Thirty Years of Ponant – Other News: James Cook – The Voyages
by Kevin Griffin
From its beginnings in April 1988, when it was founded by several officers of the French mercant marine, Ponant has been the only cruise line to sail under the French flag. The line has introduced a new style of cruising, an amalgam of sea travel, exceptional itineraries and elegant hotel service aboard ships of an intimate scale. And now, by 2021, it will be the world’s largest expedition cruise company, with a full icebreaker, ten expedition ships and the line’s mascot, the original sailing ship Le Ponant.
THIS WEEK’S STORY
Thirty Years of Ponant
From its beginnings in April 1988, when it was founded by Philippe Videau, Jean-Emmanuel Sauvé, and other officers of the French mercant marine, Ponant has been the only cruise line to sail under the French flag. The line has introduced a new style of cruising, a unique concept of sea travel, exceptional itineraries and elegant hotel service aboard ships of an intimate scale.
For thirty years, the company has been introducing the French way of life to the world’s oceans. This is emphasised by a French crew, discreet service and gastronomy. Guests tour the world on board limited capacity yacht-style cruise ships that have been specially designed for expeditions, in unrivalled standards of comfort and service.
With a fleet of twelve ships with 2,000 crew members and 460 departures planned for 2021, Ponant will be the world leader in luxury expeditions, sailing all the seas of the world to exceptional destinations: Antarctica, the Arctic, Alaska, the Amazon, the Orinoco, the islands north of Ausralia, Papua New Guinea, and soon even the North Pole.
Ponant started with one ship the 64-berth three-masted barque Le Ponant, which was delivered in 1991 and is still in service today.
In 1999, the company built the 90-berth Le Levant, which was sold out of the fleet in 2012. Between 2004 and 2012, Ponant also operated the 180-berth Le Diamant, the former luxury small ship Song of Flower.
In 2010, Ponant introduced the first of four expedition-style luxury sister ships, the 264-berth Le Boréal. A year later, she was joined by L’Austral ,and in 2013 by Le Soléal . The fourth and final ship of this series, all of which were built by Fincantieri in Ancona, was Le Lyrial, delivered in 2015.
In 2006 Ponant headquarters were moved from Nantes to Marseille, following the company’s acquisition by CMA CGM. The French shipping company then sold its interest in Ponant to Bridgepoint Capital.
In 2013, Le Soléal became the first French ship to traverse the Northwest Passage, sailing across the top of Canada from Kangerlussuaq to Anadyr in Russia.
In October 2015, Ponant was acquired by Artemis, the Pinault family company that controls various luxury brands and the sports apparel company Kering. Groupe Artemis holdings include the auction house Christie’s, winery Château Latour, Le Point, Stade Rennais FC and the Théâtre Marigny.
In March 2016 Ponant ordered four new 184-berth “Explorer” class ships of about 10,000 gross tons from Vard, a subsidiary of Fincantieri. In March 2018, Ponant announced an order for two more “Explorer” class ships, Le Bellot and Le Surville, that will join the company in 2020.
In December 2017, Ponant announced that it had ordered a full icebreaker expedition ship from Vard and that she would be built to the second-highest Polar Ice Class, PC 2, and would be capable of taking travellers all the way to the North Pole. This latest ship is scheduled for delivery in 2021.
The six “Explorer” class vessels will be about 430 feet long and 59 feet wide. The hulls will be built at Vard Tulcea in Romania, with final delivery by Vard Søviknes in Norway. They will have ninety-two staterooms and suites, each with balcony.
The 30,000-ton Ponant Icebreaker will be about 492 feet long and 92 feet wide, with a cruising speed of 15 knots.
The 2021 fleet will be made up as follows:
Among its 30th Anniversary celebrations will be:
• A book, tracing the history of the company through its finest photographs and testimonials from Ponant guests, to be released in the autumn
• A series of exclusive events in Brussels, Nice, Bordeaux, Lille, Marseille, Lyon, Paris and London to the benefit of its partner travel agents
• This year will also see the launch of the first two “Explorer” class ships, Le Lapérouse and Le Champlain, the latter of which will cruise the Great Lakes of her namesake
• In London Ponant and the Antarctic Heritage Trust are sponsoring an exhibition of James Cook’s three voyages of discovery in his ship Endeavour, at the British Library.
OTHER CRUISE NEWS
James Cook – The Voyages
It is 250 years since the Endeavour set sail from Plymouth. The British Library’s exhibition, sponsored by Ponant, tells the story of Captain James Cook’s three world-changing voyages through original documents, many of which were produced by the artists, scientists and sailors on board the ships.
Maps, artworks and journals from the voyages sit alongside newly-commissioned films offering contemporary perspectives. Examine the expeditions that shaped Europe’s knowledge of the world and consider their far-reaching legacy.
See Cook’s handwritten journal detailing the first crossing of the Antarctic Circle, when they travelled further south than anyone in the world, stunning artwork including the earliest European depiction of a kangaroo, and intricate maps charting the voyages that spanned more than a decade. Learn about the experiences on board the Endeavour, Resolution and Discovery, and the impact of their arrival.
Drawings by the Polynesian high priest and navigator Tupaia, who accompanied Cook to New Zealand and Australia, have been displayed together for the first time. These sit alongside works by expedition artists Sydney Parkinson, William Hodges and John Webber.
Visit “James Cook: The Voyages” website for a range of different perspectives on the voyages and their legacy and impact. The exhibition is open until August 28, 2018.
(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)