Antarctica

BE PREPARED FOR YOUR EXPEDITION SHIP!

BE PREPARED FOR YOUR EXPEDITION SHIP!

BE PREPARED FOR YOUR EXPEDITION SHIP!

BE PREPARED FOR YOUR EXPEDITION SHIP!

Important points to check

The ship

In English a Ship is a "She": call her "ship" and not "boat" please!

The ship is a very important point. This will be your home away from home for a few days or even weeks. At the same time this is the tool that brings you to remote places like the polar regions! So you need to consider two aspects: what kind of comfort do you want? How much do you want to be able to benefit from a good outdoor experience? In some rare cases you can have very good level of service and maximise at the same time your time outside, but you need to pay the price! Standards of services is rising everywhere, and you would be surprised to realize that these ships navigating in the arctic and Antarctica are nowadays extremely comfortable!

From my perspective, it is obvious that a small ship will provide a better outdoor experience: it is faster to get in and out of the ship, you are on land with a very small group, it is more quiet... As I always say, the smaller the better. However if the ship is too small, you are going to roll much more than with a larger one, and I know that no one likes motion sickness... Also, on smaller ships, like sailing boats, it is more difficult to get the same quality of service as on a bigger one, unless the price rises tremendously!

If you prioritize the level of comfort, you might be on a bigger vessel with more luxury, but the experience may be less expedition oriented, with for example less time outside. Finally some vessels are more or less well designed for operating in these waters, and the way of operating the vessel determines the amount of time you need to setup an excursion, and though what you can achieve with that vessel. Some ships excels at it, some others not really...

The speed, the ice class, the design for operations are the three technical factors that gives you the means to achieve tremendous goals, or not! Small yachts are the most flexible of all, but they sail at 8 knots. Much larger vessels reach 16 or 17 knots but can't offer you so much flexibility... The ice-class is also extremely important. Please ask your tour operator or travel agent what is the ice class of the vessel you are interested about. The ice-class classifaction is: 1A Super means "extreme ice conditions, thickness up to 1m thick"; 1A means "difficult ice conditions up to 0,8m thick"; 1B "medium ice conditions up to 0,6m thick"; 1C "light ice conditions up to 0,4m thick" and 1D "very light ice conditions"

You understand that the stronger the ship'shull is, the better. My advice is to avoid ships with 1D ice class, as you will be away from ice, which is a pity in the polar regions! Of course, the stronger the better. 1C can offer already a very good experience, 1B is stronger and she can find her way through drifting ice belts, 1A is very strong, 1A Super is a beast. Nowadays some of the newest ships are built with the shape and strength of icebreaker. The new polar regulations refers then to the strength of the hull with a "polar class" classified from PC1 (stronger) to PC7 (weaker).

Being surrounded by ice floes is without any doubt an unforgettable moment. Weaker ice-class ships cannot offer this experience.

If the sea ice conditions allow (very often early in the season here around the Antarctic peninsula), when the captain has a ship which is strong enough, he can park the vessel in the sea ice! What a wonderful experience! I remember all of these moments, even after years of experience.

This 12 passengers 1C ice class vessel is small but strong enough to offer a wonderful sea ice experience at Yoldiabukta (Svalbard).

The team

This is an important part of the voyage. The role of the so called "Expedition Staff" is to bring you as close to the element as possible, safely, without disturbing the wildlife, and to educate you. I did not become skilled in one season and this takes time to achieve. Usually a good team (let's say with around 10 staffs) can afford having one or two newcomers (maximum) for 8 or 9 experienced guides. If among the 10 staff members you have 10 experiences guides: this is an alpha team! As adventure tourism is a growing industry, the quality of the team is very unequal from a ship to another, from a company to another. You might have sometimes half of the team or even a third who are newcomers. They rely on those with more experience then. This is your right also to ask your travel agent the name of the staff members, captain, and expedition leader whose role is fundamental as he is the one who plans the route and itinerary on a day by day basis. The duo Captain/Expedition Leader is paramount on such a voyage. If you change one of this two persons only, the whole trip will be different! Ask who they are and what are their experience for your destination.

Here I make a slow approach telling to my guest my intentions. I invite them to be comfortable at the bow for taking picures, then I will turn to starboard leaving the seals to my portside. I'll stop and those on starboard will be able to stand. Those on port will remain seated. If some want they can change seats before the approach. I can also turn the boat depending on their wish and taking into consideration the current. We keep silent and I will approach as close as I can without disturbing them. Then I give some explanations about those crabeater seals, the most abundant in Antarctica. No one knows how many they are... something between 10 and 70 millions of them! Finally I answer questions.

Charter

It can be an advantage to be on a ship which is sub-chartered by another company. I remember a charter from Belgium when we had aboard some famous characters with strong polar background. The trip was focus on going to the places visited by a Belgium explorer. This was a very good added value for all the Belgian guests for no extra cost, and the beer and chocolate were delicious!

From another perspective, the worse to my opinion is to be on a ship which is half chartered... This means half the the passengers come from one specific travel agency (same language, group, origine, etc...) while the rest of passengers are international. In that case the vibe aboard is dominated by one predominant culture that can ruin the good atmosphere and the experience of all the ther guests. Once again, you have the right to ask to your travel agent or tour operator if the voyage you are on is half chartered, or is there are subgroups...

Language

These trips are international. You can ask what are the offical languages onboard. English is common, but you might be surprise once aboard that everything will be translated into 3 other different languages! This is for sure not a good experience to be waken on the morning with four different annoucnement in Russian, Mandarin, German and English. Some companies are targetting one specific region of the globe. Therefore some ships offer one languaue only like: French, German or Mandarin. I like when there is a good mix of people from all over the world, with 15 to 20 different nationalities onboard and when there is only one official language for everybody: English. This makes thing easier for everybody and this is also more pleasant for the passangers.

Your health

Please be healthy before departure. I do not recommend this kind of trips if you cannot hike properly or do not have a good balance... If you take medications, take enough with you not only for the duration of the trip, but take some extra in case of any emergency situation.

Insurance

This is the trip of a lifetime. So please take an insurance that covers all aspects of your voyage. You can always subscribe to the insurance recommended by the tour operator or travel agency. Repatriation can be very costly in this kind of situation...