A Day In The Life Of… a Polar Expedition Leader

5 May 2023
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A Day In The Life Of, Arctic, Hapag-Lloyd, Svalbard

We spoke to Expedition Leader for Hapag-Lloyd Cruises Arne Kertelhein. Since his childhood, Arne has been fascinated by the stories of brave explorers in the dark and cold polar regions. As a student, he started collecting old volumes of expedition reports and 20 years ago was a guest onboard a small vessel for the first time to Svalbard. After working in a museum, Arne started as a lecturer about polar history on various expedition vessels and icebreakers. And for the last 15 years works as an expedition leader, mainly for Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, leading expedition cruises to the polar regions.

Arne photographing near a glacier in Svalbard

How does a typical day start for you?

Normally I get up between 5.00 and 6:00 am, make myself a strong cup of tea and go to the bridge. The Chief Officer is on watch and we talk about the weather conditions – mainly about the wind and the ice.

We are usually approaching our planned landing site at this point, so we try to evaluate the conditions at the beach with the help of our binoculars. Than ist time for a quick slice of bread before changing into waterproof trousers and joining the scoutboat leaving for the shore.

Stunning conditions around an Arctic glacier

What advice would you give travellers coming to explore the polar regions?

Use every opportunity to go ashore as often and long as possible on an expedition cruise. No excuse because of the weather. Even on a foggy day you might observe a curious Arctic fox during a hike through the tundra, see some whales close to the shore or find the tooth of a narwhale at the end of the beach – these things just happen and cannot be planned. Even though it might look different from the ship – there is always something interesting to see ashore!

Beautiful Arctic tundra

What attracted you to work in this part of the world?

I have always been fascinated by the stories of the old explorers who came with their small wooden ships to these remote and unknown areas. And it was my desire to see some of those places, from their early black-and-white photographs, with my own eyes – and there are still some fjords and islands we haven´t been to yet.

Exploring the Arctic’s breathtaking landscape

Favourite thing about working as an Expedition Leader?

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises relies on our experience and gives us a great amount of freedom. When we enter a new fjord on a polar expedition cruise that we have never visited before, we check the shores with our binoculars and discuss on the bridge amongst the officers and experts what to see and where to go.

It’s Teamwork in true expedition spirit!

Biggest challenges you face in your role?

As an Expedition Leader, you are responsible for the safety of the landing. In Spitsbergen, and many other parts of the Arctic, we always have to think about the risk of polar bear encounters. So you have to instruct the bear guards and decide where to position them and where to walk with the expedition guests.

A polar bear checking out polar explorers from the ice

Favourite time of year/tip of when to go?

I like the early summer months in the Arctic when the small but colourful flowers of the tundra are in full blossom. But on an Arctic expedition cruise earlier in the season you’ll find more snow and ice, and in August/September the ice is gone but you can navigate in fjords and through channels that were closed before. We mostly stay for weeks and months up there! Every time of year is a perfect time.

The Arctic in bloom

Any funny stories to share from your time as an Expedition Leader?

We once did a landing on a frozen island in the north, using helicopters to get the people ashore. I stood fascinated at some old ruin and talked about the explorer Fridtjof Nansen. Suddenly a colleague came, took me to the side and whispered: “You have to go back to the ship. Immediately!“ I wondered what could have happened – was something wrong at home? I hurried to the helicopter, the pilot started the rotors and off we went. 5 minutes to the big ship at the iceberg. Thinking about what could be the reason? Something with the ice maybe? Change of plans and schedule? On the ship, a crewmember stood waiting: “Come to deck 5, expedition office, this way …“. Still I am wondering if there has been some accident? We rushed through the corridors, up and down some staircases and I was wondering who would inform me about what was going on. The Captain? The Cruise Director? I came into the office, many desks and some photocopy machines. And these two young guys who were sitting with their feet on the table, enjoying their coffee said: “Oh, great that you are here, we really have no clue how to translate Erbsensuppe for the menu…“.

Our thanks to Arne Kertelhein & Hapag-Lloyd Cruises for the interview and accompanying photos

Ready to start planning your incredible Arctic or Antarctica expedition cruise?

Simply complete our enquiry form to get in touch, or call our Polar Specialists on 020 3666 1033.

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