How I Work: Yvette du Preez

This time next year Yvette du Preez will be in the throes of an incredible expedition to the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility – the furthest point from land in the Arctic – traversing hundreds of miles of polar bear territory across treacherous ice in temperatures as low as -40 , all in a bid to raise awareness and bring back data on the effects of climate change.

The Head of Tanker Claims at Gibson Shipbrokers in London says the challenge is a great opportunity to elevate the conversation about the ocean and Arctic in the maritime industry. “It is always odd explaining to people that, yes, I work in oil, but I am passionate about the environment and the world. It is our operating environment after all, and we need to become very honest about the changes and develop and communicate vision,” she told SMI.

Ms Du Preez believes The Last Pole expedition will be just the start of becoming more involved in highlighting the environmental impact of climate change, particularly in the shipping industry. And it is an industry she fell into by chance.

Growing up in South Africa, she first worked in Environment and Development before becoming a teacher in a secondary school and then lecturing at a university in business and economics.  Fifteen years ago she went travelling across Europe and visited the UK on a 10-day trip.

“I kind of got stuck because I had trouble with a Schengen visa!” she told SMI.

She got a temporary job with Aramco’s UK office and ended up within the VLCC scheduling section.

“It was fascinating for me, knowing nothing about shipping,” she said.  Aramco then moved that section back to Dubai and Ms Du Preez moved on to Glencore before joining Gibsons  three years ago. She says it is an industry which “delights” her.

It was at a workshop in Arkhangeisk, Russia last October that her interest in a polar expedition was
first piqued.

“The event was enough to stir up my old fascination with the icy world,” she said. “This was one of those occasions where life throws an opportunity at you and you don’t realise what it will do for you.”

Despite having never done anything like it before, she applied for The Last Pole expedition, being run by expedition company Ice Warrior which is headed by experienced explorer Jim McNeill.

Admittedly an outdoors person who likes running, and part of a team which swam the Channel, she said: “I love wilderness and I love adventure. I had been looking for a project to get my teeth into. So, when I saw the Ice Warrior advertisement of the #LASTPOLE expedition, I had to investigate it. I went to meet Jim, a real-life explorer with 36 years of polar expertise and a remarkable man. I was hooked by his vision and the opportunity it offered (and slightly terrified!).”

The first part of training was 10 days in Dartmoor, UK, last November learning skills she would need to survive in the Arctic such as medical training, navigation, camping and rope work.

This was followed by two weeks of intensive polar training, held recently in Svalbard, Norway where temperatures plummeted to -30.

“It brought the reality home of being in such a cold environment,” she told SMI. “It really is a mind shift and there is so much to take into consideration. Just learning about your body’s reaction and your reaction to being with the rest of the team and being around them the whole time.”

Miss du Preez said she took to the skiing well, and loved it, but she was ill the first few days and injured her shoulder at the end of the two weeks while out on the skis camping. “Suddenly being the weak link and other people having to step up because I couldn’t fulfil my duties was awful, but that is what being part of a team is about,” she said.

While on the intense training, the team had a polar bear drill and took it in turns to do night-time ‘bear watch’. Although they didn’t see any, she knew they were in a nearby valley as they saw a helicopter monitoring from above.

There was also the issue of meals and someone being on stove duty each day, having to get up and boil snow in order to heat rehydrated food. Calorie intake was of huge importance with them having to take on 5,000 calories a day, snacking constantly on protein bars, chocolate, nuts and pork scratchings. “This wasn’t so bad!” joked Miss du Preez.

The Last Pole expedition itself will take place in February 2021 and over 80 days, four teams of 28 people in total, will take it in turns to cover 20 days of more than 800 miles across what is said to be one of the most inhospitable environments on earth. They will be on skis, dragging all their gear, fuel and food behind in a hybrid kayak-sledge deisgned by Mr McNeill called a QAJAQ which will serve as a vessel on ice, sea ice and water and double as a survival pod.

Miss du Preez and the rest of the ‘citizen scientists’ will collect vital data about the state of the ice, weather conditions, levels of pollution and the distribution of polar bears.

“The scientific part is really what excited me about this expedition because there is some serious science involved,” she said. “We are actually collecting data for NASA and The Met Office. I feel really privileged to be involved in this.”

Ms du Preez also went to the House of Lords for a debate on sustainability and climate change in November.

“Our industry has a role to play in this. Things are happening but we need to raise the profile as we will come under increasing scrutiny,” she said. “The expedition is something I hope to build on.”

Ms du Preez is hoping to raise as much as possible to fund the expedition through commercial partners and says the return on investment will be significant with the media exposure involved.

Her personal requirement is £25,000 to £30,000 but beyond that she would like to create sponsorship opportunities for the larger funding of the expedition.

“It is worthwhile and I believe our industry stands to gain largely from the positive exposure it offers,” she said.

If you would like to sponsor, or find out more, please visit www.ice-warrior.com/back-us and reference Yvonne du Preez. 

 

Photos supplied by Ice Warrior