Serious escapades require serious kit. Sophia Wilson speaks to some of the industry’s most experienced exploration captains to discover what they never leave port without
“When you are planning a trip, you need to think about not only where you are travelling to, but also what kind of activities you will want to do when you get there and how you are going to get ashore safely to do them,” says Christopher Walsh, captain of 68-metre Archimedes, which has travelled to destinations including the High Arctic, the Antarctic and Papua New Guinea. Walsh argues that, for most trips, a Zodiac (a rigid inflatable originally designed for military use) is essential.
“A Zodiac is just the most indispensable tool that you could possibly have,” agrees EYOS Expeditions’ Ben Lyons. “People in the yachting world look at these open rubber boats and think they are not going to look good in Monaco, but they are just the perfect tool for expeditions – they’re rugged and indestructible.” And a Zodiac shouldn’t just be considered for polar explorations. “In a lot of remote, tropical destinations there are often large swells, and you are trying to navigate into shallow areas to make beach landings. A Zodiac opens up landings like this, on atolls and islands, that wouldn’t otherwise be available,” he adds.
No matter the destination, you need to order early to avoid disappointment. “The cruise-ship industry has pretty much taken all of them,” says Walsh. “We ordered ours a year in advance.”
Tom Henshilwood, the former captain of 64-metre Albula who also previously worked 71.4-metre Enigma XK, also stresses the importance of carrying spares. “On Enigma we ran two Zodiac Mk4s, but we also bought a spare outboard engine in addition to all the normal servicing kit,” he says. “It sounds a bit extreme but we did end up using it. The last thing you want to have to do is tell an owner or a charter guest that you are down to one tender and you can only take six at a time to go whale watching.”
“Drones have revolutionised remote cruising; you can use them as a piece of safety equipment,” says Captain Winston Joyce-Clark of 59-metre Seawolf. “If you put a drone up it becomes your crow’s nest from an 18th-century ship.”
Captain Grant Maughan, of 49-metre Asteria, frequently uses UAVs to check out anchorages, landing spots and hiking trails, but his first experience of using them for navigation was in Antarctica. “We had a drone pilot on board as a charter had requested a drone,” he says. “One afternoon we got stuck in an ice floe and he sent it up and we navigated the boat out using that. They are an incredibly useful piece of kit in those kinds of situations.”
For the full experience, however, Lyons recommends adding a helicopter where possible. “These destinations are incredibly scenic,” he says. “To go up in a helicopter in the polar regions gives you a sense of scale that’s hard to appreciate otherwise. In the tropics they also give you access to places that are otherwise impossible to get to,” he says.
Superyachts planning on visiting the high latitudes need to be prepared for some communication difficulties.“Theoretically, you shouldn’t be able to get a VSAT signal after 70 degrees north,” explains Captain Walsh. “We jazzed up our VSAT antenna and put on a 50W BUC, which means it will pick up a weak signal, and found we were able to get reception beyond this. We also put on an Iridium system and carried several Iridium phones [a specialist satellite phone system], which serve as backup.”
Captain Maughan recommends always carrying a satellite tracker when off the yacht. “The one I am using at the moment is a Garmin inReach,” says Maughan, who is also an avid climber and ultra-marathon runner. “It is really handy because you can send out an SOS via Iridium and you can also send text messages and emails from the unit itself. If you ever get into a bind out there, particularly in the high-latitude regions, those little units can be lifesavers.”
Captain Henshilwood also suggests installing portable Em-Trak AIS (Automatic Identification System) units in the tenders. “You can just pop it on your Zodiac and it will display on whatever AIS system you are using. Expedition cruise liners use them extensively when they’re dealing with a fleet of 15 or so Zodiacs. I actually brought them onto Albula for our smaller tenders. It really relieves that stress on the bridge when the weather comes down and you can’t see the tender.”
Provisioning in advance of a expedition is crucial, but most captains agree that waste management is an equally important consideration. “You don’t want to put any garbage ashore, especially in cold climates, because it won’t decompose. It will still be there in 200 years’ time,” says Captain Walsh. “We built a garbage compressor and glass crusher, and we didn’t need to dispose of any garbage in two months.”
“It’s a two-pronged attack,” adds Captain Henshilwood. “You’ve got to think very carefully in advance about what you’re bringing on board, because you’re going to have to dispose of it, and then there has to be very strict segregating of garbage. Something we found really useful was we got these big 80-litre plastic barrels to use for food waste. Once they were filled with waste they were completely sealed, so there was no risk of smells, and stored away.”
“For any boat heading to remote regions you’re going to need an A-class medical kit that has everything you might need,” says Captain Maughan. “But I think having a telemedicine service is also really important. Imagine someone breaking their arm up in the Arctic or in Greenland. You are 400 miles away from civilisation, so the chances are you are going to need to reset that bone on board.”
“I have worked extensively with the Tempus IC2 patient monitor, which I’ve found to be very reliable,” adds Captain Henshilwood. “Saying that, if you’ve got space to have someone with above-normal medical training to go to sea with, it would be invaluable.”
Captain Joyce-Clark agrees and tries to not to visit remote destinations without a medic on board. “Guests and owners often say they don’t need anyone like that, but when they are around, they end up getting asked questions three or four times a day,” he says. “Having someone who is medically qualified on board creates an extra level of comfort.”
“One of the main things you have to think about is personal protective gear for the crew,” says Captain Maughan. “I worked on one boat in the Arctic and the owner had literally supplied nothing for the deck crew but light jackets. It was crazy.”
Lyons agrees, and stresses the importance of considering the amount of time crew will be exposed to the elements. “It needs to be something that protects against the elements and keeps you insulated, but not so warm that you overheat and sweat. It’s not the sort of thing that you are just going to buy at a local store – it needs to be planned in advance,” he says.
As well as quality, quantity is also important. “It’s all very well having good gear, but you also need multiple sets for the crew,” says Henshilwood. “If you have been outside in the snow or the rain but you want to do a second landing that day you have basically got an entire boatload of crew gear to get dried in a few hours. I’ve got some hilarious photos of the crew drying gear with hairdryers.” All captains agree, though, that the most important thing is the person wearing them. “You need full crew buy-in for these kinds of trips,” says Henshilwood. “It can be a challenging environment and there isn’t the opportunity to sit back. Everyone needs to step up to the plate to make it a success.”
This feature is taken from the September 2021 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.shop now