After the ice thawing in 2007 and 2008 several sailing yachts and motor yachts are attempting the daunting 7,000 mile journey through North West passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans above Canada in 2009. However, the ice conditions have reversed this year making it a tougher passage.
North West Passage polar bear by Eric Forsyth, skipper of Fiona
So far one of the five westbound boats has made it through. Fleur Astrale, a French ketch skippered by Philippe Poupon. They are now bound for Nome, Alaska. Poupon reported that he had had some very heavy ice coming down from Resolute, and at one point simply left the boat to drift with the pack. This is not something that all the boats would be prepared to do, especially those with fibreglass hulls.
North West Passage route
East Bound Silent Sound is an Amor 40 sailing boat, skippered by Cameron Dueck, with four crew on board. Silent Sound left Victoria, British Columbia on June 6 to attempt a west to east transit. She spent the first weeks sailing north through the Inside Passage to Prince Rupert, cutting across the Gulf of Alaska, up to Barrow and on.
Silent Sound, which has a fibreglass hull, has just left Cambridge Bay, effectively the half way mark in the journey, heading towards Victoria Strait and Larsen Sound. Icebergs are still floating in Davis Strait.
The ice is taking a bit longer to break up than anyone had anticipated, but the freeze up doesn’t begin for another month from now.
Westbound Fiona, a Westsail 42, skippered by Eric Forsyth with two crew on board, left Long Island on 15th June, planning to arrive Victoria 20th October.
Fiona is pretty well on schedule. She arrived Gjoa Haven on 20th August after passing through the feared Peel Sound, and is now on its way to Cambridge Bay. Gjoa Haven is where Amundsen spent two winters on the first transit of the NW Passage, 1903-07.
The sailboat Baloum Gwen with a mostly French crew is attempting a west to east crossing. In 2008 the boat crossed this Passage from east to west, and they left in June to begin the return voyage.
North West Passage - Baloum Gwen
On her way to the North, Baloum Gwen ported at St Paul Island, Alaska, from where they headed to Nome, sailed through the Bering Sea, crossed the Arctic Circle and sailed into the Chukchi Sea. In the Bering Sea they stopped near Little Diomede Island just inside the Arctic Circle.
They are now in Gjoa Haven also waiting to continue...
The 'Sailors for the Sea' expedition yacht Ocean Watch, skippered by Mark Schrader is a 64ft cutter rigged sloop with a varying crew, but always more than four, and they are attempting an eastbound crossing.
Ocean Watch - one of three boats trying to sail the North West Passage this season
The crew of Ocean Watch arrived in Cambridge Bay, and has now reached Gjoa Haven. Next stop will be Resolute, Nunavut Canada, and in just a few short weeks, the expedition is expecting to make landfall in Boston with a scheduled arrival of September 21
Also travelling westbound is a Nordhavn 57 motor yacht Bagan, with a crew of 10, skippered by Sprague Theobold. Bagan started its voyage in Newport, Rhode Island, and is currently in an ice-free anchorage just on the west side of Simpson Straight, between Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay. They pulled into McClintock Bay to wait for the weather to subside before continuing.
Another powered yacht making the passage is the 48ft aluminium trawler yacht Polar Bound, with solo skipper David Scott Cowper on board. David has made several crossings of the North West Passage, sometimes taking more than one summer to get through. He has taken her round Cape Horn and up the west coast of America, and had been hoping to get permission to transit the North East Passage above Russia, but this had been not so far forthcoming, and he is transiting the North West Passage again.
North West Passage - Fiona Captain Eric Forsyth and Ocean Watch Captain Mark Schrader
Some of the yachts have expressed surprise when they have encountered 'other yachts' on the way through. At one time four yachts were berthed at the same time in Cambridge Bay - why it's almost a crowd!. It's a tough passage, tougher this year than in the previous two years, although still passable, and Sail-World wishes them all a fair crossing.