“We stand apart from the cruise industry,” said Yann Le Bellec, president and founder of Latitude Blanche, a new French expedition start up offering exclusive voyages.

The concept: 12-passenger cruises on a premium ship.

“It’s a yacht-like, authentic maritime experience,” added Sophie Galvagnon, CEO and co-founder. “Even a 200-passenger ship is kind of a mass voyage when it comes to polar expeditions.”

Offering a more niche product, the company has a flexible approach, tailoring each voyage.

“We can stay as long as we want in harbors,” Galvagnon added. “If a bear comes, for instance, we can stop the ship for hours to admire it.”

The two entrepreneurs purchased a small historic vessel, the Polarfront, which was launched in 1976 from a yard in Norway.

Polarfront 2

The 54-meter-long ship is “extremely maneuverable” with a 4.5 meter draft. The vessel was laid up in 2010, and re-emerged last year as an offshore supply vessel.

The look inside is distinctly Scandinavian with a wood themed-interior.

This winter the focus is on renovation, including completely revamped and large staterooms.

The first voyage is planned in March, sailing from France to Ireland, Scotland, the Faroe Islands and Norway.

“After that, we will sail along the Norwegian coast up to Svalbard for the summer,” Galvagnon said.