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Welcome to BrashTalk #22 The Newsletter of the Polar Tourism Guides Association

In This Issue:

From Field – The ‘Guide’ Thing

In late August I was able to travel to Greenland for a private guiding contract. It was a welcome opportunity to get back into the field and visit west Greenland again after a hiatus in the region of over a decade.

During my time there I was able to share a town day in Ilulissat with Scenic, National Geographic and Quark. Normally we might recoil at such traffic but on this occasion it was an engagement opportunity par excellence. I reconnected with peers and colleagues I hadn’t seen in many many years. I met people whose RCC or Revalidation portfolios I had looked over and who I felt I knew well in some way but had never met in person. I had someone introduce me to a group of guides who said “this is Graham, he’s the guy from the behind the guide thing” and they knew what he was talking about! It was humbling to share the loading dock with a whole group of people who have embraced professionalism and the camaraderie of a professional association like the PTGA and feel like we were really just one big team.

Later I was fortunate to travel a short way south down the Greenland coast on Aurora’s MV Greg Mortimer. I got to spend an excellent couple of days with the expedition team, I completed some assessments, shared thoughts with like-minded guides and listened to what people had to say about PTGA. It was a treat to hear how much people appreciated the work the PTGA is doing and how much they appreciated having a ‘voice’ and their own Association to talk to.

Serenity Fiord was anything but and we exchanged an excursion site with a Ponant ship with many friends of the Aurora team. The zodiac hugging party and friends-meeting-friends-in-weird-places scene was extraordinary.

In the airport flying out of Kangerlussuaq I met more PTGA guides who were finishing work contracts with one company and heading off to take contracts with another.

Over the short time of all these interactions I met with guides and PTGA members from seven different companies. Everyone I talked with was positive about the PTGA and proud of their guide status and qualifications. Many had words of thanks for the detailed RCC review they had received outlining how fantastic they were and also things they could do to strengthen their skills and careers. I was told by one guide that they had never had that sort of detailed professional feedback and advice before and how much they appreciated it.

One thing that struck me was how much modern guides move around different companies. One person I talked with was working for 4 different companies within a 16-month period. I thought this was astonishing – and healthy. To me it showed there is plenty of opportunity for well qualified and experienced guides. It shows that guides can make choices and go where conditions, remuneration and/or development opportunities are better and I believe it helps foster wide reaching operational norms and cultural safety. It seemed to me that qualified and experienced guides currently have power and it is a sellers market currently.

It was fantastic snapshot of our evolving profession and, if the last couple of years have been a largely lonely affair for me driving an office desk and taking online meetings, this field litmus test and the 32 new members already gained beyond the 500 mark have made it worthwhile. I’m very happy on behalf of the Board and members to be continuing to build ‘the guide thing’.

Save the Date

Before we head south, the PTGA will be hosting an Antarctic Pre-Season Summit on Thursday, 20 October at 18:00 UTC. This will be a live online event, open to all polar professionals. We will send all members a link to join prior to the event, and a recording will be available afterwards.

This first-of-its-kind summit will feature several panel discussions covering:

  • What’s new this season with IAATO’s Lisa Kelley
  • Tough questions facing our industry including how we can prepare for and manage this expansive growth
  • Potential grey areas within our guidelines and how we, as guides can make well-informed judgement calls

Thank you to the 100+ of you who completed our Google Form and offered suggestions for panelists, voted on topics and submitted many of your own. We will try to tackle as many of them as possible in this upcoming summit, in future sessions and series and through discussions in the Polar Guides Facebook Group.

We hope this summit will be thought-provoking and action-oriented and will help guides head into this coming Antarctic season feeling better prepared, and excited to take on new challenges!

Welcome Raewyn

Raewyn Murray joined us as Administration Assistant in May and has been invaluable through the migration to our new MMS. Many of you have already had interactions with Raewyn as you have moved into your new professional home and tidied up your qualifications and other paperwork.

Raewyn lives in Wanaka, New Zealand with her partner John and a bunch of bell-birds and tui in their yard. She spends her spare time walking and biking local trails and enjoying the ‘Wanaka life’ balance. Raewyn runs her own business Mobile Secretary Out & About Ltd which came about after stepping away from 9-5 office roles. She came to the PTGA quite randomly when a family friend (who is a PTGA member) forwarded her the job description. And here we are. Welcome to our team Raewyn.

Member Management System

After nearly a year and a half of discussion and planning we switched over to our new Member Management System – TahDah in July 2022.

All PTGA Members have been sent an email asking you to ‘claim’ your account. This is all legitimate. The new system requires your acknowledgement in order to access your existing certificates & files. For those who have been working in the arctic, please make claiming your account a priority to ensure that all of your certificates and casements are available to you for the antarctic season.

