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Welcome to Brash Talk #9 the newsletter of the Polar Tourism Guides Association (subscribe here). 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/from Ushuaia or Punta Arenas? Don’t forget to use that layover (or delayed flight or lost luggage) time to grab a coffee or glass of wine (or soemthing stronger if stuck at Newberry!) and update your Log.

In This Issue:

  • The Bored
  • Newsletter and Member Updates sign up procedures
  • Social Media Manager
  • Pro Deals
  • Battery Powered Gear for guides
  • Assessors Course
  • Marty Garwood – first through assessments.
  • Guano Happens
  • RCC Status Report
  • Guide status

The Bored

Our Board have been spread far and wide through the 18/19 season. Brandon Harvey went with White Desert to the continent with some EYOS clients and has just returned from some further work on the Peninsula. Heather Thorkelson has been preparing for Twin Tracks Arctic season among other work. Phil Wickens is with Quark Expeditions on the Peninsula. Alex Cowan has been ELing with G Adventures and having a great time by the looks of his social media account. Mariano Cureil has been south on the Ocean Nova with A21 and most recently undertaking a PTGA Assessors Course. Kit Van Wagner is in the Indian Ocean training a new intake of guides through the Silversea Academy Program. Graham Charles has been ice-climbing in his Nth American home in Bozeman Montana before jetting off to NZ to run a leadership program for Wharton Business School. He then headed east to Punta Arenas to run an Assessor Training program for A21 and then worked with the new team of incoming A21 staff on their Teams and Leaders program in Puerto Williams.

Newsletter and Member Updates subscribe process

We have simplified the sign-up process for Newsletters and Member Updates. Even if you signed up a long time ago it is worth checking or re subscribing if you ARE NOT getting Brash Talk or Member Updates.

To clarify – if you subscribe to Brash Talk as a member or not you will get that. If you subscribe to Member Updates you will get email notifications about important things concerning Members Only (like the Pro Deals page). We do not send spam or hand out your details to anything else. If you want to stay completely up-to-date with PTGA things you should be subscribed to both. We will never send you spam or allow access to this list by any 3rd party nuisance.

We have a dedicated social media manager now running our social media platforms.

Sam Wood is a vegan travel blogger, social media manager and freelance writer originally from London, UK, but now based in Berlin, Germany. After studying linguistics, he went on to teach English as a foreign language, living in Austria and Spain, and now works with clients all over the world and travels regularly, having visited more than 50 countries. In his free time, he enjoys baking, doing yoga and performing as a drag queen. We welcome Sam’s organization in our social media communications. If you have any feedback or things you would like more of – please drop a note.



Pro Deals

We launched the Gear & Deals page in the Resources section of the website back in November 2018.

You will need to ‘log-in’ to access it as it is for PTGA Members only. Make sure to read the pre-information as not all deals are for all people. There are some with geographic restrictions due to company operations and shipping restrictions and some with PTGA status restrictions (for SPTGuides or Assessors only).

Please respect the conditions of any Deal.

We will continue adding more through the coming year so if you know of a great product or have a link to a person responsible for these sorts of things please let us know.

Battery Powered Gear

One of our Pro Deals is with Power In Motion and Ewan Blyth (SPTGuide and Assessor) has been using this equipment for over a year.

For all those Guides who suffer the eternal problem of cold hands, the future has arrived. The PTGA has recently announced a Pro-Deal with Power in Motion, the producers of e-bikes and “Motion Heat” garments. Power in Motion make a number of products but perhaps the most relevant to us as Polar Guides are their Rechargeable Heated Glove Liners. A number of PTGA members have been taking advantage of these over the last couple of seasons and have nothing but praise for these products. “These gloves have totally changed the game for me and now I can operate safely for hours in the field in any conditions knowing that I will not be suffering” says one SPTGuide. At present only a liner-style glove is on the market but testing and prototypes are well underway for a heated ski-glove. Powered by impressive 12V batteries and with multiple options for connecting to the gloves, 3 power levels will give you flexibility over your settings and hence flexibility over battery life. And if you want to go the whole way, the Motion Heat heated vest with outlets to connect to the heated gloves and the soon-to-come heated inner soles, will keep your whole body toasty warm and charge your phone whilst you’re at it! If you’re afflicted by Raynaud’s Syndrome or just suffer each time you do a long zodiac cruise or shore excursion, then this could be your saviour. Check them out on the PTGA “Gear & Deals” site.

