Homeward Bound (HB) is a ground-breaking, global leadership initiative, set against the backdrop of Antarctica, which aims to heighten the influence and impact of women in making decisions that shape our planet. Its three strategic focal points are: I am willing and able to lead. We are stronger together. We are taking actions with impact. You can read more about how Dattner Group gave birth to this initiative here.
We are still on land, in Puerto Madryn, and we hear, day by day, what Avian Flu has brought to the Southern Oceans. On the evening before departure for South Georgia, we also hear that a storm is heading our way. We may be delayed (to avoid the storm) or, in fact, leave earlier to get ahead of it.
We board the ship, 109 very excited women. We find our rooms and settle in, under the guidance of the staff and captain of the Island Sky.
We set off, calm and quiet.
Time progresses, bad news rolls in day by day. The faculty are meeting regularly to assess the implications and to readjust our program to accommodate likely options. The ocean is rough, and many of us are feeling sick. It’s a challenging combination.
Yesterday, we met with the ship’s captain and expedition leader for HB, including Professor Sharon Robinson (science lead), Deborah O’Connell (lead facilitator), and Dr Sophie Adams (our on-ship wellbeing lead). We now must decide, as hard as we knew it would be: where are we going now and why?
We are still in rough seas.
Our decision was not easy. Changing the HB itinerary to go to South Georgia was a significant departure from our ‘normal’ itinerary. To begin with, participants were (some) reluctant to do this proposed itinerary. We persuaded them of the benefits. OK. Good. Less time in Antarctica, and more time in South Georgia (a spectacular location, full of wildlife at this time of year, nested into a physically beautiful location).
Now, with the most relevant data at hand, we are facing the choice to stay longer in the Falklands and then heading straight to the Antarctic Peninsula. No South Georgia. The Falklands as part of our original itinerary also elicited concern from some.
Today, still in rough seas, Homeward Bound magic. The captain introduced the change, as he formally welcomed us at the captain’s cocktail party (quaint old practice on ship), the rationale was irrefutable. We are sharing this because it’s an example of the intersection of leadership, science, and reasoned care.
The reasons for the change:
Every day has been bringing advice on multiple closures – it was obvious that we couldn’t/wouldn’t be landing
We could do zodiac cruising BUT weather forecasts were suggesting that even this was not sure and even if this is doable, we would in all likelihood find ourselves cruising between dead or dying seals or stressed animals at the least (a little like sending a bus of school kids through a covid ward)
Conclusively, the captain advised that South Georgia is typically a ‘crash’ site for birds, attracted by the light or simply landing on the ship. We could become a vector for the virus. No matter how deeply we cleaned ourselves and the ship, we could take the virus to Antarctica, become a vector, to the very place we most want to protect.
Finally, sites were identified in the Western Islands of the Falkland’s group that provided healthy and safe landing options.
We made the decision to not go. We knew that we and others would be disappointed. We also knew we should and would do the right thing.
The science was clear, and the leadership choice was clear. The only possible aspect that could have derailed us was the emotional inability to respond to changing circumstances.
But we stood together and did the right thing. Sad but clear.
Today, in a very choppy sea, the change is celebrated, and we are very proud of the prevailing leadership wisdom shared with the women of Homeward Bound.
At the Dattner Group, we acknowledge First Nations people both here in Australia and around the world. We thank First Nations people for the countless millennia of teaching, caring, learning, leadership and culture, and we pay our deepest respects to the wisdom of Indigenous people and custom past, present and emerging.