Your certificates and documents are located in Digital Logbook > Files). This is now your folder to play around with and add/delete files as you wish, and it can serve as a backup to any professional documentation stored on your personal devices.

Note that due to privacy and security we are not able to access previously stored passwords or credit card details, so you will be prompted to resupply this information in the new system.

Currently all the rest of Member benefits (Pro deals, Resources etc) are still accessed through the PTGA website and you should just be able to click you way back there from TahDah.

If anyone is having any problems with the system please get in touch.

Online Assessments Coming!

We’ve listened to your needs and are excited to announce that PTGA is developing an online platform that will allow members to access syllabus specific knowledge courses and even gain awards credit anytime you have access to a computer. Our aim is to expand access to foundational knowledge training and assessments while retaining the focus on field performance assessments for more critical areas of operation that involve active judgment and decision making and direct guest safety management.

The online certifications will focus on the knowledge-based areas in qualifications such as navigation, communications, crevasse awareness and interpretation skills. These online programs will help prepare members for the significantly more important, but time consuming, 1:1 assessment required to test competence in situational decision making and human interaction.

We are continually trying to improve the value proposition of the PTGA and this investment represents a big leap forward in making training and assessments available to new members and people just starting out in the industry with an eye to a career. A special thanks to long time expedition and polar guide, Kit van Wagner and her new business Sea-Worthy Ventures who are creating this high quality online training.

Stay tuned for further updates and a launch date.


Guano Compilation updated 2022 online

The most popular section of the Brash Talk newsletter is our incident review section Guano Happens. We have made reading and studying all of these incidents easier by including them all in one compilation pdf in the Guide Resources area of the website and v2 of the Guano Compilation is now available on the PTGA website once you log on to the Member’s area and look under For Guides/Resources for Guides

500 Members!

On July 23 we gained our 500th member. It has been 4 3/4yrs since we registered as a legal Professional Industry Association and this represents fantastic growth and evidence of real need in this area. Thank you everybody who has helped and believed in this idea. Thanks to all of you – our members, colleagues, friends and the PTGA Board of Directors. We truly represent a profession in a way the industry has never seen before.

*As of publication we have already jumped to 532 members.

Training and Development – Driving off beaches when Stern-to

by Rusty S Hackle

During stern landings, probably the hardest part for the driver is getting to the beach while reversing with an engine that is partly tilted out of the water. But while driving off the beach is usually easier, the consequences of getting it wrong can be the same. So what can we do to increase our chances of getting it right every time?

I sometimes see drivers agreeing that they are ready to go, but they are still tilting down with the engine toppled to the side as they’re being pushed out and they don’t start the engine until they’re a few metres off shore. If something goes wrong it’s too late for them to fix it. And if they get the lower unit into the water with it still toppled over it will turn the boat broadside to the waves.

The moment the final guest has finished getting in or out of the boat I start prepping to leave. I make sure the kill cord is attached and not about to get snagged on anything. I centre the engine and tilt down until the skeg touches the sand. I start the engine and once I am certain it is starting and running fine I switch it off again. Only then do I tell the beach team that I am ready to go. I will start the engine as soon as they start pushing me out so I can concentrate more fully on tilt and steering and watching the waves; it’s only running dry for a few seconds. If the Zodiac gets left high and dry by a retreating wave then I’ll switch off again immediately and we all re-prep for leaving.

If conditions are straightforward then you can steadily tilt down as you move away from the beach. In more difficult conditions, such as wind-driven waves breaking on the beach it is more challenging — depth changes quickly and often, and the wind is trying to push you back on shore. The deeper you can get the prop the less cavitation you get and generally the more power you can transmit into the water. So, you may need to tilt up and down repeatedly in the first few metres off the beach; as you see a wave approaching, start tilting down and throttling up to take advantage of the temporary deep water and get away from the shore. When the wave is under you start tilting up because the water’s about to get very shallow again. When the bottom is sandy you have a bit of leeway when it comes to hitting the bottom but with rocks less so!

Be a pro and be as ready as you can be, because marginal gains do add up.

Engine centred, skeg touching sand, ready to go. The driver will need to look forward to see approaching waves, but also back and down to see how deep they can get the engine so they can get as much power out of the engine as possible.

Emptying the Cupboard: Interview with Sylvia Gross

Sylvia Gross recently applied to our most recent Recognition of Current Competency offering. From this she has gained almost every single award and endorsement PTGA has to offer. We have some Senior Guides with more years and more days in the field (PTGA Board Member and well known polar industry expert, Kim Crosbie takes out the field days logged at >2500) but no one has come close to gaining the number of awards Sylvia now holds. We thought we should take a deep dive and find out how this came to be.