Assessors Course

We have been training a number of In-House Assessors for A21 and now have Jamie Watts, Marieke Egan, Mariano Curiel, Pernille Soergaard, Hadleigh Measham and Graeme Snow registered and already assessing. Once again feedback from these guides has been very positive and that they get as much information and value about communication and teams out of the training for their guiding and EL work as they do about being a PTGA Assessor.

We are planning on running an ‘open’ Assessors training course in Europe (most likely Denmark) prior to the Arctic season start. If you have the pre-requisite PTGA guide level and experience and are interested in this please let us know. If you have any questions about it drop a line.

First Senior Guide status all via assessment

Marty Garwood is the first person to achieve PTGA Senior Guide status all via assessed performance. Marty works for Polar Latitudes (PL) who are an Corporate Member with the PTGA. PL have 6 In-House assessors in their team and Marty was able to work with a number of them and was assessed in 10 PTQs in the space of 3 voyages. We were keen to know how it went:

PTGA: Why did you join the PTGA in the first place?

MG: Polar Latitudes very much encourages the whole team both new and old to be a part of PTGA. It’s part of the company culture to prioritise contemporary education, training and field safety so I signed up.

PTGA: Why did you get assessed rather than apply for status via the RCC grandparent scheme?

MG: To be honest, between a new baby, VISA applications and off season work I never quite managed the RCC scheme even though I’ve been in the industry for 5 years (and had 1.5 years to submit it). Polar Latitudes had a bunch of assessors on both our ships so I knew it would be easy to get access to the assessment program whilst on board.

PTGA: You have now been through more PTGA assessments than anyone on the planet! How was it?

MG: Well it’s not quite a Guinness World record but I’ll take it! To be honest it was great. The actual assessment happened while I was doing my job and I didn’t really notice the assessors taking notes and keeping track even though they were. The feedback sessions are when you notice that the assessors are noticing what is going on and how I’m working. It was a process that forced me to self-evaluate both my strengths and weaknesses on a range of topics. After 5 years as a guide in both Antarctica and the Arctic it was an opportunity to check my progress and figure out where I can improve.

PTGA: Did the Workplace Based Assessment model the PTGA uses feel like it was relevant and testing you while you were at work?

MG: I can say ‘Yes’ and use an example. I was assessed on my Navigation and GPS skills during an excursion to the giant Adelie penguin colonies on the Danger Islands. I was driving a zodiac cruise to an island I had never been to and couldn’t even see due to heavy snowfall. Using a GPS and other navigation skills in swell and wind, around ice bergs and unidentified rocks and reefs to return to a ship I couldn’t see due to snowfall. I had to use all the navigation skills in the PTQ and more and was assessed simply just doing my job – it could not have been more authentic if we’d tried.

PTGA: Did you find the process beneficial? And did you learn from the engagement process with your assessors?

MG: It helped me realise what I don’t know and I could then fill in the gaps. The assessment process was a catalyst for learning and relearning skills needed to be a competent polar guide. It was also beneficial in that, even though I’ve been around for 5 years, it’s easy to forget things between stepping off the ship the previous season and stepping back on 10 months later.

PTGA: Any feedback for the PTGA?

MG: Nothing big, perhaps a little more focus on how to operate around wildlife to further solidify industry standards of respectful distance in Polar regions?

PTGA: Any advice for new guides signing up for assessment?

MG: Take advantage of the self-assessment portion to really understand your own strengths and weaknesses.

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

This incident is a few years old and shared by a senior guide but had an interesting sequence of events and lessons.

I was returning from driving a landing on the Antarctic Peninsula. Winds were over 30 knots and there was a big swell but I felt comfortable enough with the conditions that I tied my Zodiac up at the gangway without waiting for help and hooked it up to the crane. The ship then swung at anchor and the swell became much bigger; a particularly big set had the crane cable coiling in the bottom of the boat before it fell again into the troughs, jolting hard each time the cable came taut. The motion was too violent for me to stand and eventually I was thrown overboard between the aft of the Zodiac and the ship.

