The decision for the Blue Planet Odyssey, one of the most ambitious world circumnavigation rallies ever to be launched, to sail through the Northwest Passage has generated a debate over the justification for a small fleet of cruising boats navigating through this once impenetrable and still difficult and challenging area.
Our Blue Planet - now it’s a rally, spearheaded by Jimmy Cornell to raise awareness of climate change
The Northwest Passage is just one of the routes that yachts can choose to make their way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. (See http://www.sail-world.com/CruisingAus/An-Australian-Start-for-Round-World-Blue-Planet-Odyssey/105520!Sail-World_story.)
Here Jimmy Cornell, cruising guru, prolific sailing author and founder of the Blue Water Odyssey, discusses the reasons why the Northwest Passage was one of the routes included:
The stated aim of the Blue Planet Odyssey is to highlight the global effects of climate change and the very fact that the Northwest Passage has been navigable in recent years is due to climate change. Nowhere in the world are the effects of global warming more obvious than in the Arctic regions where the arctic icecap has been retreating at an increasingly accelerating pace. According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – USA), in the summer of 2012 the Arctic sea ice dipped to its smallest extent ever recorded in more than three decades of satellite measurements. The global consequences of this phenomenon are already being felt and rising sea levels are now affecting many low lying islands and coastal areas, some of which lie on the route of the Blue Planet Odyssey.
The fact that the Northwest Passage can be navigated, even by small craft, has been demonstrated by the fact that since 2000, some sixty yachts have made the transit successfully.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that the Northwest Passage should now be regarded as a relatively safe waterway to navigate, as weather conditions can be extremely unfavourable, the logistical problems are difficult, and both the boats and their crews must be able to stand up to the rigours and challenges of high latitude sailing.
It is therefore the absolute responsibility of the owners of the boats undertaking the transit to ensure that their vessel and its crew are not only fully aware of and able to face up to these challenges but are also entirely self-sufficient. In this respect, participants in the Blue Planet Odyssey should not be different to any other sailors who have attempted to transit the Northwest Passage in recent years.
The start of the Blue Planet Odyssey from London on 20 July 2014 (and from Sydney in July 2015) will mark the 45th anniversary of the first landing on the moon, an achievement which, like the Northwest Passage, was once regarded as impossible. Both at the time and in the intervening years, some people have questioned the justification of space exploration when those efforts and resources could have been put to much better use in solving the many problems that we have here on earth.
While the far more modest aims of the Blue Planet Odyssey cannot possibly be compared to the feat of landing a man on the moon, the fact that some sailors are prepared to take such a risk in order to highlight the greatest danger faced by humankind today would no doubt attract the approval and praise of their famous predecessors: Martin Frobisher, John Davis, Henry Hudson, William Baffin, Alexander Mackenzie, John Ross, William Edward Parry, John Franklin, John Rae, Francis Leopold McClintock, Roald Amundsen and, nearer to our times, Willie de Roos, Keinichi Horie, Eric Brossier, Janusz Kurbiel and David Scott Cowper.