Ship’s doctor Giles Taylor (right) with chef Brendan Downer in Greenland.
Ship’s doctor Giles Taylor (right) with chef Brendan Downer in Greenland.

Polar Dr is hooked on regular ice therapy

Mullumbimby doctor Giles Taylor is recently back from another stint at his regular jack-of-all-trades second job - one that sees him doing polar bear duty with a rifle, serving up drinks as acting under-barman and at the helm as a zodiac driver.
But, Giles is also the official ship’s doctor on board adventure expeditions to the Arctic and the Antarctic.
“I’m hooked,” said Giles, scrolling through reams of on-screen photos of the coldest and wildest places on Earth that document his many trips since beginning to work for the expeditions company in 2007.
“Unfortunately once you go to Antarctica, you just want to keep going back because it’s so lovely.”
Giles has had a love affair with wild places for a very long time, having worked in both the Solomon Islands and East Africa and travelled in the Himalayas and the Sahara.
“I always wanted to go to Antarctica,” he explained, “but I don’t particularly like being a tourist, I like to get to know a place.”
When good friend Howard Whelan, expedition leader to the Antarctic for many years, had a ship’s doctor pull out, he recommended Giles, and “the rest is history”.
On board ship Giles is responsible for the health of between 50 and 100 passengers, from older children to adults in their late 80s, dealing with the odd heart attack and stroke and well as the multiple fractures that can result after the “not very big ships” have 45 degree rolls in heavy seas.
“It is quite testing at times when someone is very ill,” he said, “though somehow on every trip when someone has been injured there has always been a nurse on board who has been absolutely wonderful.
“And people, without exception, have been wonderfully supportive of any decision I make, such as having to divert the ship to the nearest port.”
But when everyone is injury-free and well, Giles pitches in with whatever needs doing to help the passengers have the adventure of a lifetime.
“I just absolutely love the place,” said Giles, “and while sometimes you go back to the same place, it’s never the same, because the weather is different, the ice, the wildlife – it’s almost my favourite place in the world.”
In the Antarctic, curious whales come right up to the boat, while on land, inquisitive penguins refuse to abide by the regulation that human beings are not allowed within five metres and are “all over you”.
There are petrels, skuas and albatross, only two species of flowering plants, and aggressive fur seals to look out for, but up north it is a completely different picture.
In the Arctic it is all wildflowers in summer, but there is also the polar bear, the only animal that regards humans as food, hence Giles’ polar bear duty armed with rifle as people are kept in tightly guarded groups.
The voyages also have a sober side to them as passengers see first-hand the ravages of global warming.
“On every trip I go on the subject of global warming comes up,” said Giles, “and there would usually be about one third of the passengers who are global warming sceptics.
“By the time we finish there are none.
“When we go into the fiords, especially in the north, every year we go in further and further. When we mark where the ice edge is on a chart, we see that glaciers are retreating 200 to 300 metres or more a year – it’s massive.”
Giles plans to keep on doing his stints to the ice and snow, then returning to the sticky heat of Mullumbimby for some time yet.
“It’s hard to think I’d ever get bored,” he said.
His frequent voyages to the far north and south have earned him the nickname ‘the bi polar doctor.’
“I’m not seeking therapy at the moment,” he chuckled.

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