Captain’s Spotlight: Jens Köthen & Hanse Explorer
EYOS is lucky to work with some of the most accomplished and capable captains in the industry. This includes Jens Köthen, one of the men at the helm of Hanse Explorer. Join us for a conversation with this intrepid captain about sailing a world-class expedition yacht, charting exploratory courses through ice, and sharing the world’s most remote destinations with guests.
Can you introduce yourself and explain in a few words your journey to captaining Hanse Explorer? How did you get your start on yachts and what drew you to the responsibility of being a captain?
- Where do I start? Almost 40 years ago I left school at the age of 16. And ever since then, I’ve been at sea. I grew up behind the iron curtain in East Germany and I started as a deckhand on the East German cargo ship fleet. Later, I moved to West Germany, worked for seven years driving ships on a lake, and once that got boring I went back to school and started studying at the Maritime College for my officer’s license. Having spent my first officer years on a product tanker, I couldn’t fathom spending my career driving petrol products all around the world so I began in the expedition world. After my first season in Antarctica, I was hooked. There was only one thought in my mind, and that was “I have to come back.” Ever since then I probably managed to go back there every season. And it’s my favorite place in the world.
What, in your opinion, makes for the ideal expedition yacht? How does Hanse fit into this category for you and what sets her apart from other expedition yachts on the water today?
- What I like about the Hanse Explorer is the spirit we have onboard. We always want to push our limits and push the boundaries. We want to do real expeditions. We never do anything conventional and we always want to do the best. Having a tool like Hanse is the biggest gift in the world because we can play with it. She is not your typical luxury white boat, but this is also not really what we want or what we need. She has the highest ice class, she is extremely maneuverable, and she can go into serious conditions. She is built to withstand any sea conditions. And that’s what we do. We have our own spirit in what we do.
Hanse is well suited for expedition operations in both the tropics and the polar regions, so you have seen the entire spectrum of conditions and challenges at sea. What were some of your most challenging conditions? Have there been any particular expeditions that stand out among all the others?
- Yes, I mean, of course, we are basically underway and in some of the most challenging ocean areas in the world. That by itself is already a challenge. South Georgia or the Northwest Passage. These are extremely challenging areas, navigation and weather-wise. You really need to know what you’re doing. Of these many, many expeditions, one of the more memorable started in Ushuaia. We went to Cape Horn, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands. From there we went to prove a landing at Bouvet Island, a small Norwegian island in the middle of the South Atlantic furthest away from any land. I was leading and executing all landing operations simply because we didn’t have any other crew available with Zodiac experience for this particular landing in this huge surge and huge swell. Nobody even believed that we were able to do landing operations there without helicopter. But we did.
How many years have you been with Hanse and where have you taken her?
- I met Hanse Explorer while sailing on another ship in a Greenlandic fjord. And I saw that blue vessel and her shape and immediately thought she looked fascinating, unusual even. Because I had not seen anything like it anywhere else. So I joined her in 2009. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be on the Calypso and be like Jacques Cousteau. Hanse Explorer is not the Calypso, but something very much like it. Through those years, I’ve been to many places: Norway, Svalbard, East and West Greenland, Canada, the Northwest Passage, Chile, Argentina, Antarctic Peninsula, of course, South Georgia, Falkland Islands, Crozet Islands, King Edward and Marion Islands, South Africa, French Polynesia, the Southern and Northern Line Islands in the South Pacific, other regions in the South Pacific, the list goes on…
In what ways does your expertise affect the guest experience? How do you work with the EYOS team to decide things like landing sites and itineraries?
- I would say without a doubt here on Hanse Explorer, we have two expedition yacht captains with an unrivaled navigational experience in the Arctic and Antarctic. Together, we have a combined expertise of more than 30 years in these areas. It’ll be difficult to find another yacht in the industry that can offer their guests a similar level of experience in these polar destinations and the remote regions of the South Pacific. This is what we bring to the table in cooperation with our EYOS team onboard. If the expedition leader asks, “Can we do this?” our first impulse is always “Yes!” and “How can we make this work?” We weigh our risks, of course, but if anything looks doable we will always go for it. And here comes the experience into play. Because we are now able to access this huge treasure trove that is our experience and say “We can do this,” but without entering a zone where we can’t calculate the risks anymore. Especially in ice situations, you must always think “How far can I push the limits to safely navigate out of this again?” That only goes with experience.
You’ve already broken boundaries and pushed the limits more than most in yachting. What’s next? What expeditions are you looking forward to with EYOS and Hanse Explorer?
- I’m looking forward to next year when we’re going to Papua New Guinea and Melanesia. That’s an area where I have never been. So that’s fantastic. And I am always looking forward to Antarctica. I don’t really have a bucket list anymore but I still like to be surprised. Antarctica is perfect for that. Wind and weather conditions are always changing. The ice situation is constantly in motion and ever-changing. It doesn’t matter if you have visited one place already a few dozen times; it’s never the same. In the beginning, exciting new destinations may have played a bigger role. Not so much anymore. The most satisfying and beautiful part of my role as Captain is having guests onboard. I love the interaction and being able to share with them what I love to do. We have such an intimate environment that we create onboard with our crew and guests. You find yourself with 27 people in Antarctica literally at the end of the world for a period of time. Isn’t that amazing and crazy when you think about it?! All of our guests arrive as strangers and leave as friends, every time. That’s the most beautiful part. And that’s what I’m looking forward to – meeting new people and doing something truly unique and wonderful with them.