The Hans Hansson is an 87 ft (26.5 m) former Norwegian Lifeboat Association rescue boat which has been renovated as a 12-passenger expedition vessel for use in the Antarctic region. I found the choice of vessel in these waters is crucial not only for safety but for the total overall expeditionary experience it will engender.
Introductions, Dinner & Safety Briefings:
At the dock in Stanley, we were warmly welcomed aboard by our hosts, the skipper, Dion Poncet, and his first mate, Juliette Hennequin. Cabins were assigned and the entire group of 16 gathered in the dining area for a sobering safety briefing which included distribution of our neoprene emergency immersion suits, instructions on various ways to evacuate the vessel, if needed, and, fortunately the only one implemented, how to securely fasten yourself into your bunk at night with a wooden plank.
“In an emergency, put on several layers of your warmest clothes before donning your immersion suit.”
We kept the suits in our cabins. I pre-stuffed a fleece hoodie and hat into mine (along with a stash of peanut m&m’s) so that I could grab the suit on my way to the muster station near the covered life rafts housed in large white tanks on the outside deck. It was made clear that rescue, if needed, could be days away by ship.
In the meantime, still tied to the dock in Stanley, we enjoyed what would be a rare, stationary dinner as the room hummed with the energy created by new friends, the promise of adventure and the anticipation of the unknown. The weather forecast was read aloud by the skipper and he set the time of our departure for midnight.
After dinner on our first night aboard, phone calls were made to those back home and emails sent for there would be no television, cellular service, or internet for the next 30 days. We would be ‘off the grid’ with the exception of a satellite phone. As it turned out, we would see only 3 other boats and a handful of ‘outsiders’ (in Grytviken and Bird Island) in a month’s time.
The first 4 days of the voyage would be on open sea, taking us from the rough South Atlantic Ocean across the Antarctic Convergence into the notoriously bumpy Southern Ocean to finally reach South Georgia. There is no airport on the island, no way to cheat the sea journey. Armed with Scopolamine patches and noise cancelation headphones, I was ready to tackle my lingering concerns about sea sickness and confined company.
“If you can’t identify the most annoying person of the group in the first 12 hours, then it’s probably you.”
It must have been me because the group was comprised of kind and interesting individuals from several countries, all who had previously visited South Georgia and were heeding the beacon to return. We gathered for meals at two, almost adjacent tables of 8 sharing the meal in family-style and taking turns to set the table or wash the dishes, fostering a relaxed and cozy atmosphere.
Already tucked in my bunk on that first night, I heard the engine come to life, the clink of chain against metal, and the boat leaving the dock. A few minutes later we were all being rocked (not so gently) to sleep by the South Atlantic Ocean and I was already relying on that wooden plank to hold me in place. No turning back now - onward to South Georgia!