Cape Race – mare’s platform in the Arctic Ocean | Polarjournal
The MS Cape Race is no longer a fishing boat these days, but shows to a maximum of 12 guests on board the beauties of the far north, from Scotland to the Arctic Ocean. For this purpose, the ship was rebuilt with a lot of love and care and made “polar fit”. Image: mareverlag

Anyone interested in the subject of “seas and oceans” in the German-speaking world can hardly avoid mareverlag. For decades, the publishing house has been a guarantor for exciting facts worth knowing about the salty waters of the earth. In addition to the magazine “mare”, the company’s own TV and radio programmes, a book publishing house and other journalistic media ensure that young and old alike learn about the marine worlds. But what many people don’t know: The publishing house also operates its own ship, with which the water worlds of the north can be experienced up close.

Mareverlag boss and ship owner Nikolaus Gelpke is proud of his gem, a small pretty ship. The ship, which is just 38 metres long, has been owned by mareverlag since the end of 2017 and was refitted and extended with great attention to detail in Iceland until last year. The main goal was to capture the charm and history of historic polar exploration and pass it on to the guests. “The Cape Race shines in a special combination: on the one hand, after two and a half years of complete refurbishment, she meets the complete latest safety and environmental standards; on the other hand, we have taken great care to preserve the charm of tramp shipping in countless details. We are safe and classically old-fashioned at the same time,” Nikolaus Gelpke tells PolarJournal.

The saloon of the Cape Race is very comfortable and with its retro charm it takes the guest back to the time when polar expeditions were real adventures. Nevertheless, safety is a top priority on board the ship. A click on the picture takes you on a tour of the ship. Image: mareverlag

“We are safe and classically old-fashioned at the same time”.

Nikolaus Gelpke, owner Cape Race and owner mareverlag

This statement by Nikolaus Gelpke can be signed immediately when walking through the ship. One imagines oneself rather on Nansen’s Fram or on Charcot’s Pourquoi pasthan on an old former fishing boat. Many details such as a fully functional piano (used before the invention of streaming services), black and white photos from the time of the great polar explorers and of course books about the nature, history and cultures of the North adorn the ship. And what many people don’t know: even back then, the ships offered a certain level of comfort. For example, a sauna where you can warm up after the long hours outside. Modern technology wasn’t built into things like 4K UHD TVs or ultra-modern laptops, but into practicalities like underwater cameras and hydrophones, photo microscopes and plankton catchers. Because that’s what it is all about when traveling on the Cape Race and with mareverlag: getting up close and personal with the marine worlds and the environment. Because the aim of a mare expedition trip is not only to show and explain the puffins, the walrus, the humpback whale or the polar bear to every interested guest, but to show the whole interrelationship and interaction of the marine worlds with the animals and plants. “We are working together with the University of Kiel and want to be able to offer guests, both young and old, insights into the fascinating and at the same time endangered ecology of the Arctic on the basis of our publication “World Ocean Reviews”, which presents marine scientific correlations”, Nikolaus Gelpke explains further.

Cruises aboard the Cape Race should not only be entertainment, but also provide knowledge about the diversity of the Arctic Ocean. Instead of using TV and laptop, the expedition team brings oceanic life closer to the guests live, often even together with them. Image: Paolo Verzone

In addition to the environment and the transfer of knowledge, the people, i.e. guests, crew and the population of the places visited, are at the centre of the considerations for Nikolaus Gelpke’s expeditions. “In my opinion, small ships with few passengers offer more for the guests in every respect. We are much more likely to be able to cater to their wishes and preferences. Besides, as a small ship, you can also be more considerate of the population and nature. And finally, on the Cape Race we employ exclusively seamen according to all requirements of the professional association “Verkehr” and the miners’ guild “Bahn-See” and also pay taxes exclusively in Germany. Low wages and savings on social security and pension contributions are just as impossible with us as the careless handling with nature”, states Nikolaus Gelpke seriously. Similar words can also be heard from the ranks of shipping companies that operate larger ships. But the fact that besides the maximum of 12 guests there are only 7 crew members and 1 or 2 guides on board speaks for the fact that it is more like a big family on board. Speaking of which, one cabin is being considered for families. And what child wouldn’t want to sleep in a real ship’s bunk like the sailors of old.

