Frozen seas are no barrier for the crew aboard the world’s first luxury ice-breaking ship.
Sailing through frozen seas and breaking through thick layers of ice is no easy feat: it demands not only an experienced captain but also a dedicated team. This is something that the crew of Le Commandant Charcot, the world’s first luxury ice-breaking cruise ship, knows and understands well. Commissioned by French cruise company Ponant and unveiled in 2020, Le Commandant Charcot can sail 270 passengers to faraway locations, such as Greenland or the North Pole. It can even undertake a semi-circumnavigation of Antarctica, cruising from New Zealand to the bottom of Argentina in 30 days.
Unlike most commercial exploration cruise ships, which have to stop upon reaching ice, the sight of frozen water often only marks the beginning of a trip for Le Commandant Charcot. “Guiding a 150-metre-long vessel powered by 45,500 horsepower through dense ice, combatting the fierce katabatic winds [which flow downhill] from the Antarctic and battling 15-metre-high waves requires extreme precision and patience,” the ship’s captain, Stanislas Devorsine, tells monocle.
Others working on the ship have their own set of challenges. Hotel manager Jean-Lou Rodot-Dufayet, for example, must ensure that bad weather doesn’t damage the 123 cabins and suites on board. Meanwhile, the culinary team, trained by chef Alain Ducasse, serves exquisite menus daily, even when land – and fresh produce – is nowhere to be seen. Lastly, the ship’s technical crew keeps machinery running in freezing conditions. “They’ve trained at some of the world’s foremost seafaring institutions,” says Devorsine.
Each member of the crew can set up an ice survival camp, made specifically for Le Commandant Charcot. This camp, deployable on both water and land, is equipped with shelters and polar survival suits. Additionally, the team has conducted emergency simulations in collaboration with the Arctic Nations’ Search and Rescue (SAR). These drills, Devorsine says, were highly successful. “So much so that the SAR teams are now keen on adopting some of our innovations, such as the polar suits.”