Aboard the world’s most traveled superyacht

“Humpbacks from the bow – all guests to the bridge,” a voice sang over the intercom at 7am on the first morning of our expedition. I blinked away sleep and ran onto the deck in my robe and a bright white glow filled my eyes through panoramic windows. Meters in front of our yacht, a group of four humpback whales were feasting on krill, surrounded by giant icebergs, as the Antarctic Peninsula loomed on the horizon. These types of encounters would soon become the norm during my week aboard the Hanse Explorer, a purpose-built expedition yacht that took us off the beaten cruise routes in Antarctica.

Most visitors to the White Continent travel aboard a cruise ship, but a lucky few explore the area on private superyachts. Hanse Explorer is such a ship. Built in 2006 by German shipping magnate Peter Harren and now owned by Swiss explorer Sven-Olof Lindblad, the 48-metre yacht is the most traveled charter superyacht in the world.

The Hanse Explorer focuses mainly on small groups of the rich and famous

The Hanse Explorer mainly targets small groups of the rich and famous – Matt Hardy/EYOS Expeditions

In 2023, she logged a whopping 35,397 nautical miles, much of it on charters for the rich and famous (our maps below show exactly where she went last year). “The customers we get are very successful people – some of the most successful in the world at whatever they do,” Captain Andriy Bratash told me. Past guests have included industry leaders, royalty and movie stars.

Accommodating just 12 guests and up to 20 crew members, Hanse Explorer offers the comfort of a luxury hotel with the personal service and flexibility of a private yacht. For guests, the exclusive experience begins before boarding. While cruise ships have to cross the treacherous Drake Passage for two days to reach Antarctica, we took what has been called the ‘penguin plane’. The two-hour flight from Punta Arenas in Chile to King George Island at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula has no set schedule and only flies when there is a suitable weather window and lands on a short gravel runway; a hair-raising experience.

Superyacht vs cruise ship

Voyages aboard the Hanse Explorer are managed by EYOS Expeditions, a pioneer in Antarctic chartering. The voice that woke me from my sleep that first morning belonged to the eagle-eyed EYOS expedition leader Richard White, a younger type of David Attenborough who first visited the region as a researcher in 1998. Together with Captain Bratash, White led a week-long voyage that was dictated by weather and nature rather than an itinerary.

“We’re not trying to go as fast as cruise ships, and we’re doing it in a different style,” White said. “We have a lot more spontaneity in what we do because we have the ability to say, ‘There’s something cool there, let’s go that way.’ We try to go to places where there is less human trafficking, and we work hard to preserve aspects of the wilderness that some other ships have lost.”

Hanse Explorer crewHanse Explorer crew

On a smaller ship like this, the crew can afford to be flexible and not be guided by a strict itinerary – Matt Hardy/EYOS Expeditions

The flexibility ensured that our zodiac trips and land landings were frequent and often spontaneous – within 10 minutes of White spotting something interesting, we were rested and on the water. This is just one of the ways a private yacht experience surpasses that of a cruise ship. Antarctic regulations allow a maximum of 100 people at a landing point at a time, so ships carrying hundreds of passengers must stop for long periods of time to allow visits for all. With just twelve guests, we could travel freely and “stop and smell the breath of the whales,” as White liked to say.

Rachel IngramRachel Ingram

Rachel Ingram on one of the ‘frequent and often spontaneous’ land landings – Matt Hardy/EYOS Expeditions

What they don’t tell you on television

While sailing we felt really alone. In one week I counted on one hand the number of other ships we passed. We spent a week traveling up and down the Antarctic Peninsula discovering things they don’t tell you about on television: the sheer stench of a penguin colony; the gunshot-like cracks of mini-avalanches. We saw Adélie and Gentoo penguins waddling along ‘penguin highways’ looking for their chicks among colonies of thousands. We saw seals lazing on the beach and fighting with others of their own kind – “seals are solitary mammals,” warned a fellow explorer, who bore the scars if he got too close.

Penguins in AntarcticaPenguins in Antarctica

Penguins are entertaining to watch – just don’t get too close, says our writer – Matt Hardy/EYOS Expeditions

We passed through the narrow Errera Channel at sunset with humpback whales ahead and chased the sun into Wilhelmina Bay, where we tried our hand at ocean kayaking. Due to the weather one day we deviated from our original plan for a landing in the picturesque harbor of Neko. “If you hear my tsunami warning, run up the hill,” White said as we walked past a donkey colony to a lookout point. On one particularly memorable Zodiac voyage, a curious humpback whale swooped beneath our ship and turned around to show us her white belly as we floated in stunned silence.

