Friday, 17 March 2017

From aboard Ponant Le Soleal: Dinner with the captain.

"No, adventure is not dead, and in spite of the steam engine and of Thomas Cook & Son" - Jack London, 'Cruise of the Snark'

Dinner with the captain.

Last night was 'Officers' Dinner' where passengers get the opportunity to dine with senior crew members in the plush restaurant "L'Eclipse" on Deck 2 of Le Soleal.

I imagine my hosts were mindful that I needed maximum supervision under such circumstances, hence I was placed under the watchful eye of Captain Mickael Debien along with five fellow Anglophones.

Captain Debien regaled us with his tales of his 14 years as sea under sail aboard the 30-year-old French cruise line's mascot sailing vessel, Le Ponant, and sommelier, Eric, chose some very suitable wines.

"It was always my dream to be a seaman," confides our charming host, "The change to these ships after so many years on Le Ponant was difficult, but an enjoyable challenge."

And even on these sophisticated vessels with so much technology to assist the master, it is important to remember that we must still be sailors in the old style and look outside, read the sea and weather with your eyes. I tell my young officers who will be our new captains to never forget this. We call this 'sens marin' (sea sense)"

From a master's perspective, Captain Debien tells us Antarctica requires the most skill, that Iceland in July (and only July) is perhaps his favourite and that new itineraries around the waters of PNG provide the most interest for the curious seaman.

A couple years back, Ponant took on a new investor who enabled this massive fleet expansion we are currently in the midst of. Captain Debien is understandably excited about the four new expedition vessels due to be delivered from next year until 2019. He also gives us something of a scoop when revealing Ponant fleet plans beyond 2020 include a luxury icebreaker and a new sailing vessel in the classic style.

"This will not be any ordinary icebreaker," he says imitating a rough and rugged ship with his hands, "she will be a beautiful ship and take us to some really special places. Perhaps even the North Pole!" ^

Thank you Captain Debien for a most enjoyable dinner.

^ Captain Debien later shows me some artist drawings and blueprints of the new icebreaker, which will be around 150m and some 29,000 GRT. I can't share these with you yet, but imagine Le Soleal with an 'ice knife' bow and fat beam and you have some idea.

For more information about cruising with Ponant, visit www.ponant.com