Ponant's icebreaker takes tourists to the top of the world in style. Credit: Ponant

A North Pole odyssey

Author: Kevin Pilley

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Kevin Pilley travels to the frozen world of the Arctic for a cruise he'll never forget

The North Pole is on everyone’s bucket list. But few of us get anywhere near.

Mainly because of the faff of getting there, the fear of getting lost in a ferocious snowstorm and of dying of frostbite or from a haymaker of a left hook from a 1500-pound, 10-foot tall polar bear. And coming back freight. Or, not at all.

We seek out ice floes, whale breaching, and our Arctic experiences elsewhere. We like our home comforts and regular meal plans. Cannibalism shouldn’t be on the itinerary.

But Ponant’s £350m Commandant Charcot – named after the French polar scientist, doctor, Olympic sailing silver medallist, and leader of the 1904-7 French Arctic Expedition, Jean-Baptiste Charcot – is the world’s only luxury icebreaker and Polar Class 2 rate cruise ship.

The Romanian-built, 15-knot hybrid polar expedition cruise ship can now take you – together with research scientists, resident geologists, glaciologists, and a company of international naturalist guides – to one of the most remote and inhospitable places on earth.

Commandant Charcot is the world’s only Polar Class 2–rated cruise ship. Credit: Ponant

The Geographic North Pole or Terrestrial North Pole, is the point in the northern hemisphere where the earth’s axis of rotation meets its surface.

It is referred to as the True North Pole to distinguish it from the Magnetic North Pole. The nearest land is Kaffeklubben Island off Greenland – and the nearest inhabited place is probably Alert, 500 miles away in Nunavut, Canada.

The 17-day itinerary begins and ends in Norway in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, the northernmost town in the Arctic Circle, and a protected wilderness area in its own right. You’ll sail 1,186 nautical miles to the North Pole.

The unique super-luxury cruise liner comes with a crew of 215, butlers; 123 staterooms and suites – including some with a private jacuzzi and observation terrace – the super high-end ship owner’s suite; 16 Zodiacs; a communal gym; indoor heated swimming pool; spa and sauna; massage therapists and aestheticians; Swarovski binoculars; a 270-seat multimedia theatre; two restaurants include Nuna (Inuit for ‘earth’) by Michelin three-starred Alain Ducasse; nine wine cellars; Champagne; caviar; foie gras; and a Cigar and Cognac room. And full access to the bridge.

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The eco-conscious Charcot, which runs on liquefied natural gas and low-sulphur diesel, is propelled and steered by two giant Azipods. The skipper or ice pilot is Geir-Martin Leinebo – who captained Norway’s naval icebreaker, KV Svalbard which, in 2019, became the first Norwegian vessel to reach the North Pole.

Sextants are no more. A helicopter scouts 40 miles ahead of the ship which has been fitted with a sonar, the Sea Ice Monitoring System (SIMS).

The vessel also has its own meteorological station on the top deck as well as £9.7 million pound’s worth of research facilities.

There isn’t much to see which is not black or white. The most colourful thing is the heavy drinkers in the Silak (Sky) bar.

But there is masses to take in. Such as information on 1.8 million square miles of young ice, pancake ice, ice cake, brash ice, fast ice, and fast carving through which the boat sails.

There is more open water now. The Arctic ice sheet has shrunk to about half its 1985 size. Many scientists predict it will be ice-free by the end of the 2030s.

Join an Arctic expedition cruise with Atlas Ocean Voyages. Credit: Shutterstock

Commandant Charcot visits Arctic beaches like Lomfjorden, the Brunnich’s guillemot colony of Alkfjellin, the reindeer herd on Palanderbukta, and the 200 walruses on Kapp Lee. You can also hike the black tundra of Burgerbukta with its one-half-inch tall willow trees.

There’s the chance to kayak the ice floes of Ekmanfjorden and plant your national flag at the North Pole. With bodyguards on hand who are trained in hand-to-claw combat.

Staterooms on-board range from £30,780 to £71,870 per person, double occupancy.

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