First Impressions of Expedition Cruising

Laura Martin’s personal account of her first impressions of living and working in Antarctica and South Georgia.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Laura Martin is a Lecturer and Earth Scientist on the Antarctica21 Expedition Team. In this Journal post, she tells us about her first-hand experience with expedition cruising in Antarctica after living and working in Antarctica and South Georgia.

laura martin

Laura Martin, one of Antarctica21’s expedition cruise members.

Having spent ten months living remotely in the Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic, I most definitely caught the ‘polar bug’ and knew I had to keep coming back to one of the most amazing places in the world. I lived a very simple life on Goudier Island, in the harbor of Port Lockroy, Antarctica.  It’s the size of a football field with over 1,000 gentoo penguins as both neighbors and our daily entertainment (who needs the internet when penguin watching is a hobby!). After four months, I quickly realized that it was not enough time to experience all the wonders living South has to offer, so I made it my mission to find a way to go back.

Young gentoo penguins seen on a Polar Circle Air-Cruise

Young gentoo penguins seen on a Polar Circle Air-Cruise. Photography by Ashley Cooper.

What surprised me when I first arrived was that all my senses were heightened. Quickly, I became an expert in hearing a lonely visiting chinstrap penguin or noticing unusual odors in the area, such as a freshly peeled orange amongst the day-to-day aroma of guano (bird poo). These were experiences I could never have anticipated and only arose through time immersed in this exceptional environment.

Later, I moved from a more rugged Antarctic lifestyle to a place with a few luxuries. I upgraded to running water, a fridge, and more than three companions. Life in Grytviken, an old South Georgian whaling station, gave me a greater understanding of humankind’s influence on this delicate, unique environment that will outlive us all but now more than ever relies on us to protect and conserve it for future generations.

Trace of previous human presence in South Georgia. Photography by Rodrigo Moraga on an Antarctica & South Georgia Air-Cruise.

Trace of previous human presence in South Georgia, a sight seen during an expedition cruise. Photography by Rodrigo Moraga on an Antarctica & South Georgia Air-Cruise.

Throughout my ten months, I was privileged to meet thousands of like-minded individuals from all over the world who felt a connection to these wild, remote, and magical places and who had fared the big seas to spend a few days absorbing all they could ever imagine. A light bulb moment came to me after being greeted every ten days by the same friendly, approachable, and adventurous expedition crews – I could continue this life of exploration and discovery on board ships as every moment spent down South is a privilege.

Fast forward four years after leaving South Georgia, and that dream has become a reality. I had my reservations relating to the speed of back-to-back visits compared to my old life of living in one place and getting to know it well. Still, the two cannot be compared as they offer very different but equally rewarding experiences. Transitioning to ship life was not difficult as I had already experienced various companies’ set-ups, but I was hesitant as to the speed at which I would get my sea legs. Luckily, they arrived pretty quickly!

Life on board has been well thought out for both passengers and crew, and once you get into a routine, everything from excursions to cleaning your boots to attending lectures becomes second nature. Among the destinations I was able to see that first season on an expedition cruise team, I couldn’t wait to visit my home of six months again.

Those first sightings of the South Georgian peaks rising above the clouds surrounded by majestic blue tabular icebergs were unbelievably special. Pointing out the features I knew to enthusiastically eager passengers meant I could share my excitement and knowledge and pass it on for others to enjoy.

Icebergs in South Georgia. Photography by Rodrigo Moraga on an Antarctica & South Georgia Air-Cruise.

Icebergs in South Georgia. Photography by Rodrigo Moraga on an Antarctica & South Georgia Air-Cruise.

The vast number of places that I had heard about whilst living in Grytviken but never had the chance to explore soon changed, and the perks of expedition cruising came into their own. I would never have anticipated being at anchor in a beautiful bay surrounded by a sky full of twinkling stars and the Milky Way with an orchestra of hundreds of thousands of wildlife all calling and going about their own lives. Those moments make me realize how lucky I am to not only be able to choose my line of work and explore our amazing planet but also be joined by incredibly knowledgeable and inspiring colleagues and passengers, as every single person has something to share that adds to our incredible journey.

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