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Alluring Northwest Passage - the transit tally so far

by Sail-World Cruising round-up on 26 Feb 2013
Belzebub II - completed a more difficult Northwest Passage route .. .
The most adventurous challenge for the cruising sailor these days is the Northwest Passage. Not so impossible to be foolhardy, not so easy as to be a cinch, and for sure the most alluring in terms of the natural world rarely seen by ordinary mortals - the ice floes, the life at the floe edge, the polar bears, the seals, the life of the Inuit - and still only negotiated by 135 vessels since recorded transits began.

Here's the tally:


Complete transits have been made by 135 different vessels **.

The Russian icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov has made 17 transits, the largest number of any vessel.

Hanseatic has made 10, Bremen 6 (2 with the former name, Frontier Spirit), and Polar Bound 4; 4 vessels have each made 3 transits, and 12 have made 2. More than one year was taken by 18 of these vessels, mainly small craft, to complete a transit wintering at various places along the route.

The vessels are from 28 registries: 43 from Canada, 24 Russia, 20 Bahamas and United States, 15 Britain, 11 France, 6 New Zealand, 6 Cayman Islands and Sweden, 4 Australia, Germany, and Poland, 3 Norway, 2 Belgium, Finland, and Italy, and 1 from Antigua and Barbuda, Austria, Barbados, Croatia, Denmark, Ireland (E?ire), Japan, Marshall Islands, Netherlands, Singapore, South Africa, and Switzerland. Passengers have been carried on 40 transits but only three (numbers 72, 73, and 171) were otherwise commercial voyages.


Four of the vessels have travelled through the Panama Canal and circumnavigated North America, three have circumnavigated all America, and seven have circumnavigated the Arctic Ocean.

In terms of individuals, Captain Viktor Vasiliev has commanded 8 transits, Heinz Aye and Piotr Golikov 6, David Scott Cowper and Thilo Natke 5, and several others have commanded more than one.

To the 2012 end of navigation 184 transits of the Northwest Passage have been made. Excluding the three composite voyages (shown as cp on the chart) a route analysis shows:

Route 1: west 3 east 0 total 3
Route 3: west 29 east 30 total 59
Route 5: west 15 east 22 total 37
Route 7: west 0 east 3 total 3
Route 2: west 9 east 5 total 14
Route 4: west 29 east 14 total 43
Route 6: west 5 east 17 total 22
All Routes: west 90 east 91 total 181

The list** is in alphabetical order in the years of completion of the voyages (not by the precedence of completion). Superscript numbers in the list are cumulative numbers of voyages, commands, flags, etc.


If you are thinking of transiting the Northwest Passage, there are some excellent sources to begin your planning. To begin the search or for some vicarious pleasure, http://www.rccpf.org.uk/ppgs/arctic/3_nwp_hist_trans.pdf!click_here.

**Editor's note:
There are three vessels missing from the above list:
1. Scorpius (Russian 30m yacht) west to east
2. Teleport (Australian 9m yacht ) east to west (2 yr transit completed 2012)
3. Roxanne (French 11m yacht) east to west (2 yr transit completed 2012)

The spelling of another yacht is incorrect. Tokumata is actually http://www.sailblogs.com/member/tokimata2012/?xjMsgID=245338!Tokimata.

Sail-World Cruising would like to thank Peter Garden, skipper of Tokimata, for supplying these extra boat names.


Sources include a compilation by Thomas Pullen and Charles Swithinbank published in Polar Record (1991), with advice from Lawson Brigham (USCG), Peter Capelotti (USCG), David Fletcher, Brian McDonald (CCG), John MacFarlane, Peter Semotiuk, Tony Soper, Patrick Toomey (CCG), and Victor Wejer, personal observations made during several transits with Quark expeditions, many publications, advice from persons directly involved and several internet sites. Advice of subsequent voyages, any corrections and additions, and similar details is appreciated. It is intended that this compilation will be revised annually.

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