by Sally and Jérôme Poncet
Environmental Research and Assessment (2007), 160 pp.
Perhaps the last great wilderness, Antarctica is hardly a lost continent. Over 37,000 tourists headed south of 60 last year, most on cruise ships, but a hardy 344 bunked on chartered yachts. Though a charter trip in the Antarctic is more taxing than a dawdle through the Caribbean, the industry has been expanding since the 1970s.
With almost forty years in the Antarctic — as sailors, explorers, and researchers — Sally and Jérôme Poncet have first-hand experience of the increased yacht presence in the South. Concerned about environmental damage caused by small boats, the Poncets self-published the first edition of Southern Ocean Cruising in 1991, and the little manual soon became indispensable to penguin-seeking yachties. The second edition maintains the environmental focus, but couples it with a comprehensive explanation of Antarctic treaties and legislation, noting that “Antarctica has become a place with the most stringent environmental protection rules on earth.”
The bulk of the book consists of concise visitor guidelines to places of interest. Along the heavily travelled Antarctic peninsula, detailed topographical maps show landing areas, penguin colonies, and established walking routes. Hazards — “Be aware that glacier calving may produce dangerous waves,” “Landing may be impossible late in the season, if Antarctic fur seals are present in large numbers” — are noted with sublime understatement. Much of the slim volume’s advice (“Uncharted rocks are numerous . . . use of radar and depth-sounder with vigilance at all times will reduce the risk of error”) reminds skippers, crew members, and interested guests that at the bottom of the world, discretion is the better part of valour.
Southern Ocean Cruising is eminently practical: the laminated cover fends off spray, and the book fits neatly into wheelhouse shelves. Its no-nonsense tone and lack of sailing instructions, anchorage descriptions, or “handy hints on where to shop” may put off less-imaginative travellers, but that’s the point. There’s no need to romanticize the capricious Antarctic when the reality is so much more exciting.