Meet The Team – Seb
The staff that make up the Polar Latitudes expedition and home teams are much more than a team – we are a tight knit family. Most of us voyage together year after year, sharing a deep love for Antarctica. We take immense pleasure in making sure your trip is one you’ll never forget, and are proud of how highly experienced and synced to our guests needs each staff member is.
Here’s a chance to get to know some of the members of our amazing team a little bit better.
Seb Coulthard, Polar Historian & Education Coordinator
I just From: Worcestershire, England (where they make the famous sauce no one can pronounce).
What is your background/education/field of study? As a kid, I was inspired by my grandfather and father to become an aircraft engineer. When I turned 19, I joined the Royal Navy as an aircraft engineering apprentice. During my 19 years of service in the Armed Forces, I was fortunate to get my Certificate of Competence to Supervise Aircraft Maintenance Afloat and a degree in Aerospace Engineering.
How did you first get interested in Antarctica? When I joined the Royal Navy, I was introduced to such characters as Captain Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton amongst other notable leaders. The way in which these two men managed their teams on expedition were taught to young sailors as part of ‘Leadership and Command Courses’ prior to being promoted into positions of responsibility. I went through that process and soon after being promoted as Petty Officer, I was deployed to South Atlantic, thrust into the breach, in charge of a team of 9 engineers and a single Lynx helicopter aboard an air defence destroyer (HMS Manchester)
Have you been to Antarctica? My trip to the sub-Antarctic was in 2009 aboard HMS Manchester, a Type 42 Destroyer of the Royal Navy. During that deployment my ship was ordered to visit South Georgia, quite frankly considered by most of the crew as the equivalent of going to a desolate island in the middle of nowhere. We weren’t too thrilled about it. So, I asked my mother-in-law to send me some reading material for what was potentially going to be a long and boring trip. In all her wisdom, she sent me a copy of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s account of the Endurance expedition – a tome of over 300 pages. After 2 days sailing towards this remote island, I recall lying in bed reading the book and thinking “My God, I can’t believe men did this! Where has this book been all my life?!”. As soon as my ship arrived at the abandoned whaling station of Grytviken, I rushed up the ladder and opened the hatch only to be blinded by the sunlight. As I blinked and put on my sunglasses, I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. It was like the Himalayas, rising from the ocean, surrounded by pristine snow and blue icebergs, fur seals and penguins dancing in the water. I was blown away by the beauty of the place, made all the more special by the fact that the main protagonist of the story I had just read was buried in Grytviken. After standing beside Ernest Shackleton’s grave, I made a promise to myself, that I would return to explore the island, and that I would return with others. In 2013, I returned to South Georgia aboard a full-scale replica of Shackleton’s lifeboat, the James Caird, having sailed 830 nautical miles from Elephant Island, the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary titled ‘Shackleton: Death or Glory’.
What’s your favourite thing about Antarctica? I love everything about the Antarctic, its natural beauty, and its biodiversity, but I find its short human history most interesting of all. After spending a good portion of my young adult life serving in the military, I retired from the Armed Forces in order to keep my promise to return to the place I fell in love with. I was inspired by its history, and it draws me back, every day of my life.
What is your favourite Antarctic animal? It has to be the Humpback Whale. There is something very humbling about being in a small boat when suddenly one of the largest mammals in the world rises out of the water beside you and blows its nose! Being showered in a fragrant fishy smelly is worth the trouble in order to see the rainbow created over its fluke as it dives to top up of daily meal of 1.5 tons of krill!
Tell us about your job: After I retired from the British Armed Forces, I retrained as a polar historian wilderness medic and expedition guide. My job at PL is as the embarked polar historian, I like to refer to it as the ‘ship’s storyteller’. The other role I perform at times is as the Education Coordinator, responsible for ensuring that ship guests return home inspired and informed by combining both the outdoor experience with an educational onboard the ship.
What do you love about your job at PL? It has to be the people, it’s always the people. PL has an amazing office team; expedition staff and their agents and partners are good people too. There is something very special about working with like-minded people who share your passions.
What are your favourite hobbies? My favourite hobby is rather nerdy, I enjoy digging through dusty archive material, particularly old maps, documents and books. As a historian, I draw my inspiration for storytelling from contemporary accounts of past polar expeditions and events however, I always research the original source material to get a better understanding of events. There is something very special about handling original letters written by Sir Ernest Shackleton!
What is your favourite place you have travelled? Gosh – hard question. You would think I would say something like South Georgia but, I think my favourite place has to be French Polynesia. Polar historians need a little warmth in their life too.
If you could go to Antarctica with anyone, who would it be? Easy, my daughter Alexis. She is 10 years old and loves animal. She knows everything about penguins, whales, seals and our three cats, Chippy, Tigey and George. I hope she gets to experience the Antarctic as I have been fortunate to experience it – before it changes too much in future.
So…in 2013 I re-enacted Shackleton’s boat journey across the Southern Ocean with 5 other lads, we sailed a near exact replica of the legendary ‘James Caird’ lifeboat, wearing 1916 period correct clothing, navigating using a sextant and eating starvation rations. It was the most humbling experience of my life and would later thrust me into becoming a professional polar historian. That boat is now destined to become the centre piece of a new museum to be built in Akaroa, New Zealand – birthplace of Frank Worsley, Shackleton’s Captain and Skipper of the James Caird. I built a second seaworthy replica of the James Caird between 2014-16 and that boat is now on temporary display at The Shackleton Store, London. When not in use, it is used as a documentary production prop.