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Welcome to BrashTalk #18 The Newsletter of the Polar Tourism Guides Association.

In This Issue:

  • President’s Pontifications
  • Speaker Series Recap: Links to Archives
  • Scuttlebutt
    • Online Assessor Training Course
    • PDF Library
    • Guide Status Revalidation
    • Hearts in the Ice
  • Behind the Scenes
    • Website Redesign
    • Member Management System
    • Firearms Skills for Polar Bear Environments
  • Training and Development: Building Emotional Resiliency
  • Guano Happens: Three Zodiacs Stuck in the Ice

President’s Pontifications

Kia ora PTGA Members and Guides,

I hope this finds you all safe, healthy and supported.

Are you missing Antarctica? I know I am. From the level of interaction, concerned emails and people reaching out on behalf of others, we know the pressure and loss is real right now. We “should” know what our contracts and income prospects look like by now and know there is work and money to support ourselves and family back home, pay the mortgage, kids school fees or just save for the downtime which is part of being an independent contractor. We “should” be meeting in cafes in Ushuaia, organising meals in transit with fellow guides or reconnecting with our ship families at this time of year.

But we aren’t.

We encourage you to talk to your colleagues and expedition team community. These people know exactly what you are going through and may need help themselves or be able to help you if you need it. We are all in this together.

We’ve had some very useful time to think about what we do, how we do it and how might we do things differently. We know many of you have been using this forced hiatus to make yourselves better guides and this has been fantastic. For the PTGA our Speaker Series in all formats has been a lot of fun and the engagement from people has been very much appreciated. It has felt like a community coming together. We are already planning a new series for 2021 and looking forward to delivering more community, development and learning.

The possibility of an Arctic 21 and Antarctic 21/22 season is beginning to seem within the realm of possibility but there is a long way to go. Please look after one another. The support we are seeing across geographic divides and company borders is phenomenal. Guides offering public support in any way they can has been one of the highlights of the year in my opinion and speaks volumes to the heart and soul of our section of this industry.

On behalf of PTGA Board of Directors (Colby Brokvist, Heather Thorkelson, Alex Cowan, Brandon Harvey, Kim Crosbie, Marcus Waters and myself) and our Advisory Board we would like to wish everyone a happy holiday season and New Year and we look forward to 2021 being everything we hope it can be.

Kia kaha
Graham Charles
PTGA President

Speaker Series Recap

The latest PTGA Guides Inside speaker series was incredibly successful. We’ve had a phenomenal response, with almost 5,000 views of these presentations thus far! Thank you to each of our esteemed presenters and moderators for sharing your hard-earned expertise.

If you missed any of the live sessions, you can find them archived at the Polar Guides Facebook Group. Here’s what’s new:

Penguin Conservation and Behavior
with Tom Hart

Out On The Ice: LGBT Issues and Inclusion
with Mark Vogler, Hannah Lawson, and Kyle Marquardt, moderated by Gerard Baker

Guide to Wildlife Approaches
with Kevin Morgan

Social Media Matters
with Allison Cusick, moderated by Heather Thorkleson

A Driver’s Guide to Understanding Surf
with Pam Le Noury, moderated by Graham Charles

Inside IAATO
with Gina Greer and Lisa Kelly, moderated by Colby Brokvist

Telling Compelling Stories
with Ian Johnson

Citizen Science as a Tool for Becoming a Better Educator
with Annette Bombosch moderated by Mariela Cornejo

PTGA Unplugged
with Graham Charles, moderated by Alex Cowan

An enormous thanks again to Lauren Farmer for running the front end of this series for the PTGA, being up in the wee hours of the morning (Australia) to make them fit with northern hemisphere presenters and delivering a masterclass in blending media, promotion and education for an organization such as ours.

Online Assessors Training Course

As part of our strategy and drive to increase assessment capacity PTGA will be running an online Assessors Training course early in 2021. If you are a current financial member and Senior Polar Guide with the temperament to patiently observe and listen and work with the PTGA’s ISO Accredited Assessment program we are taking registrations of interest so we can best service the demand and design a program that meets our rigorous standard for PTGA Assessors. The program will cover approx 16hours of content delivery, self directed study and personal coaching with other experienced Assessors. Dates and cost are yet to be confirmed.

Any other current Assessors or Provisional Assessors are invited to sit in on as much as they wish to re-familiarize themselves with content and process.

PDF Library

Following on from the successful Speaker Series Pt 2 we are working with some of the presenters to create pdfs or “Guide’s Guide” resources which will be available to PTGA members in the resources section of the website. Tom Hart’s information is available as a Guide’s Guide. Pam Le Noury’s presentation on driving zodiacs in surf will be added early in 2021. We are working on a resource to Wildlife Approaches with Kevin Morgan and after so much great feedback and requests for more information after Ian Johnson’s thought provoking session on Telling Compelling Stories we are designing a resource based on Ian’s material.

