Landings & Excursions

If the expedition cruise ships cannot dock in port, but (perhaps for lack of a port) instead has to hold position at anchor, the expedition team will take the expedition boats ashore and prepare a landing site.

Bringing equipment ashore in Antarctica; Photo: Stefan Dall

Essential for such a landing is the equipment. This applies on the one hand to one's own clothing and equipment, such as life jackets and rubber boots, but on the other hand, also to the supplies and rescue equipment, such as water, food (very dry cookies!), throw tents, and more, that are necessary in the event of a stranding to supply and bridge the time until an evacuation. Therefore, once a safe landing site is established, the team's first task is to load this equipment from the boat to the landing site. With equipment for 100 people for 10 days, a lot of weight then has to be passed down the chain from one team member to the next. So the daily workout is in the bag! 

King penguin in St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia; Photo: Kim Rormark

Once the equipment is ashore, the landing site is secured and prepared for guests. Safe paths are marked out and vantage points established, which means they are safe for guests and team, as well as for the flora and fauna of the region. There are organizations in both the Arctic (AECO) and Antarctic (IAATO) that promote sustainable tourism. Their information brochures contain guidelines for the protection of flora and fauna. These include, among other things, distance regulations to animals; for example, in the Antarctic, a distance of at least 5 meters from penguins must be maintained. This is to ensure that the animals are not disturbed in their natural habitat. Accordingly, certain areas of a landing site are marked as no-go areas. To ensure that all employees working in these areas are familiar with the guidelines, a multiple-choice test provided by AECO or IAATO must be completed each year. This involves answering around 100 questions, the answers to which should be based on a thorough study of the information material. 

Landing Carcass Island, Falkland Islands; Photo: Karsten Bidstrup

Once the landing site is prepared and the guests are on their way ashore, the team members are assigned to positions to ensure that the guests adhere to the aforementioned distance rules and have a good time ashore. One of my favorite positions is that of “Wader Boy”. Wearing (ideally) waterproof waders and a matching jacket, you stand in the water, hold the boats securely, and make sure the access point to the landing site is clear so that guests can get on and off the boats safely. This also results in pictures like this one from Antarctica, in which I can be seen (in orange) with colleagues as we push ice out of the way so that the boats can safely reach the landing site.

Landing Danco Island, Antarctica - Photo by Kim Rormark

When I came back on board after up to eight hours in snow and ice with countless new favorite moments, and perhaps had time to warm up with a coffee or a hot shower, I definitely felt what you I had done that day!



Driving expedition boats 

In most cases, expedition cruise ships are equipped with expedition boats, also known colloquially as Zodiacs or tender boats. In many of the regions of the world that are explored on expedition cruises, the harbors are not big enough to dock a large ship. There, the expedition boats can be used to take guests from the ship to land. This is done either via a jetty or a natural landing site.

We also take our guests on outings with the expedition boats. On these cruisings, we try to gain new perspectives on the regions we visit, either by simply sailing through fjords that the ship cannot reach or by moving so far away from the ship in otherwise pristine nature that we can no longer see it and are “alone” in nature. In the polar regions of the world, it is particularly exciting to navigate alongside icebergs and ice floes (at a safe distance, of course) and see what lies around the next bend. Nature will always provide a surprise or two, and with the necessary caution and care, you can also get closer to the wildlife. However, just like on land, there are regulations on minimum distances and behavioral guidelines.

A curious minke whale right by my boat. As soon as a whale approaches one of the boats, we switch off the engines and wait until it has moved away again, so as not to injure or frighten the animals.

I still remember my first boat driving lessons a few years ago. On my first attempt to dock at a tenderpit (the place on the ship where the small expedition boats dock to let guests on and off), I damaged one of the small boats. After (many) hours of training later, I was allowed to drive through the Antarctic ice for the first time alone and without an instructor in January 2020. After several laps and hours among icebergs, seals, and even the occasional humpback whale, I could no longer feel my fingers, but my happy smile was frozen in place. 

With experience came routine and the anticipation of beautiful days on the water. When the boats are lowered into the water before a round trip, there is always a brief moment to pause and enjoy life. The photo below was taken at such a moment. With binoculars, radio, and ski goggles on, I wait to be called to the tenderpit so that I can pick up the guests in the best possible weather. 

Me, in a driver suit relaxing at the driving console

Boating can also be very relaxing; Photo: Sandra Ophorst

During the COVID-19 pandemic, work on board naturally had to undergo changes as well. The necessary measures even extended to our small boats, which we, as drivers, had to disinfect again and again in between each tour. 

Photo: Andrea Klaussner