant piece would fall away from the glacier.”


When Rogers High School science teacher Scott Dickison had the opportunity to take a polar plunge – a real polar plunge – he jumped at it. When Rogers High School science teacher Scott Dickison had the opportunity to take a polar plunge – a real polar plunge – he jumped at it. The nature enthusiast is brimming with excitement over his experiences walking around with Chinstrap, Gentoo, and Adélie penguins; photographing Weddell, Crabeater, and Leopard seals; and numerous close encounters with Humpback whales. It was the trip of a lifetime for the scientist: “I am a biology guy. For me, it doesn’t get any better than this,” he exclaims.

Since they returned from the break, Dickison has been talking about the trip with his students, using his slides and experiences to spark discussions at many levels. “I get a little carried away with it,” he admits, and notes that a few students think he is crazy to have gone out in the wild like that, but most think it is pretty amazing.


Getting up close and personal with a Weddell seal. Getting up close and personal with a Weddell seal. Some might think Dickison is certifiable to have done this – and he may be; he has an official certificate signed by the ship’s doctor to prove it, which states in part, “Scott Dickison did most willingly plunge into the spine-chilling waters of Port Lockroy, Antarctica” and is an official member of the Ocean Diamond Antarctic Polar Swim Club.

Would he do the ultimate polar plunge again? “You bet I would,” he laughs. “I can’t go to an ocean and not jump into it.”

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