Recently, we sat down with Sandra, who is originally from Switzerland. However, during the Austral Summer, you can find her somewhere on the Antarctic Peninsula, where she leads expedition cruises and takes incredible photographs of the 7th Continent. A Historian, Senior Polar Guide, and our Lead Cruise Manager, Sandra talks with us about her work at Antarctica21 and her evolving role in Antarctica travel.
What is your role at Antarctica21?
I am the Lead Cruise Manager for Antarctica21, sort of like the middle-woman helping to create a connection between two teams – the one you meet on board and the one on the ground behind the scenes in Chile. My position did not exist ten years ago when I started, but it evolved into one and is vital to the communication and success of our Antarctic expeditions.
There is this whole hive of people working in Punta Arenas, the city where our Antarctic air-cruises begin. As our guest, you will only ever meet a few of them. This fantastic team coordinates the flights down to Antarctica and everything that is related to them as well as to the Antarctic cruises themselves. The logistics behind an Antarctic expedition is complex. It is not only about the obvious such as provisions and other supplies, but also about millions of other details that make everyone’s experience unique. A solid preparation as well as a good link between our land Staff and the ship’s team is what it takes in order to make sure the ship feels like your home away from home.
What roles do you have during an Antarctic season? Besides acting as a Cruise Manager, I also work as a guide, presenter and photographer. That is how I initially started with Antarctica21 all those years ago. Today, each of our ships has a dedicated expedition photographer, and they help document your trip to Antarctica.
How did you get your start in Antarctica travel?
I have had a fascination for polar travel since I was a child and read a picture book about two siblings living in the Arctic. After university, I spent my entire savings on a trip to Iceland and Greenland. After that, to be able to return to the poles, I started working in the industry. My first job was as an expedition photographer, and the rest is history.
What is it like being an expedition guide in Antarctica?
When you are on the ship, you are “on” almost 100 percent of the time, so you must be ready and know how to balance your energy for that type of work. What I especially love about guiding is showing the history of a place or hands-on science, then watching a guest capture real-life meaning and connection to Antarctica.
Has the experience working in Antarctica been different for you as a woman?
Working in Antarctica as a woman is definitely different from working in an office back home. It is rougher, it is not just nature; it is also ship culture, which has been for centuries male. But it is changing, also with the help of male team members! I am glad to see more women working in Antarctica and the Arctic than ten years ago. The truth is that women have been exploring the polar regions for decades; you just don’t see their names in history books.
You work for other companies within the industry, is there something about working for Antarctica21 that makes it unique?
What attracts me to Antarctica21 is that the team is international, and there are so many different cultures working together. You have to learn to stick together during a season. The company is relatively small, so there is a special family spirit. People care for each other. It’s hard to describe, but there is something here that makes it all work. We have the same vision, goals, and we like working on a small-ship and watching the guests go back home happy. That is the connection.