Sailing with a specialist in polar cruising

Sam Ballard asks Robert Halfpenny how Aurora Expeditions’ first purpose-built ship will elevate the company’s polar cruise offering

Sailing with a specialist in polar cruising
Greg Mortimer is designed to help guests explore the polar world in comfort

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Thanks to its 28 years of experience operating in polar waters, there are few cruise lines who know the Antarctic and Arctic as well as Aurora Expeditions. Until very recently, the company has symbolised a very certain type of operator, which according to managing director Robert Halfpenny, is one that likes “doing it dirty”.

“Originally, there were the luxury operators and then there were the likes of us sailing on older Russian expedition vessels,” explains Halfpenny. “Up until now, no one has been doing it in the middle – that’s the space we’re operating in with our new ship.”

The new ship that Halfpenny references is, by all accounts, a game changer. Named Greg Mortimer after the company’s founder, the 120-passenger vessel is the first to be built with the much-feted X-Bow from Norwegian designer Ulstein, which will give the ship an almost beak-like appearance.

“In three to four metre swells in the Drake Passage you will usually go down to seven knots with a traditional ship,” says Halfpenny, describing the renowned crossing. “With the X-Bow you can maintain a speed of 12 knots, which means you can cross in a day-and-a-half rather than two – which means that passengers will get more time in the Antarctic. That means more landings, more often.”

Greg Mortimer will also be greener than previous ships. “We’ll use way less fuel and we’re also using low-emission fuel,” says Halfpenny. “Greg Mortimer is actually a hybrid ship, but we’re not pushing it. However, we can turn the engines off when we go whale watching.”

Everything about the Greg Mortimer has been designed to make expedition voyaging as enjoyable as possible. Gone are the bunk beds that guests would find on the old Russian research ships and, while the passenger capacity has been increased, the onboard experience is much more enjoyable.

“On our older ship Polar Pioneer, our crew would have to pass the kayaks down to someone in a zodiac and our passengers would climb down a rope ladder,” Halfpenny explains. “However, on Greg Mortimer, they will walk straight off the back of the ship using the landing bays. Our operational staff were involved in designing the ship and you can see that in features like this.”

The capacity of the Greg Mortimer has also been carefully considered. Although there is space for 160 passengers, Aurora Expeditions will only carry up to 120.

This will enable Aurora Expeditions to comply with the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators’ regulations which say that no more than 100 people can be on the Antarctic ice at any one time. Halfpenny expects 20 passengers to be kayaking or diving on every landing, meaning everyone else will get on the ice. As some other operators in Antarctica are launching ships with as many as 500 guests, this makes capacity one of Aurora Expeditions’ key selling points.

“There are those nuances that people don’t understand,” says Halfpenny. “We are polar specialists while a lot of other companies are generalists calling themselves expedition leaders.”

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By Sam Ballard
27 December 2019

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