Sylvia – congratulations on pretty-much cleaning out our cupboard of awards and endorsements. The only things you didn’t swoop are a couple of specialist Advanced Driving endorsements. You are only one of 3 or 4 people to hold both Lead a Dog Sled Journey and Lead a Polar Expedition.

Where did this all start for you? How did you get into polar guiding?

First of all – thank you very much for your kind words and the opportunity of this interview 🙂 It started all back in 2013, when I graduated from high-school and did not know what to do with my life. So, I decided to take a gap year and was looking for work on a dogsled farm in Finland, first as handler and later on they promoted me to Guide. In Germany, where I come from, being a Guide is not seen as a proper profession you could make a living from, but during my time in Finland I realized that it is actually possible. Some of my colleagues were doing so and able to take care of their families. What a revelation!

After finishing my studies in Germany I returned to the Arctic in 2017, found some work in Greenland, left everything behind me for good and moved there. From there on it was a route through the European North, always moving a little bit further North, until I finally ended up in Svalbard doing the one-year Arctic Nature Guide study to professionalize my work and to learn more about the Arctic and guiding.

Did you always plan to have such a breadth of skills from sea kayak guiding to dog sledding to long sled dragging expeditions?

No, I never thought I would be where I am now and I still have a long way to go to be where I want to be. I do not come from a family that goes on expeditions or lives in the mountains. At the beginning I just started to go outdoors by myself, often as an escape from my rather boring life back in Germany. I thought maybe I’d like kayaking, so I was just going for it, getting a kayak, and learning on my own and from the internet. Then I thought: maybe I’d like fjell skiing. So I got skis and went to the Alps every weekend to practice during my studies. When I went outdoors, I usually had to drive out of the city for quite some distance, so at first I slept in my car, later in a tent, regardless of the weather and conditions. I learned many things the hard way, by trial and error, and doing a lot of research on the internet.

When I moved North I started to learn from other people: From the Inuit in Greenland, from friends and colleague at work, and then from the guiding network in the Arctic. I attended courses, to get to know more about each activity, and always continued learning. My work brought me from one activity to the next, and often I managed to turn a private hobby into an activity I could guide.

At one point I realized: Either you’ll focus on one thing and become an expert in this, or you will take on many different disciplines, and you’ll never be perfect in any of these – but you’ll have a broad spectrum of activities and work possibilities. So, it just happened that I gained many different skills, and today I’m very happy with it. I am continually learning from colleagues, and my life as a guide has a lot of variety throughout the year. This is what I enjoy.

What is your favourite discipline to guide in and why?

For me the discipline to guide is not as important as the group and the setting. I love to go out with a small group, and be out and about with those same people for several days. This gives me the opportunity to get to know the guests, and not only show them my world, but actually include them in the activities, teach them things and also experience for myself, how they learn and improve in just a short amount of time. For example, when I worked as a dogsled guide at the end of the multiday trip the guests were able to solve nearly all issues with the dogs and sledges themselves, they could take care of the dogs, understand the way they work and when they have these small achievements, one after the other, I know that I did my job right.

What is your most challenging discipline to guide in and why?

I think every discipline can be very challenging. If you are out with snowmobiles on glaciers or the sea ice, if you camp after a long day on skis or if you are on the water in a zodiac or kayak. It always depends on the weather conditions, the wildlife and of course the capabilities of the guests. For me, I think the less willing to learn and understand the guests are, the more difficult it becomes. Also, my own experience and skills define how challenging a discipline might be. For example, when driving zodiacs I reach my limits much faster than guiding a snowmobile trip.

Why did you apply for recognition of Current Competency? And why did you wait until now – we have offered two other opportunities?

PTGA is recognized by more and more companies and I think especially in the expedition cruise industry it has become increasingly important that you can prove your competence, especially if you want to get into a company you haven’t worked for before. As there is no guide qualification that is accepted around the world beside the Mountain Guide awards it is nice to have a qualification that gets accepted throughout the polar regions. PTGA looks at the single qualification and also involves basic skills like navigation, working with boats or simpler hikes.

I’ve waited so long because I did not see myself as capable of getting too many qualifications, so I wanted to get more experience before applying. I still don’t see myself as one of the very experienced guides out there, I just try to learn and improve whenever I can.

You have spent a significant period of time in Svalbard, what do you think the future holds for tourism as we know it?

Tourism in the polar regions seems to be booming. More and more ships are being built and more companies and cruise operators are coming in to the industry. On one hand this offers more job opportunities for us, but it also means the regions we love get overcrowded. In Svalbard this summer I noticed just how many ships are around, how full our fjord is with ships anchored up and how it gets more and more difficult to find a place where you can be alone.

