IT’S SIMPLY TOO DIFFICULT to find the words to describe the Antarctica experience. Prior to working with Pelorus Expeditions, I worked on yachts for well over a decade and had been to the Arctic. I thought I was prepared for the wow factor of Antarctica, yet I was not. It is simply on another level to any other yachting destination. And it is only growing in popularity.
Currently, a significant proportion of our yacht experience enquiries are for Antarctica. While open during COVID-19, only one expedition took place in the 2020/2021 season. Yet, it is still an accessible destination. For the next season, we already have five yachts heading south and only one has charter availability left. The following year, three yachts are currently confirmed and two already have confirmed charters for the peak holiday period.
At Pelorus, we ultimately support the captain and crew in their planning, preparation and execution of an Antarctic season. Professionally, I am only too aware of the stresses of operating a yacht in normal charter conditions so our goal is to attend to every other aspect of the expedition so the crew can focus on the yacht. The planning, permit applications and preparation starts nine to 12 months before the guests step onboard. It is nearly a full-time job in itself and specialist in nature.
We have three main types of clients: private yachts where the owner wishes to cruise to Antarctica; charter clients seeking a yachting experience; and a charter yacht that has secured charters on the southern continent already and needs operational support. In all three cases, our process is the same.
Without wishing to state the obvious, there are certain features, equipment and systems a yacht must have to make an Antarctic expedition a success.
Our guiding principle is that everything is possible, yet it just takes a much greater lead time and very good planning to execute.
Our first step is to conduct an obligation-free assessment with the captain, a member of our team and a captain who has previously cruised the destination. The team goes over the yacht to assess what additions, modifications, equipment or requirements may be needed for a seamless cruise.
This covers a wide range of things and depends heavily on the vessel. It could be simple; yachts who have only ever cruised warm destinations such as the Mediterranean or Caribbean should turn on the heating and run it. Or it could be more complex like adding in refrigerated garbage storage.
If the owner wishes to proceed, Pelorus Expeditions begins planning the itinerary and experiences that will then inform the permits. The permits are submitted through the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) to Foreign Commonwealth Offices (FCOs). The FCOs represent the countries with territories on the continent. Pelorus is a member of the IAATO and we adhere to the parameters of the Antarctic Treaty System, along with IMO Conventions and similar international and national laws and agreements.
Our military planning operational model ensures everything we propose is safe and practical as well as injecting huge levels of creativity and attention to detail.
Each expedition to Antarctica requires an ice pilot on board and an IAATO accredited expedition leader. These two roles are distinct and equally important. The ice pilot supports the captain to navigate the ice flows while the expedition leader ensures the expedition adheres to the requirements protecting the environment and fauna.
For instance, you are required to keep the yacht 100 metres away from whales and this requires monitoring on a busy vessel. Pelorus produces a shortlist for the captain and owner who then select their preferred additional staff. We put forward candidates who have yachting experience and will add their support to the crew.
Next are the permits, which can be complex. The first critical step is to select which FCO for the permit applications. The planned activities will determine the most suitable FCO. The permit costs are set not on activities but on assets such as support vessels, helicopters and submersibles. There are also permits for aerial photography and drone operation.
We are arranging a world-first expedition for the 2021/2022 season, including use of helicopters, skiing and scientific research on some of the species that congregate in Antarctica. There is also a focus on sport and wellness. We work with the IAATO and the FCO to show that it can be done within the parameters of the Antarctic Treaty System and with the least impact on the continent and its wildlife. Our running management document for this expedition is so far over 12 pages long and is always available to the captain and owner to see the progress and associated costs.
Once the permits are submitted and approved, the preparation begins. All crew complete the mandatory IAATO Field Staff Assessments and Pelorus can certify this training so it becomes an asset to the crew member and the yacht. With enough prior planning and the will of the owner, we can even send the captain down a season early to complete an ice pilot accreditation. We also provide guests and crew with IAATO guidelines for everything from wildlife watching, helicopter code of conducts, reducing visitor waste, Don’t Pack a Pest and advice for interactions.
Most of those who select Antarctica as a destination (about 60 percent) do so out of a love for adventure and nature; the remaining 40 percent are bucket-listers.
Depending on guests’ preferred experiences, Pelorus recommends and can arrange documentary staff, scientists and any other support staff. For one expedition, Pelorus arranged for a support vessel to shadow the main yacht and accommodate the nearly 20 additional staff selected by the client.
In a situation such as this, we work with the client to ensure the requests are practical and add value. For instance, very often there is a yacht crew member who is keen on photography. That individual then gets offered up to the guests and takes them away from the yacht for extended periods as they document the guest experience. In such a case, it may be advisable to take a photographer so the yacht isn’t shorthanded.
Everything is possible but does require additional time and planning.
Having additional staff on the expedition can also relieve the yacht crew and give them a chance to experience and enjoy the destination. I use the standard, ‘What was the support I wish I’d had as superyacht crew?’ Like the ice pilot and expedition leader, we select those who appreciate the unique nature of yachting with guests and are willing to support yacht crew where they can.
Every vessel cruising Antarctica is required to have an IAATO issued tracker on board. There is a limitation of the number of vessels in Antarctic waters and shore landings in any location at any given time and the tracker assists IAATO to manage this schedule. Additionally, in cases of emergencies, it is easy to pinpoint the closest vessel to render assistance.
We encourage all yachts to stock up on all dry stores in their home port or a large metropolitan port that is well serviced by providores. The crew will require specialist uniforms. The communications on board will need assessing. The engineering department will need to carry spares. The medical and first aid equipment on board needs to be expanded and modified to the conditions, and emergencies procedures devised and tested with the crew. This is all obvious but important.
King George Island is accessible by plane and many clients wish to fly in by private jet, but the runway is gravel and the conditions mean specialist pilots familiar with the area are a better option.Once this is explained, inevitably the clients select a charter flight. This is where they will embark and disembark the yacht.
For each yacht we support, we write a COVID-19 Safe plan covering daily temperature testing, sanitising and protocols should anyone fall ill. COVID-19 protocols are now part of our pre-expedition briefing and training. This has been fundamental to protecting Antarctica from the pandemic as well as the guests and crew. We also will refund 100 percent of the recoverable costs if an expedition is cancelled prior to departure and hold over any costs that can't be recovered for rebooking.
The average charter in Antarctica is ten days to two weeks, and we would not encourage anything less than that. It is not enough time to experience enough of what Antarctica has to offer. You can extend your season by including Pelorus operational areas such as Patagonia, Argentina and the Falkland Islands, which are beautiful from earlier and later into the year.
With all the planning in the world, you also need to plan for change.The ever-changing weather conditions and terrain mean not all planned destinations may be reached.
Imagine paddling the still waters while the penguins and seals swim around you.
Submersibles are cool and exciting, but very weather dependent and the visibility is not great in the Southern Ocean. You might find you're not using it and it doesn’t justify the cost of the permit.
This only touches the surface of what is possible when cruising in Antarctica.As onerous as it may seem, it is worth it. Pelorus has learned is that expedition charterers book again and they want to go back on the same yacht so the investment into cruising to Antarctica can pay dividends long after the season. pelorusx.com