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Polar guide Bill Smith (77) returns home to Clachtoll after latest adventures in Antarctic

By Niall Harkiss

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Life is full of adventure and excitement for Assynt septuagenarian Bill Smith, who has returned from his latest expedition to the Antarctic.

Bill (77), recently made his way home to Clachtoll following a two-month spell working as a polar guide and trainer travelling across Antartica, the Falklands and South Georgia.

As an approved Antarctic polar guide for the International Association of Tour Operators, Bill can be found at least twice a year in either of the polar regions, north or south. This past winter, he travelled on board the Hondius, a Dutch ice-strengthened cruise ship.

Bill Smith, 77, near Base Brown, an Argentine station in the Antarctic peninsula
Bill Smith, 77, near Base Brown, an Argentine station in the Antarctic peninsula

Bill said: “We completed a number of voyages south from Ushuaia (a port city in Argentina), and we made a special trip before Christmas into the middle of the Scotia Sea, part of the South Atlantic ocean, to observe an eclipse.

“Life is exciting aboard an expedition vessel. There is a new location every day with unimaginable wildlife encounters, such as enormous bird colonies on remote islands in the Falklands, beaches filled with over 500,000 penguins and thousands of fur and elephant seas on South Georgia.

“We visited abandoned whaling stations, paid homage at the graves of Ernest Shackleton and Frank Wild graves at Grytviken (South Georgia), and sailed into the caldera of the Deception Island volcano. We visited Point Wild on Elephant Island, famous as the location where Shackleton left his men as he sailed the 100 miles to South Georgia.”

The Hondias encountered 50ft waves and dodged gigantic icebergs. Those aboard cruised through frozen seas in zodiac inflatables, experiencing close encounters with whales and seals.

The former principal teacher of art and design had a “serendipitous” transition from the classroom to the Antarctic.

He said: “Years ago before I was retired, I was asked to deliver first aid training to polar expedition leaders at a conference in Holland. They discovered my range of snow, ice and water expertise and that I was an instructor in many disciplines.

“They then invited me to become a polar guide/lecturer. I began to work with the office in Holland pre-Arctic and Antarctic season preparing the vessels for expedition and that led gradually to being invited to become their polar guide/trainer.”

Despite his advancing years and a hip replacement operation, Bill has no plans to give up his polar adventures just yet.

"It helps that I do not lie down! I know that this morning never exists again, therefore I make the most of every minute of every day, of every week, of every month, of every year.

"I want my life to be full of interest. Life should be stimulating. There could hardly be anything more magnificent than the experiences I have had in places in Antarctica and Georgia and places like that."

Bill Smith on the beach in the Falklands with the bones of a gigantic fin whale.
Bill Smith on the beach in the Falklands with the bones of a gigantic fin whale.

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