One would have to be the most sun-worshipping and mentally absent Canadian not to be aware of and share the nation’s obsession with our closest polar region. This region excites more than modest nationalist fervor, bringing a little heat to a cold climate. The past decade has seen tempers raised over global warming and its obvious impacts in our own backyard, as well as by perceived encroachments, even on only notional territory (e.g., the famous Russian “staking” of a flag at the Polar seabed). Curiously, this tendency seems to be more inflamed by our nearest and closest friends than by others.
So clearly there was room for much more hot air to be blown into this arena when Crystal Cruises of Los Angeles announced they would send a 68,870-ton ship through the Northwest Passage in 2016. While many expedition yachts and small cruise ships have plied the Passage in recent years, the MV Crystal Serenity (CY), with about 1,000 passengers and 600 crew, would dwarf all previous voyagers to become the largest ship yet to navigate the NWP. The magnitude of the undertaking alone was enough for some to question the advisability or safety of such an enterprise. This “Doubting Thomas” carping from the sidelines, however, ignores the huge, conscientious effort that went into making the Serenity voyage safe and successful.
I was very privileged to have a ring-side seat at this historic transit as assistant ice-navigator onboard the RSS Ernest Shackleton. While able to appreciate the risks, I was also in a position to observe the results of three long years of preparation and the care that was exercised in the execution of this voyage.
Photo above: Crystal Serenity and RSS Ernest Shackleton -- Crystal's Northwest Passage voyage is a first for a large passenger ship...photo credit: EVC & Crystal Cruises
Successful strategy = logistics
As with most successful undertakings, this voyage resulted not just from brilliant intuition of a march-stealing strategy but from meticulous attention to the myriad details of executing a “cruise” in an austere environment. While Crystal Cruises prides itself in offering adventure-oriented excursions from a platform of unparalleled service and luxury, the conditions of going ashore in the Canadian Arctic required special support to manage large numbers of people for beach landings.