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Exclusive Q&A with Robin West

An exclusive interview with Robin West, Vice President, Expedition Operations & Planning at Seabourn

Seabourn Encore

Posted on

10 Nov 2020

Hi Robin! Are you able to tell us a bit about your unique position as Vice President, Expedition Operations & Planning for Seabourn?

In this role, I am responsible for the planning and execution of our Antarctica programme on board Seabourn Quest and our Ventures by Seabourn® programme on the rest of our fleet in the selected destinations they visit. In addition, I have been intricately involved in designing our new expedition ships, the operational design and the expedition product they will deliver. The new expedition ships are purpose-built PC6 ice-strengthened, ultra-luxury vessels that will allow our guests' extraordinary experiences in remote locations.

You have participated in expedition travel for a lot of your life. Can you tell us about some of your personal highlights?

After having worked on expedition ships for some years, the first expedition I led was back in 2005, on a small 100 passenger expedition vessel that sailed between Darwin and Broome, known as the Kimberley. The Kimberley has been described as “Antarctica without ice.” It is an incredible expedition destination offering super-diversity.

Most of my highlights are highlights for different reasons. For instance, landing at Point Wild on Elephant Island, which is part of the South Shetland Islands at the Northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Elephant Island is isolated, wind-swept and the site of the Endurance Expedition, during which Ernest Shackleton left 22 men behind at Point Wild, not knowing if he would make it back in time. He embarked on the greatest open-boat journey in history, 800 miles, to arrive at South Georgia some 16 days later. Four and a half months later, Shackleton returned to rescue all his men who had set out on the original expedition. This is one of the great polar stories. To have sea, weather and ice conditions on your side is a rarity at Elephant Island and in all my visits, only once was it calm enough to land and go ashore. To be able to stand on the same beach as the likes of Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean and Frank Wild, was an absolute privilege and highlight.

One highlight in a more tropical area is snorkelling in Johnny’s passage at Aldabra, Seychelles. Aldabra is the world’s second-largest coral atoll. It is situated in the Aldabra group in the Indian Ocean that are part of the outer islands of Seychelles. Drift snorkelling with the change of the tide is truly spectacular, the underwater wildlife has to be seen to be believed in Aldabra. Sir David Attenborough called it, “one of the wonders of the world.”

Expedition cruising meets ultra-luxury’ is a part of Seabourn’s ethos, what are your experiences of this?

In 2013, Seabourn Quest brought our guests to Antarctica for the very first time. Our inaugural season produced the highest ratings in Seabourn’s history. This is when we realised that ultra-luxury and expedition was a successful “marriage.” We then developed a programme called Ventures by Seabourn® which replicates the same concept on other Seabourn ships, to other destinations and again the guest feedback and response was overwhelming. We have seen it time and time again that Seabourn’s ultra-luxury experience and expedition are a successful combination. Our new expedition ships will build on this success, with even greater focus and destination experiences.

Ventures by Seabourn® encourages guests to engage with destinations in a more interactive, experiential and participatory way - what sort of things can guests look forward to on board?

With Seabourn Venture being a smaller ship with an ice-strengthened hull, we have the opportunity to go to remote off the beaten track destinations where we can offer a much more up-close experience. We offer Zodiac® tours, kayak experiences and guided hikes and we go beyond that by offering submarine dives, scuba diving and snorkelling to show guests the underwater world of the areas as well. The outdoor experiences in combination with our World Class expedition team, who will be with the guests every step of the way to interact and share their knowledge, make an expedition cruise an adventure of a lifetime.

To give a few examples: guests can join a Zodiac® cruise at Hubbard Glacier in Alaska and get close to wildlife, the ice, the glacial face, watch and listen to the sound of calvings and learn all about glacial ice and glaciers. A kayak experience at Inian Island, Alaska, at Cross Sound, the main passage for migrating humpback whales to enter the sheltered waters of South East Alaska. On the last kayak trip I joined, we only paddled about 800m in two hours. We spent 90 minutes watching a humpback whale lunge feed about 150 metres away from the kayaks. This along with otters, bald eagles and Steller sea lions makes Inian Island a phenomenal kayak experience.

