A blend of travel and emotion, knowledge and curiosity, adventure and new discoveries – this is what Charcot’s trips to the Arctic and Antarctic aim to offer. Immersion, knowledge, sharing, scientific ambition – sailing in the heart of extreme environments. Moments of such intense emotion that when you try to describe them to someone else, it always falls flat. The appeal of these itineraries is wide-ranging from an adventure in a far-flung destination, to the sheer curiosity about its fauna. But whatever the desires and expectations, the sense of surprise and wonder will be enormous for everyone. The experience is Beyond Exploration. Protecting the polar ecosystems and the coastal sea ice – a vital habitat for marine wildlife, innovation, humility before nature, cooperation with local peoples and ensuring a minimal impact on the environment are the fundamental concepts behind Ponant’s responsible exploration.
A sustainable, eco-friendly ship, two seasoned captains at the helm, an expedition team of polar experts and scientists and 200 excited guests on board setting off in pursuit of the geographic North Pole or the most isolated spaces on the White Continent. All these elements come together to create a true, out-of-this-world humbling polar odyssey experience unlike any other. Because beyond exploration, there is this ultimate quest, immortalized in a total polar experience like no other.
At the beginning of it all was Jean-Baptiste Charcot (1867-1936), an outstanding figure among the famous in the pantheon of the maritime and polar world, an explorer in the most authentic sense of the term, a true humanist. Nicknamed the “Gentleman of the Poles”, he expanded our knowledge through his intense desire to understand and share. With his iron-hulled schooner, Rose-Marine, he crossed the Arctic Circle for the first time in 1902, after the French Navy had asked him to study sea and air temperatures around the ice. His first Antarctic expedition, which included the first wintering-over of a scientific ship, lasted from 1903 to 1905, during which time, more than 600 miles of new coastlines were chartered, and 75 chests filled with scientific observations, notes and measurements. Charcot established a set of scientific protocols and completed a series of measurements over long periods that made it possible to create a meteorological and magnetic picture of the region. A century later, this data remains a valuable source of reference for today’s researchers.
Honouring the legacy of Jean-Baptiste Charcot – doctor, scientist, adventurer and humanist like no other, Ponant took on a massive challenge in building Le Commandant Charcot, the first polar exploration passenger vessel, a ship that is not only innovative, sustainable and eco-friendly, but also one that generates an incredible synergy between talented people who all have a passion for the sea and a taste for challenge.
There is no ship like her – a hybrid vessel using electric power and liquefied natural gas (LNG), making it the first of its kind, capable of six weeks of autonomous operation. She has many unique features and technological advances, including 2 bridges and a propulsion system, with 2 Azipods, which allows for navigation through the ice in both directions. She is the first cruise ship in the world rated PC2 (Polar Class 2 icebreaker, while similar vessels sailing in polar regions are in the PC6 category), giving her the ability to sail between the sheets of drifting sea ice and bring her guests to the most remote and isolated regions others can't.
“It’s not the man that takes the sea, it’s the sea that takes the man”, aptly applies to Ponant’s two most seasoned captains, Patrick Marchesseau and Étienne Garcia, sharing the helm of Le Commandant Charcot. They often work in tandem and consider themselves, in their own words, colleagues, friends and a “couple of old mates”. And so it was that together, on September 6, 2021 at 10:30 am, they navigated the Le Commandant Charcot to the geographic North Pole during the ship's first test trip to the Arctic waters.
Following its successful Antarctica season, the ship arrived back in the Arctic region at the end of April and is sailing deep into the middle of the ice, where only a few can go. Guests can enjoy a range of unique, intense and authentically immersive experiences amidst the quasi-hypnotic power of the polar environment, such as dog sledding, sightseeing excursions in Zodiac® inflatable boats, snowshoeing, polar diving, wet-suit swimming, kayaking, ice fishing and participating in the citizens of science sessions.
Ponant works closely with the Polar Citizen Science Collective, an international association that enables practical contribution for a better understanding of the polar regions, often too difficult for scientists to access due to financial and logistical means. Aboard the Le Commandant Charcot, they are able to reach the poles and work onboard. With its many facilities, the ship also offers guests the chance to take part in top-tier surveys and advance research. Collect data from the deck of the ship or during your outings. Take photos of whales and help supply the Happy Whale tracking app with data, identify and count seabirds so that their distributions and life cycles can be better understood, describe atmospheric phenomena, observe and listen to underwater wildlife using cameras and hydrophones, collect samples of plankton, analyze the samples collected through microscopes. This information is contributing to databases that are essential for the study and preservation of these ecosystems and shared by scientists worldwide.
The design of Le Commandant Charcot reflects one guiding principle: to invite the polar environment on board; with spaces that are cozy yet open to the outside world, a cocoon flooded with light, and well-being enhanced by meticulous details that arouse all the senses, reflecting a modern sophistication that enhances the extraordinary landscapes in which the ship travels.
Enjoy the benefits of the cold on your body in the Snow Room (Siku, which means snow in the Inuit language) after a spa treatment or the Sauna (Ikuma, burning heat). Relax in the Winter Garden by the indoor pool while enjoying a fruit cocktail from the Detox Bar or laze in the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon, an outdoor pool heated with energy recovery technology, while soaking in the breathtaking views all around you. Stroll the end-to-end promenade deck and take a break on one of the heated benches while observing the wildlife through Swarovski Optic scopes or experience the unforgettable sensation of solitude within the vast polar
landscapes from the bow, which can be easily accessed via the heliport.
Equipped with 123 staterooms and suites, all featuring a private balcony or terrace, Le Commandant Charcot completely aligns with Ponant's philosophy to provide a rare and exceptional ambiance for every guest on board and to reinforce the feeling and sense of sailing on a private yacht.
An integral component of the brand's hallmark approach, fine dining takes on an impressive new look with Ducasse Conseil collaboration, featuring menus created by the 21 Michelin-starred chef himself and signature dishes served at Nuna (Inuit for Earth), his restaurant on board. Here you can enjoy à la carte breakfasts, lunches and dinners, in the same spirit of service as found in luxury hotels on land and accompanied by pourings of the finest wines and Veuve Clicquot Champagne.
So write your own expedition story on board. Each departure is unique. Itineraries, sailing schedule, landings, activities and wildlife encounters are subject to weather and ice conditions. Your ship’s navigation will be determined by the type of ice the ship comes across. And as the ice is constantly changing, so are the experiences. This is not just ice; it is limitless vastness. It is not sterile silence; it is loud noises, startling creaks, strange rumblings. These are not only moments when time stands still; they are also memories engraved forever. And they are waiting for you to make your own.