Mike Louagie was in Saint-Nazaire, France, to catch a first glimpse of Ponant's Le Commandant Charcot. This sturdy beast is going to be the first LNG-powered hybrid expedition cruise vessel, made for extreme destinations as the geographic north pole, the Northwest Passage, the Weddell Sea, the Larsen Ice Shelf, the Ross Sea and the Bellingshausen Sea. Mike reports:
Because of its unique icebreaking characteristics, this ship can go where only a few others can, like the Russian nuclear icebreaker "50 Years of Victory". It was actually nice to meet again captain Patrick Marchesseau in Saint-Nazaire (Mike sailed with him in Croatia, in 2010). He told us that he joined this Russian vessel, as well as a Finnish icebreaker, to learn about the particularities of this extreme navigation.
First something about the construction. The hull was built in VARD Tulcea (Romania), then towed to VARD Søviknes (Norway), then towed again to Saint-Nazaire, where she arrived earlier on July 21.
Le Commandant Charcot came to France only for the installation of the two massive Azipod propellers, each weighing 300 tons, or 672k lbs, without the propeller. The picture with the car above shows how tall a pod is.
The propeller will have a diameter of 20 feet. To attach a pod to the hull, 60 bolts are needed, each one having a weight of 44 pounds.
Normally she would have stopped in France on her way to Norway, but Covid-19 made this impossible. Hence the extra trip.
On August 1, when both pods are installed, the vessel will be towed back to Norway, for her outfit. She will be delivered in June 2021.
Le Commandant Charcot is a massive vessel for only 270 passengers and scientists, and the 190 crewmembers. This sturdiness is needed for safe operations in extreme ice conditions. The hull is extremely strong with some parts of the ship having steel plates that are 2.4 inches thick.
The shape of the hull is also a typical ice-breaking hull, and the Azipods are made for operations in ice. With a combined power of 34 MW, this vessel has a large power reserve.
The big difference with icebreakers is that they are built to, indeed, break the ice to keep seaways open. With Ponant the aim is to bring guests to extreme polar regions, in the safest conditions. Sometimes ice is so thick that it is better to reverse, in case of a strong ice wall.
Ponant is a luxury brand, so a lot of attention has been paid to passenger comfort. The lowest cabins are higher than on any other ship, and the hull –in combination with the propulsion—has been designed to minimize the sound of the crushing ice.
Ponant has invested a lot in the environmental technologies, with LNG as propulsion, but also with batteries, and numerous small innovations to save energy and be as environmental-friendly as possible. It is a true masterpiece of engineering.
The total power output of the six gensets is 41,8 MW. They can be powered by clean liquid natural gas (LNG) or marine diesel oil (MDO). The full LNG thanks give the ship an impressive autonomy of 1,5 month!
With this exceptional vessel, Ponant also gives scientists a platform for polar research, with several labs on board, and the necessary possibilities to install instruments in the hull.
In a very French way, French-flagged Le Commandant Charcot will celebrate 'le 14 juillet’ (national day) on the geographic north pole.
Good to know: 50% of Ponant's customers are North Americans.
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