A sea change
Andrew Prossin, Artsci'90, has led cruising expeditions all over the world, but his favourite destination is Antartica.
For nineteen years, Andrew Prossin, Artsci’90, has led cruising expeditions all over the world, exploring North and South America, Europe, the South Pacific, and the Russian Far East—but there’s no question that his favourite destination is Antarctica.
“The Antarctic is the coldest, darkest, highest, driest, windiest, most lonely place on the planet, but it’s teeming with wildlife. You can go hundreds of miles without finding any trace of people, no flotsam on the beaches, no mechanical noises—it’s raw nature,” says Andrew, a veteran sailor and the founder of cruising company One Ocean Expeditions. “Spending time there, absorbing the incredible beauty of the landscape and watching the birds and animals, is an experience that touches everybody.”
Growing up in Cape Breton, NS, Andrew started sailing at age six, had his own boat, and enjoyed a view from his bedroom window right over Sydney Harbour. When he arrived at Queen’s he continued sailing regularly at Kingston Yacht Club with law professor Dan Soberman, LLD’08, one of the original three law professors at Queen’s School of Law and a one-time classmate of Andrew’s father.
Following graduation from his political studies program and a short stint working in Banff, Andrew settled into city life in Toronto and worked for Canadian Pacific Railway before “running away to sea” with cruising company Marine Expeditions in 1993. During his seven years with the company, he steadily worked his way up the ladder, eventually becoming manager of the whole five-ship operation.
It was in 1999 that he decided to branch out independently and moved to Australia to establish a new expedition cruise business, Peregrine Shipping. By the time Andrew sold Peregrine in 2006, the company had two ships that travelled all around the world. After taking some time out living on a boat in the Virgin Islands, “chilling out after six years of building a very dynamic business,” Andrew founded One Ocean Expeditions in 2007. They were, he says, in the crux of their selling program when the global recession hit.
“We’d sold about half of what we needed to sell and suddenly the world seized up,” he explains. “I had moments of ‘What do I do? It’s a brand new business—it would be easier to roll it up and put it in hibernation than to go forward.’”
But with so much time and passion sunk into the project, he dug in and worked even harder, treating every phone call as if it was the one that would save the business. It was an approach that worked: One Ocean sold out all their berths in preparation for their first trip to Antarctica in January 2009.
However, the challenges weren’t over. Several months before the beginning of the travel season, Andrew’s arrangement for a ship fell through. Then one day, out of the blue, he received a phone call from the owners of the ships he’d rented whilst running Peregrine Shipping. Peregrine’s new owners were backing out of their lease commitments. Did Andrew want the ships instead?
Without thinking he said yes. It was a bold move, but one that changed everything for One Ocean.
“We became the company that everyone wanted to work with. All the other companies were cancelling things, charging for fuel, but at the same time discounting—it was chaos. We stood up right in the middle of it and said ‘we can do this,’” Andrew says. “We’ve challenged ourselves every year since and have lived up to every promise we’ve made. We’re the only polar ship operator that hasn’t discounted, yet we’ve sold out every year.”
A period of time that for many people was the worst time to be working has been, for Andrew, one of the highlights of his career. In four years, One Ocean has gone from being a new company to being one of the main operators in the polar expedition industry, all through sheer determination and hard work. Andrew notes that it’s become a bit of a mission for the team to prove that you can build a responsible business that’s old-fashioned in terms of being true to its principles, but that can still grow and thrive. For him, impeccable customer service is at the heart of One Ocean and the relationships he and his crew form with their clients are ones that transcend their time together on board.
“It’s one of my favourite things about what I do,” Andrew says. “Seeing how people change over the course of 10 days in the Antarctic. I’ll get emails from people years later and you can tell they’re still affected by the experience.”
There’s something about being in the Antarctic, he explains, that makes people feel privileged—as if they’ve been somewhere they shouldn’t be. Helping people understand the nature and wildlife of the Antarctic is central to One Ocean’s educational mandate and is, Andrew believes, integral to developing in them a desire to protect its unique beauty and wildlife for future generations to enjoy.
Andrew was recently nominated to the College of Fellows of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, whose mandate is “to make Canada better known to Canadians and to the world”.