The spirit of exploration. Robert McCallum
If you want to understand not only the spirit of exploration but also its operational demands, there may well be nobody better on earth to ask than Rob McCallum and his EYOS Expedition colleagues. That’s precisely what Damen did.
At EYOS Expeditions we have a lot of experience with expedition vessels. We know what works and what doesn’t work.
Imagine being surrounded by penguins as the sun rises over Gold Harbour in the South Atlantic Ocean. Or flying a helicopter over the remote active volcanoes of the Kamchatka Peninsula. For most of us, such a voyage would be the adventure of a lifetime. But for Rob McCallum, co-founder of EYOS Expeditions, organising these voyages has provided him with a lifetime of adventure.
Rob, growing up in the wilds of Papua New Guinea, was bitten early by the adventure bug. As a teenager he was already flying planes. Over the decades that followed he travelled the world extensively. He has circumnavigated Antarctica on an icebreaker and dived among the rich marine life of Micronesia. He has piloted aircraft over the interior mountains of Papua New Guinea and tracked polar bears over ice floes on the Northeast Passage. He celebrated his 40th birthday at a depth of almost 4,000 metres at the wheelhouse of the RMS Titanic.
“I’m an operative,” he says, shrugging off the suggestion that he is a living superhero. “Learning to fly and dive and that sort of thing is inherent in the role. They are just the skills I needed to get where I wanted to go.”
However, running an expedition is not all fun and games. Rob explains that his primary job is ensuring the safety of the clients and risk management; expeditions require a considerable amount of planning, management and responsibility to ensure success. Rob has designed and managed commercial submarines operations and was the coordinator for the Papua New Guinea test programme for filmmaker James Cameron’s record-setting dive to the Marianas Trench. He oversaw design and construction of research vessel and yacht Alucia at a shipyard in America.
“At EYOS Expeditions, we have decades of experience taking individuals to the most remote and spectacular destinations on Earth,” Rob says. “In very simple terms, there are two key ingredients to every successful expedition. The first is a client with a genuine sense of curiosity and wonder. The second is the sea.”
Of course, luxury expedition clients also want to experience these places in 7-star comfort and undertake all kinds of activities such as diving, flying, heli-skiing and wildlife-watching with their closest family and friends.
“Most of our clients are very successful people who want to explore our planet. They see it as a privilege to see these parts of the world and they really immerse themselves in the experience. Without exception, it’s a pleasure to provide expedition services for these individuals. They are genuinely curious and caring about our world and typically become powerful ambassadors for sustainability and protection of natural wonders.”
Exploring such extreme destinations in safety, style and comfort presents its own operational challenges, Rob explains, but there’s no doubt about the best way to get there.
“Almost by definition, the world’s most pristine places can only be accessed by sea. There are no airports, no roads, there’s really no significant infrastructure of any kind. So you need the sea to get there. And when you get there, you need a platform to run the mission. You need the tools to make complex things happen in remote places – that’s the underlying mission of any expedition vessel.”
Together as a team, the experts at EYOS Expeditions have completed thousands of expedition voyages. Along the way, they have pushed dozens of different kinds of vessels to the edge of their capability, including Rob’s ‘trip of all trips’: the circumnavigation of Antarctica. The voyage of 16,000 nautical miles with an icebreaker and two helicopters took 72 days. Recently, Rob helped a client to break a world record for the most southerly navigation by reaching 78°43.997´S and 163°41.421´W at the Bay of Whales in Antarctica’s Ross Sea.
“At EYOS Expeditions we have a lot of experience with expedition vessels. We know what works and what doesn’t work. Very few vessels are actually designed to do exploration. Most so-called explorer yachts are operating outside their design specifications. So for true luxury expeditions, we’ve often had to compromise with converted commercial vessels. That’s still a long way from a purpose-built expedition yacht with real capability. That’s why we were so excited when Damen approached us in 2015.”
In between their expeditions over the globe, Rob and his colleagues have spent many weeks in Gorinchem together with Damen’s design, naval architecture and engineering experts. The winning collaboration of a highly experienced expedition operator with a highly capable shipbuilder has resulted in the Damen SeaXplorer range of luxury expedition yachts and the Damen Expedition Cruise vessel. Damen sold the first SeaXplorer yacht in 2016, which is now under construction and will be delivered in late 2019.
“I think Damen’s SeaXplorer is the best expedition yacht ever designed. It’s really ground-breaking and I think it says a lot about Damen as a company and how they are prepared to innovate and develop such a project. In 10 years I think we’ll look back and say this is the catalyst that changed the luxury expedition market.”
Luxury expeditions are a growing niche in the shipbuilding market that Damen can certainly claim leadership in. However, to all of us who would love to see more of the world but are still saving for our first expedition vessel, don’t despair.
“My philosophy is to stay curious wherever you are,” Rob says. “There is always an adventure waiting for you if you have a sense of wonder about the world. That is the spirit of exploration.”