One of the cabins aims towards families. The children can sleep in bunks like the polar explorers from the heroic age of polar history. Enough space is provided nevertheless. Image: mareverlag

Topics such as the protection of the Arctic environment, sustainability and climate change are always topical in the mare magazines and the publishing house tries to operate as sustainably and environmentally friendly as possible in all areas. These considerations also play an important role in the Cape Race and the expeditions. “We run on the extremely environmentally friendly GTL Fuel, which is more expensive than standard automotive diesel, but has no sulphur emissions at all, no aromatic compounds, produces less nitrogen oxides and is easily biodegradable,” says Nikolaus Gelpke.

“Our measures of sustainability even go beyond the AECO requirements in some respects”

Nikolaus Gelpke, owner Cape Race and owner mareverlag

The graduate marine biologist is also concerned that the oceans are not polluted by the ship. “The cleaning and cosmetic products available to guests free of charge are from OceanWell, a thoroughly ecological manufacturer. In addition, a comprehensive wastewater treatment plant has been installed so that not a drop of wastewater, or rinse water, enters the sea untreated.” Nikolaus Gelpke also goes to the limit when it comes to the topic of plastic and waste. “A trash compactor, or even avoiding plastic on board as much as possible, leads us to collect trash in a concentrated and separate way and dispose of it appropriately on land,” he says. He also receives support in this regard from Birgit Lutz, who works on board as expedition leader. She is a proven specialist who also gives regular lectures on the subject of plastic and waste in the Arctic. As the Cape Race is also newly initially a provisional AECO member (Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators), all of the association’s guidelines are adhered to. “Our sustainability measures even go beyond the AECO requirements in some respects,” Gelpke says proudly.

The Cape Race was built in 1963 as a fishing boat in Canada and kept its name through the years. Later in its colorful history, the ship functioned as a scallop trawler, research and expedition vessel. It even served as a base camp for New York authorities after Hurricane Sandy. From 2014, after the first conversions, passengers were taken to the far north. Image: mareverlag

In order for the ship to be allowed to sail in the Arctic regions as an AECO member at all, however, some adjustments were necessary. This is because the Cape Race was not originally built for the high Arctic regions. Its eventful history began in 1963 in Canada, where the ship had been built as a fishing cutter under the same name. She was the first trawler built entirely of steel and was sent fishing in the stormy waters of the Northwest Atlantic for 14 years. From 1977 until 2003, the vessel then served as a scallop trawler, and was removed from the Canadian Fisheries Service registry in 2005. At that time, the story of the Cape Race nearly came to an end had it not been purchased by a visionary man. Milos Simovic bought the ship and had it converted to charter it out for research expeditions. Orders for NASA and other organizations brought the ship frequently to Northwest and East Greenland. Time and again, however, the ship ended up in New York, where it then served as an emergency base for authorities in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy had devastated the city.

“It was love at first sight”

Nikolaus Gelpke, owner Cape Race and owner mareverlag

Two years later, it began its career as an expedition cruise ship, first under a company that has since disappeared. Then in December 2017, Nikolas Gelpke bought the Cape Race and had her completely overhauled in Reykjavik for two years. “It was love at first sight,” Nikolaus Gelpke recalls. This is exactly the feeling that guests on board are expected to experience when they travel on the Cape Race, whether it’s along the coasts of Scotland, under the auroras of northern Norway or along the mighty flanks of a glacier in Svalbard. No one can escape the charm of a small, pretty ship.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

Link to the Cape Race website: Here.

Information about the expedition trips: Here.

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