Breaking the boundaries of exploration with small-capacity ships

Stephen Winter explains how Ponant will take guests to remote locations in its new expedition vessel

Breaking the boundaries of exploration with small-capacity ships
Le Commandant Charcot has been designed to travel deep into the polar regions with her ice-strengthened hull

By Alex Smith |

Since it was formed by graduates of the French Merchant Navy in 1988, Ponant has focused on building a fleet of small-capacity, luxury ships to allow it to call at unique ports and destinations across the world.

Ponant’s fleet has sailed to every continent, offering traditional cruises in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, as well as voyages to the remote polar regions. 

The cruise line is looking to explore further than ever before with the launch of its new ship, Le Commandant Charcot. Built by Vard, the polar exploration vessel is rated as Polar Class 2, meaning that she is able to cut through ice floes up to seven feet deep and sail to some of the most rarely visited locations in the world. 

Stephen Winter, international sales director for Ponant, was one of those onboard as the ship embarked on a trial sailing to the North Pole in September 2021. 

“I was privileged to be onboard the first French ship to reach the North Pole,” he says. “It was a wonderful moment and a matter of real pride for all involved. We imagined designing a ship with such capacity six years ago and we were not even sure if it was possible. To see it come to fruition was very satisfying, particularly because she is also one of the cleanest ships ever built. Ponant has always tried to take its guests to places that other cruise lines do not go, and this new vessel only enhances the opportunities for discovery.”  

Winter is eager for guests to get a chance to sail on the innovative new ship and return to destinations that have been impossible to visit during the pandemic.  “I am quite excited that our guests will also be able to go to the North Pole with her next summer, along with trips to Greenland, the Bay of Baffin, Iceland and Spitzbergen,” says Winter. “We are also very excited to offer again the wild Kimberly area of Australia, which has been closed to cruising for almost two years and our in-depth cruises in the Society Islands and the Marquesas of French Polynesia.” 

Many of the destinations that Ponant’s ships visit are located in delicate environments, where disruption must be kept to a minimum. The cruise line is careful to take this into account when it decides upon its itineraries.  

“We scout all our destinations prior to planning any cruise to judge the cultural, historical or natural interest of each stopover and also to determine whether our ships would have a negative impact before we arrive,” says Winter. “We have refused to go to certain places if we feel it would be detrimental to the local ecosystem. Once we’ve made sure this isn’t the case, we then prioritise places with easy access, and if possible, the chance for guests to have interesting interactions with local people.” 

In the coming year, Ponant is set to resume sailing with a range of global itineraries, including those onboard the new ship.  

“Le Commandant Charcot had her inaugural cruise from Le Havre, France, with many of our worldwide partners onboard, followed by a mini-cruise to La Rochelle for our trade partners,” says Winter. “She will then leave for her first cruise in the Antarctic. We also restarted our appearances at face-to-face trade show in October. Our summer 2022 schedule boasts 31 new cruises, including the subtropical islands of Japan, a Kimberly and South East Asia combination cruise, an Iceland to Toronto cruise, a Bordeaux to Dublin cruise, and a Nice to Istanbul Mediterranean Odyssey to name just a few!”

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