• Thilo Natke

On a discovery tour.


Thilo Natke is captain of the new expedition ship Hanseatic nature. For 29 years he has been sailing the seas between the Arctic and Antarctica, to the Amazon and the South Seas. Why this way of travelling fascinates him so much.

Finally we're off. From January to April I was still in Alesund in Norway at the Vard-Werft to have a quality assurance look at our first new expedition ship. Gradually the crew joined us and we got to know the Hanseatic nature, of which I will be captain.

The first voyage with passengers took place in May from Hamburg via Scotland to Bergen in Norway. A nice route to test a new ship. But what we will be driving from June on is always a challenge: We set course for the Arctic. We will see whales, huge icebergs, nature and light spectacles that only the polar waters offer. This tense expectation, which builds up when the passengers come on board and look forward to the unknown, grabs me every time. It never wears off. Not even with our guests, some have been travelling with us for 30 years to the remotest parts of the world.

The Hanseatic nature has room for 230 guests and 170 crew members and with its 138 metres long and 22 metres wide is small enough to navigate into narrow fjords. Moreover, her ice contact cannot harm anything - she has the highest ice class available for passenger ships. On the expeditions to Antarctica and Svalbard, better known as Spitsbergen, we only take 199 passengers on board - because only 100 people are allowed on shore at any one time, and we can organise two groups well.

I am fascinated by the ultra-modern bridge technology, with sonar and infrared camera. My guests can have a look at them and I'll explain all the nautical equipment. If you want, I can also tell you how navigation works. It's part of my passengers' expedition experience. You may come to me on the bridge and share with me the feeling of leading a ship.

I believe this ship will be a unique experience on expedition routes. Expedition means to have only an approximate timetable, which is always adapted to current ice and weather conditions. Even a large iceberg or whales that we can see would be a reason to take a detour. Sometimes fjords that are otherwise frozen can suddenly be navigated. Of course, we take advantage of such opportunities.

By the way, the Hanseatic nature with its three à la carte restaurants, the large cabins with balconies as well as the marina at the stern of the ship also belongs culinarily and comfortably to the absolute top class. If you like, you can swim in the open ocean directly from the ship. Not in the Arctic of course - but in southern climes it will be a lot of fun. We also have 17 Zodiacs on board, some of them electrically powered. With these expedition inflatable boats we can land anywhere. We don't need ports, we just go where we like it.

Passengers keep asking me whether a sinking like the Titanic is still possible today. Today the radar shows icebergs even at night and in fog. In that respect, I can rule out such a collision.

Even pack ice isn't usually an obstacle to my ship. Nevertheless, there are sometimes difficult situations. Like in 2003, when our passengers in South Georgia were visiting a penguin colony, and suddenly catabatic winds were blowing: strong winds that made it impossible for us to bring all guests back on board at the same time. 20 passengers had to stay ashore for a few hours for their own safety. It wasn't until dark that we all got back on board. They were happy, wet and a little proud of their adventure.

I can only say: Every expedition is different, every one feels like a pioneer journey - and it is. I hardly know anybody who doesn't like to go to the poles again and again. By the way, I discovered my own passion for expeditions in 1990 when, by chance, I first took an expedition ship to Antarctica. I must have been attacked by a bacillus that hasn't let go of me since... what luck.®

Photos: Hapag-Lloyd Cruises GmbH/SBaade

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