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Why X-BOW Ships are Leading the Way in Polar Cruising

Thursday, 4th April 2024



Small-ship polar cruising is changing. Out of both necessity (aging ships, lease agreements ending) and responsible investment, the ex-research vessels that dominated the icy waters of the Arctic and Antarctica a decade or two ago have largely given way to custom-built ships designed for the purpose of guiding discerning travellers into the most remote parts of the planet. With environmental factors at the forefront of the design, these new ships also lean towards greater comfort, safety and bespoke facilities for guests. The experience remains adventurous, just noticeably more comfortable.

Leading the way in this next-generation of small-ship polar vessels is the growing collection boasting Ulstein X-BOW® technology. The brand new, Douglas Mawson, setting sail in 2025, joins the Greg Mortimer, Sylvia Earle, Ocean Albatros and Ocean Explorer in reshaping, literally, what polar expedition cruising looks like.


X-BOW® ships are immediately recognisable with an inverted hull that challenges the conventional perception of how ships should look. But it doesn’t take long for the stylish aesthetic to win you over. It helps that the ships are also packed with customer-centric features such as panoramic observation decks, spacious viewing lounges, gym, sauna plus modern and very comfortable cabins.

The bow design makes for smooth sailing even in rough oceans, which is a terrific bonus for many a casual seafarer considering a Polar voyage. The Drake Passage en route to the Antarctic Peninsula becomes less daunting! But it’s more than that. It’s an elegant, yet powerful bow. Somehow reassuring in remote world of water, ice and wildlife. On these vessels in particular, the bow of the boat almost imbues its own personality, becoming very much a focal point for guests and adds an extra dimension to navigating in ice-choked waters of Antarctica and the Arctic.


The first of the X-BOW® ships built for expedition cruising, The Greg Mortimer, leads from the front in this respect (pun possibly intended). It boasts two hydraulic viewing platforms on deck 5, only meters from the eye-catching bow. These “wings” can be opened in calm conditions to provide a standout vantage point for a sea ice navigation spectacle. This is the only ship boasting X-Bow technology to feature these extending viewing platforms.

I had the pleasure of sailing on this stunning ship last summer in Svalbard. Among a host of genuine highlights, ranging from hearing a bearded seal sing to witnessing a polar bear on the hunt, experiencing the ship ‘cut-through’ the floating sea ice of Freemansundet in east Spitsbergen was simply extraordinary. Thrilling, humbling and full of “wow” moments.


What is Ulstein X-BOW® technology?

Developed by Norwegian ship designer ULSTEIN in the mid-noughties, the bow of the ship is both inverted and curved allowing the water to gently flow over it reducing the impact of waves. This increases the ship’s stability making for a smoother and more comfortable cruising experience in the challenging waters of the Polar regions. In turn, the lesser impact lowers fuel consumption and reduces emissions making X-BOW® ships more environmentally friendly.

Environmental Credentials

Sustainability and responsible exploration of the Polar regions has always been at the heart of our small ship expedition cruising collection. That these ships are environmentally-friendly, with half the emissions of traditional expedition ships adds to the overall appeal. As well as being energy efficient, the ships also boast virtual anchoring technology to avoid damaging ocean-floor habitats and reduced light pollution to minimise wildlife disturbance.

Providing access to these parts of the world allows us to feel an emotional connection to our planet and in turn, the need to protect it. Polar Product Manager, Charlotte, reflected on this during her own voyage to the Arctic. “I was pondering this thought whilst standing out on deck, staring at the beautiful polar bears against a majestic back drop of snow and ice. At that moment, a famous quote from David Attenborough popped into my mind, “No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced.” My trip gave me a heightened sense of awareness as to what role I can play in protecting the environment, no matter how small.”

Plan Your Responsible Polar Cruise

With a wide choice of small-ship expedition vessels to choose from, speak to our team for advice of which is best for you. One thing is for sure. You’ll have an incredible experience whichever you choose as it’s easy to form a strong attachment to your floating home in the unfamiliar Polar environment. Your ship is after all your haven from the beautiful, yet extreme conditions of these remote regions. Returning to your ship by Zodiac from a shore landing or wildlife cruise is an utterly unique feeling. You are filled with both a sense of awe at what you’ve just witnessed and a tiny bit of relief at being back on board in warmth and comfort. It’s a feeling worth bottling!