Pioneers in travel to Antarctica, Quark Expeditions employs hundreds of talented women and men to ensure every journey to the White Continent is as educational as it is eye-opening. From biologists and photographers to historians and ornithologists, talented team members here reveal what it’s like to cruise to the poles.
This article originally appeared in the Quark Expeditions Ultimate Guide to Antarctica ebook. Read it for FREE here.
Nationality? British, Canadian, Caymanian – I hold three passports …
What’s your role on the ship? I work as Expedition Coordinator and Historian on board.
How many months a year are you in Antarctica? It does depend a bit on the year but normally four-ish months a year.
What do you do for the rest of the year? Again as above, it does depend on the year After my first season I went straight to Cuba for six months until going south again (temperature change!) for a UNESCO internship there. I’ve also worked on other ships in Norway and Scotland (not Quark) and worked in classics outreach.
What were you doing before this career? I was at university. I had just graduated when I started with Quark. I had been at Oxford studying ancient and modern history.
Why did you choose to work with Quark? Quark promised adventure as opposed to neat, packaged holidays. It’s also a company that uses small ships, has a long history in the polar regions and has sustainability and education at its core.
How long have you been visiting Antarctica? Three years now.
Which expedition is your favourite? Am I allowed to say I’m torn? I absolutely love the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctic trips, as the sheer breadth of wildlife and landscapes is stunning – I also love the amount of history. But I do also adore the Crossing the Circle trips because they allow for such extended time on the Antarctic peninsula and you can really immerse yourself in the place.
Your craziest experience in Antarctica? One of my craziest Antarctic experiences would have to be, as naff as it sounds, taking my mum down with me last year and standing overlooking the king penguin colony at Fortuna Bay – having two totally different worlds collide. Or maybe the time we were surrounded by Minke whales for almost an hour…
Nationality? I’m Canadian – home is on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
What’s your role on the ship? It’s my sincere pleasure to be part of such a high-functioning expedition team (the diversity within the teams is great!). We all wear many hats, including driving Zodiacs. Most often, I have the responsibility (as part of our education program) to focus on marine biology (and terrestrial biology in the Arctic): fielding questions, delivering presentations to help teach about the ecology of the places we visit, and engaging with what naturally presents itself throughout each voyage.
One of my favourite parts of my role on board is investing lots of time on the outer decks and on the bridge scanning for and spotting wildlife with guests. I think time spent sea-watching on deck really builds unique memories and vivid, full-sensory impressions of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean – beyond what photographs alone will ever accomplish.
How many months a year are you in Antarctica? If I’m lucky, between four and five months of the year.
What do you do for the rest of the year? The rest of the year has a common denominator…
the ocean! A couple of months of the boreal summer I am commonly afloat with Quark somewhere in the Arctic (Russia-North Pole, Canadian Arctic, Greenland), or travelling. When I am home in Canada, I love guiding trips on the open Pacific coast (think whales, black bears, coastal temperate rainforest), paddling for pleasure, foraging to feast, and reconnecting with community, family and friends.
What were you doing before this career? Learning every day! I’ve been guiding professionally and operating boats or volunteering on the Pacific coast waters in several capacities for the last couple of decades. Working as part of the expedition team with Quark has provided a brilliant avenue to diversify my time on the water while chasing the sun to the southern hemisphere.
Why did you choose to work with Quark? Quark has a solid reputation within the guiding community as a positive organisation to work within. For me, there was appeal in the long-standing history Quark has exclusively in polar expedition travel, not to mention the diversity in itineraries north and south. Most of all, the guides I knew personally who worked with Quark always came alive when they spoke of their experiences with the company.
How long have you been visiting Antarctica? Every year since my first opportunity in 2013.
Which expedition is your favourite? Do I have to choose one!? Every so often Quark will build in itineraries that we’ve never accomplished before (think landing at the South Sandwich Islands or Eastern Antarctic Peninsula…), which I always feel honoured to be part of – that kind of genuine exploration in the spirit of expedition travel is special.
Honestly, ANY opportunity to spend time on South Georgia Island is an investment in experiencing raw, wild magic. South Georgia is intensely impressionable on several levels. The island is an evolving conservation success story, and from a marine biology perspective it presents fascinating opportunities throughout the entire season. The marine mammal viewing there is world class, among rich human history and jaw-dropping landscapes. Oh, and then there are the few hundred thousand penguins. You couldn’t make it up if you tried!
