Cape to Cape voyage, guiding in Antarctica and South Georgia
I have just come back from a great adventure sailing from South America to Antarctica, South Georgia, Tristan da Cunha and Cape Town. Spending nearly 2 months at the sea or landing on the most breathtaking locations in the world left me filled with an experience I never thought I can have. I won’t speak too much about the destination, and let the images do the speaking. Instead, I rather tell you a little story about how it happened.
A bit of background
Once, as a young boy, I got a present for Christmas. A book. A book about exploration, discovery, and conquest of the remotest places in the world. Be it the highest peaks in the Himalayas, deeps of the worlds oceans or cold and inhospitable corners of Arctic and Antarctica. I was totally hooked and I didn’t put the book down until I finished reading. All I knew, I wanted to go to the same places, see and experience the same things, as these explores did.
Being born in Czechoslovakia made the things little more complicated. 18 year of my life I lived behind “Iron Curtain” and traveling outside the “red zone” was very difficult if not impossible at all for the majority of people. After the “Velvet Revolution” in 1989, the doors to the world opened. Finally, there was a real chance to see the world. But it took a few more years before I embarked on these adventures. I finished my university, military service and then I had a “normal” life for a while before I left my country in my early thirties to work overseas. Still a rookie traveler, I slowly started exploring the world. Infected with a traveling bug I realized I am working only to save money for my next trip. That what mattered to me. No buying unnecessary things, no eating in restaurants, no parties, no drinks no unnecessary expenses. I lived a modest life and did whatever it took to save money for my next adventure. I never understood people who had to own things to be happy. For me, experiences matter much more. So I traveled as much as I could and tried to soak in every moment and experience. My new career overseas started in 2004 working in the creative and visual effect industry. It was great and, it gave me the opportunity to work with some very interesting and talented people and on a number of nice film projects. But it was “killing” me at the same time. Long hours in front of the computer, RSI, deteriorating eyesight, weekend work, tight deadlines, and no personal life were taking a toll on me, physically and emotionally. I kept pushing through it. At least this lifestyle gave me a reasonable financial means to travel. But after 10 years I reached the breakpoint and I was longing for change. I thought a major trip would give me a chance to recharge and put me back on track. So I started planning.
The first trip
Antarctica was always on my destination list but for the longest time, it was out of reach. Over the years of dreaming, planning, and saving I made the decision to go for it. One day, I stumbled upon Bark Europa’s website. That very moment I knew, I have to sail to Antarctica on this ship, whatever the cost is. Cruise ship just wasn’t an option anymore. They say, in your old days when you reflect back on your life, you’ll regret things that you haven’t done rather the ones you did. I didn’t want this to be that case so I signed up and sailed to Antarctica in 2018 as a voyage crew (paying passenger). The experience was fantastic. So much so, that I expressed an interest to work on the ship. Sounds crazy. A guy with from a small town with no experience in sailing and guiding from a country that doesn’t even have a sea. It sounds impossible and many said I can forget about it. But I dreamed and hoped. Almost the whole year after my first trip they almost proved me wrong that I actually can make it. Until the first days of January 2019. I have received a message about a vacant guiding position on Europa with an unbelievable question at the end of the message? Would you be interested to join as a guide? “Hell yes”, I almost screamed at the whole train I was traveling on at the time I received the message. Not even one month passed and I was boarding the ship in Ushuaia. This time as a crew member.
Back again as a guide in Antarctica and South Georgia
It is quite a different experience to be a crew member on Europa as opposed to voyage crew. There are 39 passengers on board and 17 crew. Captain Janke, first mate Finn, second mate Merle, bosun Enguerrand, deckhands Lex, Loek, Adam, Rune, Mille, Beth, Gjalt and Merel cooking, Rembert in charge of ship’s bar, Adrian as a doctor and us, 3 guides. Expedition leader Jordi, Sarah and myself.
The crew works very very hard. There is little or almost no time to rest. Some of the crew is working on 6 on, 6 off watch. Meaning 6 hours on duty and 6 hours rest. Others including myself work on 12 on 12 of a system or otherwise called “day watch”. When at sea, we do sailing-related work such as pulling ropes, setting or taking away sales, furling, unfurling and such. Apart from that, we work in the galley, do lectures for the voyage crew. During the landing, we do our obvious guiding duties on land. On top of that, we are working on documents, permits, voyage log that will be given to every voyage crew member at the end of the trip. These are just a few of the duties, the list goes on. It is hard, but I enjoy it a lot. This is a much healthier life that I led in the last 10 years for sure. I wonder how could I sit hours in front of a computer, working late and barely get out of the office for the entire day. How can I ever go back to the same job?
Even at this moment, I am pinching myself, wondering if this is really happening. I am constantly going back to the image of a young boy reading that captivating book about exploration and dreaming to at least have little taste of what that book was about. And here I am, guiding in Antarctica, South Georgia, and Tristan da Cunha, as crazy as it sounds. The dreams do come true. Some smart people say there are no impossible goals, only never tried ones. And I grabbed this opportunity and didn’t let go. I am not sure what the future holds for me but I am incredibly grateful that I am able to experience things that most of the people can’t.
The working relationship with Jordi and Sarah was great. I learned a ton from them. I am not sure if I will be back next season or not. It is a possibility and if the office confirms it, I may be back. This can be it, the change I was longing for. I am still going back to my old job for a while but the temptation to do this massive leap of faith is big. I am home only a few days but I already miss the ship, the awesome crew, the experience, the adventurous stern zodiac landings, the laughter and good times. Even the damp and cold days will stay with me for the rest of my life. As we say on board, it is wet cold and miserable, but we all love what we do. Never stop dreaming, never stop living. One can achieve anything if there is a determination and will to work for it.