From Scottish ski guardian to Guardian of South Georgia | Polarjournal
Former arts teacher, ski patrol and Polar guide Bill Smith has been working in Polar regions for years as a guide, trainer, safety expert and artist. His trademark are yellow wellies and expedition cartoons which are very popular among guests and staff. Image: courtesy of Bill Smith

South Georgia captivates not only visitors or researchers. The “Pearl of the Southern Ocean”, as some call it, also fascinates Polar guides to such an extent that some even prefer it over Antarctica, the ultimate goal of Antarctic voyages. The magic of the island has such a strong impact that people dedicate a lot of energy to its protection by promoting and helping to raise funds for environmental protection projects. One such guide is Bill Smith, who managed to secure so much money with fundraising that he now has been awarded Honorary Lifetime Guardian of South Georgia.

The award presented to Bill Smith by the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) is given in recognition to his almost tireless effort to secure fundings for environmental projects such as the “Rat Eradication Program” on South Georgia or “Save the Albatross” program during expedition voyages to the Antarctic. The money was mostly raised by auctions on board of expedition vessels where Bill has worked as a Polar guide. At these auctions, various goods and trinkets are offered to passengers for sale. All money raised during such auctions go a previously announced project connected with the Antarctic. Bill had contributed specially drawn South Georgia and Antarctica cartoons with such a success that his employer, Dutch expedition tour operator Oceanwide Expeditions had notified the South Georgia Heritage Trust and recommended him for the award.

In an e-mail to PolarJournal, Bill Smith states: “I returned from the west coast of Scotland and found a letter from SGHT awarding me with the title of “Honorary Lifetime Guardian of South Georgia”. A huge surprise and I’m delighted to be honoured and recognized for my efforts.” The former arts teacher uses his artistic skills and his sense of humour to produce voyage-specific cartoons when working as a Polar guide. Each cartoon is unique and highlights certain aspects of a voyage or a personal experience of the people on board the expedition vessel. “I produce and post on the ship daily fun drawings. They are a highlight for passengers (and staff) and are much appreciated”, says Bill proudly. The images are in such a big demand and passengers, fascinated by the island, are so eager that they readily pay several hundred to several thousand Euros at the auctions. “During a voyage in December on board of the Dutch expedition vessel Hondius, two specially drawn cartoons fetched more than 2’100 and 1’900 Euros respectively”, remembers Bill. “The first time I did this, I did an intricate cartoon which was sold for 700 Euros.” Several times, he also has been asked to produce a book with his cartoons.

Bill Smith, who is a Scotsman to the bone, is not only an artist, but also safety expert on several marine activities such as canoeing, sailing and Powerboating. In between Polar tourism season, he also works as a ski patroller and First Aid expert in Scottish ski resort Glenshee Mountains. Image: Courtesy of Bill Smith

Bill Smith used to work as an Arts teacher and head of Arts and Design Faculty at Ellon Academy, a Scottish secondary comprehensive school. But he never was a simple Arts teacher. The now 77-year-old Scotsman always had a knack for Adventure Education. After retiring from school service, he turned to snow- and ice-related activities and now works as a ski patroller and First Aid trainer during winter seasons in Scotland, the UK and the Alps. “After my school services, I could either sit down and watch my hair grow or use my energy for other purposes.” About 12 years ago, Bill turned his power to the Polar regions and worked as a Polar guide and guide trainer / safety expert for a Dutch expedition cruise operator. This allowed him to travel to the most remote corners of the world. “It’s the most fantastic job in the world”, says Bill. “Where else can you work in such magnificent surroundings in teams of guides who are experts in their various disciplines and meet and socialize with such a diverse group of passengers. I simply love this aspect of the job.”

“One minute the serious strict guide, the next making people smile.”

Bill Smith, Award winner

While off the vessels, Bill also runs a cottage and guesthouse at Clachtoll, a small fishing and crofting village in the North of Scotland, presides over the Lochinver Highland Games Committee, and is an instructor for Powerboats, Sailing, Windsurfing and Canoeing. He also is a member of the International Federation of Ski Patrollers and of the British Association of Ski Patrollers First Aid Trainers. He describes himself as a “bald, blue-eyed, patriotic but not fanatical, tartan-clad, hairy-chested, yellow wellie and kilt wearing, energized, fun loving Scotsman.” And this is also, where his main focus as a Polar guide lies: “I want the people on board of an expedition voyage to have fun. People need to be aware of the joys of living by being in the moment. I’m often tartan clad and enjoy playing the zany Scotsman role… one minute the serious strict guide, the next making people smile.”

Dr. Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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