Tuesday 10 August 2010

Expedition cruising: Who started all this then?

Expedition and adventure cruising is firmly entrenched in the modern travel landscape. Every year there are new vessels, new itineraries, new destinations and new travellers converted to the small ship experience. But where did it all begin? Several companies claim firsts here and there, but there can be only one true ‘first’.

Many scholars will tell you the first private adventurer was the 16th Century Italian, Antonio Pigafetta, who joined Magellen on his voyage to the Indies. Of 240 men who began the 3-year odyssey, he was one of only 18 survivors – and he wrote a book.

Ernest Shackleton’s famous shipwreck, the Endurance, was originally built as a tourist ship for Arctic hunting parties. Ernest snapped it up when the builders went broke. The Germans too, to this day intrepid and stylish adventurers, began cruises to exotic locations aboard the 13,000 ton Monte Cervantes in 1928. The enterprise was risky and after one dramatic Arctic rescue, the beautiful vessel struck rocks in the treacherous Beagle Channel and sank after leaving Ushuaia. All but Captain Theodor Dreyer were saved.

However the modern era of commercial expedition cruising belongs to the efforts of one man, Lars-Eric Lindblad. Born in Sweden in 1927, Lindblad immigrated to the United States in 1951 and later became an American citizen. His company, Lindblad Travel, began tours to some of the most out-of-the-way, exotic and forbidden lands in the world. His initial offerings included the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, the Amazon, Papua New Guinea, China and Bhutan. His first charter to Antarctica was with an Argentinean Navy vessel, MS Lapataia, in 1965 with 56 passengers.

Lindblad believed that intelligent travel was a powerful force for peace and international understanding. He ignored US Government trade sanctions to countries like Cambodia and Vietnam, but earned the wrath of the administration and was levied with heavy penalties for doing so. These fines led to the collapse of his company in 1989 although the embargoes to both countries were lifted soon after.

When interviewed by the NY Times when the penalties were levied, Lindblad said he intentionally violated the sanctions. "I would do it again," he said. "Travel in my opinion is not ordinary trade. Travel is a way of communication. To embargo travel is like burning books or imprisoning journalists."

He was also an ardent conservationist and was strident in his efforts to educate travellers on the importance of preserving the natural environment.

“All the animals and land throughout the planet are held in trust by us. We have no right to destroy or change this heritage so that it becomes unrecognizable. We have a duty to pass the planet along to future generations in as unspoiled a way as possible. This requires intelligence, foresight, understanding and creative effort.” he wrote in his 1984 biography, Passport to Anywhere.

Lindblad died suddenly of a heart attack in 1994 when holidaying in Sweden. His son, Sven-Olof, who had travelled extensively with his father, continued the legacy and now operates the prestigious company Lindlad Expeditions, based in New York City.

Read more about Lindblad Expeditions at their site: www.expeditions.com

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