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Welcome to Brash Talk #10 the newsletter of the Polar Tourism Guides Association. We hope your season is going well where ever you are. It seems like the early season mega-storms in the Drake have eased a little in the last month. Plenty to cover in this issue so please explore it and catch up on all our news.

Traveling to your Arctic contract? Don’t forget to use that layover (or delayed flight or lost luggage) time to grab a coffee or glass of wine (or something stronger if required) and update your Log.

In This Issue:

  • The Bored
  • JoinIt Membership Platform (needs action if you haven’t already done it)
  • Fabulous Feedback
  • Assessors Courses
  • Title Changes
  • Citizen Science Collective Update
  • Hearts in the Ice Project
  • RCC Update
  • Presentation Skills Assessment by video
  • Qualifications Review Meeting
  • Brash Talks on the Website
  • Thematic Interpretation
  • Pro Deals – Ice Breaker
  • Guano Happens
  • New Status Guides

The Bored

The Board has been busy as usual. Graham Charles has been finalizing the 2nd round of amendments for the PTGA application to be US federally approved for tax exemption and status as a Professional Industry Association and assisting with the migration of PTGA database and systems to a new membership platform (see below). This platform on JoinIt is already paying dividends in terms of efficiency in dealing with membership issues from all around the world and is a positive move for the association. Of course RCC reviews and follow up is taking a lot of his time. Graham leaves next week into the cold of the Denali Range for a mountaineering trip so the office will be closed until May 6Mariano Curiel is tidying up the A21 season and planning for the introduction of the new vessel, new staff and new challenges of next Antarctic season. Congrats on the new launch! Brandon Harvey is working manically to staff and facilitate a range of Arctic yachts and private charters for the 2019 northern season while moving himself and family from Germany back to Canada. Phil Wickens has finished a long season south and is currently guiding ski trips in the European Alps. Alex Cowan is taking some time off after a long season ELing on the Peninsula with G Adventures and freezing in the Scottish Highlands for something different. Kit Van Wagner was meeting that last team out of Antarctica as they arrive in Capetown and running staff training for inbound and outbound staff there. She will be attending an Assessors training course in June. Heather Thorkelson is prepping Twin Tracks Arctic season and writing a book.

JoinIt Membership Platform

We have migrated our membership area to a dedicated membership system. We did this because the original (and cheap) system we started off with was already over-taxed by the information we needed to access all the time and continual changes needing to be made by members. We researched a number of options then interviewed two different platform companies and decided this was the best value and should last us for a good number of years now.

We do need you to log into it though and set your password (it is okay to use the same password you have on the PTGA site – in fact we encourage it).

If you have already done it please disregard this section.

Set Your Password: How To

This only needs to be done once.

  1. Go to https://www.joinit.org/o/ptga/members
  2. Enter your email address and click the green “Look Up Email” button.
  3. You will be sent an email from us with a link. Click on the link and follow the instructions to set your new password.
    NOTE: This link will expire after a minute. If it expires, start from step 1 again.
    NOTE: We recommend using the same password as you use on the website, to access secure pages like the Development Forum for simplicity purposes.

Set Your Password: Problems

  1. If you receive an error “No Membership Found” after step 2, take the steps below:
    • Make sure you entered the email address you used to register with the PTGA.
    • If you are certain you are entering the correct email address, please contact me with your full name, surname, email address and company.
  2. If you did not receive the above error, but you did not receive the email either, please check your Spam folder.

Once you are logged into your Pro File, you will see some helpful information:

The Members FAQs offers various questions and answers about your Membership Pro File.

How to access your Pro File in future?

Simply to go the PTGA website, click on Members and click on thePRO FILE LOGIN button.

Fabulous Feedback

With a good run on RCC reviews and assessments happening over the Antarctic season is is heartening to receive some positive feedback from people:

Kenn Magowan (Assessment Candidate) – I have to tell you I really enjoyed and got a lot out of the assessment. The work I did with Marieke, was really important to me. There are aspects we inherently come to understand through our experiences,  yet you don’t always appreciate acquired knowledge until you have to formally address it. It really helped me when I was called upon to introduce first time zodiac drivers to this environment. 

Claire Wallace (RCC applicant) – I’d like to take this time to thank you very much for spearheading the PTGA initiative. I know how much effort and hours were put into this new program, and I am appreciative of everything. It’s great to finally have an official industry accredation system. I look forward to working with the PTGA in the future and will endeavour to always represent safe and proper guiding practices.

Assessors Courses

We are excited to be growing our pool of Assessors. We’re proud to be working with Silversea Expeditions and will be running an Assessors Course for some Silversea staff in Reykjavik on June 10/11. Immediately after (June 13/14) we are offering and open course for anybody with PTGA membership and prerequisites to attend. If you are interested at all please get in touch as soon as possible.

Title and Terminology Changes

Some of you may have noticed we have changed the names of our guide status badges, certificates and our terminology through the website and qualifications. It is a big job with the number of documents we have so it will take a while to ‘clean’ everything. The Board felt we represented our core values and mission more by removing the ‘tourism’ from our material. We represent polar guides in all aspects and across all platforms of polar work and our membership reflects this. We have polar guides who work on ships, guides who work with scientists, guides who work solely on land with ski and skidoo and dogs, guides who work in safety and logistics and we felt the ‘tourism’ label boxed us in too much. The name of the Association will stay the same as there is conflict with some other organizations and legally our non-profit status requires it.

