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Crushing Ice -The Power of the Mighty Icebreaker

4 min read

Exploring the Polar Regions is an achievement in itself; it's an experience relatively few on this planet will ever enjoy. But taking that epic journey on an authentic icebreaker? That's truly the trip of a lifetime.

Our Polar Travel Advisers are often asked, "What's the difference between an icebreaker and an ice-fortified ship?"

Travel aboard an icebreaker ship is an incredible experience

50 Years of Victory and Kapitan Khlebnikov are both true icebreakers, meaning they were purpose-built for breaking through ice floes and powering through Arctic and Antarctic waters. And they are of extreme importance when accessing and maneuvering through remote, unpredictable environments, like those you'll encounter en route to Snow Hill or the North Pole.

Meet the Icebreakers

While ice-fortified ships have strengthened hulls, icebreakers are rated to navigate multi-year ice and can plough through far heavier ice floes. Each icebreaker shares three of the same traits – extreme power to drive the ship's bow into the ice (breaking ice under its own weight), a strengthened hull, and an ice-clearing shape. This shape, and an icebreaker's capacity to break ice and clear debris from its path, is critical to the construction and safety of the ship.

The Kapitan Khlebnikov icebreaker powers through multi-year sea ice in the Arctic.

Kapitan Khlebnikov powers through pancake ice in the Southern Ocean. 

On Khlebnikov, for example, each hull is over 1.75 metres thick at the ice skirt and approximately 1- 1.25 metres thick elsewhere. A ballast moves water at 74 tonnes per minute between hulls to assist in ice breaking. Other ice-breaking features include a polymer paint coating on the ice skirt to prevent friction, and a system to force pressurized air from above the keel to halfway down the ship.

Able to pound ice up to three metres thick while gathering speeds of at least three knots, Victory was actually the first icebreaker built with a spoon-shaped bow, which aids the vessel in punching through ice up to 9.2 feet thick, as seen in this video. Victory is able to generate up to 74,000 horsepower from its two nuclear reactor thrusters, and offers advanced features such as a stainless steel ice belt, and built-in systems that ease friction levels generated when traveling through very cold conditions.

50 Years Of Victory, anchored at the North Pole. Photo credit: 'Song", North Pole voyage 2011

50 Years Of Victory, anchored at the North Pole.

Icebreaker Helicopters for Flightseeing and Landings

Quark's open bridge policy means that guests are welcome to access the bridge to observe the power of these tenacious vessels.

For a strikingly different perspective, Victory and Khlebnikov offer flightseeing via on-board helicopters, allowing passengers spellbinding, dramatic aerial views of the open sea and landings below. Icebreaking experienced from above the ship is quite a different sensation than that experienced from bridge or bow, and brings a unique scope and scale to the experience. Scenes of shifting, calving glaciers and fjords or roaming polar bears and breeching whales below are powerful, emotional sights.

Tanquary Fjord and the kapitan khlebnikov from a helicopter

Tanquary Fjord and the Kapitan Khlebnikov as seen from a helicopter

On each icebreaker expedition, dedicated ice experts conduct ice reconnaissance to evaluate ice density and conditions. These specialists, with advanced training in ice and hydrology, consult with the bridge to determine the day's specific landing site(s). And these remote landings, otherwise utterly inaccessible and inhospitable to the rest of the world, become inviting areas of exploration when approached on a helicopter landing.

Authentic icebreaker adventures

The anticipation of crushing through ice, over hummocks and pressure ridges, is palpable. Hearing the roar of the vibrations, sensing the roll of the ship, witnessing car-sized chunks of ice two and a half meters thick pass by you – for many, this is an intense voyage highlight.

An intense voyage hightlight

Early season passengers aboard Khlebnikov are in for a true arctic expedition experience, cutting first ice through the fabled Northwest Passage. And, four itineraries running concurrently offer the hardiest of polar travelers the opportunity to circumnavigate the Arctic, if they choose.

Victory passengers will crush their way through the ice to the one place in the world where a step in any direction takes you south, the North Pole.

Life onboard an icebreaker

Built in Finland in 1981 to withstand Soviet ice conditions, Khlebnikov joined the Quark fleet in 1992 and was our flagship icebreaker until 2012, when it was re-commissioned to perform duties as an industrial/commercial icebreaker.

It has now been refitted for passenger arctic cruises, features 51 cabins, a lounge, bar, heated indoor plunge pool, sauna, theatre-style auditorium, Polar Boutique and two helicopters, and offers comfortable cruising combined with an incredible capacity for adventure.

Victory guides passengers to the very top of the world – to the North Pole at 90° north – with a similar mix of adventure and comfort. Equipped with a saloon for socializing, a bar with spectacular views, a gym, two saunas, a helicopter and more, Victory offers several amenities for relaxation and exploration.

Both icebreakers offer hearty dining with chef-prepared meals and all-inclusive beverages, and four to five enriching polar expert lectures per voyage.

Our team of seasoned Polar Travel Advisers have direct experience traveling on the Khlebnikov and Victory icebreakers, and would be happy to help you plan your trip. Contact them anytime!

Explore North Pole expeditions

* LL1 - Ice strengthening notation of the ship (independent navigation in the Arctic in summer in broken open ice and in the non-arctic freezing seas all the year round in light ice conditions.

** LL3 - Icebreaker category notation (intended for all kinds of icebreaking operations in the non-arctic freezing seas, in shallow waters and mouths of rivers flowing into the arctic seas during the winter period without assistance, as well as for operation on coastal routes in the arctic seas under convoy of icebreakers of higher category all the year round, and capable of forcing the way in compact ice field up to 1, 5 m thick. The total shaft power is 11032-22065 kW.

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