South­ern Ex­po­sure

The re­mote, icy wa­ters of Antarc­tica are a fa­vorite des­ti­na­tion of 254-foot char­ter yacht Legend.

Yachts International - - Contents - By DeB­Bie pap­pyn pho­tog­ra­phy By DaViD De VLeeSChauWer

The re­mote, icy wa­ters of Antarc­tica are a fa­vorite des­ti­na­tion of 254-foot char­ter yacht Legend.

Dur­ing an end­less, soft pink sum­mer night when the sun never sets, with a view of Mount Français— one of the high­est moun­tains on the Antarc­tic Penin­sula—and a group of killer whales in the dis­tance, I raise my glass of crisp sau­vi­gnon blanc. Legend, the only ice-break­ing lux­ury char­ter yacht in the world, has brought me to this most hard-to-reach re­gion, where the 254-footer (77.4-me­ter) feels com­pletely in her el­e­ment. Legend looks like an el­e­gant and clas­sic su­pery­acht but char­ters like an ex­plorer yacht on steroids: sleek and dark with teak decks, yet home to a com­mer­cial he­li­pad, a sub­mersible for three guests, per­sonal wa­ter­craft and snow­mo­biles.

It feels great to be back in Antarc­tica. I was here twice be­fore, but aboard ships, one with 65 pas­sen­gers and one with al­most 200. This is dif­fer­ent. Legend ac­com­mo­dates 26 guests, which is still more than your stan­dard su­pery­acht for char­ter, but not nearly as many as the ships that typ­i­cally of­fer itin­er­ar­ies here. The best part, though, com­pared to those ships is that aboard Legend, we skipped the vi­cious Drake Pas­sage and the four bor­ing days usu­ally wasted cross­ing it by in­stead fly­ing from Punta Are­nas in Chile to King George Is­land in Antarc­tica, where Legend was at an­chor.

That’s ex­actly the type of VIP ex­pe­ri­ence that yacht owner Jan Verk­erk had in mind when he bought the ves­sel. Hav­ing found char­ter suc­cess in the Caribbean, Mediter­ranean and be­yond af­ter con­vert­ing 228-foot (69.5-me­ter) Sher­akhan into a 26-guest yacht, Verk­erk bought Legend in 2013 to ex­pand the cruis­ing grounds he could of­fer to char­ter clients, with a plan of al­ter­nat­ing sea­sons in Green­land (heli-ski­ing char­ters, any­one?) and Antarc­tica. Legend was built in Hol­land in 1973 as a Class 1 ice­breaker for use in the Baltic Sea dur­ing the Cold War. Verk­erk, with two other in­vestors, gave the ves­sel a two-year re­fit at the Icon yard in the Nether­lands, adding a proper yacht in­te­rior along with a Ba­li­nese spa, outdoor hot tub (with built-in rain cur­tain), gym­na­sium and cin­ema for cozy evenings af­ter long days in the cold.

My fa­vorite spot on board is at the bar, a prime spot to watch the ocean and the “white con­ti­nent” float­ing by. While hav­ing a steam­ing cup of rooi­bos tea, I see a Hump­back whale play­ing in the icy wa­ters. When more whales join in, the crewmem­bers lower a ten­der so guests can see the ac­tion up close. Be­ing able to stop when­ever we want, while re­spect­ing the rules that ap­ply here in the pro­tected wa­ters of Antarc­tica, is just great—an­other op­tion that big­ger ships don’t of­fer. We have a bi­ol­o­gist, Antarc­tica expert and ice pi­lot aboard, set­ting the course for each day based on the vari­able

weather con­di­tions and our per­sonal in­ter­ests.

Legend can do more than big­ger ships that visit here, too. Cruis­ing through the ice­berg-dot­ted Le­maire Chan­nel? No prob­lem. Check­ing out the glacial Wed­dell Sea? It’s pos­si­ble. Most ships have to skip some places that Legend can ac­cess be­cause they ex­ceed the pas­sen­ger lim­its set by the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Antarc­tica Tour Op­er­a­tors, which reg­u­lates where groups can go. Aboard Legend, we have more ac­cess to pen­guin colonies and sci­en­tific sta­tions than al­most any­one else, and the crew tries to get us on land as much as pos­si­ble.

Late one af­ter­noon, Legend nes­tles into a thick patch of ice in a re­mote bay. There’s no wind. The wa­ter is like a sil­ver plat­ter with the only rip­ples formed by minke whales feed­ing un­der the ice sheet and seals play­ing around the floe edge.

“Let’s set foot on land, or rather, on the ice!” says Thom Beerens, the purser of Legend. Af­ter we take a brisk hike on the frozen sea to spend time with the sleepy seals, Legend’s crewmem­bers build a nat­u­ral bar from snow, much as a crew might set up a tiki scene on a beach in Tahiti.

“Who wants cham­pagne or a Jäger­meis­ter to warm up?” Beerens asks. I sip a glass of rosé, think­ing how in­sane this set­ting is. Next to us is Legend, firmly locked with her bow in the ice, and be­hind us are the tow­er­ing moun­tains of Antarc­tica. The sky changes color ev­ery minute, and now and then we hear the sound of avalanches, along with the blow of a whale in the dis­tance.

“Mag­i­cal!” one guest says to an­other. “Let’s have an­other drink to heat up our cold toes.”

An­other of my fa­vorite spots on Legend is the outdoor deck that is just next to the in­side lounge bar with grand pi­ano and gas fire­place. This wind-free al­fresco space has a tep­pa­nyaki grill where we have a fab­u­lous bar­be­cue. I sit here a lot, on the wooden deck chairs, en­joy­ing the sun and gaz­ing over the ice­berg-dot­ted wa­ter. I could sit here for hours, tak­ing in this in­tox­i­cat­ing po­lar land­scape. Some­times, gi­ant pieces of ice float by with leop­ard seals bask­ing in the sun. When Legend’s wake hits their piece of ice, they barely move, too lazy to be afraid.

Af­ter a day of be­ing out­side, spend­ing hours in the in­vig­o­rat­ing Antarc­tic air, there’s noth­ing bet­ter than re­treat­ing to my state­room. Each one aboard Legend is named af­ter a city. New York is sleek and mod­ern, while my Tokyo state­room has ruby-red ce­ramic tiles adorned with cherry blos­som pat­terns. The decor of some suites harks back to the time of the great ex­plor­ers. How brave Ernest Shack­le­ton and Robert Fal­con Scott were, and how they prob­a­bly never, in their wildest dreams, could have imag­ined cruis­ing to re­mote po­lar re­gions aboard a lux­ury ice­breaker like Legend.

I’ll raise a glass to them tonight while sit­ting on my fa­vorite bar stool, sip­ping a pisco sour and, hope­fully, watch­ing a school of play­ful whales.

ABOVE: Ten­der­ing around the icy Le­maire Chan­nel on a sunny af­ter­noon be­fore vis­it­ing with thou­sands of Adélie pen­guins ashore.

Dutch owner Jan Verk­erk poses next to Legend. right: ‘the bar’ is never an is­sue in this part of the world. En­joy­ing an ice-cold drink at

ABOVE: An aban­doned sci­en­tific sta­tion now taken over by a colony of ac­tive Adélie pen­guins. LEFT: Dress­ing the outdoor ter­race be­fore a po­lar bar­be­cue on board Legend. BOT­TOM: Close en­coun­ters with mas­sive ice­bergs and lov­able seals are nu­mer­ous.

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