Your craziest experience in Antarctica? There are several that make up my ‘crazy’ list – think spy hopping blue whale calves, or any day that includes an ultra-lively Drake Passage crossing… But most recently I find myself recounting our deviation to witness one of the largest icebergs ever on record – the largest on Earth at the time: tabular iceberg A68A. The size of the iceberg alone, spanning several kilometres in each direction (ballpark dimensions are 137 kilometres x 42 kilometres), was jaw-dropping. It calved. It glowed. It stretched onward forever to the horizon. It was impossible to capture.
We witnessed a surreal volume of wildlife in the vicinity of the iceberg as it acted as a giant mobile seine underwater, influencing all in its path – concentrating food, illuminating the surrounding sea, and causing a detour for thousands of seabirds and hundreds of whales and seals. The volume of fin whales in the area, and the number of groups of killer whales we crossed paths with, was outstanding. Again, you couldn’t make it up if you tried!
What’s your role on the ship? My role on the ship is a member of a hard-working team that provides the coolest Antarctic expedition experience to our guests 24/7. Specifically, I am hired as both a sea kayak guide and also, part of the season, I work as a Quark Academy Trainer, to train new and old staff to make sure we are up to standards – the goal is to facilitate an atmosphere where we can all develop professionally.
How many months of the year are you in Antarctica? I am in Antarctica for almost five months of the year. I usually get an 18-day break or so, where I sometimes travel home to see family or will go somewhere warm in search of beautiful beaches – somewhere like Brazil, for example.
What do you do for the rest of the year? The rest of the year I live on Grand Manan Island, located in New Brunswick, Canada, where I’m an outdoor educator with Outward Bound Canada. I also help the local sea kayak company, working as a guide, and if I’m not doing that, I am working out in my garage gym or working on the yard and my vegetable garden.
What were you doing before this career? Before I began working for Quark I was progressing towards becoming a professional accountant. I have a BBA, concentrating in accounting, and began my CGA (Certified General Accountant) while working as a financial accountant.
Why did you choose to work with Quark? Working in Antarctica as a guide was only ever a dream. When I decided to take the risk of leaving the ‘cubicle’ world to become a sea kayak guide who could travel the world, I believe the universe took a chance on me. I applied all over the Atlantic Canadian provinces to work as sea kayak guide, when I finally received a call from a local company, who said we should talk. Long story short… little did I know at the time that this person calling me worked for Quark.
How long have you been visiting Antarctica? I am lucky to say that I have been visiting Antarctica for the past eight years.
Which expedition is your favourite? It’s really hard to answer this question. Each expedition truly has its own unique qualities. After all these years, I still get goosebumps on a daily basis. That being said, I think the expedition we offer that takes us to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic peninsula is really the supreme trip. It makes all team members a little giddy.
Your craziest experience in Antarctica? The weather in very unpredictable in southern regions. As guides, we have to be ready to be in ‘guide mode’ at all times, with a sharp mind and your head constantly on a swivel. I remember one time we got caught in quite severe katabatic winds, and I was tasked with driving a Zodiac to pick up a team of research scientists from their location on shore. A co-worker watched me from the bridge as I ventured the one nautical mile or so transit in 63-knot winds. Fortunately, all went well, but it was a calculated team effort to get everyone safely back on the ship. These exciting and unpredictable times are the reason why we train so in depth.
What’s your role on the ship? Expedition Leader, Quark Academy Trainer, Historian (not concurrently)
How many months a year are you in Antarctica? Between three and five
What do you do for the rest of the year? I also spend between two and four months in the Arctic and now, when I’m at home, I run an insect farm to produce sustainable protein and use that protein to make dog biscuits.
What were you doing before this career? I was a proud member of the Australian Defence Force.
Why did you choose to work with Quark? Based on my life-changing experience as a guest on a trip to Antarctica with Quark.
How long have you been visiting Antarctica? Eight years.
Which expedition is your favourite? Falklands, South Georgia and the Peninsula.
