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Have you ever wondered about the process of designing a purpose-built expedition ship? Step into the fascinating journey behind the creation of our brand new ship, the Douglas Mawson, which features the latest Ulstein X-BOW®, in our interview with Chief Ulstein Designer Øyvind Gjerde Kamsvåg.

Discover why Kamsvåg considers the Douglas Mawson to be the pinnacle of the fleet of Infinity Class vessels, which have revolutionised the expedition cruising industry, and explore the key design elements that set it apart, including enhanced passenger comfort through bow windows and unique interior design elements. Plus, discover how cutting-edge technology optimises operational efficiency while aligning with Aurora’s commitment to sustainable exploration and adventure.

Short on time? No problem! We’ve collated some of our favourite parts of the interview below for you, including Kamsvåg’s insights into the new ship’s design philosophy, his favourite features, and what it was like going on one of our vessels for the first time and experiencing the Ulstein X-BOW in action.

Did you work across all Infinity Class vessels – including the Greg Mortimer and Sylvia Earle?

Yes, together with the people in Ulstein Design & Solutions AS, we developed the original design and the subsequent tailored versions. The Greg Mortimer is the first and original version, while the Sylvia Earle and Douglas Mawson have been customised with distinctive bow windows.

Can you share any anecdotes or personal highlights from your experience working on the Douglas Mawson?

When developing a new design series, I am mostly involved with the first of the vessels, this being the Greg Mortimer. Two members of our team had the unique opportunity to join a crossing from Ushuaia to Antarctica aboard the Greg Mortimer, where they experienced the vessel’s performance firsthand in the challenging Drake Passage. During this crossing on 28-29 October 2019, the vessel encountered significant wave heights of 5.4 meters and three different wave systems.

Greg Mortimer himself, with over 100 crossings under his belt, praised the vessel’s performance, describing it as the best crossing for solid sea conditions. He noted the softer ride and the effectiveness of the X-BOW design, which allowed the vessel to navigate waves smoothly without excessive motion.

Greg told me it was “a phenomenally better crossing; the ride is softer. This was a medium to hard crossing, in 9-metre waves we had no water on the bridge. The X-BOW gives a different motion. The nose goes down to the wave softly, then going down meets the second and maybe the third wave but there is no jiggling as on a conventional bow shape”.

Additionally, we had the chance to speak with an Aurora diving instructor, who usually experienced seasickness. However, on the Greg Mortimer, he was able to go about his work without issue. He thanked us by stating: “It was absolutely spectacular, she’s one sweet ride. I love the X-BOW and I love the Greg Mortimer. Thank you!”

What are three words you would use to describe the Douglas Mawson?

Game-changing, stunning design and comfortable. I know this is a boring word, but this vessel is specifically designed for people not used to the seas Aurora traverses so is very important.

What is the overarching design vision and goals for Douglas Mawson?

We tailor our designs to the owner and operators’ needs, both in terms of size and optimisation for operations with minimal energy consumption and alternative fuels. Our X-BOW hull design for cruise vessels has been developed through decades of offshore expertise and collaboration with renowned interior designers. Its innovative, sloped design offers a smoother and quieter ride, reducing slamming, vibrations and emissions. It also creates space for recreation and entertainment, such as underwater lounges, explorer wings, observation decks, and breathtaking views through windows integrated in the X-BOW itself.

Using the X-BOW hull design, Aurora can sail efficiently in any weather condition, even in the (at times) challenging Drake Passage. Crew and guests onboard our ships are often amazed by the “game change” in comfort and performance.

Can you share some key design elements that distinguish Douglas Mawson from previous ships in the Infinity Class?

The Douglas Mawson accommodates a maximum of 154 adventurers, featuring more stateroom types than Aurora’s previous vessels. Like the Sylvia Earle, the Douglas Mawson features bow windows and different interior design enhancements. 

How has cutting-edge technology been incorporated into the design of the Douglas Mawson to enhance passenger experience and operational efficiency?

Incorporating cutting-edge technology, the Douglas Mawson‘s design focuses on enhancing both passenger experience and operational efficiency. The X-BOW design ensures a smoother ride, complemented by an efficient underwater hull and propulsion system. Additionally, the vessel features an optimised tender arrangement and utilises Marine Gas Oil instead of heavy fuel oil, furthering Aurora’s dedication to sustainability. These modifications align with Aurora’s commitment to sustainable exploration and adventure, enhancing the passenger experience while minimising environmental impact.

Are there any innovative features or design elements that you are particularly excited about?

Naturally, I love the X-BOW. Initially developed for the demanding conditions of the offshore energy sector, this feature has seamlessly transitioned into cruise and yacht designs, benefiting both crew and passengers.

The reduced resistance results in significantly lower fuel consumption, while minimised slamming and vibrations enhance comfort and sleep quality. A notable evolution of the X-BOW is the incorporation of windows into the bow, enhancing the passenger experience—a groundbreaking concept exclusive to the cruising industry.

What were some of the key challenges faced during the design process, and how did you overcome them?

The Infinity Class series was the first series of cruise vessels with the X-BOW. As pioneers in this domain, we faced numerous unprecedented challenges and sought innovative solutions. Given the unique nature of cruise vessels compared to offshore counterparts, we carefully developed the arrangement and design to elevate the passenger experience.

How does the Douglas Mawson anticipate and adapt to future trends in expedition ship design?

The design of the new ship anticipates and adapts to future trends in expedition ship design through several strategic choices:

  • Size and Energy Efficiency: The vessel’s size is optimised to enhance operational efficiency while reducing fuel consumption and environmental impact. 
  • Reducing Environmental Footprint: The ship’s design prioritises minimising its environmental footprint, especially in pristine areas like polar regions. 
  • Safety and Rescue Capabilities: The vessel incorporates advanced safety features, such as ‘Safe Return to Port’ systems, to ensure operational independence and resilience in emergencies.
  • Clean Design and Polar Certification: The ship’s double hull construction and Polar Category B (PC6) certification enable safe navigation in challenging ice conditions.

Finally, in your opinion, is it the best vessel in the Infinity class?

All the vessels in the Infinity Class are equally suited for polar expeditions! The Douglas Mawson is breathtaking. It’s truly breathtaking and stunning, representing a complete package with its new interior finishing. The short answer is yes, it’s the best by far, I would say.

Be among the first to experience our newest small ship

The Douglas Mawson’s inaugural season will mark AE Expeditions’ return to East Antarctica for the first time in 13 years, with new itineraries to include a Mawson’s Antarctica voyage to East Antarctica in honour of the ship’s namesake, departing from Hobart, a semi-circumnavigation of Antarctica, and immersive explorations of the Subantarctic Islands. We’ve handpicked some of our favourite voyages below, or you can see the full range of itineraries onboard the Douglas Mawson here

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