I hung onto the Zodiac’s pontoon, trying to hold myself high enough out of the water to stop my lifejacket from getting soaked through as I knew I wouldn’t be able to maneuver with it inflated.

Eventually I realized I couldn’t climb out over the pontoon and I wasn’t willing to risk climbing over the transom in the heavy swell, so I let go and swam for the gangway. My lifejacket inflated, and on arrival at the gangway I sat on a crossbrace underneath to make a plan for getting out of the water without being crushed between the gangway and Zodiac, which was still rising and falling on the swell and slamming against the gangway. Unfortunately, the swell then washed me in under the gangway, and I was pinned face up by my lifejacket on the underside of the floor grate around 50cm below the surface of the water. When the wave passed I was left floating beneath the grating, and I took the opportunity to climb out and up the side and onto the gangway. The chief officer was informed by the crane operator and he arrived as I was climbing out of the water. Other staff had looked out during the minute I was in the water but had seen only the boat tied up and not noticed me. I was dressed in offshore sailing waterproofs and Muck boots. I was wet but the clothing acted like a wetsuit so I was warm enough that I simply toweled down and put on dry clothes afterwards.

Causal Factors

  • Operating at a rough gangway without a spotter – This guide made the decision to tie up to and operate at the gangway without a spotter or assistance. In any rough conditions ‘transition zones’ are largely, and predictably, where accidents are going to occur (getting in/out of zodiacs, going from one state of doing something to another). A set of eyes or a spotter could have halted the incident process in the early stages. For many companies these days this is a mandatory requirement and standard operating procedure.
  • Loss of the ships lee – It isn’t always possible, and often difficult to hold, but the loss of a lee (shelter) at the gangway was a major contributing factor to the events that transpired. Without a spotter if the guide had communicated with the Bridge and disclosed that they were attaching to the crane in riskier conditions it could have mitigated the issue.
  • Choice of flotation device – The use of an inflatable lifejacket was very nearly the final straw that might have turned this brief incident into a tragedy. The guide involved now says they only ever use a PFD when driving because of this event and the general difficulty they have seen during a number of practice drills with MOB and zodiac drivers trying to self-rescue (or not) with inflatable lifejackets vs PFDs. Inflatable lifejackets are very effective at keeping someone afloat but are very difficult tomanouvre in or climb over a pontoon or ledge in or, in this case, duck below the water if needed to avoid being hit or to escape (zodiac or gangway).

There is excellent learning here thanks for sharing this and if you have an incident or close call we can all learn from please drop us a line.

RCC Status Report

Thanks for your patience. We still have a huge back log of RCC applications to review (>60 that arrived in the last 4 days) so this will take quite some time. We are working through them from the date received so you get a slight reward if you beat the last crush of applications around Oct 30/31. If you have serious or extenuating circumstances that require more urgent attention please let us know and we will do our best to help but please understand these reviews take some time and people have lives and jobs to fit into it as well.

By all means if you have added information send it to us or if you have gained further clarity into the process and want to give us a ‘better’ application (which helps things run more smoothly) by all means.

One particular area that is causing a road block is people not having read the PTQs before applying for them and we have to get back to you for further proof/evidence of the requisite skills and experience. The most common one is Radio and Communications PTQ. Over half of the PTQ is concerned with satellite telephony but many applications come to us outlining experience with VHF communications only and no statement or proof of ever having used a satellite phone – so we have to get in touch and wait for replies – this is our biggest time soak. So – if you are one of the 60+ outstanding applications and you know you didn’t know satellite telephony was half this award and you haven’t supplied a statement of competency/proof of competence you should get to work on amending your POE because we will ask you to do it one way or the other.

Any other queries drop us a line.


Congratulations to our most recent members reviewed through the RCC, Cross Credit scheme or assessment.
Polar Tourism Guide: Ben Osborne
Senior Polar Tourism Guide: Marty Garwood, Jamie Watts, Cam Walker, Theres Horntrich, Mattias Horntrich, Mette Elieussen, John Rodsted, Claudia Holgate, Andrea Machacek

Have a safe and fun end of season.