Your craziest experience in Antarctica? Wow. That’s a really tough question. Craziness can manifest in different ways. An experience so profound that it changes your life can be considered crazy. That happened in a more tranquil moment. A late-night sunset over the Antarctic mountains with such still conditions that I could hear whale blows and glacier calvings around me. That wasn’t a moment that made me shriek, but it had a crazy effect on the course of my life.
Another definition could be quite different – what experience was so unbelievable that re-telling it makes you sound insane? There’s been a few of those also. Yes, I realise how privileged that makes me sound. One of them was seeing a blue whale, first on the horizon, a blow so big that it could be nothing else. Then seeing it approach the ship, identifying the mottling in its colour and being mesmerised at the biggest mammal to ever live on our planet.
Another was being in a Zodiac and witnessing a glacier calving of such scale that it caused a sizeable wave that reached my guests and I in the Zodiac over a kilometre away. Despite the distance between us and the glacier, the sound was so intense and the thrill of the spectacle caused shrieks and squeals.
The really, insanely-crazy moments that stay with me, and that we talk about for years to come, often don’t involve wildlife. They are the moments that remind me that Antarctica demands humility. She is a force that is greater than the sum of her parts and she demands respect. These moments, when extreme weather changes our plans and challenges our comfort, are the ones that leave a great impact. They highlight the skill and experience of our team and the resilience of our guests who trust us with their safety. They bring us together, our team, our supportive and hardworking crew and our intrepid guests, and they force us to work together, to rely on one another and to appreciate the enormity of the wilderness we are lucky enough to visit.
Role: Marine Biologist
From: The outback of Australia
Time in the polar regions: Every polar season since 2002
Life before: Education in sciences and management. I also have my commercial skipper’s licence.
Passions: I continue to be amazed, and humbled, by the beauty of this remote area. I have a true passion for (and knowledge of) the incredible wildlife, history and ecology of the world’s farflung polar regions.
Edward (Ed) Webster
From: Raised in Lexington, Massachusetts, in the US
Past life: Degree in anthropology. My writing and photographs have appeared worldwide in dozens of publications, and I’ve also penned an autobiography.
Passions: I’m a veteran of seven Himalayan expeditions, and am an avid rock climber and mountaineer.
Fun fact: I’m one of only three mountaineers cited in Trivial Pursuit (the other two are Mount Everest’s first ascensionists, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay).
From: South Australia
Life when not at sea: I first visited Antarctica in 2006, and started working for Quark in 2012/13. Since then, I’ve spent four months of every year in the region. At other times, I work for Quark in the Arctic; I also spend two months of the year studying migratory shorebirds in China for the Global Flyway Network.
Passions: I’m keen on all wildlife, but my main passion is birds.
Craziest experiences: Visiting the Danger Islands and seeing a staggering amount of Adelie penguins: three million of them!
Role: Logistics Coordinator, Inuit Guide
From: Nunatsiavut, Labrador, in Canada
Past life: I grew up on the water practicing traditional Inuit ways, transferring those skills into a variety of work through cruise ships, or for Parks Canada at the Torngat Mountains Base Camp and Research Station. I’m also the former mayor of Makkovik!
Passions: I love my Inuit culture: hunting, fishing and spending time out on the land and water.
David (Woody) Wood
Role: Expedition Leader (extraordinaire)
Past life: I have a degree in political science and law, and previously worked in a paediatrics hospital.
Passions: I love the ocean and wild places at the extreme ends of the planet: landscapes, ice, wildlife and polar history. I spend as much time as possible on ships heading into the ice. There’s nothing better than being enchanted by polar regions.
From: London, UK
Time at sea: A decade
Past life: PhD in plant pathology. I then spent time working as a field guide for the British Antarctic Survey, on geology projects deep in the heart of Antarctica.
Passions: I’m a keen climber and ski mountaineer, and have led numerous expeditions to remote mountains in the greater ranges.
Fun fact: I’ve climbed almost 150 Antarctic summits, including 50 that were previously unclimbed. In 2019, I completed the first ski traverse along the narrowest sections of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Past life: I had my own photography business for more than 25 years and have authored three photography books.
Passions: I’ve always been an active participant in nature’s ‘outdoor playground’ and am a passionate photo educator, working to unlock the creative within us all.