It’s almost a year to the day since I visited Antarctica on board the Hanse Explorer, a 48m, ice-classed superyacht. As a luxury travel journalist, this trip was unquestionably the highlight of my career to date, yet as the departure date approached, I was overcome with panic, my mind full of worst-case scenarios. Once on board with the other journalists, I discovered I wasn’t alone in my fears. Yes, I was undoubtedly the biggest wimp of the group, but almost everyone had considered what could go wrong in one of the most remote regions of the world.
Of course, nothing remotely perilous happened during our ten-day voyage, and now my worry is that people will let fears like mine prevent them from taking a leap into the unknown. The trip I took will stay with me for life – the humpback whales fluking right beside our Zodiac, kayaking to the thunderous soundtrack of glaciers carving, the penguins, in their thousands, huddling together on top of icebergs, the ice-cold polar plunge I took on the final day – the list goes on. I got home and immediately framed the map that highlighted our route along the Antarctic Peninsula, determined never to forget.
So here’s what I would say to anyone hesitating over a trip to the White Continent. Do it, book it, treasure it. You can thank me later.
More recently, I chatted with Martin Enckell, an Antarctic veteran from Eyos Expeditions who oversaw operations for Blue Planet II last year on board Alucia – and chatted to him about the fears I had before my trip. “I would say it’s actually less dangerous to go to the Antarctic than to go to the Med or any other very populated area,” he said. “After all, there is no traffic there and no other people; there’s very little to hurt you. With all the trips I’ve done there, the injuries have been minimal.” If something more serious were to happen, Eyos Expeditions can organise a plane evacuation from King George Island, to land in Punta Arenas or Santiago in Chile.
On board, I found that the crew helped to reassure, too. Captain Jens was more than happy to welcome us up to the bridge, and I often spoke to him about the challenges of sailing through ice, as we crashed through ice floes and navigated past colossal icebergs. Listening back to the recordings, I have to laugh a little at his patient and calm responses to my relentless line of questioning. “No, I'm not scared at all, either manoeuvring through challenging ice conditions or parking it in fast ice. I know what I'm doing and if I think about putting myself into a situation, I immediately contemplate my way out of it the very same moment.”
Hearing this, witnessing the skills of the team first hand and accepting that my fears served zero purpose, I had no other option but to let go and enjoy the ride. And I am so pleased I did.
Of course, this is the most remote continent on earth and to say there was absolutely zero danger in sailing around it would be misleading. To anyone who finds that reality too daunting, there are less remote options that might whet your appetite and the Svalbard Islands, halfway between Norway and the North Pole, are becoming very popular for that very reason. Just a three-hour flight from Oslo can see you sailing among fantastic wildlife, polar bears included – plus, you can combine the trip with a visit to the Norwegian fjords. Win win.
Enckell has a prediction, though; once you go to Svalbard, Antarctica will be next on your list. “The negative effect of the polar regions on your wallet is that you get so sucked in that you want to come back and try the next place,” he says.
I can vouch for that.