We offer a sunset hike at Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island, Australia, where we watch thousands of shearwaters return to their nests at sunset.

Seabourn Conversations allow guests to meet with accomplished experts and gain an in-depth understanding of the history, ecology and culture of the places they visit. What do you hope guests will gain from Seabourn Conversations?

Seabourn Conversations is a way to engage and share knowledge with the guests about the places and destinations we will visit. In an informal setting, it allows our guests to engage with expedition staff on a variety of levels. Aside from presentations on natural history, we have open discussions and debates on climate change, we have photography focused workshops and on the expedition ships, an electronic microscope will engage guests on a whole new level as we expose the microscopic world, what’s in a drop of water, taking a closer look at phytoplankton etc.

Guests can join optional Ventures by Seaborun® excursions on inflatable Zodiacs®, double sea kayaks and two submarines. Why do you think guests should take advantage of these activities?

On the expedition ships, we do not have Ventures by Seabourn® - it’s only on the regular Seabourn ships. On the expedition ships, all Zodiac® operations (tours, landings and hiking) are inclusive. The kayaks and submarines will be optional and for a charge.

The more opportunities you create to be amongst the wildlife, the greater your experience will be and the richer your overall understanding will be. The Zodiacs, kayaks and submarines will allow for this opportunity.

Immersive excursions, up-close encounters and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are the pinnacles of the Seabourn expedition experience. Do you have any favourite moments from a Ventures by Seabourn® excursion?

Again, I have many fond moments from our expeditions. One of them was during a Zodiac® tour at Ilulissat, Greenland. This is one of the best Zodiac® tours in the world. Jakobshavn glacier is one of the fastest moving glaciers in the northern hemisphere and as such calves of ice the size of buildings, which slowly drift out into Disko Bay. A Zodiac® tour amongst all this ice is something very special.

Seabourn Venture is the new custom-build expedition ship joining the fleet in December 2021. As well as two submarines, what else can guests look forward to on board?

Seabourn Venture is a purpose-built expedition ship with a PC6 ice-strengthened hull. Azipod propulsion gives her the greatest control in heavy ice conditions. A world-class Expedition Team of 26 experienced academics, scientists and general naturalists will engage our Seabourn guests in every aspect of their journey and experience. 24 Zodiacs, 8 double kayaks, scuba gear, snorkel equipment, 10 e- and mountain bikes. An outdoor apparel partnership with Helly Hansen ensures the best possible complementary parkas, puffa jackets and waterproof bags for polar operations. Swarovski® binoculars in each suite for guests to use during the voyage, coupled with precision, deck-mounted scopes for enhanced viewing. Nearly 30,000 square feet of open decks for unobstructed viewing during scenic cruising and wildlife encounters. All veranda, all ocean-front suites luxuriously appointed, including a heated drying closet for the outdoor gear and a personal suite stewardess to ensure everything is as you wish. A casually elegant, luxury-rich environment for an engaging on board social life, supporting the unique camaraderie born of sharing stimulating adventure. Eight dining experiences offering fresh, delicious and memorable cuisine equal to the finest restaurants anywhere, even as we sail in the most remote destinations. Multiple enhanced environmental equipment, procedures and guidelines for operating in environmentally sensitive areas.

For those who haven’t been on an expedition voyage before, do you have any tips for getting the most out of the experience?

Come with an open mind, a sense of adventure and take every opportunity the expedition team offers, whether that is at 5 in the morning or 9 at night. You never know what you may encounter. Buy the right gear, the last thing you want is to be cold in the Polar Regions and having to go inside during a wildlife encounter. The right gear will allow you to spend more time on the outer decks, which in turn will allow you more wildlife opportunities.

Lastly, what do you see for the future of Seabourn Expeditions?

I see a programme that is 100% destination-focused, that brings our guests back again and again. Based on the remoteness and sensitivity of the places we visit, I would like us to be known for having the highest responsibility for compliance, protecting the environment and the health, safety and wellbeing of our guests and the communities we visit. I want Seabourn Expeditions to be regarded as the best when it comes to delivering a true ultra-luxury expedition experience.

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