Some men navigate a midlife crisis with a new wardrobe, or supercar. In 2013, Danie Ferreira, then 49 and CEO of South Africa–based Urban Brew Studios, instead made good on a dream he’d been harboring for three decades.
Ferreira grew up in subtropical South Africa; his life changed in 1983 when he became part of a 14-month expedition to Antarctica. A keen photographer, the 19-year-old was captivated by the inhospitable winter landscape—stunning white fjords and glaciers, snow-capped mountains.
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“The highlights were overnight field trips into the interior, far away from the ship, to establish fuel dumps for the scientists,” he says. The allure of the frozen continent was like nothing he’d ever experienced. “You’re mesmerized by her splendor, even when she beats you up. Antarctica’s a challenging mistress, but you always want to go back for more.”
The return took years. In 1987, Ferreira launched a three-person television-production company to help pay for college, eventually growing it into a media powerhouse with 400-plus employees.
By the time he turned 49, the 80-hour workweeks amid a fast-changing media landscape had taken a toll. “I loved my job, but it wasn’t sustainable,” he says. “I was burnt out.”
He eventually cashed out but felt lost. “It’s the time of life when the scoreboard doesn’t matter and you look for significance rather than success,” he says.
The remedy: Dust off the dream and fund an authentic expedition in the old-school tradition. In March 2013, Ferreira and Håvard Svidal, a Norwegian military man he’d met while making a documentary at the South Pole two years earlier, sailed from Norway northwest to Svalbard, across the Barents Sea, on a 60-foot steel-hulled ketch named Bør. Also on board: six Greenland sled dogs, the captain, three crew and several buddies also searching for adventure.
It was March—still winter. The boat encountered fierce squalls and was battered by nearly 30-foot seas. Water froze instantly to the rigging; the dogs on deck, though protected in cages, were scared. Svidal, braving the sloshing, pitching decks, went out often to make sure they were safe. When Bør sailed into Longyearbyen, it looked like an ice-covered, 100-year-old ghost ship.
Ferreira chafes at the suggestion it was a crazy time for a six-day voyage. “We started researching 18 months ahead of time to make sure we had the right vessel and crew,” he says. “We were prepared.”
And, he insists, it was the ideal time of year—the “blue season,” a photographer’s dream, Ferreira says, when “for a few hours at dawn and twilight a unique blue light covers the white landscape,” and there are no other boats in sight.
The team spent a month exploring the archipelago, dropping Svidal and his dogs to test new sledding techniques across pristine, uninhabited islands as Ferreira filmed his documentary Ice Dogs.
“Greenland dogs are genetically distinguished as high-performance endurance athletes,” Ferreira says. “More thought went into their care than the rest of us. If the dogs weren’t smiling, we wouldn’t have had an expedition—certainly no documentary.”
Traveling by yacht allowed the group to wander at will and anchor anywhere, even onto drifting sea ice, while minimizing the threat from polar bears. “I’ve heard yachting described as the most expensive form of third-class travel, but it was perfect,” he says. “Watching blizzards from a warm pilothouse with the smell of fresh coffee was heaven.” Bør’s cardinal rule: “Don’t speak unless you improve on the silence.”
Ferreira’s next self-funded expedition was eastern Greenland, the second location for Ice Dogs, where he and his daughter, Anna, Svidal and several others traveled by dogsled with Inuit hunters for 28 days into the mountains of Jameson Land and down to the coast, on the spring hunt to feed the village.
Images from that 2016 expedition and five others that Ferreira has undertaken are being published this month in his two-volume box set, Out in the Cold, from Hurtwood, in London.
The roughly $2,900 coffee-table collection is a beautiful, haunting elegy to the polar regions. “I’ve chased ice as an art form since 1983,” Ferreira says. “I capture the structures, textures, colors and moods as they’re revealed through the interplay of light and weather. Every passing iceberg is found art, evidence of a never-ending metamorphosis.”
Eventually, he recognized the same transformation within himself. “I realized life is about duration and depth,” he says. “Nobody knows its course, but we can control the depth of the experience.” The other pearl of wisdom gleaned from his second chapter: “The reward of a dream remains a dream, until you take a conscious decision to make it real.”
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