When it comes to superyacht cruising grounds, sometimes it may be easy to forget that there is a big wide world to discover outside of the hustle and bustle of the main Mediterranean and Caribbean hotspots. With more and more owners and charter clients opting to stray a little further from the beaten track, here we shine a spotlight on some of the more exciting cruising destinations from all four corners of the world, with the help of the experts who have fallen in love with it. In this issue, we speak with Ben Lyons, CEO and Ice Pilot at EYOS Expeditions, who takes us through his favourite 7-day itinerary cruising the coldest, windiest, driest and most awe-inspiring regions in the world: Antarctica.
Take me to…
'I am the CEO at EYOS Expeditions, and for those that don’t know us, we provide bespoke superyacht expeditions all over the world. I’m also an Ice Pilot for Antarctica, so part of my job is also to act as a guide for visiting superyachts, work closely with the captain to provide local expertise and support the bridge team when navigating in these remote and ice-filled waters. Together with our Expedition Leader and the Captain, we make sure that we’re safe and heading to the most incredible places!
Antarctica is a destination I just never get tired of. People think they come to Antarctica for the penguins, and penguins are certainly cute and wonderful creatures, everybody thinks they’re fantastic, but once you see 20,000 penguins… well, you’ve seen enough! It’s the ice that really stands out as a point of discovery for many visitors when they visit Antarctica. It compels a lot of people a lot more than they would expect; the shapes, colours, sizes - they are seemingly infinite in their variety. One of the most dramatic examples is the Antarctic Sound, where all of these tabular icebergs congregate. I’ve done many expeditions in Antarctica, and these are the sights that truly never fail to amaze!
It’s so completely different to anything else. I don’t understand people who say they don’t want to go to Antarctica. People might think it’s too cold, or there is nothing to see there. If those are people’s perceptions, they don’t understand what Antarctica is about, so then they should definitely go! It’s for people who want to truly get away from it all and see something absolutely unique. It’s for people who have an active interest in nature and wildlife. It’s for people that want to have a great family experience; it’s wonderful to take your kids down there and watch them interact with this environment, it’s a way more meaningful experience than anchoring off Monaco for a week and playing on the jet skis every day. Obviously, that’s very fun as well, but when you look at family memories and experiences that are going to work to shape somebodies viewpoint in later life, Antarctica is certainly going to be influential.
One thing to bear in mind is that the schedule in Antarctica is inherently flexible… Before the expedition begins, clients find that difficult sometimes and expect a definite plan on where we are going to be on a certain day. A set itinerary is basically impossible as it is so dependent on so many different factors. We’re not going to decide until the day of because we need to work around ice and weather conditions, and of course the wildlife and where they are. This is integral to the experience, and it’s not a negative. It allows you to take advantage of the best experiences as they become available. So, without further ado, here’s an outline of a typical itinerary.'
Depart from Punta Arenas in Chile for the very first leg of your Antarctica expedition. Enjoy the two-hour journey across the infamous Drake Passage, and at the very end of your journey, you might spot the first icebergs from the air. Meet your yacht at King George Island, and after enjoying a short walk around the island, jump on board to enjoy the first beautiful crisp Antarctic evening on board.
One of my highlights of any expedition has to be a visit to the tabular icebergs in the Antarctic Sound. These are icebergs that are up to several miles long, huge, giant blocks of ice that are broken off from the ice shelf. To me, they’re just extraordinary. You sail through a veritable maze of these bergs, it’s incredible. Spend the evening discussing your first day over warm hot chocolate!
Wildlife spotting at Wilhelmina Bay today! As the season gets on, there are so many humpback whales that it is impossible not to see them. We get people asking whether or not they will see one on their trip. The answer is: I can guarantee you will see a whale. As the sun sets, get out on the deck for a magical experience as the breath of the whales is lit up by the reds and yellows of the setting sun.
Head to Neko Harbour on day three, for spectacular whale and penguin sightings. There is a glacier on one end of the Harbour, and once you disembark you can climb a little hill past a penguin colony and are rewarded with this panoramic view of the coast, with mountain peaks everywhere, snow everywhere, penguins nearby, and often whales in the Bay, as well as a collection of castle icebergs. This particular location always has something. This is the spot I try to take guests to on every trip. If I ever get a dog, I will name my dog Neko - I love it!
The Lemaire Channel is our next point of call, which is an iconic passageway in Antarctica. It used to be called the Kodak Gap because it’s so beautiful you just can’t help but take a million photos. It’s 7 miles long and narrows to about 7/10th’s of a mile at it’s narrowest point. It’s often ice-choked, so it informally marks the demarcation of the northern part of the Antarctic Peninsula to the southern. Every time you go through it’s different, the ice and the currents, and you’re just surrounded by these towering peaks, totally covered in snow, as you cruise down. It’s still and awe-inspiring.
As you’ll be heading back to King George Island tomorrow, make another stop to Palmer Station, a US research station. We’ve got a great relationship with the station managers there, so we often get our guests to go and explore the base and see the experience of living there and the research that is being done. To me, Antarctica is multifaceted. There is not just one thing that is compelling, there are so many different aspects combined to make Antarctica what it is. Science and research is a big part of that.
Start the journey back to King George Island, taking in your last few hours of the incredible region. After a day of on-board discovery and photo taking, enjoy the last evening on the boat swapping stories of your adventure.
Arrive back to King George Island for your charter flight back to South America.
Antarctica Top 5: Highlights of cruising in Antarctica
Need to know: A few things to remember before embarking on your Antarctic discovery
It’s no secret that Antarctica is one of the harshest environments known to man, and with any trip to the continent, there is always an element of risk. With proper due diligence and sound advice from the experts, however, there is no reason that this element of danger cannot be all-but eliminated. To ensure that every second of your expedition is as filled with incredible moments as it should be, here are some top tips from the experts.
The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) works in close cooperation with governments and scientific foundations to practice and promote safe and environmentally responsible travel in Antarctica. Most operations offering charter experiences in the region will be IAATO certified, but be sure to check. If you are not going to Antarctica with an IAATO member, you need to be seriously reconsidering your trip.
It is mandatory to obtain a permit to cruise in Antarctica, and strict penalties are in place for those proceeding south of 60° without one. Although IAATO membership is not compulsory, it will certainly make obtaining a permit a little easier!
Bypass the Drake Passage
The Drake Passage is notoriously temperamental, with some of the heaviest seas in the world. Although with proper planning and navigational equipment it’s more than possible for any seaworthy vessel to take on the Drake Passage in safety, those looking to bypass the crossing can jump off the yacht in Chile or Argentina and arrange a flight to King George Island.
For more information on cruising in the Polar Regions or to book your own charter adventure, get in touch with the experts at EYOS Expeditions directly at [email protected]
This article was featured in the latest issue of SuperYacht Times, issue 18. Subscribe now to receive your issue straight to your door and never miss another issue.
Images by Richard White, Justin Hofman, Christopher Michel and EYOS Expeditions