Surprise visits, supreme compliments
It’s hard not to be flattered when our former passengers speak highly of our voyages, vessels, and staff. But it’s altogether impossible when they travel far from home to visit one of our ships, especially one that’s still under construction! Naturally, Swiss aviation workers Samuel Gantenbein and his girlfriend Valérie didn’t fly all the way to Croatia just to wish our new ship luck, but the fact that it was on their agenda at all pleases us greatly – and is, in our opinion, call for a cozy chat.
Let’s start at the beginning: Where did you first sail with us?
My girlfriend Valérie and I sailed on Plancius on the Polar Bear Special in June of 2017. It was our first Arctic cruise, our first time on an expedition ship, and definitely an amazing and lasting experience. It was already exciting to land in Longyearbyen, as the place has such an adventurous air about it.
Can we assume you had a nice trip?
You certainly can. The cruise itself started off with more than we could possibly hope for: excellent weather on departure day, several polar bear encounters the first morning, and spectacular whale sightings until way past midnight. Even the most experienced guides and the captain were excited about these encounters. We were so excited, it was hard to sleep at night.
Any highlights? (Other than the prompt polar bear sightings.)
During the rest of the trip, we were treated with many other exciting and interesting sights and experiences, thanks to the excellent crew. As the ice was much further southwest than is normally the case in this season, the original route was not possible. But both the captain as well as the guide team proved their experience in the region and came up with great alternative plans for each day.
And now, the million-dollar question: What prompted you to visit our burgeoning vessel-to-be?
We had planned a trip to Croatia, as we’d heard so many good things from friends who had already been there. Since we’re not the kind of people to just go to one place or hotel and spend the entire holiday there, we toured the country by car for ten days. Among our other destinations, we had plans to spend two nights in Split.
And you already knew Hondius was being built there?
We follow Oceanwide's blog and newsletters closely, so we were well aware about the new ship. We knew where she was being built and what the timeline was for her entry into service.
Now we’re even more complimented! (This being the blog department, after all.)
Well, both of us work in the aviation and transportation industry, so we’re very interested in ship building, ship operation, and how this compares to aviation. Because our Svalbard trip left such lasting memories with us, we were always talking about going on another polar cruise at some point. So when given the opportunity, we were keen to see in person what Oceanwide had in mind for their new ship.
How much did you know about Brodosplit at the time?
At first we didn’t really consider a visit to Brodosplit, since we thought this might not be possible given their security measures. Nevertheless, the thought remained in our heads, and when we studied the Brodosplit website, it was clearly stated that they would do tours for interested parties.
They’ve always been very generous during our visits.
We had the same experience. We got in touch with Josip Jurišić of Brodosplit’s Public Relations Department and were completely surprised when he offered us a private tour throughout the facility, just for my girlfriend and I. We immediately accepted and agreed on a time.
What was it like seeing the ship and shipyard?
It was very exciting to see both. Josip took the time to go through the whole process with us, starting with cleaning the original steel sheets to how the different modules of Hondius were welded together to actually walking through another ship that was being outfitted. We learned a lot about the processes, about Brodosplit’s history, and about the different projects they are currently working on.
Did your aviation background help you understand all this?
We already knew that shipyards nowadays build their ships in a modular way, then weld the different modules together, but actually seeing how this is done in practice was very interesting. We found it especially fascinating that these modules, which are rather large and built from rough materials, match completely when put together. Very precise work.
What surprised us was the fact that Brodosplit also does the complete outfitting of the interior, including manufacturing the furniture of Hondius. We were expecting them to outsource these tasks and only do the final assembly, but Brodosplit does everything from start to finish. We had a lot of respect for that, because this undoubtedly requires a broad field of expertise.
How do you think Hondius will stack up against our other vessels?
We think Hondius will clearly be the flagship of the fleet, not only because she’s the newest and largest vessel, but also because of her more luxurious interior. Also, she’s been designed from the ground up as a modern Polar Class 6 expedition vessel based on Oceanwide’s many years of experience.
Any questions for us now that you’ve seen her?
We do wonder if her size will impact the experience. She’s a little larger than the other vessels, which only take about 100 passengers, and that intimate experience is valuable. It’s what sets Oceanwide apart from the competitors. The questions is, will this be different on Hondius?
Different perhaps, but by no means lost.
That’s good to hear. It was one of the things we liked most about our voyage.
What drew you to the polar regions in the first place?
We both love the wilderness and traveling to remote places. The Arctic and Antarctica have been at the top of our bucket list for years, and we have seen many documentaries about both polar regions. Finally, we decided to just go ahead and book a trip. The ultimate goal has always been and still is Antarctica, but we wanted to take this step by step and do an expedition in the Arctic first.
We find it’s often the wildlife that determines Arctic versus Antarctica.
It was for us, too. Our trips often focus on animal encounters, so a major goal was to see polar bears this time around. But we were also very impressed by the beautiful Arctic landscapes, the ice, and the vulnerability of human beings in such an unforgiving climate.
We’re incredibly complimented by your visit and hope to see you again soon. Maybe on Hondius?
You can be assured we’re seriously considering it for winter 2020. There wasn’t one specific thing that made our past trip with Oceanwide unique, it was the entire package. That’s something we wouldn’t mind repeating.