Turning our attention to the control room, we steal a few informative (and highly entertaining) moments with one of our most seasoned polar captains, Evgeny Levakov. A veteran of the colder side of nautical life, Captain Levakov has been piloting ships since 2002, leading everything from week-long Arctic cruises to expansive 33-day Antarctica voyages. And among the many things he’s learned in all those berg-bejeweled years is that polar captaining isn’t a gig for gamblers.
Polar captaining seems like a job where you’d experience some pretty adventurous moments. Have you had many in your sailing career?
A certain risk is always present, yes. But of course it’s the task of professionals to minimize that risk. It’s the same thing with driving: When you’re in your car, you’re not the only one on the road. And in the polar regions, we’re not the only ship on the seas. So from time to time, yes, there are dangers. Sometimes those dangers are created by people, sometimes by equipment, sometimes by nature. There’s no avoiding that, though would I call that adventurous? I’m not so sure.
Still, resolving those dangers must’ve given you a good base of experience.
It trains you to react in time, that’s for certain. More often than not, the danger depends on us and how well we’re prepared. It’s not guess work, after all. It has to be exact. I don’t roll dice with the ship, my crew, or the passengers.
In other words, polar captaining isn’t a job that attracts gamblers.
It’s not something we play with, no.
That must be reassuring for the travelers. What do you enjoy most about taking them around the polar regions?
I like meeting all the people and seeing them happy. By the end of the voyage, that’s the result of all our hard work. Their smiling faces tell us we succeeded in our objective. I can’t be satisfied unless things go well. My reputation and the good name of the vessel is at stake, true, but it’s not just about words and ranks for me. It’s about knowing I did my job well. Call it perfectionism, but I take pride in that.
Nothing wrong with perfectionism, especially in a captain. What’s the toughest thing to get perfect out there?
Finding out how to show passengers all there is to see on our route, while at the same time reducing the occasional discomforts of polar sailing. The storms and ice of the Arctic and Antarctic don’t make this easy. Also, working the long nights, the snow fronts, or in heavy fog has its own difficulty. Those conditions mean stress for the whole crew and expedition staff, but that’s just part of our work. It goes back to what I said about professionalism and what we’re trained to deal with.
Is there a part of the job that’s a more laid back?
Transitions between the hemispheres are nice and relaxed. There’s not as much to worry about when you’re crossing the equator in an ice-strengthened vessel.
True. Maybe heatstroke?
Our vessels have great air conditioning.
There’s nothing they haven’t thought of. High-speed internet, HDTV?
We’re still waiting on that.
Do you sail during your vacation time too?
No, that time belongs to my wife.
So it’s true, you’re not a gambling man.
I know which games you can’t win.
Very wise. We’ve heard from many of the captains and crew that being away from their families so long is one of the hardest parts of the job.
They’re right, at least in my experience. It requires a lot of patience, living a joint life like this. My wife and I have been married 39 years, and the absences are still difficult.
When did you first start working for Oceanwide?
Back in 1994, though not as a captain. I worked as part of the crew until 2000, and in 2010 I came back to Oceanwide as a captain. I’ve been piloting ships for them ever since. It’s a fair distance from where I started, growing up in a small village near Nerekhta, an ancient Russian town in the Kostroma region.
Did growing up there impact how you see the Arctic or Antarctica?
It gave me a definite preference for the Arctic. I’m most attracted to the Arctic during the Northern Hemisphere summer. There are many reasons for this, but mainly it’s because the Arctic feels like home for me. It’s close to my heart, all the green and blossoming tundra, the quiet of the sea, the light, everything about it.
Any aspect of the ship you particularly like?
I like it all.
Not many people can say that about their office.
I know. For someone who doesn’t gamble, I sure am lucky.