Go With the Floe

A pri­vate char­ter pro­vides the ul­ti­mate seaborne ex­pe­ri­ence, but not all ves­sels are equal. Nick Walton dis­cov­ers free­dom in the icy wa­ters of Antarc­tica aboard one of the few superyachts equipped for such ad­ven­tur­ous ex­pe­di­tions

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life -

The hori­zon, a sil­ver line that seems to drift in and out of ex­is­tence as if in a dream, is grad­u­ally bro­ken. The ef­fect is sub­tle at first, al­most like a trick of the eye, but soon it’s clear ice­bergs are ris­ing out of the sea like the van­guard of an ap­proach­ing horde, even­tu­ally tow­er­ing in icy blue majesty as we ap­proach. It’s dawn—or at least the tran­si­tion between shades of twi­light that rep­re­sents the birth of a new day this far south—and I’m on the bridge of a state-ofthe-art ex­pe­di­tion ves­sel as she silently slices her way through near-frozen seas into the depths of the Antarc­tic Sound.

Be­ing able to go where oth­ers are rarely able to ven­ture has be­come a cen­tral theme for well-heeled world wan­der­ers. With to­day’s trend for ex­pe­ri­en­tial travel, the pur­suit of some­thing more than leisure at its most som­no­lent rules supreme, and sud­denly ev­ery­one wants to see the North­ern Lights from a hot tub, track game in the Serengeti on foot, or, at the top of many bucket lists, visit the vast, des­o­late beauty of Antarc­tica. So how do the wealthy stay ahead of the game, you might ask. Just like they do in the air: they go pri­vate, with a lux­ury char­ter yacht open­ing up a world of ex­otic pos­si­bil­i­ties.

That’s where EYOS Ex­pe­di­tions comes in, a ground-break­ing char­ter business founded and led by a clutch of hardy-yet-pas­sion­ate trav­ellers with ex­haus­tive Rolodexes. EYOS will take you, your friends and your su­pery­acht to al­most any­where on the

planet you de­sire. Don’t have a su­pery­acht? The com­pany also has ac­cess to a myr­iad of world-class char­ter yachts, priced at up to US$1 mil­lion a week and com­plete with hand-se­lected ex­pe­di­tionary crews, of­fer­ing af­flu­ent trav­ellers the unique com­bi­na­tion of lux­ury and lo­gis­tics. All you have to choose is the lo­cale, from the atolls of the South Pa­cific, to the su­pery­acht hubs of the Caribbean, to the Arc­tic hunt­ing grounds of po­lar bears. Or, in our case, the jagged peaks and frozen land­scapes of the Antarc­tic Penin­sula.

One of the most pop­u­lar EYOS char­ter yachts is the Hanse Ex­plorer. Part su­pery­acht, part rugged ex­pe­di­tion ves­sel, it’s one of the few ves­sels in the world that can rightly claim to be an “ex­pe­di­tion yacht,” with lines that wouldn’t look out of place in a Monaco ma­rina. Be­neath the Fer­rari-like aes­thet­ics lie cut­ting-edge en­vi­ron­men­tal sys­tems, a strength­ened hull, pow­er­ful engines, and the types of re­dun­dan­cies that come in handy when you’re cruis­ing far off the beaten track within its 9,000 nau­ti­cal mile cruis­ing range.

I’m on the sec­ond day of a week-long Antarc­tic cruise aboard the Hanse and I’m al­ready ap­pre­ci­at­ing the ad­van­tage a pri­vate char­ter yacht of­fers over my pre­vi­ous voy­ages to the White Con­ti­nent. This comes cour­tesy of the dreaded Drake Pas­sage, the tem­per­a­men­tal body of wa­ter di­vid­ing South Amer­ica and Antarc­tica where huge cur­rents and shifts in wa­ter tem­per­a­ture whip up storms from nowhere. A vi­cious squall blew up when we were due to cross the Drake, so in­stead we flew from the Chilean town of Punta Are­nas to an airstrip on King Ge­orge Is­land on the other side, es­cap­ing what would have been nau­se­at­ing mis­ery for cruis­ers.

Hav­ing a pri­vate ves­sel at our dis­posal meant we could be more flex­i­ble with our itin­er­ary. See some­thing you like? Land on a beach where you just might be the first hu­man vis­i­tor. Greeted by pods of hump­backs in the Ger­lache Strait? Launch the Zo­diac in­flat­a­bles and put the champagne on ice. Even our shy Por­tuguese chef, Luis Galego Pião, fol­lows the EYOS mantra: the des­ti­na­tion comes first.

