It took years of planning and several million dollars to ensure a city-sized luxury liner could become the largest to ever sail through the Northwest Passage north of Alaska and Canada.
The Crystal Serenity left the town of Seward on Aug. 16, sailing up the Bering Strait and then east across the Arctic Ocean. It will complete its voyage September 16 in New York.
Several million dollars were spent outfitting the ship with equipment and personnel to navigate through Arctic waters, said the vessel’s captain, Birger Vorland. And everyone on board was outfitted with their own parka.
The special equipment includes a dedicated ice radar, an ice navigation system that combines electronic charts with satellite imagery and thermal imaging, and two large ice searchlights on each bridge wing.
In addition, two Canadian ice pilots are on board. And the ship has an escort vessel carrying oil spill response equipment and two helicopters in case people need to evacuate.
“Ice is a concern,” Vorland said while the ship was docked in Nome for a port call. “Luckily, 2016 is turning out to be a reasonably good ice year.”
Not many vegetables are grown in the Arctic, so chartered flights have delivered fresh perishables to be served in the cruise liner’s five-star restaurants.
One of the first documented voyages through the Northwest Passage was Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s 1903-06 expedition on his ship, the Gjøa (pronounced “Yur”).
So it’s a sense of excitement for Vorland, a Norway native living in Los Angeles, to follow in Amundsen’s footsteps, as it were.
“They spent three years, and we’re going to do this in 32 days and in a lot more comfort,” Vorland said.