7 Questions for the Captain
It takes a village to run a polar cruise: The guides boat us from ship to shore and lead us on the gamut of glacial hikes, the service staff makes sure our rooms are tidy and dinners served hot in the heart of Earth’s least hospitable locations. But without one key role in all this fine-tuned circuitry, we wouldn’t be going anywhere – at least anywhere good.
The Mysterious Maritime Pilot
We're referring of course to the captain, the central navigator of polar exploration since the earliest days of Arctic and Antarctic discovery. Situated at the control center in the bridge – the veritable cerebrum of the vessel – the captain keeps us clear of treacherous icebergs and calamitous coastlines, all while steering the ship as close as possible to the wondrous host of wildlife we traveled so far to see. But though captains are indispensable figures of seafairing life, they tend to be seldom-seen (and sometimes inapproachable) presences for the passengers on board. To dispel some of this mystery, we caught up to Captain Alexey Nazarov and asked a few illuminating questions.
First things first: How did you get started in this line of work?
I grew up by the coast, in Arkhangelsk, Russia – the “Pomors Capital” it is called, after the Pomor people of the White Sea – and I always dreamed of being a sailor. After finishing high school at the age of 15, I left home and started my naval career in the oldest maritime college in the country. I graduated in 1997 at 19 years old, and three months later became third officer on the research vessel Yakov Smirnitsky. I made my first Arctic voyage for the Russian Hydrographic Department on that vessel, and I have worked in the Arctic and Antarctic ever since: eight years sailing nuclear icebreakers in heavy ice conditions, and almost 17 years with Oceanwide Expeditions. Oceanwide promoted me captain of m/v Plancius in 2012.
Take me through your first few hours on board. What do you do?
My first hours on the ship are always the same: The previous captain signs off, handing the duties of the vessel over to me. After the “handover” procure – this involves learning the condition of the ship inside and out, ensuring that all the safety equipment is in working order, making the necessary log entries, a lot of things – I report to Oceanwide that I have assumed the captain’s duties and have taken over responsibility for the vessel.
What is one particularly memorable moment you’ve had in the polar regions?
Difficult question. I’ve had a lot of memorable moments out here. I’d say the time we spotted more than 80 bowhead whales along the Greenland ice edge was a pretty memorable moment.
What are some common misconceptions people have about the polar regions?
They think it’s always freezing, it’s totally uninhabited, there’s nothing but ice and snow and rock. Many people also imagine that global warming has made it easier to travel here. But since much of the travel takes place over “ice roads,” these routes have naturally disappeared over time, making overland travel far more difficult. The Northern Lights also aren’t constant, and penguins are only seen in the polar regions south of the equator.
One other thing I’ve noticed is that some people who’ve never been to either the Arctic or Antarctic think these areas are going to be boring. That’s absolutely untrue, and I’ve heard a lot of great passenger comments that refute that assumption. Even for me, after so many years in the Arctic and Antarctic, every day is unforgettable.
Do you still take pictures?
I’m no professional photographer, but yes. Usually I only show them to my family and friends – and then only if I think they’ll be interested – but sometimes I put my photos on Facebook. Maybe when I’m older, I’ll find the time to collect everything and put it all into the right folders.
What’s one luxury you miss during your time at sea?
That’s easy: My family and my car. During my time off, I like to visit different countries with my wife and teenage son.
Finally, what’s the last thing you do before you step off the ship?
I thank the crew for doing a great job during my contract, and I wish the oncoming captain and crew a safe and happy sailing. But always when I leave the ship, when I’m on the gangway and just about to step onto dry land, I put my hand against the vessel and in my mind say, “Thank you, Plancius.” This is my tradition.