Cold comfort - Issue 169 - Magazine | Monocle

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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.” 


Stanislas Devorsine (bottom right)

A graduate of the École Nationale Supérieure Maritime in Le Havre, Stanislas “Stan” Devorsine’s maritime journey began early. As a young mariner, he participated in global sailing competitions, always venturing towards the world’s remote polar regions. Before joining Le Commandant Charcot’s crew, he captained the French icebreaker L’Astrolabe for a decade, which carried supplies and researchers between Hobart, Tasmania and the Dumont d’Urville research station in Antarctica.

From left, to the back, to right in the above image:

1. Marc Senat
Ship doctor
“Being at sea for up to a month means that we need a medic who is both calm and flexible.”

2. Donnel Quiocson

“Supervises and assigns all maintenance tasks, given by the staff captain, to deck personnel.”

3. MariliaOlio
Expedition guide

“With the ocean and weather conditions changing every hour, her job is often unpredictable.”

4. Jennifer Roux
Assistant expedition leader 

“The expedition team has to work closely with the bridge and hotel teams to make explorations and landings possible.” 

5. Izaac Mainville
Aircraft engineer

“We need the helicopter to scout the area before a landing, so having good heli technicians on board is a must.”

6. Olivier Mabille
Helicopter pilot

“With almost two decades of experience in the French navy, Olivier is the best heli pilot to have on board.”

7. Jerrieboy Rabacca
Heli and firefighter assistant
“Performs helicopter operations in a secure way, even when the weather conditions are very unstable.”

8. Jeffrey Zamora
Firefighter pro
“The ship needs skilled firefighters like Zamora, who also are always on stand by during helicopter operations.”

9. Benjamin Mathiou
Executive chef
“Creates five-course menus while navigating 15-metre waves in the Antarctic Ocean, which requires a special kind of culinary talent.”

10. Liza Lario 
Second pastry chef 
“Having freshly baked bread, exquisite pastry and desserts is a real treat when we’re away for weeks.”

11. Jean-Lou Rodot-Dufayet
Hotel director
“A hotel integrated into a hi-tech ice-breaker needs a hotel director who keeps a cool head even in the most remote corners of the world.”

12. Lana Madeiro
Bar manager

“From a very early morning cappuccino to an extremely late digestif, Lana serves every guest with a smile."

13. Jenely Capuz
Cabin stewardess
“From staff quarters to the owner’s suite, Jenely’s housekeeping team keeps every cabin spiffy clean.”

14. Alexandra Garcia
Front desk manager
“The person who takes care of every guest request, even when we are sailing under difficult conditions.”

15. FlorianTaburiaux
Cruise director
“Acts as the bridge between passengers and crew, ensuring that every voyage goes smoothly.” 

16. Julie Cotar
Maitre d’
“Managing a fine-dining restaurant three times a day on board an ice-breaker is no easy feat.”

17. Albane Bosetti
Deck officer
“Coming from the national marine corps in France, Albane is an essential member of the captain’s team.”

18. Camille Reisemberg

“From serving Chateau Margaux to our VIP guests to stocking up on local wine when we’re docked, she pulls everything off with

19. Hugues Decamus
Chief engineer
“When temperatures are as low as minus 35c, you need experts to ensure that the engines run smoothly.”

20. Robin Lefebre
Staff captain
“As second command on the ship, Robin is an excellent ice pilot and even went with Le Commandant Charcot to the North Pole.”

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