words anastasia miari | images toria hunt
Toria (short for Victoria) Hunt is a city dwelling country girl. Raised in the Scottish Highlands in a family that practiced military drills as a form of extra curricular fun, Toria is an adventure seeker. Despite having her feet firmly planted in London soil, carving out a career in interior design, she still packs her bag and runs off in search of a thrill every now and then. Her biggest achievement so far is sailing around the Antarctic for a month with her father and a crew of fifty in January of 2014 in a battered ship that wasn’t built to withstand ice or the minus thirty temperatures. Cozying up in her North London flat with a cup of tea, we look back at her time navigating the storms of the Antarctic seas in the land that time forgot.
anastasia: So mid way through retraining as an interior designer, you upped and left for the Antarctic. How did that even come about?
toria: When I was seventeen I sailed from Sweden to Poland in the tall ships race. Everyone in my family has been in the navy and I have a big fascination with tall ships, so it seemed natural to me. My dad was always envious that I did that and he insisted one day we would do something similar. Around two years ago he suggested Antarctica, and I just sort of said “okay.” So we got in touch with this charitable trust that makes it possible for “normal people” to experience what it’s like to sail a ship. So you sign up for manual labor, essentially, and you man the ship. Anyone can do it, which is brilliant. It was a really good opportunity to learn more about my dad, I think. He never says anything about his life and I know he’s led an interesting one.
anastasia: And…do you feel like you did get to know your dad better?
toria: I didn’t get as many stories out of him as I’d hoped, but we became more tactile which was the nicest thing. It was like I was a little girl again. At down time on the ship we’d both be reading and I’d have my legs on his lap. I haven’t had that since I was about ten. So it was really nice.
anastasia: So tell me about the trip. Where did you set sail from and how long did it take to reach your destination?
toria: We set off from Ushuaia at the tip of Argentina then we crossed through Cape Horn and the Beagle Channel. The first morning we were at sea, I threw up because my bunk was at the front of the ship so I had the worst movement out of any other bunk. After a day or so, I adjusted and actually, we had a really good crossing on the way out. It only took three days. It’s so surreal. The whole place is littered with shipwrecks because they’re metal and the wrecks have just lasted on the rocks.
anastasia: That sounds pretty foreboding. Did the thought never cross your mind that if things didn’t go to plan, maybe you’d end up alongside them?
toria: The biggest thing I dreaded the entire time was a storm. Drake’s passage is the stretch of water between Antarctica and South America so it’s where the Pacific collides with the Atlantic and the Southern ocean and it’s notorious for terrible storms and it’s almost always awful crossing that stretch. What surprised me was, I really enjoyed it. At sea you can see the weather coming at you from really far away and so I could see this huge snow cloud ahead of us. The wind was pretty high already but the sun was out and so I kept thinking, “this is cool, it’s fine, it’s still sunny,” because obviously, nothing can be that scary when it’s sunny. It felt like I was riding the best rollercoaster. I was going up and down on the waves and there was sunshine. You can’t feel upset when there’s sunshine. But then, it started snowing and a stay sail rope snapped and so we had to hoist someone up into the sails and he was on a make-shift harness, that we were holding, while he was swinging and trying to fix this rope. By the time we got the rope fixed, it was an absolute blizzard, the waves had gotten higher, and the wind was off the dials.
anastasia: Where were you at this point?
toria: I was on watch on the bridge, towards the back of the ship. I just remember standing on the deck of the boat and looking to my right as this wave just went up, and up, and up and up and it just went straight through the middle of the ship. I thought I would be worried but I was just really excited. It was a really perverse reaction that I never expected from myself. So that’s what I’m most impressed with really. It was like being surrounded by a mountain on either side really but I knew we’d keep going through it. It was relentless for about a day. I lost a lot of weight on that ship because I was constantly active and I didn’t sleep. The following day I got thrown out of my bunk in the middle of the night. That wasn’t fun. I put a piece of wood up to stop myself from falling out but one movement smacked the side of the ship and I went flying out. I rarely slept the whole time. The only time I was scared was when I was in my bunk. I was sleeping at the front of the ship and the hull is only eleven mm thick and the ship was not built to withstand ice. I could feel and hear the ice scrape along while I was in bed. They shut the watertight doors to where I was sleeping but they didn’t show me how to get out so I felt pretty expendable. I would be the first point of contact with the ice if it went through. My dad who’s super experienced, told me to always have a grab bag ready with a torch and warm clothes that I could just grab if something went awry.
anastasia: It sounds exhilarating but exhausting at same time.
toria: A lot of people weren’t prepared for how hard it would be. Hauling up an anchor takes six people below deck and there are a few people above deck too. There’s supposed to be eight on a watch but out of eight people by the end, only three of us were on watch - doing four hours in the cold. We couldn’t even get a break for a hot chocolate. You’re on rotation all the time. It’s an active holiday and there’s no rest. The night watches with just three of you were really hard. There’ll be one of you at the front with a torch looking out for icebergs.
