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Few have a resume as illustrious as that of Kathryn Sullivan.
The first American woman to walk in space. The first woman to dive to Challenger Deep, the deepest point on Earth in the Mariana Trench. The first human to do both, earning her the title of the World’s Most Vertical Person. Three shuttle missions, including the one that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope.
Distinguished scientist, renowned astronaut, intrepid explorer.
And that’s barely dipping a toe in the ocean of achievements and awards Sullivan has picked up in more than seven decades of adventuring.
“It’s about the world around me – how things work, what other people are like, why the world is a certain way, what different cultures are like … it’s bizarrely broad and unfettered.”
Not bad for the New Jersey native who didn’t really know what she wanted to be growing up. “‘I wonder…?’ has always been the question that comes to my mind,” is how she explains the internal compass that has led her to the literal depths and heights of the universe.
A pervasive and intense curiosity is standard when you’re Sullivan.
“It’s about the world around me – how things work, what other people are like, why the world is a certain way, what different cultures are like … it’s bizarrely broad and unfettered,” she says of her plethora of interests.
It’s this unyielding spirit of discovery and exploration that caught the attention of Australians Glen and Karen Moroney, Co-Founders and Owners of the cruise company Scenic Group. Recognizing Sullivan as the embodiment of their values, the Moroneys approached her to be the ‘godmother’ of their latest Discovery Yacht, Scenic Eclipse II.
The ultra-luxury expedition Polar Class 6 ship, which is able to take on the rigors of both Arctic and Antarctic waters, is marketed as a six-star experience. Combining high-tech engineering with refined design, it was envisioned to embody the same spirit of discovery that has defined Sullivan’s life.
“I’m proud to be associated with such a remarkable vessel.”
“To be chosen as the godmother of Scenic Eclipse II is a tremendous honor,” she says simply. “This ship represents the essence of exploration and ultra-luxury coming together in harmony. I’m proud to be associated with such a remarkable vessel.”
For all her lauded achievements, Sullivan is quaintly humble when it comes to her latest role, remarking that since actor Helen Mirren is the godmother of sister ship Scenic Eclipse, she is delighted to be in such famous company.
‘Never in my wildest dreams,” she says, shaking her head. “Someone like me should not be allowed to have all the experiences I’ve had.”
I hear a whisper from one of the ship’s 192-strong crew that Sullivan won a legion of new fans with her line of questioning about their quarters when she first came aboard. For Sullivan, the mantle of ship’s godmother is about much more than merely breaking the traditional bottle of Champagne against its bow.
“I’m a leader,” she confirms when I ask her about it. “Of course I want to see where my crew is living and working. It’s a privilege to be part of this ship’s company.”
For the record, I’m reliably informed by countless crew members that their quarters are indeed worthy of the ship’s ultra-luxe reputation.
It’s this laser focus as a team player on which Sullivan prides herself.
“It’s the ability to draw people together to a common purpose,” she explains. “As a leader, you have to paint a strategic picture, a compelling guide, of where you’re going.”
Sullivan grins. “You’re not leading if you don’t have followers.”
Precisely where Sullivan would like the Scenic Eclipse II’s guests to follow her is no surprise for an explorer whose fascination with the planet’s waters is well documented.
“Most people view the ocean as a blue carpet, dark and foreboding. ” she says. “But seeing what’s beneath, meeting a different slice of the world, a magical 3D environment that’s teeming with life, transforms the understanding of the ocean.
“Everyone has sky and stars above them. To really understand what it takes to make life on this planet, you need to go into the ocean. It’s a minestrone soup of organisms, wherever you look.”
“As a leader, you have to paint a strategic picture, a compelling guide, of where you’re going.”
Sullivan cites Scenic Neptune, the discovery yacht’s custom-designed submersible, as the key to enriching guests’ ocean experience. Eight will take their seat alongside an expert pilot to explore the depths. Still more can take advantage of a bird’s eye view of the landscape by taking a seat on one of the Discovery Yachts two state-of-the-art Airbus H130 helicopters, with their expansive windows and large, wrap-around windscreens ensuring outstanding visibility from each of the six seats.
Then there are the 12 Zodiacs along with kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and snorkeling adventures to be had, not to mention e-bikes to explore on dry land.
Sullivan nods approvingly.
“These are safe and rich learning experiences for guests seeking to probe different dimensions,” she explains. “Not many organizations can reach the seamlessness of safety and reliability at which the Scenic Discovery team operate.”
While exploration and discovery are paramount for Sullivan, sustainability occupies equal billing. Her speech at the ship’s christening ceremony, held in Málaga in June, emphasized the importance of responsible exploration.
“The spirit of adventure and exploration should always go hand in hand with a deep respect and care for the environment. We must remember that these wonders we explore are delicate ecosystems that need our protection.”
She tells me that the fact the ship minimizes its environmental impact throughout its voyages made the idea of being its godmother all the more attractive.
“Scenic has really worked hard on how it fosters exploration and discovery while treading lightly on the planet,” she says. “There’s no single use plastic, no single use packaging, and the Scenic Eclipse II has a GPS Dynamic Positioning system that holds it in place, which means there’s no need to drop anchor in ecologically sensitive seabeds.
“Then there’s its reduced fuel consumption and a propulsion system that minimizes disturbance to marine life, a wastewater system that avoids negative effects on marine life and the use of the latest grade of marine fuel, which cuts sulfur emissions by up to 95 percent.”
It’s clear that Sullivan believes luxury and responsible travel are not mutually exclusive.
“The spirit of adventure and exploration should always go hand in hand with a deep respect and care for the environment.”
“Travelers today are seeking meaningful experiences that not only provide comfort and indulgence but also contribute positively to the destinations they visit,” she says. “Scenic Eclipse II sets a high standard for the industry by prioritizing sustainability without compromising on luxury.”
With the honor of godmother to Scenic Eclipse II comes the opportunity to experience a voyage every year for the rest of her life.
“I’m eager to join,” Sullivan says with a laugh. “I’ve been looking through the itineraries and deciding on which one to pick first. Seeing the level of ultra-luxury that is possible, in what is truly an expedition vessel, has me wondering what Scenic could do with the rather restrictive confines of the Space Shuttle and the super-cramped environment of the submersible we used to dive the Mariana Trench.”
I say I’d plump for Antarctica, while Sullivan muses about the possibility of joining the ship as it explores Australia’s Kimberley region in 2024. We end up agreeing that frankly, we’d go anywhere as long as it was on Scenic Eclipse II.
“ I wonder..?” she ponders. Quite what she wonders isn’t abundantly clear, but what is evident is that Sullivan’s journey as the ship’s godmother is testament to the power of human curiosity and the pursuit of excellence. Much like the ship she now represents, Sullivan’s spirit will continue to inspire and shape the future of ultra-luxury exploration for generations to come.
Find out more at Scenic.com.au, including full details of the submersible and helicopter discovery experiences.