Chartering Antarctica

Antarctica may be the ultimate in exotic cruise destinations.


t was midnight when Nicolas Benazeth stepped onto the aft deck as the crew prepped the sub for a dive to about 200 feet. The 254-foot expedition yacht Legend was anchored in an Antarctica bay that looked like it was “on another planet. The light — you have these amazing mountains all covered in ice and snow, so everything is smooth with this eerie, moonlight glow,” he says. “The sub has this amazing array of lights, and you see these alien life forms down on the seabed. And I was thinking, I’m in a submarine at night in Antarctica seeing these jellyfish and worms and things that you see on nature programs.” Even after the sub returned to the yacht, Benazeth remained in awe. “You think, Did I just do that? Is this real? ” he says. “I came out of that night dive thinking nothing could ever top this, and the next day, I was hanging out with a whole pod of killer whales.”

antarctica yachting charter
The yacht: Legend is a 254-foot Class 1 ice-breaking vessel that accommodates 26 guests, 19 crew and 10 expedition specialists.  The destinations: The yacht alternates seasons between Northern Europe (Greenland and the Norwegian fjords) and South America and Antarctica. All-terrain toys: On board are a helicopter, a three-person submarine and more. The fine print: Camper & Nicholsons International markets Legend in Antarctica at a starting weekly base rate of about $570,000.Christopher Scholey/Eyos Expeditions

Jacqui ­Lockhart was with Benazeth as the orcas encircled Legend’s tender.

“I was on my knees on the bottom of the tender with my elbows on the tube, on the side, and I took this picture, and this whale was coming straight at me,” she says. “And then it went under the tender. It was ­crazy.

That same bull whale kept going alongside and looking me in the eye — it was looking right at me.”

Liz Howard was there too, and ­equally speechless.

“I have spent, I don’t know how much time with whales in Alaska,” she says. “I was crew up there for three years. Nothing was like this. They would come right up to us — their eyes and face would be less than a foot from the tender — and then they’d go under the tender, and we could feel them there.”

antarctica yachting charter
(Clockwise from top left) Intricate sole inlays in Legend’s interior; Penguins at play ashore; Legend’s three-person submersible for exploring under the ice; Legend has 13 staterooms for 26 guests; The yacht was built with cabins for 10 expedition staff, such as these guides, in addition to 19 crew.Christopher Scholey/Eyos Expeditions; Jacqui Lockhart (above left)

These people may sound like gushing schoolchildren after a first trip beyond their hometown borders, but they’re actually three of the most experienced charter brokers in the world. Benazeth, who is director of charter at CharterWorld, has been in Australia’s Kimberley coast, Indonesia’s Raja Ampat Islands and the South Pacific islands. Lockhart, a broker with Camper & Nicholsons International, knows top-end yachts so well that she was tapped to run the MYBA Association’s boat-show committee. Howard, a broker with Fraser, has cruised everywhere from Fiji and Dubai to the Galapagos and Myanmar.

They are people who have seen it all, as far as superyachts and exotic destinations go — and to a person, they’ve never seen anything like what Legend is now offering in Antarctica.

“The only word that I can use to describe what the experience was like is otherworldly,” Howard says. “Amazingly u­nique doesn’t begin to describe the experience.”

antarctica yachting charter
Vessels like cruise ships with more than 50 passengers are limited in terms of shore excursions. Legend’s guests can have more intimate encounters.Christopher Scholey/Eyos Expeditions

Legend is the only Class 1 ice-breaking charter yacht, converted during a two-year project at Icon for use in extreme regions. Where yachts in the Caribbean might pile paddleboards, Legend has gear for heli-skiing down Greenland’s peaks. Where yachts in the Mediterranean might have ­mahogany sailing dinghies, Legend has a commercially rated helipad.

“Inside Legend, you would not know that it’s an expedition vessel,” Howard says. “But what he’s done is that instead of filling it with Wave­Runners and ­Seabobs, there’s a ­submarine and ice-ready tenders.”

Ice-ready is a key concept in Antarctica, where vessels often turn back because of the frozen waters.

antarctica yachting charter
A guest knelt in a tender while this whale came right at her and dove under it.Christopher Scholey/Eyos Expeditions

“Legend is set up where, even the tenders, they can get through the ice fields,” Howard says. “It was like sitting in a huge gin and tonic with crushed ice.”

The weekly base rate for an Antarctica charter is about $570,000, and all-in with the sub, helicopter and other expenses, Howard says, the total is about $1 million.

It’s worth it, she and the others say, for anyone who thinks he’s seen it all.

“It offers something that there’s no other way in the world to do,” Howard says. “It’s pure luxury in pure nature.”