A Dream Becoming a Reality

August 2, 2019 Malcolm Ellis

When we started discussing the possibility of building a ship that would allow us to explore further into the Arctic and Antarctic than previously possible, the idea – though intriguing – seemed more like a dream than a reality. When we started talking to designers and engineers about the innovations needed to make such a ship possible, we realized that our vision could be achieved, and intrigue turned to excitement. We understood that it would be a huge undertaking to build a vessel that could take people to rarely visited parts of the world – but we also knew we had to do it. Our corporate mission is to keep expanding the frontiers of polar expedition, and this ship will allow us to do just that.

Invited guests watch as the keel of Ultramarine is lowered into place for the ceremony

Now, here we are, celebrating another landmark moment in our journey toward seeing that vision become a full-fledged reality. The first milestone was the steel-cutting ceremony, which took place in January 2019. The second took place in June, when we unveiled the ship’s name: Ultramarine, which, appropriately, means “beyond the sea.” And the third took place just last week, at Brodosplit, in Split, Croatia, where we held the keel-laying ceremony, marking the next chapter in Ultramarine’s construction: the build of its hull and superstructure.

The keel-laying event is significant because it signifies the moment that a ship officially becomes recognized as its own entity. It is exhilarating to watch the different parts of the outside of this grand vessel come together – to watch the ship literally start to take shape. And though ship materials may have changed over time, from wooden ships, where the keel was a piece of timber, to today’s steel ships, where the keel is a central beam, the spirit of this ceremony endures: it is about the shared human instinct to explore, and to build ships that take us beyond known horizons.

A group photo of all guests invited for the keel laying ceremony

Some keel-laying ceremonies, like ours, also include an ancient ritual called the coin ceremony. Seafarers have been carrying out this custom for centuries, choosing a special coin and placing it somewhere on the ship to lend it good fortune on its travels. It’s a tradition steeped in deep meaning and symbolism, and we were excited to perform it for Ultramarine.  

Ultramarine's coin

Our coin is a beautiful silver one featuring one of our favorite polar creatures: the Emperor penguin. This majestic animal is particularly special to us, because it represents an achievement that stands as one of the most memorable among our many polar milestones: our becoming the first-ever operator to take passengers to Snow Hill Island to observe these magnificent creatures in their native habitat. I can’t think of a better ambassador for our ceremonial coin.

Ultramarine's coin being welded onto the ship by Malcolm Ellis

I was the one fortunate enough to perform Ultramarine’s coin ceremony. It was a moment I will remember for the rest of my life. While I was welding the coin into Ultramarine’s hull, I imagined all of the incredible moments that will take place on this vessel. When you travel to the Polar Regions, your perspective changes forever. Mine did. My first visit to Antarctica prompted me to quit my job and join Quark Expeditions. And now I am fortunate enough to play a part in building a ship that will undoubtedly deliver similar transformative moments to others. There is something truly special about that.

Check out this short video of the Keel Laying event in Split, Croatia: 

About the Author

Malcolm Ellis

Almost a true Manxman, having been brought up on the Isle of Man, a small island in the Irish Sea, I have spent much of my time in, on and around the sea. A degree in Maritime Geography at the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology (now called Cardiff University) fueled my interest in marine disciplines. During my 15 years working in corporate risk and safety management for the TUI Travel Group (a previous owner of Quark Expeditions), I supported over 200 businesses across 180 countries. I first visited Antarctica in 2010. I subsequently resigned my corporate role (twice!) to join the Quark Expeditions team in the field as a Zodiac driver and naturalist guide. My role as Senior Vice President, Operations encompasses the strategic and commercial aspects of the Operations and Product departments, including fleet contracting and development, and I am deeply involved in the design, delivery and deployment of Quark Expeditions’ purpose-build expedition vessels.

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