The sinking of the RMS Titanic, as painted by Willy Stöwer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When Captain Andrey appointed himself my maritime mentor, the first lesson he delivered was in the form of a question: “What is a sailor’s greatest fear?”
“Fire,” was his answer when he saw the puzzled look upon my face.
Before I encountered the Captain, I had sailed on only one passenger vessel, up the Inside Passage to Alaska. The ship encountered a whirlpool, breaking crockery, and bowling passengers off stools in the bar. After the incident, the master had entered the dining room with the statement, “Please don’t tell anyone about your adventure today, or they will expect it when they sail the Inside Passage.”
As my experience and education increased I came to understand that passenger vessels are as much about safety procedures as they are about midnight buffets and bingo.
The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is fast approaching. The legacy of that tragedy shapes our cruise experience to this day. Safety of life at sea was investigated by commissions and regulations were enacted.
Wireless communication standards were established. Radio rooms were manned 24/7 and a direct line of communication was opened with the Bridge on all ships. Changes were made to rules of navigation in ice fields. The number of lifeboats per ship was increased to ensure that all passengers and crew could be accommodated. Lifeboat assignments became mandatory at the commencement of a cruise.
My list of changes to safety procedures aboard vessels sailing in international waters is far from comprehensive. The next time you feel inconvenienced by a mandatory lifeboat drill within 24 hours of sailing, remember those who lost their lives April 15, 1912. There but for fortune go you.
Image via Wikipedia
I regret not visiting the Fram Museum when I visited Oslo. The only excuse I can present is that, at the time, I was unaware of everything south polar. Canadians grow up culturally immersed in the belief that the Arctic is fundamental to our nationhood.
To me Roald Amundsen was the Norwegian who accomplished what no Canadian had – he transited the complete Northwest Passage. My history lessons occurred during the dark ages, when the accomplishments of our native peoples were unrecognized.
I like the online version of the Fram Museum, the curators are feeding excerpts from Amundsen’s South Pole journal. I plan to visit the site on the big day – December 14, 2011. Will there be fireworks and the national anthem playing?
No need to understand Norwegian – the Fram Museum site is in English as well as Amundsen’s native tongue. Amundsen’s time has come.
Yorkshireman John Robert Francis Wild CBE, RNVR, FRGS was one of only two men to earn the Polar Medal with 4 bars. He was a member of five Antarctic expeditions, including, the Endurance expedition under Sir Ernest Shackleton. Wild was left in command on Elephant Island while Shackleton effected their rescue. Wild served under Robert Falcon Scott and Douglas Mawson during their expeditions to the southern continent.
After his rescue, Wild volunteered to serve in the First World War. He was given a polar assignment – Royal Navy transport officer at Archangel, Russia. He learned Russian prior to the assignment.
Wild was with Shackleton when he died at South Georgia. To honour the boss’ obligations, he assumed command and continued the expedition to Antarctica. Wild eventually settled in South Africa, falling on hard times due to a struggle with alcohol. He died there in 1939.
Wild was cremated, but his ashes went astray. His last wish was to be buried on South Georgia near Shackleton’s final resting place. That is about to happen at last. What I wouldn’t give to be part of that historic return.
Why should you care? Neither Shackleton, nor Scott nor Mawson were polar medal with 4 bar recipients. All of them relied on Wild’s skill and commitment. He was a true Antarctic hero.
Port Lockroy, Antarctica in 2006
There is a report out of Hobart from IAATO – the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators – expressing concern over the dramatic drop in tourist visits to Antarctica. The organization is holding an annual general meeting in the Australian city that bills itself “the gateway to Antarctica.”
Disinterest by the traveling public is not behind the decline. The dramatic recession of 2008-10 kept international vacationers home, impacting visitor numbers to destinations around the world.
IAATO anticipates 26,000 Antarctic visitors in the 2011-12 season, down 20,000 from three years ago. The most recent impediment to Antarctic travel is an international fuel restriction, causing cruise lines to drop Antarctica from their menu of itineraries. The restriction mitigates the impact of an oil spill should a 500+ passenger ship run aground in Antarctica.
The reduction in capacity is good for small ship operators, and a challenge for travelers. Will the demand exceed the newly limited capacity? Only time will tell.
The polar icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov ended its 2010-11 passenger season this past weekend. The ship is steaming north, repositioning for the legendary vessel’s final Arctic season as an expedition ship. What an adventure that will be – a world cruise like no other.
She will circle the globe in 66-days from Anadyr, Russia to Anadyr Russia, via the most remote islands in the Arctic. Wrangel, Severnaya Zemlya, Svalbard. She will semi-circumavigate Greenland, then sail one last time through Canada’s Northwest Passage.
Khlebnikov has transited the NWP more times than any other passenger vessel on Earth. That final segment of the world cruise will be emotional, I’m certain. What will it like to be aboard and say on disembarkation, I was there?
PS – To book visit Quark Expeditions.