anastasia: Like Titanic…
toria: It was. But I would always say, “don’t mention the ‘T’ word!” What I do remember is on those night watches – you get up at midnight and you’re on until 04:00 AM – my dad taught me how to navigate by stars. When the sky is clear, it takes your breath away. All you can hear is the water, the wind and the methodical clanking of the ship and you see the dim glow of the dials. I felt like I was in another time. I think I was born in the wrong century.
anastasia: And when you actually arrived in Antarctica, where were the main points of call?
toria: Our main point of expedition was the Antarctic Peninsula, which is essentially an extension of the Andes so it’s very mountainous. We stopped off at Deception Island on the way there. It’s a caldera that you can sail into the middle of. It last erupted in 1969 and took the Chilean base and a few other bases that were there with it. Because it’s so cold, everything is eerily still. There’s an old abandoned whaling station with whalebones scattered all over the beach and an aircraft hanger with an iceberg in the middle of it. It’s so bizarre. It’s so quiet and then you just have crosses marking the whalers that died there.
anastasia: How did it feel when you actually arrived at land?
toria: It felt like I was on the edge of the earth. I just felt like humans are not meant to be there. It impressed me that people like the Norwegians and the whalers tried to come and tame this landscape but nature will always reclaim what you leave behind.
anastasia: That’s a poignant point about our place on the planet really, isn’t it? Nature will always take its course and it will always have the upper hand.
toria: The biggest thing that struck me was how big these icebergs were when we were silently navigating through these passages. Some of them were miles long. It’s a constant amphitheater of crashes as the ice falls into the water. The icebergs were like giant broken chess pieces. It felt like a dreamscape, a fantasy island. There was no place like it. And even now, I feel like it was a dream, like I didn’t even go. It’s a surreal memory. I stopped taking pictures because I couldn’t do it justice.
anastiasia: What did you learn from your month in the Antarctic?
toria: I learned that I don’t want to just go on a holiday when I travel. I want to push myself and do something that’s way out of my comfort zone. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be satisfied. I’ve got a thirst for adventure now and it’s unquenchable.
where do you live – Stoke Newington, London
favorite neighborhood dinner – The Kimberly Inn in Findhorn does the best Tikka Masala and pub chips north of Edinburgh! In London, I like the Faltering Fullback in Finsbury Park. It’s a pub with the most amazing garden that serves up excellent Thai.
luggage – My trusty Eagle Creek suitcase has been all over South America and Antarctica with me. I got it as it can be folded up to be stored in a ship’s hold.
gadgets – My digital camera (Canon Ixus). And for when I was on the ship my ipod full podcasts was essential for downtime.
favorite accessory – National Geographic magazine! And a gold necklace with my name in Arabic, I haven’t it taken off since I was 11. My dad had it made for me.
favorite charity – Any charity that conserves nature or helps young people find a career has my support.
favorite hotel – The Great Northern Hotel in Kings Cross. The interiors blend Victorian with a clean contemporary feel and railway themed flourishes.
favorite apps – Instagram and Duolingo for keeping my French and Spanish in check!
favorite airport – Madrid. The ceiling is made of an undulating wood and is supported by a pillar in every colour of the rainbow.
favorite airline – I remember being blown away by Virgin Atlantic when I was nine. I think it had something to do with the free purple socks….
home is… Findhorn. It’s a tiny fishing village in the Scottish Highlands where I grew up.
where would you like to live? Somewhere mountainous and (preferably) warm! South America for the culture and Norway for the wild beauty, which isn’t too distant from what I grew up with.
where & when were you happiest? I remember thinking ‘I couldn’t be more happy than right now’ as I canoed across a lake in Canada with my brother and sister. The combination of the sun warming my wet skin, the view and the smell of the pine trees, gave me a terrific sense of freedom.
what do you consider your greatest achievement? Sailing to Antarctica and back with my father. The voyage took a month in a ship that wasn’t built to withstand ice and we encountered the fiercest storms.
what is your current state of mind? Optimistic! I’m a young person in the creative industry in one of the most expensive cities in the world. It is important to me that I don’t give up.
how many trips do you take a year – Depends how much I earn! If I could I would be traveling all the time, in a ramshackle campervan of sorts.
how many of those are vacations – It’s almost always a vacation- but it’s never spent resting. I don’t do sunbathing.
without traveling, you relax by – Dancing- it’s the most cleansing and liberating thing for my mind and body.
won’t board the plane before/without – Spraying myself with perfume from the duty free section!
indispensable in your carry-on – A book, water and some moisturizer to avoid dehydration.
take off routine – Nothing except grinning and looking out the window. I love take off! (I would quite like to train as a pilot…)
first thing you do after landing – Explore the city…
travel is… freedom