A huge thanks to these folk for letting us use their work and making it available for continued development and education across the polar guiding community. You can View the PDF Library Here.


We have begun reviewing Revalidation Portfolios from guides who were the first to grandparent as status guides via our first Recognition of Current Competency offering in 2017. Revalidation will now be an ongoing process, as each guide comes up for revalidation every three years. If you received Senior Polar Guide or Polar Guide status in 2018, you will be due to revalidate in 2021. We will contact you with an actual date you are due, though you can prepare ahead by utilizing your downtime in early 2021 to construct your own revalidation portfolio*. More information about the revalidation process and portfolio template can be found here. If you need any advice or direction, please drop a line to admin@polartourismguides.com.

*Note that if you have been tuning into the PTGA Guides Inside speaker series these count as Continual Professional Development (CPD) and you can add any you have tuned into as logged material for this.

Hearts in the Ice

Sunniva Sorby (PTGA Senior Polar Guide) and Hilde Fålun Strøm are ready to embark on a second polar night in the High Arctic of Norway.

Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, November 10, 2020 – After having spent an entire year at a remote trappers cabin 140 km from the town of Longyearbyen, Canadian Sunniva Sorby and Norwegian Hilde Fålun Strøm return to their remote base “Bamsebu”, located in Bellsund, Svalbard. Their official departure date is scheduled for Thursday November 12, 2020.

As the world spins off its axis, Covid-19 has significantly slowed down movement around the globe, “but climate change does not take a break so neither are we”, says Strøm . Sorby and Strøm are about to dive back into the darkness of the Polar Night to shine a light on the dramatic impacts of climate change. They will continue sharing what life is like at the 78th parallel and how it connects to each one of us. “Our work is even more relevant and vital during the pandemic with little field research being done,” says Sorby.

The ladies are also using their time to highlight the diverse talent in the polar guiding community. iI you would like to participate answer the following questions and send to sunniva.hiti@gmn-usa.com

  • What inspired you to get into the world of Guiding in the Polar Regions?
  • Do you have a favorite memory of a guest experience?
  • What opportunities do you have closer to home now that travel to Antarctic is not possible this season? How has it been for you the past few months?
  • Given that everyone has had to re-think where they go, and why what thoughts/ideas/concerns do you have on the future of Adventure travel specifically in the Polar Regions?
  • What is one trick or best practice that you have adopted over the years that you feel you ‘d like to share with your colleagues and the public?
  • What is the one thing you never leave home without when you travel to the Antarctic or the Arctic?
  • Do you have a favorite quote you can share?
  • Do you have a photo of you in our element that you can share please?

The PTGA wishes Sunny and Hilde all the best through the next phase of their adventure.

Experience Log

Don’t forget to take a few minutes in your free time to grab a coffee or glass of wine and update your Experience Log. Download Your Log Here

Behind the Scenes

Website Redesign: We are forging ahead with a redesign of the entire PTGA website. The initial site had served its purpose and got us going but has run its course. We have received some great feedback over the years and we appreciate that. The new design will reflect a more streamlined user experience for members, assessors and operators alike.

Member Management System: We are very excited about a new purpose-built member database system. Guides and operators alike will soon have the ability to access guide portfolios, curate them, and manage development strategies. This system will represent a giant leap in usability for members, assessors and operators, contributing to our ongoing commitment to value of the PTGA framework and systems.

Firearm Skills for Polar Bear Environments (FPBE) Qualification: The draft of this new qualification is nearly finished and ready for trial. Once again, we have designed an award to cover the specific skills, performance and knowledge which a person working in polar bear environments should have. It dovetails with our polar bear behaviour and environmental conditions award Operations in Polar Bear Environments to give the most comprehensive and relevant syllabus the industry has ever seen. Thanks to the entire development team, who have collaborated across multiple drafts, with great feedback and support for the project.

Training and Development

Resiliency in the Time of Covid-19

It’s that time of year when we’re usually headed south together and, in light of the pandemic, that’s just not possible this year. We’ve been hearing from many of you lately, wondering what can be done to better manage the emotional stresses stemming from the pandemic environment as it relates to our industry. In response, I’ve compiled a few resources that may help.

Firstly, though, I’d like to acknowledge any of you out there who might be feeling a little low right now. I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone. If you’re feeling sad, depressed, confused, worried about the future, or anything else, you are not alone. We’re all suffering losses – financial losses to be sure, loss of direction, perhaps even a loss of identity. But one thing we haven’t lost is our camaraderie.

