Lindblad Celebrates 50 Years of Antarctic Expeditions
PHOTO: Sven-Olof Lindblad, founder of Lindblad Expeditions (Photo courtesy Lindblad Expeditions)
Lars-Eric Lindblad is widely credited with creating a revolution in the travel industry that still reverberates today. But initially he had no interest in the travel industry.
“Above all else he wanted to be an explorer,” said Sven-Olof Lindblad, Lars-Eric’s son, at an event at the Explorer’s Club in New York on Wednesday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Lindblad’s first Antarctic expedition in 1966.
“But he was not wealthy,” said Lindblad. “In those days you had to have patrons to mount an expedition. He played with the idea of being a missionary. But unfortunately wasn’t religious, so that didn’t go very far.”
What he did instead was to go into the travel business.
“And at the end of the day it was a very fortuitous choice,” said Lindblad, “because as an explorer you can climb mountains, cross deserts and oceans and that’s wonderful. But what he happened to do was find his own special niche, which allowed him to expose hundreds of thousands of people during his lifetime to the world’s great wonders, whether they be natural, historical or cultural. He was able to foster a dialogue among people about the world and all that’s in it, and the challenges that we as human beings have to deal with.”
What began as a love of exploration of the world’s greatest places has evolved in the 21st century into an international cause to protect and preserve those wonders.
The Joy of Discovery
Lars-Eric was the first to take regular travelers to Antarctica, which Sven marks as the beginning of today’s expedition travel. The elder Lindblad created the model still used today of taking groups to Antarctica on ice-worthy ships, led by naturalists and scientists, making landings on shore with Zodiac-style inflated rubber landing craft.
Antarctica was not the only place Lindblad pioneered as a destination for travelers. He was among the first to take Americans to the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, China, the Seychelles and many other places.
The famous ornithologist and author Roger Tory Peterson, who traveled with Lindblad on some 40 expeditions, wrote, “If Lars-Eric Lindblad had lived in the year 1000, he probably would have set foot on the North American continent before Leif Ericson. Or, turning eastward, he might have reached China before Marco Polo. The Viking wanderlust is dominant in his genes.”
Wanderlust, love of travel, curiosity, affection for the earth and the joy of life, were all part of Lindblad’s personality.
“He was the most exuberant man I’ve ever met,” said Sven Lindblad. “His laughter would fill this room. He was infinitely curious. And he was someone who was able to bring people together to do great things. We’re celebrating not us as a company, but we’re celebrating him as an individual who pioneered the idea of traveling to a lot of places regular people had not traveled before.”
As a 16-year old, Sven remembers getting a postcard from his father from Antarctica.
“He had circled this area on this dilapidated looking ship and said, ‘This is my cabin.’” It was strange indeed for a teenager who knew next to nothing about Antarctica.
Sven Lindblad asked the crowd for a show of hands of how many had been to Antarctica. Many hands went up.
“It’s remarkable in this day and age that you can ask a group how many have been to Antarctica and a whole bunch of people raise their hands,” he said. “In 1966, the only people who had been to Antarctica were explorers and scientists. Many went and didn’t come back. It was not a place for lay people to go, period. They just didn’t do that.
“So when he came up with this extraordinary notion of taking folks like you and me to what was considered by many to be the most dangerous place on earth, people thought he was totally out of his mind. I didn’t realize it at the time but learned later that his partners and his bankers suggested that he had gone off the deep end.”
And yet he succeeded. A few years later he built the first purpose-built expedition ship, which he named the Lindblad Explorer, which traveled to remote places all over the world, including the polar regions, the Amazon and the South Pacific.
In his lifetime Lars-Eric Lindblad introduced the wonders of the world to thousands of people. As a young man Sven went on some of the expeditions himself and worked in his father’s company.
In 1979, he founded his own company, separate from his father’s Lindblad Travel. He called it Special Expeditions. Much later, years after his father’s death, he renamed the company Lindblad Expeditions.
“All these tales, all these experiences — at the end of the day all arrows pointed toward this one man who made it all possible and allowed us to have these experiences,” said Lindblad. “I feel extraordinarily grateful to have been in his orbit, to be his son and to have received those opportunities and be able to now try in our own way to expand upon that and share those ideas with countless people around the world.”
Alas, for an explorer born in the 20th century, there are few places left to discover for the first time. So exploration had to shift its purpose to another level to suit the times.
“We live in a new age of exploration,” said Lindblad. “We’re not going to discover a new mountain or a new continent. Those days are gone. And frankly I’m glad they’re gone.
“What we can do these days is we can apply our knowledge, technology in certain instances, to make the experiences richer wherever we are. We can also give those experience purpose beyond what we might otherwise focus on. Being there first is one idea. But now we know we live in a world that is, as Al Gore said, one where we have radically altered the relationship of our species to the planet in our lifetime. And we know that to be true. It’s manifesting itself in so, so many ways.”
Historical explorers wanted to be the first to see the wonders of the earth. Today we hope we are not among the last.
READ MORE: What Will Fox/NatGeo Mean For Lindblad?
“We are facing all kinds of challenges in terms of this interesting relationship we have with our natural systems,” said Lindblad. “So in many ways travel is one of the most interesting opportunities for us to reconnect with something that is essential to our future, essential to our spirits, our economy, our health, our security... to everything. Oddly enough, we live in a world where that doesn’t necessarily resonate at the top of the food chain in our political systems and such.
“In many ways I look upon travelers as an army, a tremendous potential army to change that fact, to make this relationship more of a priority, which is absolutely essential. And if we do believe that it is part of our responsibility to pass on a world to future generations that is either in a similar state or better, then we’ve got a significant amount of work to do. This is a critical era.
“Travel is a great thing. We should be out there as much as possible. We should encourage people to get out there, to have extraordinary experiences, to learn from those experiences and communicate those experiences in whatever possible way they can to others."
More by David Cogswell
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