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Sailing the Arctic - the opening sea routes

by Des Ryan on 20 Apr 2012
Yacht Vagabond in Arctic waters - photo by Eric Brossier .. .
Want to sail the Arctic? With global warming gradually changing the profile of the world's northern seaways, many of the world's seafaring nations are looking at the northern sea routes for alternative shipping routes. But where a ship may go, so may a yacht, so if you're after adventure, there are routes possible that one could have only dreamed of once.

Of course, the bureaucracy may not be so easy and the political situation is anything but clear. The changing situation in the Arctic has raised many questions and uncertainties about its future and could lead to new geopolitical challenges for both Arctic coastal states and non-Arctic countries.

These issues are primarily related to free passage and resource extraction rights. To this end, countries across Asia, including China, Europe and North America are concerned with this transformation and its economic, territorial and geopolitical implications.

What does this all mean for the adventurous cruising sailor?

There are three possible international routes through the Arctic:

1) the North East Sea Route or Northern Sea Route along the Russian coast,
2) Transpolar Route and
3) the North West Passage through the Canadian Arctic archipelago.

There is disagreement concerning the status of North West Passage which could considerably shorten the distance between Europe and Asia. The NWP is claimed as an internal waterway by Canada and the Canadians are certainly the authorities to deal with for transiting this route.

Russia, which has always controlled the North East Sea Route, has been typically difficult to obtain permissions from, and as the Transpolar Route is still an approaching dream and the politics uncertain, there will be much jockeying before there is clarity for the cruising sailor. But it's worth dreaming about, and here are the three potential routes:

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