I think right now it still works, but the bigger vessels might be a problem for a small town like Longyearbyen, for the small airport, for the harbour and of course for the landing sites. Right now many new regulations on Svalbard are in development, but I don’t believe we are protecting nature if we concentrate traffic in just a dozen landing sites. I think we should stretch out the amount of people to as many sites as possible, and maybe even reduce the maximum number of guests per ship. The same in winter. If we concentrate the people in only a few places, those places will be completely overcrowded and this will have a very negative effect on the experience. Instead, if we teach the guides and our guests how to behave properly, how to lead people in the field without destroying flora, how to encounter wildlife without disturbing it, I think we all will only profit from it. Right now, we are at a very interesting stage in the development of polar tourism and the companies and countries have to decide where they want to go.

Who were your key role models or mentors on your journey and why?

I only had one proper key role model in my life and that was good old Shackleton with his Antarctic expedition. I had a picture of their group on Elephant Island hanging in my student apartment and always when I came to difficult situations I thought: If these men could do what they did, I can overcome the simple tasks and challenges ahead of me.

Besides that, nature is my biggest mentor. It shows me quite clearly when I have crossed a border I shouldn’t have crossed. The higher up in the Arctic you live the smaller the margin for error is, but I try to follow my three-mistake-rule when I’m out: Once you have done three small mistakes in a row or if three things go wrong (doesn’t matter how small), stop everything, take a coffee, sit down and think about it. Because things usually get seriously wrong if many small mistakes pile up.

I also have learned so many things from my colleagues and friends. Everybody can learn something from everybody, so if we try to be open-minded and watch and listen, we can learn a lot. Over the last couple of years I have found a mentor in one of my close friends and colleagues. He has been guiding in the Arctic for about 10 years and has taught me and challenged me so many times and I am very grateful for this.

What would you tell a young person considering this sort of career today?

I would tell a young person to believe in yourself and to work hard on yourself. Listen to people, consider their opinion, but go your own way. Follow your heart – do what you think is right for you. Life is not a direct path – often you have to take a detour to reach your goal.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self are the most critical things to master moving forward?

I’d say that the most critical things to move forward is to have fun doing what you are doing. If you are having fun, you have this intrinsic motivation to learn, improve and spend time on the thing you are trying to learn about. Find your passion, what makes you happy and then just go for it, even if everyone around you tries to talk you out of something. Do not stop when you get harsh words or criticism for what you are doing. If it feels right and you enjoy doing it, go for it.

Any thoughts on ship-based polar tourism vs terrestrial based operations?

Ship based tourism and terrestrial based tourism are two very different things. For me personally ship based tourism happens during the Arctic summer and Antarctic season and terrestrial based tourism means the Svalbard winter season (February to May). Both operations tend to bigger and bigger groups, just because it generates more money, but I think we have to be careful not to step into the trap of mass tourism.

I enjoy both operations very much, but they use quite different skill sets. I enjoy the variety of challenges and tasks the different operations offer throughout the year.

What would be your top three tips for any guides working in the industry currently?

1.Always try to be open-minded. To your colleagues, to your guests, to nature. We can learn a lot if we walk through life with an open mind and open eyes. Sometimes this is quite difficult, but at least we can try 🙂

2. Say no if you are not comfortable with something. Speak up even though it might be uncomfortable. Say if something is wrong. Because only if we do, we can prevent difficult or dangerous situations, and let the others know where we are standing.

3. Insist on a proper salary and treatment of you as a guide. Many companies try to get guides for very small (or no) money, but if you bring the skills and experience, we should all insist on guiding being a proper profession and thus it should command a proper salary and working conditions. If we do a job “just because it’s cool” we fall into a trap and it is not sustainable.

3.1 Enjoy what you are doing! 🙂

Member Stats

PTGA Members – 532
Senior Polar Guides – 225
Polar Guides – 137
Provisional and Full Assessors – 37

Congratulations to our recent attainments:

Polar Guide: Paolo Belleze, Santiago Stabile, Martin Bianco, Russel Henry, Karen Parada, Megan Savage, Andres Kosmal, Haining Wang, Julia Benson, Marilia Olio, Virgil Reglioni, Javier Gonzalez, Wendy Hare, Osi Shahaf, Cristiana Damiano, Jonathan Chester, Julia Wellner

Senior Polar Guide: Laura Jordan, Geraldine Massyn, Andries Kilian, Martin Renner, Neil Rabjohn, Adrian Wlodarczyk, Michael Callaghan, Kim Crosbie, Kevin Closs, Arran Liard, Wille Parra,

Revalidations: Mark Brophy, Jane Whitney, Ben Wallis,