Many Superyachts owners are searching for new and extreme destinations, far from warm weather and beaches. The motivation is the desire for challenging, more remote or more spectacular places but this kind of adventures bring unusual difficulties – but an organisation in particular knows most of these solutions.
Yacht consultancy and management service High Latitudes, specialising in Antarctica, the Arctic and other remote destinations, was created to ensure owners and crew get the very best enjoyment from their destinations. The owners are Richard Haworth and Luke Milner, who based the idea for High Latitudes off of their own sailing and mountaineering expedition experience in Antarctica.
In 1999, they begin an 18-month adventure aboard in a 13.4-metre steel ketch due their passion for mountain climbing in Antarctica. Haworth puts it, ‘We had to have these learning experiences. There was no one there to teach us. I couldn’t begin to list the things we learnt on that trip.’
He then went to work as a skipper on charter yachts taking people to the Antarctic and the Arctic. After six years, eager to spend time leading a ‘normal life’, he and Milner saw an opportunity to use their experience to help other people visit these remote places.
When Haworth and Milner meet owners or captains, initial discussions are about where they would like to go and when, and what they would like to do when they get there. It is not uncommon for small changes to be proposed, perhaps for reasons of safety but often in an attempt to maximise potential enjoyment.
The next stage is to consider the yacht intended for the voyage. In an ideal world this discussion would occur before she is built, to ensure all High Latitudes’ proposals could be incorporated. Although this has been the case on a handful of Oysters – semi-custom sailing yachts with fundamental limitations regarding potential alterations due to their standard GRP hulls and decks – only recently has an opportunity occurred to significantly influence a boat’s design.
Good insulation is obviously vital to cope with extreme temperatures, but it would be a huge job to make any such improvement on an existing steel or aluminium boat and also Fuel can be a common problem to take in consideration.
Into the ice
Ice is one of the biggest problems encountered in the Arctic and Antarctic.High Latitudes offers the services of ice pilots who have experience on cruise ships that regularly visit the areas, and ‘who know where to anchor and what you can and can’t do in the ice,’ says Haworth. Furthermore, the pilots are often able to enhance owners’ and guests’ enjoyment by sharing their extensive local knowledge. Pack ice is not necessarily a problem as it is relatively easy to see with the naked eye and with radar.
‘We encourage sailing yachts to fit mast steps [so crew can] get aloft to look at what the concentration of ice is and what route you might take,’ Haworth says. The real danger, however, can be ‘growlers’, which form when pack ice disintegrates. They are less visible – typically no more than a metre above the water, which means a further five metres lurk below. ‘That’s a transit van,’ Haworth points out, ‘and not many of us are driving boats that don’t mind hitting a transit van.
The presence of ice often necessitates a change of plan. ‘We had wanted to visit the east coast of Greenland,’ Lawrence reports, ‘but this is rarely possible due to the ice travelling down the coast with the current from the Arctic. After studying all the ice information for days, Eric our pilot decided it just wasn’t possible for us at that time.
High Latitudes can also provide specialist wildlife guides, whose first priority is one of safety. In the south, the only likely danger is from leopard seals, although attacks on humans are rare, but in the north there is a potential threat from polar bears. ‘Eric was also our shore guide,’ adds Lawrence. ‘You must carry flares and a rifle when going ashore outside the designated safe areas near settlements in case of polar bear attacks. To shoot a polar bear is a very serious matter, leading to autopsy and inquest, and the authorities have to be convinced it is only a last resort and in self-defence.
A naturalist guide’s main role is to maximise owners’ and guests’ enjoyment, and in a responsible way. In Antarctica, where the wildlife can be numerically spectacular, guidelines exist within protected areas. ‘The naturalists we send down there make sure we respect all the local rules to do with our permit,’ says Haworth, ‘and make sure we do it all correctly.’ The wildlife in the Arctic can be more diverse, but only in certain areas: more on the Canadian side of Baffin Bay, for instance, than in Greenland.
For any yacht to visit Antarctica, and indeed many places in the north, permits are needed, and part of High Latitudes’ service is to deal with this increasingly complicated and often long process. In particular, Winlow explains that ‘High Latitudes also managed to get us permission to visit Port Lockroy (a UK post office and museum), Palmer Station (a US research base) and Vernadsky (a former UK base now owned and operated by the Ukraine).’ Lawrence adds that, ‘Months prior to our departure Richard had arranged the required visas and permits for visiting Jan Mayen Island and Spitsbergen – these are not hugely complicated, but do take time.
Once an owner has developed a taste for this sort of extreme cruising, the possibilities are almost limitless.