Antarctica Cruises and The Lindblad Cove

In 1996, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names honored Lars-Eric Lindblad with a place name in Antarctica. Their letter stated that, “A noted conservationist, Mr. Lindblad operated the first cruise to Antarctica in 1966 and was a leader in the concept of expedition tourism as a means of environmental awareness. Lindblad Cove (63º 51′ S, 59º 27′ W) is located near the head of Charcot Bay on the Trinity Peninsula, between Almond Point and Auster Point. Lindblad Cove is a fitting tribute to Lars-Eric, because this beautiful site is surrounded by spectacular mountains and three immense glaciers that produce lots of ice bergs. It is usually ice-filled and often contains large krill swarms that attract many species of marine mammals and sea birds.   We have enjoyed numerous experiences with leopard seals and Weddell seals, emperor penguins and Adélie penguins, as well as the beautiful and magnificent ice formations. Lindblad Cove is, indeed, a very special place.

Today, Antarctica is certainly one of the ultimate tour destinations of the world. However, for more than 150 years after its discovery, Antarctica was too far, too remote, too extreme, too dangerous, and too expensive for all but the most stout-hearted explorers and adventurers...those people willing to risk everything for the tasks at hand and fortunate enough to have the financial backing of governments or wealthy organizations. Few simple travelers could dare venture into this domain. To go there meant outfitting an expedition, and necessitated making preparations for all kinds of contingencies. These contingencies occurred all too commonly, often with disastrous results. The human history of Antarctica contains some of the most exciting stories of endeavor and persistence imaginable, and includes many survival tales of people overcoming almost unimaginable odds. It is also wrought with many heart-wrenching tragedies. The reasons for people going there varied tremendously, such as the desire to conduct important exploration of an unknown land, promote the advancement of science, seek the thrill and personal recognition of new discoveries, profit from the exploitation of resources (e.g. Fur seal pelts and whale products), etc. But, whatever their reasons for going to Antarctica, these people were first and foremost adventurers at heart. It has taken the efforts of these many expeditions and fearless explorers to reduce much of the Antarctic mystery and danger.

The relative ease and safety of modern travel to Antarctica is a direct consequence of the dedication of these forerunners. A new breed of traveler came on the Antarctic scene in 1966. This was the real beginning of the age of tourism in Antarctica, and like so many other remote and exotic reaches of the globe, the first tourists went there with Lars Eric Lindblad. The late Mr. Lindblad founded the prestigious, world-famous Lindblad Travel Company in 1958, and has been called the Marco Polo of the 20th century. He was the ultimate traveler of our day and almost single-handedly originated a new type of tourism, now known as expedition travel. Those of us privileged to have known him and traveled with him have had our lives enriched tremendously. Lindblad’s lifelong dream of reaching Antarctica was finally realized in 1966, when he chartered the Lapataia, a converted Argentinian naval ship, to take a group of fellow enthusiasts to the Antarctic Peninsula. A year later, he also chartered the Chilean naval vessel Navarino to continue his passenger expeditions to the peninsular region. Lindblad soon realized these ships were inadequate for his needs, so he decided to have a vessel built to his specifications which would not only be capable of taking passengers to Antarctica, but could sail throughout all the world’s oceans. It had to be of moderate size, have a reinforced hull to withstand sea ice conditions, have a long cruising range, and be able to transport her passengers in both comfort and safety. The result was the famous Lindblad Explorer, a ship of some 2,500 tons, measuring 76 m (250 ft) in length. The emphasis aboard was on education and among other amenities she contained a dedicated lecture hall. The ship could carry 92 passengers along with about 60 crew members, naturalists, and lecturers. She had a cruising range of nearly 6,000 nautical miles, a top speed of about 14 knots, and a bow thruster with which she could turn around almost within her own length. Lindblad’s ingenious use of small, French-made inflatable boats called Zodiacs provided the means for his passengers to get ashore almost anywhere, under a multitude of conditions. The Lindblad Explorer set the standard for all expedition-styled passenger ships to follow. Her maiden voyage was in 1969, and the first expedition Antarctica cruise was in 1970.  After the ship was sold to another operator, tragically, the Lindblad Explorer sank in Antarctic waters in 2007, after her hull was ruptured when she struck an ice berg (all her crew and passengers were rescued).

Sven Olof Lindblad (Lars Eric’s son) founded an expedition travel company in 1979 called Special Expeditions, now called Lindblad Expeditions, and has continued the family tradition. He has developed a successful partnership with the prestigious National Geographic Society and together they have an underlying principle of inspiring people to care about the planet. Among the company’s fleet are two ice class expedition ships, which have both been used to operate Antarctic cruises…The National Geographic Explorer, flagship of the Lindblad-National Geographic fleet, is a purpose-built expedition ship launched in 2008, and the only newly-converted ship whose design is informed by 50 years of Lindblad’s polar experience, plus the collective 170 years of expedition experience the Lindblad-National Geographic alliance represents. National Geographic Orion, the most recent addition to the fleet, is also a purpose-built expedition ship, commissioned in 2004 and constructed to traverse the vast expanses of the Southern Ocean. Both are ice-class polar operating vessels, built to demanding technical specifications with DNV Ice 1A, ice-classed hulls. Both are beautiful ships as well with outside facing cabins, and equipped with state-of-the-art tools. Lindblad Expeditions, along with the National Geographic Society, strongly promotes environmental awareness and education on its voyages and operates expeditions all over the globe, including Antarctica travel. This style of operation has been very successful, and is known in the tourist industry as the ‘Lindblad Model’. In fact, any tour company that states it follows the Lindblad Model does not have to produce an Environmental Impact Assessment as required by the Protocol on Environmental Protection.

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