Wildfoot Travel’s Polar expedition expert Debbie Grainger continues her account of her recent trip to Antarctica aboard the luxury expedition cruise ship The Greg Mortimer.
In my last article, I gave a detailed account of my recent trip to the Antarctic Peninsula along with my amazing kayaking adventures. This time, I continue my write-up of the Greg Mortimer and explain why a small ship is preferable to a larger ship.
Landing Restrictions In Antarctica
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) – is an industry group that has resolved to set the highest possible tourism operating standards in its effort to protect Antarctica. Their carefully implemented rules mean that only 100 people can set foot on land, at any one time. Plus, only one ship is permitted at a landing site at a time. Which means you still feel on your own in this unique and pristine environment.
The Greg Mortimer, and her sister ship the Sylvia Earle (due to launch in October 2021) only carry an average of 126 passengers to Antarctica. At Wildfoot Travel, when me make a booking, we have to check that non-kayaking spaces are available because Aurora will not take more than 100 “landing” passengers on any voyage. This enables them to maximise passenger time on land. This way, everyone lands together and group rotation is not necessary, as it is on larger vessels. This is one of the key reasons to make sure that you book as early as possible.
On a typical day, the enthusiastic, experienced expedition team aim to get you all off the ship at least twice per day. The team leader makes an announcement, letting passengers know what time the zodiacs will start their trips over to the landing point. You are called to the mud room in two groups – starboard side and portside. This is alternated for each landing, giving everyone the chance of being off the ship first.
To access the mud room, you go to the back of Deck 4, down the steps to Deck 3. Each cabin has their own locker where you keep your outer gear, boots and life jacket. Once you are ready to get off the ship, you “swipe out” with your room key – this is so the crew have a log of every passenger’s whereabouts, and to keep tabs on the number of passengers landing. The zodiac platforms open out from both sides of the mud room, although only 1 is normally used. Whilst the kayakers have their own platform at the back of the ship, which keeps them out of the way of the zodiacs. This meant that exiting the ship, was always quick and efficient, which then resulted in more time ashore.
The zodiacs flit to and fro, transporting passengers 10 at a time to land. Once you have landed, it’s up to you how long you stay out there. My daughter always tried to be on one of the first zodiacs out, and the last one back, to maximise the amount of time given with the wildlife and the landscape.
The Small Ship Experience
Another reason to choose a small ship is that you encounter more solitude and greater flexibility if tides, currents, ice or weather dictate a schedule change. Due to thick sea ice, we encountered a couple of itinerary changes, however this had absolutely no impact on our time ashore. Had we been on a larger ship, we may not have been able to have had a landing on those days.
Luxurious But An Expedition Ship In Every Way
There is no getting away from the fact that the Greg Mortimer and the Sylvia Earle, are luxury ships. The cabins are large and spacious with great storage facilities; beautiful soft furnishings and photos decorate the entire ship. Every meal was well-presented and delicious, and the service from the waiting on staff was impeccable; There is a small, but well-equipped gym onboard as well as a lovely sauna.
It does however, still have the feeling of a true expedition ship. The expedition team mingled with the passengers around dining tables every mealtime; the lectures were informative and engaging; we were encouraged to be out on deck looking for wildlife opportunities, whilst some of the expedition team explained in greater detail, what we were witnessing. Aurora have an “open bridge” policy which means that you can pop into the bridge and have a chat with the crew, and learn all about the navigational equipment onboard.
On all of the trips, there is a dedicated photographer on board. We found the photo workshop to be so educational and informative on our trip – learning lots of little tips of how best to position our cameras; lighting techniques; choosing the right moment to click, so that you get that unique photo.
Such an important factor these days: Due to the combination of streamlined Ulstein X-BOW and the Rolls Royce dynamic stabilisers, the crossing of the Drake Passage is more comfortable and stable. The reason for this is that the shape of the X-Bow cuts through the swell so that passengers feel less vibration and disturbances. The shape also makes for a quicker crossing, meaning that you arrive in the South Shetlands by lunchtime on day 2, as opposed to day 3 on other ships. Another great factor to consider, is that it also helps reduce fuel consumption by up to 60%, and in a world that is constantly thinking of how to protect our planet, the Greg Mortimer boasts of the lowest polluting marine engines in the world. Her state-of-the-art engines deliver an 80% reduction in emissions; the onboard desalination plant converts seawater to freshwater that’s safe to drink. This means they can carry less freshwater on sea crossings, further reducing fuel consumption. And then there is the virtual anchoring that I briefly mentioned last time. This is a combination of GPS, steering technology, propellers and thrusters, which allow the ship to hold position. This protects the sea floor and minimises the damage caused by conventional anchors.
Plastic: Most single-use plastic items have been replaced with sustainable alternatives, whilst Aurora’s aim is to eliminate single-use plastic altogether.
Dining: All onboard seafood is sourced in accordance with the Marine Stewardship Council guidelines
Cleaning products: Biodegradable, phosphate free and non-bioaccumulative products are used as much as possible.
Recycling: Bins are provided onboard to separate waste and recyclable items to help reduce landfill
Beach Clean-ups: A proud member of the Sea Green – a new waste recycling initiative at the Port of Ushuaia. Plus beach clean-up initiatives such as Clean up Svalbard.