Our cap­tain and the team, led by in­trepid ad­ven­turer and EYOS ex­pe­di­tion leader Richard White, mix things up; in­stead of head­ing south­west, fol­low­ing large com­mer­cial ves­sels down the west coast of the Antarc­tic Penin­sula, we duck and weave east and south, across the tip of the con­ti­nent and into the calm wa­ters of the in­fa­mously ice-choked Antarc­tic Sound, where moun­tains of glacial ice the size of sub­ur­ban shop­ping malls dom­i­nate the seascape.

It’s dif­fi­cult to get a sense of scale in Antarc­tica. What ap­pears to be an is­land in the dis­tance be­comes a great wall of ice that at times glares with white-hot re­flec­tion and at oth­ers glows with a deep blue res­o­nance. Cracks in the icy fa­cades be­come cathe­drals as they slip from the mist, great shrines to the el­e­ments that forge and shape the con­ti­nent’s frozen crown. A whiff of spray, gone in an in­stant, her­alds the ar­rivals of killer whales, and slate-coloured rifts in the bril­liantly white land­scape morph into cu­ri­ous crabeater seals, bask­ing on the sea ice and eye­ing us.

In the shadow of Brown Bluff, a rocky peak wreathed in ice, we launch the Zo­di­acs and cruise a bay packed with beached ice­bergs. Gen­too pen­guins and storm pe­trels rest on the snow-dusted slabs, un­per­turbed by our pres­ence, and Antarc­tic fur seals peek up from the inky wa­ters be­fore div­ing be­neath us in sil­very shim­mer­ing streaks. At an Adélie pen­guin colony at the base of the peak, thou­sands of tuxe­doed birds feed and groom their young, the thick grey fur of the chicks moult­ing away to re­veal a slick wa­ter­proof coat be­neath. The ca­coph­ony of their gos­sip echoes off the peaks ring­ing the bay.

An­other great thing about a pri­vate char­ter is the com­pany you keep—you share th­ese re­mark­able ex­pe­ri­ences with a hand­picked clutch of friends and fam­ily. The Hanse Ex­plorer ac­com­mo­dates 12 guests in spa­cious, mod­ern state­rooms re­plete with king-sized beds and en suites. There’s also a beau­ti­fully ap­pointed din­ing room, a lav­ish lounge and bar, and cov­ered and un­cov­ered rear decks. The decks pro­vide great van­tage points as we cruise through Or­léans Strait and into Ger­lache Strait, ac­claimed as the “whale su­per­high­way,” with time for stops at Spert Is­land and Mikkelsen Har­bour, home to roar­ing fur seals and the weath­ered wrecks of tim­ber long­boats that bear wit­ness to the re­gion’s bloody whal­ing his­tory.

The Hanse Ex­plorer is deft com­pared to larger com­mer­cial cruise ships, and Ger­man cap­tain Jens Köthen isn’t afraid to show us how she han­dles. In the Gran­di­dier Chan­nel, far fur­ther south than com­mer­cial ships ven­ture, he carves through great swaths of sea ice be­fore plough­ing into one ten­nis court-sized piece so we can step onto it for the per­fect Antarc­tic photo op. As the light be­gins to fade, the shim­mer­ing grey land­scape of sea ice and ranks of bergs stretch­ing to the hori­zon turns a breath­tak­ing golden hue.

It’s the fi­nal day of our pri­vate, very per­sonal foray into Antarc­tica. As we cruise back to­wards King Ge­orge Is­land, we’re es­corted by pods of hump­back whales, calves in their wake. We take to the Zo­di­acs one fi­nal time and, un­der in­digo skies, ex­pe­ri­ence th­ese ma­jes­tic beasts up close and per­sonal as they breach and wave their tails just me­tres away. On re­turn­ing to the Hanse Ex­plorer, we sip champagne at the bow, toast­ing the mag­nif­i­cence of the White Con­ti­nent, the lux­ury of the Hanse, and the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence this re­mote cor­ner of the world with just a hand­ful of new-found friends.

Nick Walton was a guest of EYOS Ex­pe­di­tions, which ar­ranges be­spoke su­pery­acht jour­neys around the world. eyos-ex­pe­di­tions.com

wild WON­DERS Largely un­touched by hu­man­ity, few ter­ri­to­ries offer such an abun­dance of wildlife as the White Con­ti­nent. Gen­too pen­guins and storm pe­trels resting on snow-dusted slabs, Antarc­tic fur seals peek­ing up from the inky wa­ters and hump­back whales leap­ing with calves in their wake are just a few of the nat­u­ral won­ders found in the Antarc­tic wilder­ness

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