Questions for the captain
It takes a village to run a polar cruise.
The guides show us the terrain, the serving staff keeps us fed, and the passengers make sure the bartender has never a lonely moment. Yet among all this fine-tuned circuitry, the captain plays the most important part, navigating us through the often-treacherous conditions of the polar regions. Without the captain, we wouldn’t be going anywhere.
At least anywhere good.
Yet indispensable as they are, captains are seldom-seen presences on board. To dispel some of this mystery, we asked Captain Alexey Nazarov a few questions about his work, what got him into it, and what he does after taking off his captain’s hat.
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 board are always the same: The previous captain signs off, handing the duties of the vessel over to me. This involves learning the condition of the ship inside and out, ensuring all the safety equipment is working, making necessary log entries, a lot of things.
Then 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 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 if I think they’ll be interested, but sometimes I put my photos on Facebook.
Maybe when I’m older, I’ll 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.