Citizen Science Update

An update from Lauren Farmer (SPGuide) and Board member of the Polar Collective:

The Polar Collective recently received 170,000 EUR from Booking Cares, a sustainability initiative of Booking.com, to develop an app that will make it easier and more rewarding for polar guides and operators to engage in Citizen Science. We are planning on releasing a beta version this summer and v1 for the 2019-2020 Antarctic Season. The app will bring together several strands of citizen science, principally user management and vessel track management and syncing to data collection sources such as mobile devices and cameras. The app will improve feedback and follow-up, enabling post-travel engagement that serves for science communication as well as creating long-term interest which fosters more invested and better trained participants in future efforts.

We hope that many expedition staff have had a rewarding season of data collection in Antarctica and that the new Supporting Science section of the IAATO FOM has been a valuable resource and encouraged more vessels and operators to take part in citizen science!  A single vessel reported to us that they performed 50 seabird surveys, 84 atmospheric observations, collected 20 phytoplankton samples, submitted 97 marine mammals to Happywhale and logged over 1700 participants in these projects over the course of the past season! If anyone has feedback, questions, or wants to get into citizen science and help create ambassadors while improving our knowledge of polar regions, we would love to hear from them and we can be contacted through info.polarcollective@gmail.com.

Hearts in the Ice Project

Senior Polar Guide – Sunniva Sorby is known to many in the polar industry. Beginning in August this year Sunnie and Hilde Fålun Strøm (Norway) will inhabit the 20 sq mtr trappers cabin “Bamsebu”- 78’n in Svalbard.
They will be the first women ever to overwinter in Svalbard, where they will observe, record and broadcast extreme climate change events as they happen in high–Arctic real time. “Hearts in the Ice” refers to two women who locate their livelihood and love of life in the polar regions (both Svalbard and Antarctica) and is a global platform for social engagement around the issues of Climate Change . Their deep concern for the health of ice is what motivates their venture.

Life at Bamsebu will be broadcast and published in real time via Iridium satellite through social media to scientists, students, adventurers, and interested citizens from around the world. They will conduct live satellite calls with schools from North America and Europe twice monthly- these will be published on the “Hearts in the Ice” Blog.
Hilde and Sunniva will be Citizen Scientists for the 9 months at Bamsebu. 2 of the 6 projects will be mirrored onboard Polar Latitudes ships in Antarctica.

Their website has a wealth of information and is well worth a visit https://heartsintheice.com

RCC Update

We still have 42 applications to review so thanks again for your patience and if anyone not yet reviewed wishes to update their portfolio of evidence from this Antarctic season that is totally legitimate and just send it in.

See the bottom of the newsletter for all the new status guides we have. Many of you will recognize some well known ELs and polar guides with extensive track records in the industry who have put themselves up for scrutiny by the PTGA. We thank them for their confidence, humility and belief in a measurement process designed specifically for the polar guiding world. These people represent a powerful voice in the polar industry and our continually growing membership makes us a legitimate stakeholder in the polar industry.

First Assessed Presentation Skills by Video

PTGA Member and aspirant polar guide Alexandra Yingst had 4 foundation awards and wanted to get a 5th to gain status and a pay rise.

One of the issues with performance based assessment likr ours is that access to Assesssors can be difficult. Because of this we have always offered the possibility of a raw video assessment of a presentation or interpretation session. We’d never tested it but feel all the elements in the syllabus can be assessed legitimately and feedback given via a video call. Alexandra put her hand up, supplied the material and took part in the feedback. The process worked well, Ali was assessed as well above the benchmark and was awarded the qualification, made Polar Guide and got pay rise!. Congrats.

If this is of interest for you pleaselet us know.

Qualifications Review Meeting

We have started our annual Qualifications Review process. We received some excellent amendments and technical adjustments from some of our new assessor team this year and this is very positive. It is fantastic that we have more people contributing to the process and ensuring these awards are as useful as possible ‘in the field’ for polar guides out there. We will notify membership when all the 2019 edition PQs are live.

Previous Brash Talks on the Website

We have now put all editions of Brash Talk on the website and you can find them in Resources/Insights.

Thematic Interpretation – what is it?

Many of you will have seen notes in your RCC applications asking you to consider researching Thematic Interpretation. Some people has asked why, and what is it?

Unlike a lot of hard skills (driving zodiacs, leading hikes) interpretation doesn’t have many external testing mechanisms or stated base level performance criteria and when we ask people for proof of experience with Interpretation Skills most just say they have been interpreting as part of their job for x years so of course they are good at it. There are very few people out there who have formal training in Interpretation Skills against any set model so we couldn’t insist that everyone go through a course. We’ve given the benefit of years of experience as a benchmark to get underway but we have told people the accepted standard for the future (as measured in an assessment) is Thematic Interpretation and using the T.O.R.E model (see syllabus for Interpretation Skills). These are the models we expect a PTGA guide to be using when out in the field working with guests.

