It’s one of the more legendary and controversial moments in 19th-century polar exploration: spring 1854, and Henry Kellett, captain of HMS Resolute, is leading his men and the crews of Intrepid and Investigator by foot and sledge across Arctic Ocean ice to distant Beechey Island. When four of five vessels in Sir Edward Belcher’s squadron were encased by pack ice, he had issued the unpopular order for the captains and crews to abandon the ships rather than await a thaw and continue on their mission: rescuing or determining the fate of Sir John Franklin and the crews of Erebus and Terror, missing since their 1845 expedition to find the Northwest Passage. As Kellett’s disgruntled, frozen men slogged east to reassemble and return to Britain, the empty Resolute continued a slow drift east that wouldn’t cease until late 1855.
Some months earlier, Kellett had rescued Captain Robert McClure and HMS Investigator’s crew, who had for three years also been frozen tight in the western Arctic. They were among the many British and even American ships that cruised the Canadian High Arctic in the 1850s, unsuccessful in their search for Franklin, but adding much to the world’s maps and knowledge of the polar region.
More than 100 years later, the Arctic landscape, waters and wildlife are no less powerful or inhospitable, but as is also the case in Antarctica, the “visitor experience” has changed. A small handful of cruise companies now operate in the Arctic and Southern oceans, and one of these, One Ocean Expeditions (the exclusive marine travel partner of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society), has just bolstered its expedition capabilities by bringing on a heavily ice-strengthened vessel with a name straight out of exploration history.
RCGS Resolute is the first vessel flagged for the RCGS. Its inaugural sailing under this ensign, on Nov. 16, 2018, will be from Patagonia to the Antarctic Peninsula. And Resolute is no exploration-era barque: it couples the highest grade of ice-reinforcement possible for a passenger ship with luxurious quarters, dining and observation areas. On its first voyages it will traverse the fabled Drake Passage between South America and the White Continent more than 20 times while probing the Antarctic Peninsula, the Falkland Islands and South Georgia — waters explored by the likes of Ernest Shackleton, James Weddell and James Clark Ross — passing well south of the Antarctic Circle on some journeys.
With the end of the Antarctic summer, Resolute will turn north, stringing together a number of voyages along Chile’s Patagonian coast, Central America, Scotland, Iceland and Canada’s Atlantic provinces, reaching the ocean straits of the Arctic Archipelago in time for the brief northern summer.
These expeditions will carry people on pilgrimages of polar history and culture, wildlife photographers and naturalists alike. But besides continuing to open up the Far North and South to many hundreds of Canadians and travellers from around the world, Resolute will also be used to transport and support RCGS-sponsored explorers and researchers conducting scientific fieldwork in the Arctic.
Read on to learn more about RCGS Resolute’s features and capabilities, and the story behind its historic namesake.
1. Ice class
Resolute’s Lloyds 1A Super rating (it features high-density steel plating, small frame spacing and reinforced stainless steel propellers), its nimbleness and power make it capable of carrying on through the kind of ice conditions that halted polar exploration ships for centuries, and where most other vessels still can’t go. Respect for the changeable nature of the polar oceans and passenger safety, nevertheless, underpins all navigation decisions.
2. Open-bridge policy
The navigation crew welcomes visits from passengers and questions about Resolute, its location and course, and the officers on watch are among the best aboard when it comes to spotting wildlife, such as whales and sea birds. The bridge closes only during demanding navigation or weather conditions.
3. Vantage point
The Deck 7 observation lounge and ship library, located over the bow, is one of the finest places on board to scan the seas and landscape.
Resolute has six cabin categories between decks 3 and 6. All are newly renovated and appointed, offering 22 square metres of comfortable space with lounge areas and ocean views. The luxurious Shackleton and One Ocean suites, on Deck 6 between the bridge and bistro and close to outdoor observation spaces, are the exception, at a spacious 44 square metres.
Deck 7 houses a fitness centre, dry sauna and steam room, a wellness centre with massage therapy, a Jacuzzi, hot tub, pool and access to observation decks.
6. Shore access
There are 14 Zodiacs on board, deployed for shore excursions and up-close encounters in wilderness areas. One Ocean provides full expedition gear packages free of charge, including waterproof, insulated jackets and bib pants, binoculars, a backpack and other shore essentials.
After buffet breakfasts and lunches, five-courseà la carte menus and an excellent wine list set the tone in the main dining room in the evening (Deck 4). The bar and lounge (Deck 5) and bistro dining room (Deck 6) offer more casual drinks and dining, all with sweeping views.
8. Behind the name
RCGS Resolute, the first vessel designated a “Royal Canadian Geographical Ship” (9, RCGS ensign) was named in honour of both the Royal Navy discovery ship and the Inuit hamlet on Nunavut’s Cornwallis Island. Resolute — Canada’s second most northerly community after Grise Fiord — serves often as the launch point for expeditions to the North Pole and international scientific research teams. The hamlet was named for the same British vessel, which wintered off Cornwallis Island on its first expedition (1850-51), during which searchers found traces of Franklin’s camps on nearby Beechey Island.
After its 1854 abandonment, HMS Resolute drifted east for almost 2,000 kilometres. It was recovered the next year by an American whaler, sailed to the United States, repaired and returned to Queen Victoria as an act of goodwill between nations. After its 1879 retirement, three desks were fashioned from its timber, one of which was presented to U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes. The Resolute Desk has been used by U.S. presidents ever since, usually in the Oval Office. HMS Resolute’s carved polar bear figurehead was salvaged, and is now housed in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.