David Glenn finds out what it's really like cruising on a superyacht
What’s it really like cruising on a superyacht – not just cruising but undertaking an Antarctic adventure which very much relies on the yacht as a platform, a lifeline and a completely independent mode of transport?
For two memorable weeks in 2009, I was accommodated in the port aft guest cabin, a twin-berth, mahogany-lined cocoon of comfort of Adele, a 54m modern classic by Hoek Design, built at Vitters and launched in 2005. This was my diary at the time:
My cabin insulates me entirely from the conditions outside. As I write this I’m looking through the porthole up at snow-covered peaks on South Georgia’s rugged coastline, but sitting here it’s hard to tell I’m aboard a yacht. The air conditioning keeps the cabin at a comfortable constant temperature and although one of Adele’s three generators is always running there’s only the faintest background hum from the air con.
Occasionally an electric motor or hydraulic pump whirrs into action, barely audible, a sign that the crew are launching or retrieving one of the three tenders, weighing anchor or unfurling and trimming a sail.
There’s a phone at my bunkside with a Fleetline and Iridium link to the outside world and best of all a network connection point for my laptop which links me to the yacht’s internal server and e-mail system. With my own onboard e-mail address issued as soon as I arrived I have been able to send anyone aboard an e-mail or leave a message on the yacht’s server to be sent to the outside world twice a day.
Text and small pictures are OK and that’s how this blog is happening. For the yacht it isn’t exactly cheap and the bill can run into several hundred dollars a day but if you have to keep in touch you can. Sadly, we do need to keep in touch…
Breakfast is served at a time agreed with the guests – there are eight of us – the owner Jan-Eric Osterlund and his wife Jennifer, the skipper, chef Claire Oliver and chief stewardess Anne Hall-Reace. Anne alternates her job with Liesel Havercroft so that she can get time off at home in South Africa, a system increasingly used in this extremely demanding service industry. For this demanding trip it’s her tour of duty.
Shortly after breakfast skipper Andre will produce The Daily Mail – yes, Adele subscribes to this satellite transmission service which is then printed out each morning. As we are only two hours behind GMT we are impressively up to date with what’s going on 8,000 miles away. Some of us think this is a shame but there’s always a rush for the Mail mainly to see the cricket and rugby scores.
Together with the papers will be a satellite derived weather check, printed out for all to peruse and as we get closer to a departure time for Brazil these charts become increasingly interesting and important to analyse.
The day’s plan of action will have been mapped out the evening before so that the crew know when to launch boats, have packed lunches together and when to expect us back for lunch, tea or dinner. While we’ve been in South Georgia the weather has been distinctly mixed and it’s become cold with snow and high winds so going ashore for some wildlife adventure normally means a thermal layer, fleeces, full oilies, long boots with walking boots in another pack, gloves, head gear and lifejackets. We all look as though we’re going to the moon by the time we’re ready to disembark.
We take grab bags full of emergency kit including sleeping bags, a tent and emergency rations. One must never forget that this remote, barely inhabited island will not support human life for much time in extreme conditions and if for any reason we couldn’t get back to Adele, which is our lifeline, we must be prepared to hunker down ashore. Radios are used extensively and if the shore party splits it’s essential both groups can communicate with the yacht.
There are three tenders from which to choose, a aluminium hulled RIB with a 35hp diesel outboard – good for running up the beach – a Castoldi jet boat, excellent for shallow waters, and the biggest a small launch driven by an outdrive unit which can cope with fairly rough conditions. They are all stowed on the foredeck and can be launched remarkably quickly by a halyard run to a powered drum winch. Bosun Georgina Swan and deckhand Quinton are responsible for getting us ashore and drive the boats with great skill, difficult sometimes with a sea running as they manoeuvre alongside the boarding platform.
Having got us off the yacht the crew’s work really begins. Lunch and dinner preparations are underway in the galley, stewardess Gillian Baker and Anne will hoover the entire yacht using the central dust collecting facility – the ‘hose’ plugs into ‘terminals’ all over the yacht, – our laundry is collected on a daily basis and will be waiting for us washed and ironed that evening. All our bunks will be made and our cabins cleaned and tidied.
In the machinery compartment Paul will be checking fuel levels continuously and correcting any malfunction. When we boarded in Stanley a water pressure pump had failed. Not only is there a back up in place, but Paul went to work to repair the failed unit – “hardly surprising it’s gone – it’s pumped about one million litres of water from new!” he said.
Considering there’s an engine running in the machinery room constantly – sometimes two – plus water making, air conditioning, sewage treatment and a whole host of electrical requirements for communication and navigation, it’s a wonder not more goes wrong. Adele will have been cruising independently for almost eight weeks before she arrives in Rio de Janiero and in fairly wild conditions, a lot for any large yacht as complex as this.
Pressure hose-down facilities will be ready for us on the side landing when we return to the yacht to ensure that we are not transferring flora and fauna. Towels will be ready and waiting and if we’re back at the appropriate time there will be hot soup waiting for us in the cockpit. In South Georgia a vast supply of Argentinian Quilmes beer was constantly available for those returning aboard with big thirsts. The first ones never touched the sides…
For those in need of a cup of tea, coffee or any other hot drink at any time of day or night, there’s a mini-galley just forward of the lower saloon with constant boiling water on tap and a complete array of drinks including herbals, infusions, hot chocolate plus juices and beer. Anyone can use this 24/7 to avoid calling the crew unnecessarily.
A power nap is almost compulsory in the afternoon if you want to stay the distance later in the evening but there’s normally an afternoon run ashore with Eef Willems, our Antarctica guide, who will lead us to yet another natural South Georgian wonder. By the time you’re back from that you will be exhausted but tea and cake will be ‘automatically’ served at about 1600. Somehow it just appears and little bowels of chocolates, dried fruit and nuts are regularly topped up.
Update your blog either in your cabin, at a work station in the deck saloon or even on deck, bring your notes up to date and take another shower before drinks and dinner, always served in the deck saloon around a magnificent mahogany table, beautifully laid in a different style each night.
But just how do they keep that hot water coming?
It runs in a loop around the entire yacht in welded polypropylene piping fed by the fresh water system and heated by two glycol filled heat exchangers which are in turn heated by elements at two points, one forward, one aft. This provides the yacht, which has about ten showers, a bath and Jacuzzi, and a galley the size of a small hotel, with continuous hot water.
Habit has me turning off taps early and rationing myself, but water conservation simply isn’t an issue aboard Adele. When you consider that the yacht uses about 2.5 tons of water for a ‘top to toe’ wash including the rig, the deck and topsides, the need for constant fresh water is paramount. In good conditions she can make five tons of water a day – 5,000 litres – but in the Antarctic’s much cooler waters this capacity is reduced.
Magnificent meals were served throughout our stay aboard, both at sea and at rest, the result of meticulous planning, major victualling in Auckland and Argentina and a top up in Stanley in the Falklands. Wines from New Zealand and Argentina had certainly travelled well. Apart from extensive cooling and refrigeration capability Adele has a sort of half deck below the soles right down in the bilge of the yacht where extra stores for long trips can be stowed. Two of the guests with dietary requirements were served immaculate alternative meals with no fuss or delay. The standard of service throughout was of an extraordinary high order but there was a relaxed nature to it all creating a genuinely easy atmosphere.
After dinner one could retire to one’s cabin or to the lower saloon to watch a movie. Sleep, I can assure you, never came so easily!
To see the video of David Glenn’s experience aboard Adele, click here