The flotilla of yachts which will attempt this year's North West Passage is heralded to be in for some clement weather as the forecast is for early melting. But there are no guarantees and it's still one of yachting's prime adventures.
Best Explorer crew
While there is no call-up, and no register for the boats that will be attempting the passage, sailing from East to West and currently in Nuuk are the following vessels:
Balcatraz - Canadian, Belzebub II - Swedish; Best Explorer - Italian; and Jonathan III - Dutch.
All eyes are on the ice distribution and degree of melt, and most skippers are contemplating making a wide arc above ice currently collecting in Baffin Bay.
After a two-year preparation, Best Explorer - a 51 foot steel cutter that has extensive experience in Arctic navigation, skippered by Paolo Prieri, will attempt the passage. The course they will follow, as will most of the other boats, will skirt the island of Jan Mayen, Iceland, then go up the west coast of Greenland, entering the labyrinth of the archipelago of Nunavut in northern Canada, continue along the low coast of Alaska and then down across the Bering Strait to the Aleutian Islands in the Pacific. The actual journey through the Passage will take around 150 days.
The Italian crew believes they are the first Italians to attempt the route, and see it as a dream come true. 'We've worked years to design and develop this enterprise,' says skipper Nanni Aquarone. 'We are spurred by a passion for the sea, the desire to discover, sharing the excitement of this adventure. Our message is that even more ambitious goals are within reach of everyone. '
Belzebub II: Canadian Nicolas Peissel and Swede Edvin Buregren are also making final preparations to sail the Passage on their 31ft Hallberg-Rassy, the Belzebub II.
The two Canadians plan on going much further up the West Coast of Greenland to the highest latitude possible before turning south following the coast of Ellesmere Island. Instead of crossing Devon Island to the south by entering Lancaster Sound to reach Resolute which is the'traditional route', they will attempt to pass Devon Island to the North through Jones Sound.
Then they will join up with Norwegian Bay to meet Northumberland Sound to sail down to Resolute from where they will evaluate the ice charts.
If possible they will then continue along the Viscount Melville Sound and attempt to cross the McClure strait.(McClure Strait ice crushed the Investigator of the McClure Expedition of 1850-54. The ice trapped the Investigator forcing the crew to spend four winters in the Arctic.)
Belzebub II is a Monsun 31 built in Sweden by Hallberg- Rassy in 1976. The Monsun is a 31-foot GPR boat, designed by Olle Enderlein who claimed that 'beautiful boats are great sailors'. He designed it to be a sturdy long distance sailor that could double as a family cruiser.
Jonathan III is an 14.95m centre-board expedition yacht which takes paying crew and specialises in high latitude sailing. They have been planning the voyage for some time as well.
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.
One of the yachts sailing west to east this year is the German-built 86ft composite yawl, Nordwind.
Sailed many thousands of miles already by professional skipper Alex Veccia, who will sail her through the Passage, she has been in Camden, Maine, for the last few weeks, where Ben Cashen and the team are helping the boat to prepare, including new fuel tanks, electronics etc.
Nordwind has had an interesting history. Built by the German Navy, she was sent to participate in the 1939 Fastnet race in which she took line honors and established a new record that held for 24 years. It was finally broken in 1963.
Confiscated after World War II, in the late 70's, she was taken on as a project for restoration by Dutch naval architect Gerard Dijkstra. This was her first restoration, but since then, apart from her interior layout, Nordwind has been restored to her original plans and raced successfully.
Today Nordwind travels to remote corners on all oceans. In 2009/10 Nordwind has rounded Cape Horn and extensively traveled the Straight of Magellan, the Beagle Channel and the South coast of Chile
She might be an old boat, but she will have some excellent electronic aids to help her through the passage this year. She now has a FLIR system for ice detection, an up-to-the-minute radar system, all the electronics she will need, diesel heating and new satellite communications.
So the 'rush' is on as the word is out about the melting of the ice caps; but daring the icy conditions and capricious weather of the once-dreaded North West Passage is still no easy sail.
Bon Voyage to all!