The utmost point of the Earth, whales and the dog watch: Alexander Khvan took part in the Antarctic expedition

January 24, 2023

During ten years of study and work at MAI, Alexander Khvan proved himself as a student, professor, supervisor and engineer. Now the title of a sailor has been added to the list – for half a month the MAI resident received this qualification on an ice-class sailboat in the waters of Antarctic. He traveled 1800 nautical miles (3333 kilometers). The Southern Ocean is considered one of the most dangerous, but due to MAI hardening and scientific interest, he was not afraid of either giant waves or floating ice.

White continent

Alexander Khvan has already visited 57 countries. In 2020, he was planning to travel to South America when the pandemic interfered with his plans.

– Sitting somewhere in the Amazon region, near Manaus, I was thinking about what next trips I would like to make. I opened the map and saw a white continent next to South America, about which I hadn't heard much. I heard that Bellingshausen and Lazarev discovered Antarctic, that there are no tourists there and scientific research is being conducted there too. I liked the idea and began to look for ways to get there.

As a result, he signed up for a scientific and educational program of maritime practice. Back to studies again, only not at the aviation institute, but on a ship. He studied the mechanics of owning a schooner, knots, working with sailing equipment. Instead of a smartphone there were ship logs, where you need to input coordinates, temperatures, pressure, wind speed manually. Instead of the Internet, there are many books and articles devoted to Antarctic.

The southernmost lecture of MAI

The trainees not only received new knowledge, but also shared their own with other sailors: an "open microphone" was arranged on the ship, where everyone could tell something from their professional sphere, but necessarily with a scientific bias. So, in Antarctic, Alexander Khvan read the southernmost MAI lecture.

– I told about the stages of aircraft development - the Stage-Gate methodology in particular, about the possible application of the Gate system method in other scientific, production and aviation projects. Since all the trainees were from different industries, the listeners were interested in management methods that are applied in the aviation industry.

The lecture on the ship impressed even the cook, who presented Alexander with a polar aviation medal from his personal collection.

Go around the iceberg and put it into your glass

There were 19 people on board of the 40-meter sailboat, and they had to stick to the schedule. Daily watches are mandatory.

– In professional jargon it is called “dog watch” – 24:00 to 4:00 a.m. to be done daily. When it was necessary, at night we made sure that there will not be a collision with an iceberg. Our schooner “Amazone” was built in 1963, and it was made of wood. This is not a “Titanic” or an all-terrain vehicle, and therefore it requires special attention and care.

Part of the expedition was during the holidays, and the icebergs arrived right to the New Year table.

– On New Year's Eve, we were near Trinity Island and conducted reconnaissance, examined the grottoes. I noticed icebergs of small size in the water, the idea came to me to catch a few of them, split them and add them to our glasses on New Year's Eve. It turned out to be awesome!

The expedition visited five Antarctic islands and ended on the mainland. Among the stops there were research stations in Antarctic: the Russian "Bellingshausen", the Chilean "Frey" and the English "Port Lockroy".

– We listened to the stories of polar explorers, which are important for our study of this part of the planet. People there are rare to meet, Antarctic belongs to animals, fish, birds.


In addition to the task of returning alive and unharmed, the interns pursued a scientific goal - to film the flora and fauna of Antarctic in order to transfer photo and video materials to the scientific community for further research. With the help of a drone, the trainees managed to take pictures of the whales.

– By the fins you can determine what kind of whale it is, how old it is and what kind of life it lives. The caudal fin is especially interesting, since each whale has a unique tail fin, like a human palm. There is a whole database with photographs of tail fins that scientists analyze and draw conclusions about the life of a particular whale.

The team also managed to observe unique moments in the life of ocean inhabitants.

– We went around the storm and heard inhuman screams piercing the entire body. We turned off the engine and saw three or four killer whales circling near a huge 15-meter humpback whale. According to scientists, we observed a rarer phenomenon than just hunting. Probably, the family of whales was walking along its route and heard a flock of killer whales. Then one of the adult whales, protecting the cub, attacked predators, so that in the meantime the partner whale could leave with the cub to a safer place.

From Antarctic to Mars

Antarctic has become a fierce test for Alexander Khvan. Single overcoming of the Drake Strait with five-meter waves was very dangerous. If one of the most difficult and dangerous places on Earth has been conquered, does it mean that the conquest of another planet is also possible?

– Once I dreamed of being among the first colonizers of Mars. After traveling to Antarctic, I realized how romanticized this idea was and looked at it from another angle. I experienced myself what it was like to live for a long time in isolation on a small schooner with the same people, follow the rules established on the ship, do monotonous work and face difficult conditions. Now I understand that all this is difficult psychologically and you definitely need to seriously prepare for this.

The expedition would not have been possible without MAI school, Alexander is sure.

– MAI made me a person capable of going to Antarctic. Here, during my studies and work, I acquired the necessary knowledge, the desire to engage in scientific research, constantly develop and expand my horizons. All this made the realization of a seemingly impossible dream in my life come true.

Alina Mirnaya

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