S/V “Polaris”, Built For The Arctic

Those of you who have read some accounts of boats wintering over in the polar regions may have visions of dented hull plates, narrow escapes and three inches of frost on the INSIDE of the boat. That is not the Polaris way.

That is not to say that there are not hazards lurking in Michael and Martina’s project of wintering over on the west coast of Greenland, but the difference is that they spent years planning and having a boat built that could not only survive a winter frozen into the ice at 68N, but do it with a minimum of drama and adventure. (I think it was Amundsen, the incredible Norwegian explorer who was first through the Northwest Passage and first to the South Pole, both without losing a life, that said something like “adventure is the result of poor planning”.)

The red drums contain a shore survival kit in case the crew is forced to abandon. The blue bag is a small light inflatable that is both a backup to the larger tender and intended to assist in getting ashore during the freeze-up

(See more pictures of Polaris here and here.)

To detail all of this boat’s features for an Arctic winter would take a book, but here are a few:

  • Hull scantlings: Although Polaris is not ice classed, the hull is still built super-strong from aluminum, with thicker plate over fewer ribs and stringers than a boat like our Morgan’s Cloud, which has comparatively thin plate over many ribs and stringers—a lighter technique but not as resistant to denting from ice pressure. Also, Polaris has a massive “U”-shaped beam welded to the inside of the hull right round the waterline to take ice stress and help stop the plate from denting.
  • Insulation: The hull is insulated with a special fire proof material that was, I believe, developed for the Space Station. The ports and hatches are the best available and double glazed.
  • Heating: The boat has not one, but THREE separate heating systems. More on that here.
  • Staying put: Polaris has the best and most complete system for putting in shorefasts I have ever seen.
  • Dry exhaust: The engine has a dry exhaust and is cooled by a heat exchanger inside the hull plating where it is safe from ice. As a result the engine will be in commission and ready to go all winter.
  • Huge fuel tanks: A total diesel capacity of 3000 Liters ensures that the crew will be warm and toasty even if they do not break out of the ice until mid-June.
  • Little details: The center board trunk has a valve that allows the crew to pump air into it, thereby displacing the water that would freeze and possibly damage the hull. The through-hull fittings are custom machined so that the outer diameter is slightly larger than the inner at the seacock. The result is that a plug of ice will automatically expel as it freezes, thereby relieving stress on the fitting.
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John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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