Floater Coats and Icebergs
Floater coats have a way of following me around the world.
I rocked a relic of a float coat as a high school friend and I paddled a raft made out of driftwood around Salt Spring Island, B.C. A part of a $100 bet with my Dad, we pulled it off, with the mission taking a solid week.
Later on in Antarctica, I found myself racing around a ship for the honour of ditching the yellow staff jacket for one of the ship’s beat up reddish-orange Mustang Survival float coats with “Zodiac Driver” written on the back.
For some reason, the Canadian nostalgia associated with the Mustang Survival kit has infected all the guides in the southern polar region. The drive to be ‘the one in the coat’ means you can find yourself battling a Swede, a Russian, a German, a Chilean, an Argentinian, a Kiwi or an Aussie—and sometimes all at once—for one of the ship’s two or three foam-filled Float Coats.
As the only Canadian guide onboard, I’ve incorrectly thought I had a nationality-based claim to the moustache and mullet inducing nostalgia of a beat-up Float Coat. But the only guy who somehow managed to score perpetual rights to said jacket was an Australian nicknamed Snowy. With 27 years of experience—including over-wintering in Antarctica and working alongside everything from the Australian Antarctic Survey to eco-tourism vessels—he ditched standard crew uniform and rocked a float coat every single day.
The most legendary thing about Snowy wasn’t his rock-steady polar skills. It was how he never, ever, wore anything more than cheap rubber gumboots, jeans under rain pants, a cotton t-shirt (under the float coat, of course) and a baseball hat.
If you caught him wearing gloves (which I only saw once) or he switched to a wool toque it was indicative of the mercury dropping...and safe to assume no matter what you put on, you weren’t going to be warm enough.
He was the guy leaders turned to when things got spicy. On late night staff-only reconnaissance missions to Smith Island—the island with the highest mountains in the South Shetland Islands of the Antarctic Peninsula region—who was driving? Snowy.
He’d rip the boat through growlers and pack ice in uncharted waters, find a landing site on an island never before visited by a tourist operation, and keep it steady as swells rolled in and pummeled the boat; dodging rocks with the propeller as the back end of the boat got lifted and dropped on the submerged boulders.
And when the boat was full of water, right over the transom, as full of water as a boat could be, Snowy was the guy driving us back to the ship with a big smile on his face.
No gloves, no wool hat.
From then on, I’d just smile looking over at Snowy. Rocking the orange Float Coat, dressed as minimally as he always did, as we all froze. No mullet, no moustache but a modern no bullshit Mustang Survival man through and through.
I put my have-to-be-the-one-in-Mustang pride aside while on deck with Snowy. And I know my seaworthy- or Canadian-ness isn’t tied to being the one clad in that orange beacon of marine safety.
Regardless, the nostalgia is real.
And I know I’ll get that jacket back….someday.
Keegan is a photographer and adventurer from Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada. He works around the world and is looking forward to bringing Mustang Survival along for the next adventure —sailing an offshore sailboat him and his partner recently bought down the west coast of Scotland. From there to Europe, then on westward, into the big blue.