An important step toward resiliency is engaging with your community of friends and colleagues I would like to present a challenge to you as a member of the polar community. My challenge is to pick up the phone and call a colleague this holiday season. Say hi. Catch up. Ask them how they are feeling, and share how you’re feeling. It’s a low-risk, high-reward decision to pick up the phone, and I hope you’ll each accept the challenge.

There are steps you can take on your own as well. Below are a few resources that contain wisdom for building emotional resiliency and better managing feelings of sadness, worry, depression and anxiety. I feel that each of us can benefit from some of the skills and messages highlighted in these articles. And, of course, share them with your friends and colleagues elsewhere in the travel industry.

We are all in this together. I hope this helps a little.



Resiliency in the Time of Covid-19: Building Your Psychological First Aid Kit

Laura McGaldrey

“This is psychological first aid – simple, tangible, powerful things you can do to support the mental health of yourself and others in these challenging times. You can do any and all or this.”

How To Worry More Mindfully

Jenny Taits

“Getting lost in worries is emotionally depleting, and it interferes with moving forward. That’s why it’s worth improving how you handle this pesky mental habit.”

To Anybody Going Through It

Kevin Love

“Even after all the work I’ve tried to do on myself over the last two-and-a-half years, some days are just brutal.”

Guano Happens

Safety & Risk Management Review

This issue’s Guano is an old incident that we heard about many years ago, and we tracked down one of those involved. While it is an incident, it is also a ripping yarn and a window back to a time some might say were the ‘good old days’, or the bad old days, depending on your perspective.

Guide: ‘Captain, three zodiacs stuck in ice. We need the ship to assist’

Captain: ‘Really?!’

Indeed, a long time ago in a continent far away, three boats were stuck in heavy ice and requested support from the mothership. How did we get there? Let me first paint a picture of that season: we had everything: a great Captain, strong expedition guides, decent expedition leader, and a small but strong and very manoeuvrable ship. We were used to operating in and ice pretty much all the time, walking on it, and pushing through it and driving around in it. And yet, we just didn’t see this hiccup coming.

We hope that by sharing this experience, many will see the lessons learned including but not limited to stupidity, poor judgment, and ego. We were quite a young team, we considered ourselves experienced and I do remember that we were in a rush (as usual). Another factor was that at that time of the season we had never cancelled operations and took pride in that.

Simply put, Plan A was unachievable and Plan B was ‘almost’ impossible, so we decided to shoot for Plan B. Basically we had to take the ship to an area that no one else goes, drop the boats in exposed conditions, and access Plan A through the back door.

The ‘go’ was decided about ten minutes before dropping boats while still moving towards the destination, wind and sea conditions were moderate, and ice conditions were doable – probably 5/10 coverage. We began dropping and loading boats as we approached the final target. At some point, from the gangway, we noticed that the current was shifting, and the wind was gusting randomly affected by the tight geography. We thought it was nothing serious, so decided to continue.

The last two zodiacs left the ship with zero and five guests respectively. They were running light and they were deeper in the bay as the ship was still moving. The last, and lighter, zodiac quickly lost momentum and was soon trapped by the ice. The five person zodiac tried to assist and got stuck also. The rest of us nearby joined forces and tried to push our way out while towing the empty boat but the tide current was now running fast and filling the bay we were in with heavy brash. Meanwhile, another zodiac tried getting to us and also got stuck about fifty metres away. The rest of the zodiac fleet was fine. The EL was on one of the trapped zodiacs and was in radio contact with the other boats and confirmed all was well.

The other zodiacs continued their excursion under a newly designated leader.

We were now completely immobilised in 10/10 ice with zero chance of being able to extricate ourselves. All drivers/guides in the trapped zodiacs had a lot of experience and were able to keep good morale amongst the guests and staff. There were only two options for us at this stage: wait for the tide to change and open leads, or call the vessel for help. We could see the ship in the distance, they were clear of ice and had just managed to secure an anchoring position. We could also see that some of the other zodiacs were ending their cruises. We had no guarantee that the weather would hold until the tide changed and we knew we had a really cooperative Captain and strong ship – we made the call: “Captain, three zodiacs stuck. We need the ship to assist”. Captains incredulous reply “Really?! I just managed to get the anchor to hold”. We laughed.

The ship lifted anchor and pushed slowly toward our position, spinning right in front of us with pinpoint accuracy, sucking the ice away and creating enough open water so the three trapped boats could sneak off the stern. We were close enough to speak to the giggling crew that were on the back deck watching the spectacle. The tide was still running hard and pushing ice in quicker than we could move to get near the crane hook so we ended up throwing tow lines and tethering from the stern of the ship and Capt towed the boats out to open water and everything was resolved. No one was injured, we lost process, learnt some good lessons and of course there was a hell of a recap that day.

In our review we identified that we should have called it off or changed plans/reassessed when we realized that the conditions were changing so fast. A key factor in the whole session were the two very light boats at the end.