Humpback whales were not an uncommon sightHumpback whales were not an uncommon sight

Humpback whales were not an uncommon sight – Matt Hardy/EYOS Expeditions

Made for extremes

Hanse Explorer is not the usual private superyacht, most of which are built for the milder climates of the Mediterranean or the Caribbean. She is purpose-built to traverse the most unforgiving climates and conditions. “We consider her a small passenger ship because we are solidly built of steel, we are ice class and have commercial equipment that is oversized for safety,” said Captain Bratash. The yacht’s power was demonstrated when the captain deliberately steered into a small iceberg, causing the ice to crack.

Hans explorerHans explorer

The Hanse Explorer is purpose-built for unforgiving climates, with a steel construction and ice class – Matt Hardy/EYOS Expeditions

What the yacht has in resilience, she reflects in comfort. It’s an intimate experience with just six rooms – three doubles, two doubles and one master with a private terrace – offering all the comforts you’d expect.

The common areas have large windows so you can watch the scenery passing by. The main deck has a dining room, terrace and lounge where White gave daily debriefings and lectures on current issues such as climate change. The lower deck features a gym, porthole sauna and equipment room where guests can store their outdoor gear, while the upper deck features an outdoor lounge and hot tub on the bow – a picturesque spot for sunsets.

On board the Hanse ExplorerOn board the Hanse Explorer

There are plenty of outdoor spaces on board for that perfect selfie moment – Matt Hardy/EYOS Expeditions

A polar dive

Life on board the Hanse Explorer was relaxed and efficient. The crew moved like shadows – always present but rarely seen. Come have breakfast and your room will be cleaned before you return; your fresh laundry neatly folded on the bed. When you return from an excursion, the sauna is heated and the lounge has freshly baked cakes and hot chocolate with Baileys.

Meals were enjoyed together around a large dining table that was creatively decorated each day with themes ranging from Polynesia to pirates. Every day we enjoyed a hearty breakfast buffet, family lunches and four-course dinners.

The atmosphere was relaxed; within a day the guests were in their thermals. “We offer the level of service of superyachts, but we strive to create a homely atmosphere on board so that guests feel completely comfortable,” says Captain Bratash from Ukraine, who has been at the helm of the yacht since 2016.

In between excursions, the enthusiastic crew organized experiences such as kayaking and the “polar dive”. As a fair-weather swimmer, I was afraid to enter the icy water alone in my swimsuit, but spurred on by the cheers of my peers, I jumped. The shock was quickly replaced by an adrenaline rush so intense that I collapsed again the next day.

'Polar dive' of the Hanse Explorer'Polar dive' of the Hanse Explorer

Perfecting the Arctic Dive – Matt Hardy/EYOS Expeditions

On our last day, White took us to a secluded cove and suggested we take some time to reflect. The snow glistened in the sun and icebergs bobbed in the shallow water as penguins played on them. The only sounds were the call of a hunter overhead and the chirp of an excited chick reuniting with its parent, back from the sea with a belly full of krill. I felt a deep connection with nature – and it clicked. Why do people travel all over the world and spend six-figure sums for this experience? Total freedom. It turns out this is something money can buy – you just need a private yacht to get there.

How to do that

Charter trips aboard the Hanse Explorer are managed by EYOS Expeditions, hosted by Rachel Ingram. The yacht will spend the Northern Hemisphere summer in the Pacific Ocean before traveling to Papua New Guinea and then back to Antarctica. For more information or to book, contact EYOS Expeditions (eyos-expeditions.com; 001 801 390 7025) or contact info@eyos.com. Prices start from $70,000 (£56,6000) per week for a cabin charter or from $245,000 (£197,600) plus 35 percent expenses for a full private charter. Flights are extra.

Where the world’s most traveled superyachts went in 2023

Last year, BOATPro’s Global Fleet Tracker tracked the voyages of almost 7,000 superyachts, with a total of 18.7 million nautical miles between them. These were the four most traveled:

Hans explorer

The 48-metre superyacht started the year in Antarctica before sailing to the Caribbean via the Falkland Islands. The Northern Hemisphere summer was spent exploring Scandinavia and the Arctic before the long journey back to the White Continent.

Gene Chaser

Gene Chaser, owned by DNA sequencing scientist Dr. Jonathan Rothberg, completed a full circumnavigation in 2023, with stops in the Galapagos, Tokyo, Bali, Rhodes and Madeira, among others.


This 56 meter yacht, on the charter market, started the year in the Mediterranean, visited London and then embarked on a winding journey to the country of the same name via Bergen, Copenhagen, Hamburg, the Suez Canal and Singapore.


What could be better than exploring the Pacific Ocean for a year? That – together with a trip through the Northwest Passage – was the main focus for Tecla, a sailing kit built in 1915, refitted in 1989 and currently in private hands.

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