When Rob McCallum – diver, pilot, expedition leader and specialist in Melanesian culture – co-founded Eyos Expeditions, there were just two people on his team. Today, there are 16 full-time staff, supported by a team of 300 specialists in fields ranging from helicopter operations to tribal anthropology.
McCallum calls this his “stable of champions” – people Eyos can call on to turn remote destinations into experiences of a lifetime. Eyos is a leader in creating the offbeat, out-of-this-world adventures that are increasingly in demand from the world’s jet-setting elite.
“We manage and lead and organise expeditions to places that are devoid of infrastructure,” McCallum said in an interview with Asia-Pacific Boating. “We operate in the places that are challenging. We’ve set world records – (and) we’re not trying to – just fulfilling client wishes”.
Such records include the southernmost and northernmost trip ever made by a yacht, according to McCallum. It also includes McCallum’s own work on the Victor Vescovo Five Deeps Expedition, in which Vescovo descended by submersible to the five deepest places in the ocean.
The first Eyos Expedition was in 2008, consisting of a 12-day trip to Antarctica on board the Hanse Explorer for a family of 12. Antarctica remains one of Eyos’ hottest destinations, along with the Arctic, South Pacific and Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean.
Up until Covid-19 struck, Eyos was working on about 60 expeditions a year, up from just one in its first year. Eyos’ standard fare is such things as organising heliskiing trips among the pristine mountains of Antarctica, submersible voyages in the high Arctic or arranging for an anthropologist to join a trek to meet a remote Southeast Asian tribe.
“If it doesn’t break the laws of physics, we’ll do it,” McCallum likes to say. Eyos Expeditions handles logistics, itineraries, permits and arrangements for specialty yachting adventures. The company works with all the major brokerage and charter houses. Ultimately, clients are not interested in the yacht so much as its ability to be a platform for the expedition, McCallum says.
Antarctica is a life-altering experience; the superyacht set love it
“We don’t really have any competition.” Going to far-flung places does not mean sacrificing on luxury – far from it. “We are doing six-star travel in remote places – this is not about survivalism, this is about luxury in remote places.”
Antarctica continues to get the most press, and deservedly so, according to McCallum. “It’s a life-altering experience; the superyacht set love it.” He adds that his own favourite destination so far is the Ross Sea in Antarctica. That said, there are plenty of other places to explore.
“We do an equal number of trips to the Arctic,” McCallum says, adding that there are three distinct Arctic regions to explore – the Russian, Scandinavian and Canadian. There are also remote areas remaining to be explored in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, with McCallum pointing to destinations such as Raja Ampat, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.
Aside from remote destinations, Eyos is also working more on activity-based charter trips, be it surfing near isolated islands or diving in the best coral reefs. In one instance, McCallum recalls having to set up a live satellite feed from Antarctica as part of Japanese broadcaster NHK’s 75th-anniversary celebrations.
The task required locating satellite receivers from a remote location where even the presence of hills would block transmissions. The change tracks well with a changing clientele. McCallum notes that his clientele are increasingly younger and fitter, as they make their fortunes at an earlier age. That means more interest in activities and also, younger families.
There is also a greater interest in science and learning-based activities. “A good naturalist can make a destination into an experience; these are people who can make the destination come alive. You can have a guy who explains walrus behaviour while you’re watching them,” says McCallum. “Naturalists help. It changes views of them (wildlife) and what needs to be done to help them.”
Though Eyos’ main business is working with charter clients on expeditions, McCallum seems to be expanding his services to the design and planning of a new breed of expedition superyachts. The foremost example is the new SeaXplorer series, for which he was a consultant for Damen (formerly Amels).
China’s wealthy constitute Eyos’ fastest growing market, particularly for trips to Antarctica
The first two yachts in the SeaXplorer series were launched in 2020, with the larger of the two, the 77-metre La Datcha, now available for charter. McCallum was heavily involved in the 2016 refit of Alucia, a 55-metre expedition superyacht that was used in the production of the famed BBC series Blue Planet 2.
Alucia is equipped with three submersibles that can be launched by dedicated crane, as well as a helipad. And of course, Alucia has an enormous range of over 5,000 nautical miles. When it comes to expedition yachts, McCallum says that endurance is what matters.
A good naturalist can make a destination into an experience… You can have a guy who explains walrus behaviour while you’re watching them
“Expedition yachts are misunderstood. It’s about the capability of the yacht – most yachts only have short-range capability.” The factors involved include crew quarters, provisions and supplies, black and grey water storage, as well as the ability to spend long periods of time without shore support. The vast majority of superyacht charters still happen in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, but McCallum thinks the momentum is with his kind of adventure.
He says that most of his clients still come from the US and Europe, but that China’s wealthy constitute Eyos’ fastest-growing market, particularly for trips to Antarctica. A Chinese-owned expedition superyacht by Sanlorenzo, Ocean Dreamwalker III, is planning a trip to Antarctica in the next season.
Hong Kong’s superyacht crowd is also relatively adventurous, says McCallum, but that the Asia Pacific is still under-represented, despite having gems such as Vanuatu, which he describes as “hidden in plain sight”.
The onset of Covid-19 shattered the travel industry, including the superyacht charter business. McCallum said that in 2020, he had a lot of frustrated clients who could charter a yacht but couldn’t get to the jumping-off point due to restrictions and lockdowns.
Yet, 2021 is looking much brighter. Effective vaccines are now on the horizon and McCallum says people are now transferring their plans. “The Arctic Sea will be big in the summer of 2021. We have more vessels booked for 2021 than ever. Antarctica will be bigger than ever as well.”
The spirit of adventure seems only to be growing. For McCallum and his band at Eyos, that means a growing role in the superyacht world to come.