This month sees the launch of a brand-new ice-class expedition ship, the Greg Mortimer. The ship is owned by Australian-based Aurora Expeditions and is due to be christened quayside on October 31, 2019, in Ushuaia, prior to setting sail for Antarctica. So, what makes it special?
1. It has a curiously shaped bow
Designed and built for expedition cruising in the Polar regions, the 80-cabin Greg Mortimer is the first expedition ship to incorporate the patented Ulstein X-Bow. Instead of the conventional bulbous bow this one slopes the opposite way – in fact it looks a bit like the Concorde nose. The inverted bow means gentler sea crossings, faster transit speeds and reduced emissions due to a huge reduction in fuel consumption.
2. How does that help passengers?
The X-Bow splits wave energy and eliminates slamming and bow impact so passengers feel fewer vibrations and less motion at sea, which should be music to the ears of those crossing the notorious Drake Passage to Antarctica.
3. Who is Greg Mortimer?
In 1998 Australian explorer Greg Mortimer hatched an audacious plan to sail to Antarctica and attempt to climb Mt Minto, the highest unclimbed peak in the Admiralty Range. He had already become the first Australian to reach the summits of Mt Everest, K2 and Annapurna without the aid of supplementary oxygen. Mortimer launched Aurora Expeditions in 1991 with his wife, Margaret, following that inspirational trip to the White Continent. His contribution to mountaineering has been recognised through an Order of Australia and three Australian Geographic Society Medals.
4. Will Greg be on board?
Indeed. Passengers travelling on the ship’s maiden voyage at the beginning of November will be lucky enough to have Mortimer as their expedition leader. Joining him is multi-award-winning nature and wildlife photographer Scott Portelli. Margaret Mortimer will christen the ship in Ushuaia, in her role as godmother.
5. Who is captaining the ship?
The ship will be captained by Oleg Kaptenko, who in 2011 successfully maneuvered the 90-passenger M/V Akademik Shokalskiy through the North-East Passage without the assistance of an icebreaker, and Ulf-Peter Magnus Lindström, who worked in the Finnish Navy in the Special Diving Forces. Between them the pair has clocked up nautical miles in the Antarctic, Canadian Arctic, Pacific Ocean, Caribbean, the Red and Black Seas, Greenland, Spitsbergen, the Kamchatka Peninsula, Franz Josef Land, Novaya Zemlya, the Kuril Islands, Sakhalin (nope, us neither…)
6. Passengers are in good hands, then?
Want to know how long a narwhal’s tusk can grow, or how long a polar bear can hold its breath for? You’re in good company. A stellar line up of expedition experts includes historians, geologists, naturalists, scientists, kayak guides, ski tour and snowshoe guides and of course, head photographer and Australian Geographic Nature photographer of the year, Scott Portelli.
7. So activities are a big deal for Aurora Expeditions?
This is not a cruise for knitters. Instead, there is diving and snorkelling (think icebergs and super-sized marine life), ski touring, climbing, snowshoeing on virgin peaks and, for the more adventurous, a chance to retrace Shackleton’s footsteps on an epic alpine crossing from King Haakon Bay to Stromness in South Georgia. One of the most popular activities involves wriggling into a thermal sleeping bag for a night out on the ice – no tent pegs required. At the very least you’ll be heading out on zodiacs to explore some of the planet’s most extraordinary scenery.
8. Any other innovations worth knowing about?
With safer and speedier boarding of smaller craft in mind, the ship has four sea-level launch platforms for the 15 zodiacs to enable speedy transfers (ordinarily passengers board group by group from a pontoon at the back) and a new kayak chute. Instead of being lowered to the sea over the side of the ship they hit the water via the chute and are then tethered to a pontoon made from Lego-style blocks that keep the boats stable. This sure beats shuffling into it from a zodiac. Two hydraulic viewing platforms built into the wings of the ship swing out to provide unobstructed views of penguins, albatross, polar bears, whales and ice – tonnes and tonnes of it.
9. What about environmental stewardship?
Virtual anchoring technology means no more anchor and chains dropping to the sea floor. Water filtration is done on board, cleaning products are biodegradable and phosphate-free and seafood is sustainably sourced and meets Marine Stewardship Council Fisheries standards. Elsewhere, the line’s sustainability record is good. In Svalbard, for example, participation in annual clean-ups has helped remove 20 tons of waste from beaches. Aurora Expeditions is a founding member of the Association of Arctic Tour Operators.
10. Where can we sail to and how much will it set me back?
Spitsbergen, Greenland, Franz Josef Land, the Svalbard archipelago, Patagonia, the Chilean Fjords, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica … not your average holiday. A 12-day Antarctic Explorer fly/sail itinerary in January 2020 costs from £8,100pp (auroraexpeditions.com.au).