Interview with expedition guide Laurence Dyke
Guides are the backbone of Oceanwide Expeditions, a frontline team as vital to our operations as the captains, crew, and all those poor hard-working office folks we never see.
But while we regularly interview our veteran expedition guides, we all too often overlook the youngbloods in our ranks. This does not accurately underscore their importance, though, because these expert ice addicts represent the next generation of polar travel leaders.
Laurence Dyke is a prime example. While he’s only been with OEX since 2018, he has quickly become among our most capable guides and a highly recognizable face aboard our vessels.
We talked to Laurence about what this means from his point of view, and how it all started.
What did you do before becoming an expedition guide?
I have a background in science, specifically glaciology.
I spent seven years working in research, initially as a PhD student based at Swansea University, and then as a postdoctoral researcher based at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), in Copenhagen.
My research was focused on Greenland. I was working to understand how the vast Greenland Ice Sheet has changed over hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of years. The idea was that if you can understand how, and why, the ice sheet has changed in the past, then you can make better predictions about what will happen in the future.
Image by Mads Pihl
That must’ve involved a lot of fieldwork.
Quite a lot.
Some of it was on land, examining the Greenland landscape, making maps, and collecting rock samples. But a lot was from boats, too. This involved collecting sediments from the seabed to understand how the ocean and glaciers have changed through time.
Once all the fieldwork was done, there was endless lab work and analysis to produce the data from samples. Then finally you gather all the data, try to understand what it is trying to tell you, and write it all up in a scientific publication.
And in walks Oceanwide…
That’s right. Part of my research involved working on a big expedition to northwest Greenland on the Swedish icebreaker Oden. Here I met a biologist, Åsa Lindgren, who worked for Oceanwide Expeditions.
I had no idea that being an expedition guide was even a job, so when I saw photos that she had taken while working in the places I love, I was very curious.
My contract in science ended a year and a half later, and I applied to Oceanwide Expeditions. I think I was pretty fortunate that my experience and skills matched the requirements of being an expedition guide, and I was offered a job in the Arctic.
Was it a smooth transition?
Well, there were a lot of questions from the staffing department first. They wanted to know what subjects I would lecture on, how much boating experience I had, whether I had experience with rifles, and so on.
Those office people, so obsessed with details.
But once that was out of the way, I was offered a job. And before long, I was headed for the high Arctic. My first trip was a Polar Bear Special in Svalbard aboard Plancius.
It was a memorable voyage. Our first landing was in Raudfjord on a crisp snowy day at the start of the summer, and above all I remember an overwhelming sensation of being extremely fortunate to work in such a beautiful place.
Image by Andreas Umbreit
Did any trip highlights take place there?
I have two favorite trips, both on the sailing vessel Rembrandt van Rijn, and both during the annual crossing from Svalbard to Greenland at the end of the summer season.
I guided these Greenland trips in 2018 and 2019, and each was completely different, with variable weather, ice, and wildlife, but both were absolutely incredible. The crossing is the one trip a year we have a permit to enter the Northeast Greenland National Park.
It is without doubt the most stunning place I have ever been.
Image by Victoria Salem
Is there a catch to this line of work?
The limited contact we have with friends and family back home is challenging. We do have some internet and the ability to phone out from the ship, but it’s expensive.
Even so, it is all worth it – especially for the Zodiacs. My favorite part of being an expedition guide is Zodiac cruising. I love being on the water and driving boats, and I also love being able to tell our passengers about the landscapes we are immersed in.
As a glaciologist, I especially enjoy showing people glaciers and explaining how they work, but finding wildlife is also really rewarding.
And Greenland still has your heart, right?
Whilst all of the places we go are beautiful, I have to admit that I am a Greenland addict. Perhaps it’s a case of “first love.”
I first encountered the incredible landscapes, wildlife, and people of the polar regions in Greenland. And although I have been visiting Greenland for more than a decade, the more I go there, the more I am drawn into this incredible island.
Greenland is wild, beautiful, and can be really inhospitable. It’s an exhilarating mix of beauty and danger, and I can’t get enough of it.