Like Shackleton, Only With Complimentary Fruit Baskets

One Ocean Expeditions (OOE), purveyor of luxury Arctic and Antarctic wildlife cruises, hopes to make Sydney its home port, so I thought I’d try to get to know the company a little better.

Obviously, the best way would be to take a cruise, but one look at the rates put the kibosh to that plan, so rather than spending Christmas visiting penguin rookeries in Antarctica on an ex-Soviet oceanographic vessel, I did an Internet search, read the OOE website and asked questions of its media relations person.

Akademik Ioffe (Photo courtesy of OOE)

Akademik Ioffe (Photo courtesy of OOE)


Fins & Fiddles

OOE’s bread and butter is clearly its Arctic and Antarctic tours, which represent the vast majority of its yearly cruises, and owner Andrew Prossin’s interest in Sydney as a port is apparently based on his belief that our second berth, once built, could make us “Canada’s Arctic gateway.”

But Prossin, in Sydney on Monday, got the hang of Cape Breton Regional Municipality news conferences remarkably quickly and was soon speculating that the imminent addition of a third vessel to its fleet could mean more itineraries which could mean OOE “may become not just a polar operator. We may have to start operating some other warmer-water trips.”

Which is not to say OOE sees Sydney only as a gateway to other colder (or warmer) places, it also sees us for ourselves (possibly because Prossin was born here) and it loves what it sees so much, it gets a little incoherent talking about it. From the website:

The area is well known for its Celtic traditions and the music and cuisine of the region is celebrated the world over and wildlife encounters.

In 2017, OOE offered three Cape Breton-based cruises: the 10-night Labrador and Torngat Mountains Explorer, departing from Louisbourg, plus two versions of the 10-night, Fins & Fiddles cruise, one departing Louisbourg and one departing Sydney. The latter following a very unusual itinerary:

Our exploration of Eastern Canada’s Maritime region starts and ends in Sydney, situated on Cape Breton Island and ends in the historic city of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

It sounds like a lot of movies I’ve seen, that seem to end and then suddenly keep going.

For the 2018 season, the website currently lists no cruises originating in Sydney. All four Cape Breton-based expeditions depart from Louisbourg: the Labrador cruise, the two Fin & Fiddle cruises and a 7-night East Coast Golf Expedition, which visits Inverness and Ingonish and Morell, PEI and Les Îles de la Madeleine and even Sable Island where, thankfully, it doesn’t look like they’ll be golfing. (Prossin told reporters there would be five voyages departing Cape Breton in 2018.)

OOE’s eastern Canadian cruises look utterly amazing, I’ll be the first to admit it. The Fins & Fiddles itinerary alone would knock four destinations off my personal bucket list: Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, Gros Morne National Park, a Newfoundland outport and Les Îles de la Madeleine. Only someone with absolutely no couth to speak of would dwell on how expensive they are.

Did I mention how expensive they are?



That Sydney-based Fins & Fiddles cruise would set you back a minimum of US$3,195.00 (CAN $3,974.63) for a “triple-share” cabin although if you wanted greater privacy, you could book an $8,994.98 (CAN $11,189.90) Ocean Suite or the $7,495 (CAN $9,323.90) Shackleton Suite.

Ernest Shackleton explored the Antarctic, not the Arctic or Eastern Canada, but I was hoping those booking the Shackleton Suite got the full Shackleton experience, including having their section of the vessel crushed by pack ice, being forced to camp on disintegrating sea ice, having to sail 720 nautical miles to safety in a lifeboat and subsisting on seagull.

Photograph of the ship Endurance in Antarctica taken by Australian photographer Frank Hurley during the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914-1917 (State of New South Wales Library, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Photograph of the ship Endurance in Antarctica taken by Australian photographer Frank Hurley during the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914-1917 (State of New South Wales Library, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Alas, the list of in-cabin amenities makes clear there is no hardship involved in staying in the Shackleton Suite, which is equipped with a mini-bar, an iPad “preloaded with reference and fictional content” and a complimentary fruit basket.

Moreover, there is apparently little chance of pack ice, as this review of an OOE Canadian Arctic cruise by Roderick Eime, editor of Adventure Cruise Guide, on the Avid Cruiser blog makes clear:

Rest easy, the risk of becoming beset in ice is no more. Even if your expedition finds itself surrounded by a dense pack and unable to proceed, a satellite phone call to the Canadian Coast Guard will have one of their standby icebreakers on the scene in a few hours to escort you through. A handy backup service provided by the Canadian Government, just in case.

It’s good to know that while I may never be able to afford an OOE cruise, I can make my small contribution to the enjoyment of those more fortunate than myself by helping pay for that “handy backup service.”


Climate change

The opportunity OOE is exploiting — and which Prossin claims the Port of Sydney may also, one day, exploit — is something of a double-edged sword.

The conditions that are freeing the Northwest Passage of ice and opening the Canadian Arctic to cruise tourism are also wreaking havoc with the habitats of the sea and land creatures these “eco” tourists are hoping to view (and the scientists on board to study). And as polar ice melts, sea levels rise, which could wreak havoc with, say, newly built cruise ship berths.

None of this screams “sustainable,” although I guess being the port where OOE provisions its Arctic expeditions for a few years wouldn’t be a bad thing. Prossin certainly made it sound exciting when he spoke to the Post back in May:

We fill the storage rooms and refrigerators with food and fill the fuel tanks with fuel and buy supplies and tools and blankets and televisions and whatever it is we need and get minor repairs done.

(I’ll be right with you, I need a moment to digest the idea that someone who has paid thousands of dollars for an Arctic cruise would spend any portion of it watching television. “Frig the puffins, I’m watching Three’s Company.“)

OOE claims to have spent $6 million on provisions in Halifax last year and Prossin professes himself “giddy” at the prospect of spending all that money here in Sydney, but Prossin runs a cruise line and cruise lines are notoriously good at looking out for their own interests. If OOE comes here, it won’t be because Prossin is a Westmount boy with a sentimental attachment to his home town, it will be because it’s worth his while to do so.

The CBRM, which is already sinking millions into that second berth, must now negotiate changes to federal regulations and find a way to supply fuel at the wharf. I hope this turns out to be worth our while, too.


Featured photo: Deck pool on RCGS Resolute courtesy of OOE.


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