What I haven’t told you about the Northwest Passage

Arctic Tern in Disko Bay

What I haven’t told you about the Northwest Passage: I’m going.

This year.

This Thursday, to be precise.

All rather sudden.

Here’s the back-story:

Many who have commented on my Figure 8 Voyage slated for 2015 think the attempt downright daft; some say I underrate the difficulty, while an interesting few have remarked, “that sounds like fun! Do you need crew?”

But all agree that any singlehanded challenger of the Northwest Passage would benefit from some prior experience of life above 66.56 degrees north latitude (the arctic circle). As Joanna (amazingly supportive wife) suggests, the wisdom gained from such an exploit could be an insurance policy against my expedition’s future success–especially as no actual insurance company is likely to underwrite it.

For months now I’ve been searching for a berth on a boat attempting the Northwest Passage this summer. What I found was that most who declared arctic intentions already had their crews or were having second thoughts altogether. Last year marked the coldest summer the Arctic had seen in several. Areas that were ice-free in August of 2010, 2011, 2012 were not in 2013. Choke points along the route either closed early or failed to open at all. Some boats became trapped. This gave the 2014 “fleet” pause for thought, and when I reached out in the spring, many were waiting to see what developed before committing.

By June I’d given up finding a berth.

Then just before I boarded the plane for the Vancouver Island Training Run, a note came across from the owners of Arctic Tern, then in Lewisporte, Newfoundland. After much consideration, they had decided to make a second attempt at the Northwest Passage this year. Would I like to join as crew? I accepted immediately.


Is such a venture all that unusual?

By way of comparison:


Arctic Tern is a 50 foot, steel cutter designed by Bruce Roberts and owned by Les and Ali Parsons, both RYA Yachtmaster Instructors, based principally out of the Menai Strait, United Kingdom. In 2013 they and three crew members completed nearly half of the Northwest Passage, but were turned back just outside Cambridge Bay due to unremitting ice ahead. They and crew returned to Newfoundland. Now it’s time to give it another try.

The Vancouver Island Training Run concluded in Canoe Cove, Sidney, BC a couple days early, and with Kurt’s permission, I quickly abandoned ship for Seattle, where I spent two days nosing around the various commercial fisherman’s stores searching for the appropriate cold weather gear.


Now home, last minute preparations continue even as the gear-pile in the living room grows out of all proportion. My Thursday departure quickly approaches.

As for Arctic Tern, she has waited-out Hurricane Arthur in Lewisporte and has just departed for Nuuk, Greenland, where I meet her and crew sometime after July 11.


Arctic Tern’s likely path.

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