Tony Soper was first bowled over by Antarctica when he sailed the furious fifties as lecturer in the pioneer tourist vessel World Discoverer in 1992. Lucky to get the job, his knowledge of southern ocean wildlife would have gone comfortably on a postage stamp. Looking for a pocket guide to the birds to find there was no such thing, he set to and carried a pile of 4x3 cards (this was not only before the internet, it was before decimalisation). On return, he persuaded his chum Hilary Bradt (they sailed the Indian Ocean together) that those filecards needed upgrading to paperback, decorated with superb watercolours by Dafila Scott (who had better Antarctic connections). And he upgraded his ship job to become Expedition Leader for subsequent seasons, sailing in Russian research vessels, designed for work in ice-infested coasts and manned by men with unrivalled experience of ice navigation.
Like the trans-hemisphere Arctic tern, he migrated annually to the deep south after that first baptism, crossing the dreaded Drake Passage many dozens of times to enjoy the endless excitement and pleasures of exploring the spectacular scenery and the world of penguins and great whales. In those early days the reward was to be sailing waters which were poorly-charted but with undiscovered wildlife treasures, finding new routes to remote islands with penguin-rich beaches and those bays and backwaters where stranded icebergs make for wonderful zodiac cruises and chances to find yourself alongside whales and basking seals.
Today, the Antarctic season is home for a visiting flotilla of expedition ships, from small vessels carrying fifty hardy explorers to enormous luxury vessels carrying more than a thousand in search of a polar treat. For the fullest experience, he advises choice of a ship which offers beach landings and zodiac cruises. And be aware that the Expedition Leader will have great influence on the success of your trip. Reading the Bradt guide at least guarantees an introduction to the wonderful wildlife without the disadvantage of crossing the Drake in a westerly storm and five-metre waves.
Dafila Scott is an artist and zoologist, member of the Society of Wildlife Artists and 'Scott of the Antarctic's' grand-daughter.