Navigating the Northeast Passage

From Current, Seabourn’s digital travel magazine, read about how tradition and history meet spectacular natural beauty in a country that has plenty to inspire every traveler.

The Northeast Passage, also known as the Northern Sea Route, has captivated explorers since the 16th century. Many of these early seafarers headed west from Europe in search of a northernly route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, while others – particularly Dutch, English and Russian sailors – steered their ships east across the top of present-day Norway and Arctic Russia. Today’s adventurers can now explore this remote, sparsely inhabited region in ultra-luxury comfort on an expedition voyage with Seabourn.

A shorter, northernly passage between Western Europe and Northeast Asia could save ancient travelers months of arduous sea travel around the Cape of Good Hope. Yet the heavy ice that covers this Arctic route proved impenetrable for much of the year, making exploration difficult and transits slow. (It is true that some sections of the passage were always free of ice, especially around the Barents Sea.) A cadre of early explorers would piece together various sections of this long sought-after route, including Dutch navigator Willem Barentsz, who discovered Spitsbergen and the Barents Sea; Danish explorer Vitus Bering, after whom the Bering Sea is named; and English Captain James Cook, who proved that Asia and North America are separate continents.

The first person to fully traverse the Northeast Passage was Finnish-Swedish scientist Adolf Nordenskiöld, who successfully sailed across the Asiatic Arctic to the Pacific on an 1878-79 expedition – although his ship was frozen near the Bering Strait for nearly ten months. It would take another 55 years before the first Soviet icebreaker made the transit in a single season, and wasn’t until 1991 that the Northern Sea Route was officially opened to foreign shipping. The pack ice has retreated dramatically since 2000, making ship transits even more feasible.

Few travelers have traversed this remote, and sparsely inhabited region, and Seabourn guests who join this elite group in 2023 will discover one of the most mysterious and wildly beautiful places on Earth. The expedition voyage between Tromsø and Nome – a journey of more than 4,000 nautical miles – takes modern-day adventurers on exhilarating Zodiac® cruises and tundra hikes that will reveal fascinating rock formations and delicate, microscopic flora thriving amidst the seemingly barren Arctic environment. Wherever possible, they can join the Expedition Team on kayaks for an optional paddle, gaining a rare, water-level perspective of the rugged coastlines and open vistas.

Stops to visit the precious historical landmarks of early Arctic explorers inspire contemplation on the hardships these intrepid pioneers endured. So too do visits to traditional Indigenous villages, where inhabitants still eke out a meager living from whatever this frozen land provides. Possible wildlife encounters abound – from walruses, whales and mystical narwhals found amidst the sea ice to muskoxen, caribou and Arctic foxes out on the tundra.

The chance of witnessing a polar bear in the wild is worth the journey alone. Whether spotting this aptly named “King of the Arctic” as a tiny white speck in the distance or ambling along a rocky shoreline, it is one of the most magical and memorable experiences in all of travel. Seabourn guests navigating the Northeast Passage will visit Wrangel Island where wooly mammoths once roamed as recently as 3700 years ago and home to the greatest density of denning polar bears in the world. (“Denning” refers to pregnant bears who dig dens in the snow drifts, where they give birth and care for their young cubs.) Rest assure that the ship’s Expedition Team never pursues polar bears or allows encounters to adversely impact them, and shore walks are carefully monitored by Bear Guards to ensure the safety of visitor and creature alike.

You can join Seabourn Venture when she explores the Northeast Passage on an extraordinary, 25-day expedition voyage between Tromsø and Nome that departs July 29, 2023. Seabourn Venture is designed and built for diverse environments to PC6 Polar Class standards. The ship will carry two custom-built submarines, 24 Zodiacs, kayaks, and a 26-person expert Expedition Team, who guide your entire voyage allowing you to go deeper into unexplored regions only accessible by expedition ship.

Seabourn Venture’s Northeast Passage voyage opens for booking on December 15, 2021. Learn more about the voyage here.

Be sure to read Current regularly to stay up-to-date with the latest news and stories from around the world. Current’s articles are brimming with timely and descriptive details to stimulate your imagination and destination tips to create excitement as you dream of your next Seabourn voyage.