Northeast Passage

Those who associate the polar regions with cold and darkness might be forgiven for rubbing their eyes in amazement at the beginning of this cruise. The passengers on board the HANSEATIC were welcomed by a radiant sun beaming down upon the Diomede Islands in the Bering Strait. And there were more enjoying this glorious morning than just the 148 passengers from six different nations: numerous walruses were sprawled out along the shoreline. The region's birdlife was also present in all its diversity: horned puffins, thick-billed murres, kittiwakes and parakeet auklets circled above the ship as it set out on nothing less than a world premiere.

The date 13 August 2014 was not only the beginning of a special expedition cruise: it was a milestone in the history of cruises. One of many in the annals of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, which not only includes the first "pleasure cruise to the Orient" but also the first "Nordland cruise" to Spitsbergen. To this day, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises remains utterly committed to its policy of sailing extraordinary routes - a policy for which it has received multiple awards.

Sailing from the Bering Strait through the Arctic Ocean and into the Barents Sea, crossing the Northeast Passage from Alaska to Norway, has long been a maritime dream. Indeed, seafarers have been dreaming of it since the 16th century. All attempts failed. That is, until 1879, when Adolf Erik Nordenskiøld, the Finnish scientist in the service of the Swedes, completed the first successful navigation of the Northeast Passage. During the winter, he was frozen over for months in the Arctic wasteland before it became possible to break through.

For the guests of the HANSEATIC, the cruise was luxurious rather than full of deprivation, yet it was every bit as much an adventure. An expedition through  seascapes that scarcely anybody has ever witnessed. And it revealed some very special wildlife. Within just a few days the cries rang out across the decks: "Polar bear! Polar bear!" And sure enough, seated on an ice floe, a polar bear drifted by. It gazed at the ship with interest, and countless pairs of eyes stared back in fascination. Shouts of "Polar bear, polar bear!" dominated the first days.

After a good two weeks, the HANSEATIC crossed the Laptev Sea. This, too, is a place bereft of humankind, inhabited only by the heavyweights of the animal kingdom: walruses. The passengers spotted a pair. The two massive animals remained perfectly cool in the flurry of flashlights, simply scratching one another with their tusks - like an old married couple.

When, on 7 September, the HANSEATIC sailed into the Russian port of Murmansk, she had done it - the first passage of a non-Russian ship through the Northern Sea Route right across the Russian Arctic. However, what really matters are the 5,500 nautical miles through virtually untouched nature and encounters with landscapes and wildlife, the likes of which are nowhere else to be found on this planet.

The HANSEATIC goes down in history as the first non-Russian passenger ship to cruise through the Northeast Passage.

World record for the HANSEATIC

"It's not so easy to set new records in maritime history," says Captain Thilo Natke in a news report from 2014, "but by sheer good fortune the HANSEATIC managed to do just that on 27 August. Our expedition schedule allowed a little time, and we used it to detour right up into the far north." In so doing, the HANSEATIC reached "phi max", the highest geographic latitude any passenger ship with conventional propulsion has ever crossed.

Unusual ice conditions had made this record possible. A wide expanse of ice-free water stretched out to the north of the New Siberian Islands. Under good weather conditions and at temperatures of about zero degrees, the ship entered the area. Natke wrote: "Not until we reached 85 degrees did we encounter isolated fields of pack ice. Travelling slowly and sometimes surrounded by fog, we made our way forwards until, at latitude 85° 40.7' N, we could go no further: polar pack ice covering nine tenths of the surface stretched right out as far as the horizon. Just another 479 km (297 mi.) to the North Pole!"

At temperatures around freezing, the passengers set out on a Zodiac ride along the edge of the pack ice. This event was then celebrated in style with a party on deck. Many wanted to go to the bridge to take photos of the display on the GPS unit. After all, it was proof of where they had been!



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