While several adventurous sailing boats and their obedient crew head for the Northwest Passage, things are looking good - or bad, depending on how you view it. The once dreaded Passage is looking clear of ice from a bird's eye view, and it looks like a record low year for ice - again.
Arctic Sea ice satellite photo showing possible route through the Northwest Passage
There is so little ice staying this year that the northeast passage along Russia's northern coast is probably also soon to open.
For context, such openings never happened in human history before about 2001, and very likely had not happened for 9,000 years prior to that. Fossil and genetic evidence for migration of species between the Pacific and Atlantic via the Arctic indicates that such openings have been very rare for the past 800,000 years or so. Now it seems to be the new normal, happening sooner every year.
Some ships did manage to traverse it prior to 2001, but only with the assistance of ice-breakers, or by sailing partway over the ice, or by taking multiple years to complete a single passage. Now it's becoming possible for simple sailboats to breeze through in a few weeks.
One of the yachts making the journey is Jonathan III, a 14.95m centre-board expedition yacht which specialises in high latitude sailing.While they have seen plenty of ice bergs, all is going well.
Jonathan III is on her way - photo from recent blog entries
They have been planning the voyage for some time: The boat is built in alloy and specially designed and strengthened for sailing in Arctic waters. She has thicker hull plating and extra longtitudenal frames 20 cm apart from 60 cm above to 60 cm below the waterline. There is a watertight compartment in the bow section, and has an average 7 cm foam insulation including below the floorboards.
You can follow their blog by http://blog.jonathanadventuresailing.com/!clicking_here, and for the other sailing boats on the way, see earlier http://www.sail-world.com/Cruising/international/The-flotilla-heads-for-the-North-West-Passage/99408!Sail-World_Story.
Here's the death spiral:
Arctic Sea ice in a death spiral