It must have been quite an experience. Talk us through it…
We were in Antarctica on the weekend of 14 March, just coming to the end of a great cruise. We were starting to make our way back to Ushuaia when we heard the news that basically everywhere on the planet was closing. Suddenly everything changed and we had to find a backup plan. We altered course to Buenos Aires and then we had to head to Montevideo – we were just waiting on the response from the authorities ahead of us.
I’ve been a ship’s captain for almost 15 years, and I’ve faced a few challenges in my time, but this was the biggest of them all because of the uncertainty. It was difficult but it was also the most incredible experience I’ve ever had on a ship.
What was the mood among the passengers?
Guests were positive from the beginning, and as we left Antarctica and headed up to the warm weather, the mood was great. It was my goal and that of the team on board to keep everybody happy, so each day I gave them exactly the information I had – nothing more or less, just the facts. Communication was so important, and the guests were happy because we were honest and we didn’t give them false expectations.
How was it to be ‘stuck’ on Scenic Eclipse for an extra 10 days? Did the ship feel like a safe sanctuary?
One amazing thing to come out of the crisis was the strong connection between the passengers and crew. They were really bonding and we all agreed that the ship was a sanctuary, a bit like Noah’s Ark. In fact, I think our passengers felt protective of the crew.
We had many of the expedition team still on board from Antarctica, so we did a lot of activities with them, like using the kayaks and the equipment for the summer season. On the last night, we organised a cocktail evening on the bow of the ship – it was beautiful with the sunset, and we invited the crew to share the moment.
You could see the connections between everybody, and it was such a special time. There was one young couple on board for their honeymoon, and they were delighted. ‘We paid for one cruise,’ they told me, ‘And we got another one free.’
What are your thoughts on the future of cruise – do you think the industry will bounce back?
People will always want to travel, and cruising on this ship gives you plenty of personal space. We don’t have a big buffet with thousands of people eating; we have small but spacious restaurants. Also, we sail to remote places like Antarctica. I really think cruising will come back, particularly expedition cruising, so we definitely hope to go ahead for the next season.
Where is the most amazing place you’ve ever travelled to, and when the Covid crisis is over, where would you most like to visit?
The more you travel, the more you want to travel – it’s exponential. My favourite place in the world is Antarctica, and every year when the fall comes in October and November, I’m like ‘It’s opening in Antarctica and I need to go back there now’. Also, I have a passion for the Russian Far East. I went there two years ago and it was fascinating – there’s so much wildlife and they don’t even bother looking at you, they are too busy doing their own thing. I love it.
If there’s one place I haven’t seen and would really like to discover, it’s probably the south Antarctic islands, between Australia and Antarctica, on the other side of the planet.
What is the first thing you’re going to do when you get back on board Scenic Eclipse?
I’m curious to see the changes that are being made [the ship is undergoing a small renovation] and I can’t wait to start planning itineraries for 2022 and 2023. I’m looking forward to spending an afternoon just looking at the map and saying, ‘Where can I go?’ I have to be realistic, though, and sometimes the crew have to say, ‘Captain, we must be reasonable!’