Ponant has just completed a first in the French maritime world with a crossing of the Northwest Passage from Greenland to Siberia on its Le Soleal.
Having left Kangerlussuaq in Greenland on the 26th of August, Le Soleal arrived in Anadyr in Russia on the 16th of September, having successfully traversed the North Pole to become the first French commercial ship to take this “mythical shipping route” linking the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean via Arctic islands in North Canada; a legendary passage that has inspired generations of navigators since the 15th century.
The ship followed the historic route taken by Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer who in 1906 was the first to open the passage at the end of three years of exploration.
More than a century later, Captain Etienne Garcia, who has spent years navigating in polar waters, led this voyage in the footsteps of Amundsen, without assistance, through narrow channels of land and moving ice in what is still a little known region.
After a few days sailing from Kangerlussuaq in Greenland, on Sept. 2nd, the ship entered the famous Northwest Passage for a crossing taking eight days.
Transcript of events from Ponant:
September 4 2013 – Success! We have past the first “bottleneck” of ice in the Prince Regent Inlet.
September 5 2013 – We came through the Bellot Strait around midday in good conditions and a 5/6 knot current at times. The scenery is magnificent, all covered in snow with visibility improving during the crossing. Cherry on the cake: we were able to stop at the exit to the Strait opposite a bear and her two cubs! This afternoon, we started our descent south pausing to drift in the bay with the ice pack at the end, having spotted 4 bears on the ice, quite a way off but the passengers were delighted.
September 6 2013 – We are in Gjoa Haven, 110 years after the arrival of the Gjoa which dropped anchor here for the first time in September 1903! For a mariner and his passengers, there is great significance attached to this port of call as this is where Amundsen wintered for 2 years. Landed by zodiac on the beach, historic path to the Amundsen cairn, dancing to the drums, Inuit throat singing and inauguration of their beautiful new cultural centre. An incredible port of call that proved an emotional experience for passengers and crew alike.
September 9 2013 – Today we made a slight detour south to Banks Island where we found the pack ice broken up. Cruised for several hours along the ice which delighted passengers. LE SOLÉAL then headed for Franklin Bay and the fascinating Smoking Hills, an extraordinary phenomenon where the hills appear to be on fire from a spontaneous combustion within the shale rocks, before crossing Cape Bathurst which marks the end of the Northwest Passage.
September 10 2013 – We’re now leaving the Canadian archipelago, the last challenge, with some ice scattered on route to Herschel.
The rest of the cruise took passengers along the Yukon coast in Alaska before reaching the Arctic Ocean, the Bering Strait with a surprise port of call in store on Petite Diomède Island, then on September 16, Anadyr in Russia, where this voyage ended.