The Blue Planet Odyssey, a round-world rally which is the latest brainchild of author, rally organiser and cruising guru Jimmy Cornell, must be one of the most complicated rallies of all time, with multiple routes available according to the preference of the individual sailor. One of the most interesting - and certainly the most challenging - is the route via the North West Passage. We asked one of the participants, Australian Michael Thurston, just why he was taking it on.
Drina at San Raffal - already highly experienced at high latitudes
Blue Planet Odyssey provisional routings
The first reason was plain when I inquired into his past sailing experiences. Heck, he had done almost everything else, so why not the North West Passage too?
Michael's first adventures by sailing boat were with his family. He acquired the yacht Drina in 1984, and he and his wife Elizabeth and two young children set out on a circumnavigation which took them four years. Later, Elizabeth wrote a book about their journey, 'Dolphins at Sunset'.
But in doing the circumnavigation, Michael did not give up racing, so after this adventure he spent several years in races around the Pacific, between Australia and the South Pacific and Japan, with some cruising in between.
The present cruise started in 2010 when Drina sailed from Sydney to Port Montt in Chile via the Southern Ocean, then cruised the Patagonian Channels and in 2011 rounded Cape Horn on the way to Falklands. After Falklands they encountered their worst weather yet on the way to Mal Plata when they had four days of sustained winds of 50 to 60 knots reaching 80 at times.
The passage then led up the coastlines of Uruguay, Brazil, Suriname, Guyana and through the Caribbean and on to Cuba. After Cuba they crossed the Atlantic again back to the Canary Islands only to start the next Atlantic Rally for Cruisers in 2013.
Not content with one Atlantic crossing, Drina did the Atlantic circle again, joining the 2013 Atlantic Odyssey to Martinique.
She is now in Porto Rico and will sail on to Dominican Republic next and then the east coast of the US up to St Johns in Newfoundland again to make final preparations for the NW passage. They are planning to depart June or July 2014 to cruise up the Greenland coast, then wait for the ice to open up in Lancaster Sound to start the attempt.
At present the crew will be Michael Thurston, with long time crew member Paul Kerrigan from Sydney and Savannah Gates-Stacy from Oregon.
So this is a highly experienced high-latitude crew, with a highly experienced high-latitude boat, who will take on the North West Passage in the coming summer.
Blue Drina at wharf
What do they expect?
This was something that Michael has obviously given a great deal of thought. 'We expect the NW passage to be quite a bit different to Patagonia which is huge glaciers and mountains,' he told me. 'Whilst the Patagonian channels experiences some incredible winds we expect the NW passage to be more calm but of course more ice, and expect
to do a lot of motoring to get through.
'As far as the normal preparations for such as passage we shall be carrying a lot of extra fuel, long poles for pushing burgee bits out of the way. We shall be experiencing some very long days as the sun does not set up there during our transit time.
'Drina is quite suitable for such a undertaking as she is alloy and already has a diesel heater and such other preparations made to her for the southern Ocean and Patagonia.'
If they succeed in getting through the once impossible Passage he will be, he says, 'the fifth Australian yacht to complete the transit, and one of only 205 vessels of any sort to transit the Passage at all.'
This is not the end of Michael's ambitions though. 'After the North West Passage', he told me, 'I hope to go on to Port Montt in Chile to become the fifth yacht ever to circle the Americas.'
Sail-World Cruising wishes you 'Bon Voyage', Michael!
For more information about the Blue Planet Odyssey, go to their website: http://www.blueplanetodyssey.com/