How to see the Northern Lights by superyacht
by Charlotte Hogarth-Jones
They’re one of the most fleeting, ethereal, and powerful natural phenomena that you can find on earth – but did you know that one of the best ways to see the Northern Lights is by superyacht? A well-kept secret by those in the know, a yacht offers a wealth of advantages: the flexibility to travel to clearer skies, high-tech kit for monitoring the weather, privacy and the ability to escape the crowds inland – not to mention superior accommodation and service. Here’s how to do this bucket list trip the right way…
Head to Greenland
Greenland was a particularly good spot to see the northern lights in last year. While the sightings aren’t due to be quite as spectacular in 2019, it still came out top of the list for almost every expert we spoke to. Why? Because your chance of seeing the lights here is pretty good, and because it’s a magnificent destination to travel to regardless.
“You really get that sense of the Arctic in Greenland,” says Ben Lyons of EYOS Expeditions. “It’s a proper adventure destination and you’ll see some of the largest, most incredible icebergs in the world.” Geordie Mackay-Lewis of Pelorus agrees. “In places like Sweden or Finland, you might not see much activity at all,” he says, “but in that bit of ocean between Greenland and Eastern Canada, you really are right in the thick of it.”
Best of all, there’s the chance to catch the tail end of the season – which runs from September through to April – in 2019. “There are still yachts available to charter in Greenland in the first week of April,” explains Tamsin Vaughan of Yachting Partners International. “Plus you’ll find dreamlike conditions for heli-skiing, if nothing else.”
...or explore further north
If you don’t quite fancy Greenland, then the more popular destinations of Iceland and Norway still hold plenty in store. “Most tourists fly to Reykjavik, and that little corner of Iceland is quite crowded,” explains Nick Davies of Cookson Adventures, “but there are some beautiful areas to the north where you might not even encounter another yacht – or another person.”
Northern Norway is similarly undiscovered. “There are some beautiful spots here in winter and people don’t normally visit at this time of year”, he says. “You can scuba dive with the orcas here in January too – that would make a great trip.”
Founder of luxury travel company Blue Marble Private, Elizabeth Ellis, says, “Whilst most superyachts will need to be mindful of avoiding the depths of winter in Europe and North America, there is a missed opportunity with September and October being two excellent months to travel to more off the beaten track parts of Europe once the summer crowds have disappeared.” Blue Marble Private can help arrange trips to Northern Norway and Svalbard to hunt for the Northern Lights from mid-September 2019.
It’s all in the timing
You’re likely to see the northern lights from September through to April, but plan when you travel wisely to avoid bad weather. January-March is a safe bet for Norway, and bear in mind that the further north you go, the better chance you have of seeing them.
“I’ve been to Alaska in the end of July and managed to (faintly) see the Northern Lights,” says Lyons, “but that’s exceptionally rare. You have to decide whether seeing the lights is the main focus of your trip, or whether it would just be a nice plus. For instance, going to Alaska in early September significantly increases your chances of seeing vivid Northern Lights, but for some owners, the rest of what there is to see and do in Alaska may be more appealing in July. What is the your priority?”
Escape the clouds
If you’re following the coastline, then you’ll find more cloud cover than inland, but there are numerous ways around this. The first is to “chase the lights”, by asking your captain to head for areas of clear sky, and by being flexible with your route and trip. “It’s about boxing clever, explains Mackay-Lewis, “you know where these arctic storms are going to be, and where they’re going to go, and because you’re not grounded to a particular lodge or a hotel, you can absolutely relocate.”
The second is to make use of on-board helicopters to head into clearer patches of sky, while using your yacht as your base. Lastly, there’s no shame in heading inland for a night or so, to camp out somewhere really remote before heading back on board – in fact, many find a hybrid trip like this particularly rewarding, combining a wilderness adventure with true luxury back on board.
Do your homework
While you can’t, of course, do anything about when and how the elusive lights appear, it’s a good idea to take some experts with you if you’re investing heavily in the trip.
“I would advise taking a naturalist,” explains Vaughan, “someone who knows about weather and light in the area that you’re travelling to, and someone local who has a good idea of the lay of the land.”
In fact, with the right team and equipment behind you, even trickier destinations where poor weather would normally be problematic for superyachts, can become a possibility – from Alaska and Yukon through to Svalbard, the Faroe Islands and even Scotland. What’s more, there are thrilling new ways to see the lights on the horizon, including tandem power motoring underneath the lights in the sky – following in the footsteps of Red Bull pilot Horacio Llorens, who paraglided beneath the lights back in 2016.
With so many ways to do this exceptional trip, interest from superyacht owners is already picking up. There’s no better time, then, to gather your captain, crew and guests, and block out some dates in the diary. Just don’t tell the others...