If you have never heard of them or researched them you will need to before your revalidation in a couple of years. We will no longer accept a broad brush statement of ‘I’ve been interpreting as part of my job for x years’.

Provocation instead of Instruction

The essential difference is that instead of simply knowing facts about something (this island has this many penguins, they do this with rocks, they gestate for this many days etc) that you can bring that material into a coherent ‘theme’ narrative and tell a story that brings the relevance of these facts into some sort of congruent message that fits your audience on the day/in the minute and it is a process aimed at provoking audiences to do their own thinking and thereby develop their own subjective understanding of the world instead of interpretation that prompts audiences to know or accept the interpreter’s understanding of things.

There are some good books on the subject and we encourage you to discuss your interpretation skills with a peer and get any feedback you can. This Wiki page has a good overview and history:


Pro Deals

We are excited to have attracted high end garment producer Icebreaker to our Pro Deal offerings for polar guides. Icebreaker design and make fantastic product for hardwearing use in the field that will look just as good at the re-cap and bar afterwards (under your company approved shirt of course). Check it out on the website – accessing our Pro Deals page is only available to current financial PTGA members.

Guano Happens (the crime is not the act, but rather to not talk about it)

This guide shared a story that is perhaps more common than is probably reported.

I was ELing and we had a spot at Brown Bluff. Weather was great with littlebreeze but forecast to rise a little through the morning. The ‘ashore’ landing was a breeze and a group went off hiking around to the glacier while others dispersed to the colony/beach areas to enjoy penguins. We are a smalleroperation so we had plenty of time. I had walked to the penguin colony to help out and hang out. After an hour or so the breeze set up from the east but not enough to be a problem, it was just colder. Some pax decided to go back to the ship so a driver was doing shuttles. The driver reported an increase in ice at about the same time as the hike group (via the bridge radio intermediary as reception from around the corner is not good) leader called to say they could see a large amount of big ice moving our way. I immediately called the landing to a halt and communicated this to staff who, without alarming people, started moving them back to the beach and into pfd’s. Drivers managed to get all the beach walking and colony people off the beach and back to the vessel. By the time the hikers returned all zodiacs were off the beach, one was stuck in the ice (the driver walked to an open side and was picked up by another driver) but 18 people were stuck on shore.

We had our shore bags with water and shelters (amongst other things) and the breeze was cold and and without movement people were chilling quickly. We put groups of 6 into the group shelters and settled in to wait.

After 4 hours the ice field had moved west enough that we could get a zodiac to shore (drivers had managed to rescue the stuck one). We packed up our beach camp and got everyone back to the vessel without further incident. While some people were uncomfortable (from sitting in the emergency shelter) and a little anxious no one was in any danger. If we’d had to stay longer/overnight we had some rations  and other survival gear in the shore bags. In the end it made for a good story and we continued our trip with no follow up issues. I checked in with all pax at re-cap and talked through what happened, how we managed it and checked if anyone had any lingering concerns or issues. There were none.

Causal Factors

It is difficult to isolate one causal factor out of this event. The closest seems a familiarity trap where this site might have been visited a number of times before without incident and perhaps the EL’s guard was dropped. Back up plans all seemed to go well and shore bags were there and shelter was available. We all know Brown Bluff can be a very cold place with the wind blowing so this contingency planning was critical.

Fast moving pack and floe ice is a known phenomenon along this coast and through Antarctic Sound. In this day and age with the information we have available and healthy numbers of close calls it seems alomost inconceivable that someone would get caught out. But – it continues to happen. Something to consider is a briefing for bridge officers or placing a staff member on the Bridge as a high look-out. This would mitigate this ever happening almost completely. But – if a group of hikers are a long way out and even if the bridge/spotter person sees the ice coming it can be traveling easily at 1-4 kts (I’ve measured drift through the channel between Andersson Is and the end of the Peninsula there at 5 kts) it is still possible to catch a small group out. This is where quality shore kit and knowledge of how to use it can stop a 4-5hour shore stranding turning from an interesting inconvenience into a possible epic or tragedy.

Let us know what you think.


Congratulations to our most recent members reviewed through the RCC, Cross Credit scheme and Workplace Assessment.

Polar Guide: Cory Ann Hom-Weaver, Hella Martens, Lisa La Pointe, Jamie Garrod, Robert Lasely, Yvonne Ankerman, Alexandra Yingst

Senior Polar Guide: Graeme Snow, Cheli Larsen, Chris Edwards, Daniel Stavert (Sea Guide Endorsement added to Senior Guide) Hadleigh Measham, Sue Forbes, Kasper Jaeger, Zak Shaw, Roger Kirkwood, Kurtis Randall, Calle Schonning, Loli Figueroa, Alex Chavanne, Kit Van Wagner, Sunniva Sorby, Pernille Soeegaard, David Berg, Adrian Boyle, Dion Poncet, Juliette Hennequin, Lauren Farmer, Annette Scheepstra, Claire Wallace, Lori Gross, Steffen Graupner, Danielle Mates, Michaela Mayer

Have a safe and fun Arctic season or post Antarctic holiday.