Glaciers too, made for fascinating viewing, and owners and guests often took a stand-up jet ski, canoe or the yacht’s onboard Airbus H125 helicopter (which is operated by HSML) out to explore. “On one occasion, we set up a picnic for the owner on a big iceberg,” says the captain.
“We had a very low profile so it was safe enough, and we took all the seats and tables across and did a hotpot on there. There was a stunning view of the whole glacier. It was idyllic.” The owner, meanwhile, enjoyed admiring rivers of melted glacier ice running beneath the surface, and was delighted to enjoy his favourite whisky – a limited-edition Johnnie Walker that he’d bought a few bottles of in Iceland previously – served over freshly carved glacier ice.
“Going up Tracy Arm was the most challenging part,” says the captain with regard to navigation.
“It requires your full attention, as there’s a lot of ice around due to the calving of the glaciers, and you end up weaving between it for hours.” Forward-looking infrared (FLIR) thermal-imaging cameras were the only additional kit that was taken on board for the voyage. “It definitely helped us during low-light conditions, especially when the sun was against you. It assisted with picking up floating ice that was low in the water,” he says. All moving was done during daylight hours as a safety precaution, though “the only thing that really works is just having another pair of eyes on the bridge”, he says. “The fact is that people wanted to be there. Even when crew were meant to be going on breaks, they didn’t want to miss anything.”
Sometimes, says the owner, you could hear the sound of falling ice from nearby glaciers, and see the resulting waves. “Certainly, you get nervous,” he says, “but the risk isn’t life-threatening – and that’s exactly what exploration is all about.” At one stage, Ocean Dreamwalker III was able to go right up to a waterfall by a large glacier. “That was quite a unique position to be in,” says the captain. “The boss opened a bottle of champagne on the bow and everyone took photos with the waterfall behind them. It was completely safe, and I was, like, ‘Wow… not many vessels do that.’” Both the captain and the owner agree that having the helicopter on board really expanded the possibilities for the trip. Often, the owner and his guests would explore using the heli while the yacht moved to another location. “We’d fly to a lake, and then see a waterfall and fly there, and then see another lake and fly to that, and then see a waterfall…” the owner says with a laugh. “These big white glaciers – they’re just so beautiful. It’s like something you only see in the movies.”
On another occasion, the owner – a keen golfer – set off for a round of golf on Alaska’s only golf course at Wrangell. “It’s a nine-hole course, but you can play 18 holes by doing a second round, which we did,” he explains. “Uniquely, because it’s such cold weather, they don’t have grass on the green – it’s man-made!” he laughs. “I’ve been playing golf for years and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen that, but it was so beautiful.” Other facilities on board the yacht enhanced the experience – often, guests would enjoy exploring the ice before returning to the yacht’s spa pool. “I had a lot of family friends with me and often we’d be swimming in the pool, drinking whisky, facing this giant 200-metre glacier,” he recalls. The owner also enjoyed exercising in the gym under the helideck, and using its steam room, although often they would bring some of the Technogym machines out on deck. “I could exercise with whales swimming around me,” he explains, “because the gym has a balcony that extends towards the water.”
Did Covid-19 disrupt the owner’s plans? “Well, the original plan was to go up to Greenland and do the Northwest Passage from east to west before Alaska, but because of the Canadian borders being closed, that didn’t happen,” explains the captain. “I was quite happy about that, because it’s been a nice stepping stone to see how the vessel operated in those sorts of conditions – we’ll now depart for Antarctica in mid-December.”
While cruising Alaska, Ocean Dreamwalker III encountered only four other yachts, and only one motor yacht. For now, the owner is content with his boat. “It took me 15 design meetings, each one three to four days long to finalise all the features of this boat with Sanlorenzo, so I’ve put a lot of time into it,” he says. “I already have everything I want in it, with the option to add a submarine or an ATV or a hybrid jet ski on the reinforced deck, so right now I’m just in love with the whole experience.”
Antarctica will be another adventure of a similar ilk. He wants to take some of the younger generation on board, he explains, and as before, crew will be encouraged to join in. “You just want everybody to appreciate how beautiful our planet is,” he says, “and how amazing these extreme destinations are.”