Whistler resident has built a business navigating Arctic and Antarctic waters
Working in both polar extremes, Andrew Prossin has anything but an ordinary business life.
The managing director of Squamish-headquartered One Ocean Expeditions Inc. has experienced the vagaries of journeying around the top and bottom of the world for nearly 25 years. Prossin has toiled in the “coldest, highest, darkest, windiest, loneliest places on Earth,” and in 2014 he was part of the team that discovered HMS Erebus, one of the pair of Sir John Franklin’s ships wrecked 150 years ago in an expedition to the ice-choked Northwest Passage (“an electrifying experience”).
“There is a feeling that you’re not really designed to even be in these places,” the 48-year-old says while tucking into a spianata salumi pizza at Nightingale restaurant in Vancouver. “Luckily, there are other like-minded people who also want to go there because there’s something inside them wondering, ‘Well, just what’s that like?’”
It’s a magnetic pull that made Prossin “run away to sea” to Antarctica, ditching his first job in strategic analysis at Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. in Toronto after three years in 1993 to manage a ship with now-defunct Toronto-based Marine Expeditions Inc. Not only was sailing in his blood, having grown up on Cape Breton Island, but he realized he didn’t want to be in a “monolithic” corporation. “There were seven layers between me and the president, so as a young person who felt they could take on the world, that was too many,” Prossin recalls. “I wanted to make an impact now, so I walked onto the ship and was ready to roll.”
After seven years, he moved to Australia to set up Peregrine Shipping Inc., which ran polar cruises, before selling the operation in 2006. Although Prossin was “happy to have sold a business at only 37,” the entrepreneurial call of the north and south 60th parallels—and his prolific polar network—encouraged him to launch One Ocean 10 years ago. The company operates two ships switching between the Arctic in the summer and Antarctica in winter, with about 100 wildlife-seeking travellers as well as scientists on board. It’s also the expedition partner of the Royal
Canadian Geographical Society.
While obviously promoting his own industry, the Whistler resident stresses that he’d like One Ocean to help the North. It will, Prossin adds, continue to transport goods such as soccer equipment, lend its doctors, help with breakfast programs (“We want to become an important part of the fabric of the social and economic development much like Canada’s railway was”)—and pursue conservation efforts like tracking wildlife with the Vancouver Aquarium. Although polar cruising is “nowhere near a tourism inflection point,” he’s hesitant about larger players creeping in. (A 1,000-passenger ship from Crystal Cruise Line, for example, motored through the Northwest Passage for the first time last fall.) “We built this industry alongside scientists and environmentalists, and that’s indoctrinated into my DNA,” says Prossin, who has a politics and economics degree from Queen’s University. “But do bigger operators, who now realize there is magic there, have the same thinking?”
For him, part of the problem is Canadian regulations, with some 50 licences needed, versus just three or so in Norway’s Arctic region. As a result, in his opinion, ships avoid staying in the country, cruising through on international voyages.
The polar regions clearly have the “heart and soul” of Prossin, who spends free time sailing or snowboarding (“Either way, I’ve got to be floating”) and visiting his fiancée, Kathryn Dunn, a director of parliamentary affairs for a senator, in Ottawa. “‘I hold…that a man should strive to the uttermost for his life’s set prize,’” he concludes, quoting the paraphrase of poet Robert Browning’s line chipped onto White Continent explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s tombstone. “If you are passionate about it, everything else will take its course.”
THREE THINGS ABOUT… ANDREW PROSSIN
1. Despite his extensive time on the water, including winning a race across the Atlantic in a 30-foot sailboat and sailing around the notorious Cape Horn in a 70-knot Southern Ocean gale, Prossin has never had a swimming lesson. “I just naturally knew how to swim, not that my swimming today is very pretty,” he says.