Antarctic Quest 21 expedition team evacuated by Swan Hellenic | Polarjournal
The eight participants of Antarctic Quest 21 undertook the expedition also in commemoration of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who undertook his last expedition 100 years ago and died on South Georgia. Photo: Antarctic Quest 21

When the eight-member team of the Antarctic Quest 21 expedition set out from Portal Point to cross the Antarctic Peninsula, they had no idea how the endeavor would turn out. With the numerous Covid rules and restrictions already sufficiently complicating the start of the expedition, participants hoped for a smooth course and a trouble-free return. But things turned out differently. Quite apart from the bad weather during the expedition, Covid again flexed its muscles. The emerged omicron variant led to new restrictions in Argentina, making it impossible for expedition tour operator Polar Latitudes, which had brought the team to the Antarctic Peninsula in mid-December 2021, to pick up the expedition members again in late January 2022. Fortunately, the SH Minerva of Swan Hellenic, also an expedition tour provider, was traveling in the region and had capacity to pick up the scientists and adventurers and bring them back to Argentina.

One hundred years after Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Quest Expedition, his last, the team led by Paul Hart sees the Antarctic Quest 21 Expedition as an anniversary expedition commemorating the legendary explorer and expedition leader. The goal of Antarctic Quest 21 was to cross the Antarctic Peninsula from west to east through untrodden territory, collecting scientific samples for various working groups in the UK, the Netherlands and the USA, as well as involving schools in the expedition.

Immediately after arriving at Portal Point, the team began building a windbreak for the camp out of snow blocks. Photo: Antarctic Quest 21

On December 14, 2021, Polar Latitudes’ SeaVenture dropped off the eight expedition members at Portal Point, who would be on their own for the next few weeks. From the beginning, the team had to deal with extremely bad weather, braving whiteouts and wind speeds of up to 80 knots. Only on a few days should the conditions be good enough to move on east along with the camp. Nevertheless, the participants, some of whom have a scientific and/or military background, but definitely have a lot of experience in polar and alpine regions, collected data on snow accumulation and meteorological parameters as well as snow samples for microplastic and metal analysis whenever possible.

On January 5, 2022, the eight adventurers of course did not miss the opportunity to commemorate Sir Ernest Shackleton on the 100th anniversary of his death. The team held a memorial service in honor of the “great leader of the heroic age,” which was broadcast live to an international audience.

Two days earlier, they received the news that their partner, Polar Latitudes, may not be able to pick them up at Portal Point on January 27, 2022, as planned, due to new Covid regulations in Argentina. At the same time, the team was not making good progress due to the bad weather and now had to decide when was the right time to turn back.

“By the 8 January 2022, we were left with a stark decision; push forward and risk no pick up, or continue to scout the route until we knew what Polar Latitudes would do. It was at this point that news arrived from Polar Latitudes indicating that they would not be able to run their planned journey to recover us. We immediately began to make the fastest possible return to Portal Point whilst Polar Latitudes made a request to all other available operators to assist us. This journey was hampered by two further days of bad weather, where we could not move, but by 14th January we had recovered the full team and all equipment back to Portal Point where we awaited news,” says expedition leader Paul Hart, describing the situation.

Swan Hellenic, provider of cultural expedition tours, was still in the region with its ship SH Minerva and agreed to provide assistance and pick up the expedition team. The new five-star expedition ship, which was on only its second voyage, picked up the eight adventurers safely in Charlotte Bay near Portal Point on January 16, 2022.

The overjoyed expedition team after their evacuation on SH Minerva. Photo: Swan Hellenic

“We have to say the warmth and hospitality of everyone on SH Minerva was simply outstanding and we were treated with such kindness, it is hard to find words to express our gratitude for all that was done for us”, Hart says.

“The crew and guests on SH Minerva were delighted we could be of assistance in these challenging conditions and help the explorers safely complete their mission. The team were very generous in sharing their experiences, bringing a richly stimulating additional perspective to the voyage. Swan Hellenic is committed to assisting and building links with the research community, so this was a very fitting early episode for the first ship in our fleet”, commented Swan Hellenic CEO Andrea Zito.

Swan Hellenic’s SH Minerva brought the expedition members safely back to Ushuaia, from where they began their journey home. Photo: Swan Hellenic

In the meantime, all team members have returned home and the collected scientific data and samples are on their way to the various working groups that will perform the analyses.

Julia Hager, PolarJournal

Link to the Antarctic Quest 21 Expedition:

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