Firstly, we will acknowledge this was a different time, much has changed and we are grateful for having this shared. It is an entertaining tale from days gone by but let’s get some value out of it by reviewing it through the lens of today’s expectations, ideas and concepts.

Risk Shift

Once again, we see the potential and probable presence of Risk Shift. This is a very common phenomenon in the polar and expedition cruise industry because people are working in sizeable teams, or smaller groups and thus without conscious acknowledgment and awareness risk shift can easily take over decision making.

A common social aspect of risk taking is that a group will make riskier decisions than the individuals that comprise that group. One explanation for risk shift is that risk taking is a socially valued behaviour (‘we hadn’t cancelled an excursion all season and were proud of it’). Taking risks indicates courage and forcefulness and is generally more highly valued than conservatism. Most people tend to respect and admire others who are willing to take risks. Working in an expedition ‘team’ reinforces social desirability and can therefore influence individuals to move towards the more desirable – risky behaviour.


Early in the narrative we see statements like “we were used to working in it all the time” and “we had not cancelled ops once during the season and we were proud of it”

Familiarity and mis-lined attribution is a common psychological factor break-down in thousands of reviewed incidents. ‘It can’t happen to us’ shouldn’t even be in the back of your mind when working in remote, ambiguous and powerful environments like the polar regions. The paradigm of ‘this could/will happen to me – I need to see it coming and have answers’ serves a contemporary guide much better.

The familiarity heuristic relies on our past actions to guide our behaviour in familiar settings. Rather than go through the trouble of figuring out what is appropriate every time, we simply behave as we have before. Most of the time, the familiarity heuristic is reliable. But when the hazard changes but the setting remains familiar, this rule of thumb can become a trap. Make it one of your filters for any tricky decision.


Often directly related to Familiarity as a Causal Factor is the Consistency Heuristic. Once we have made an initial decision about something, subsequent decisions are much easier if we simply maintain consistency with that first decision. This strategy, known as the consistency heuristic, saves us time because we don’t need to sift through all the relevant information with each new development. Instead, we just stick to our original assumptions about the situation. Much of the time, the consistency heuristic is reliable, but it becomes a trap when our desire to be consistent overrules critical new information about an impending hazard (speed of the current, ice inundation and the last lightweight boats). As the guide mentions in review they ‘knew’ the last couple of boats were likely going to be an issue, they just didn’t act or do anything about something they already knew was likely going to be a problem.

To illustrate further and more graphically, I’m reminded of a discussion I once had with the commander of a Navy aircraft carrier in the Gulf war. We were discussing decision making in tricky, fast changing environments and he recounted how they lost a number of good pilots (and expensive planes) to the back of the ship. The pilots would be coming in to land on the carrier which was pitching in big seas and bad light. All situational hazard indicators suggested they abort their plan and ‘go around’ to try again, but they were stuck in a consistency heuristic and flew into the back of the ship!

Casual Factors

Every near miss or incident is made up of a number of smaller indicators. One of the key goals of any safety or risk management training is to develop the ability to spot these key indicators before they get to a critical jackpot number and result in an incident. Like a revolving slot-machine we need to spot the one or two ‘lemons’ before they hit the jackpot of three (or four). As our contributor mentions in review, the factors that played into this scene were:

1. The tide race shifting a lot of ice quickly

2. Confinement within a deep in a geographic feature, prone to ice buildup

3. Lightly weighted zodiacs dropped in this heavy ice area

4. A group culture used to working quickly and successfully taking risks

Jackpot! All lemons.

This is an old event but it has been worthwhile to put it under the microscope and see how it looks today. What is encouraging is today’s overall increased awareness of physical and psychological causal factors, as well as heuristics and other common traps. It is important for contemporary expedition teams and leaders to continue developing their decision making skills, notably creating an environment where team members have awareness and knowledge of these processes and can speak up and be part of the decision making process. The ability to speak up is vital for guest safety.

Fab Feedback

Thanks so much for the tremendous effort you put into this newsletter. Always a good read. Many thanks.
Robyn Mundy

During these times of restricted travel and no polar work, the feeling of travel to polar regions had left me a little. I’ve got a job back in fisheries management. Today, while crunching numbers I put on headphones and listened to several of the PTGA expert presentations and they are fantastic. I just wanted to thank you for putting these on and saving them on the PTGA website. It’s very bonding. All the best.

I just want to express my thanks to PTGA for having organized all the various talks this year. They have been informative and useful.


  • PTGA Members – 407
  • Senior Polar Guides – 203
  • Polar Guides – 103

Congratulations to:

  • Polar Guide: Matt Farrell, Pat Lurcock, Gaby Pilson, Jessica Day
  • Senior Polar Guide: Sharon Nicholas, Franka Leiterer, Mark Vogler, Justin Febey