Australian adventure sailors play it safe in the North West Passage
by Sail-World Cruising round-up on 20 Jul 2012
Last year two Australians, Australians Chris Bray, 28, and Jess Taunton, 24, began an adventurous sail through the Northwest Passage, and, like many other adventurers lured to one of the last great passage sails, are attempting to finish their journey this year.
Teleport in the first half of the transit SW
'We believe we were playing it a lot safer with splitting it up into those two seasons,' Bray told CBC News recently.
Terry Frost, captain of the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Henry Larsen, agrees, saying small boats can still face dangerous ice conditions in the Northwest Passage, and all boaters travelling the Passage should file a sail plan with the Coast Guard.
Last summer, the two sailors got as far as Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, before having to store their red-sailed, junk-rigged Teleport for the winter.
This year's adventure they hope will take them through the rest of the Passage. They will stop in Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., then hopefully make it to Banks Island if the weather holds and past the Passage's western boundary.
They will make their last Canadian port of call in the Northwest Territories before sailing Teleport across the Pacific.
Through the 1990s and early 2000s, only a handful of yachters attempted the voyage. But in 2009, it took off. In 2011, 16 yachts successfully made their way into Northwest Passage, many of them doing the transit in a single season. 2011 was the easiest ever, with the ice having reached a record low, even lower than the previous record low levels in 2007. (See http://www.sail-world.com/Cruising/international/North-Sea-Passage-more-and-more-accessible---sea-ice-record-reached/88318!Sail-World_story)
Sailors are encouraged by increasingly ice-free water and improved technology, but it’s still dangerous, especially for a small boat, as the tide and weather - and the floating ice- can change direction quickly and dramatically.
Coast Guard advice, notify NORDREG::
The Coast Guard icebreaker Henry Larsen can plow through ice like a battering ram. Its captain, Terry Frost, said that's not the case for smaller yachts and sailboats, especially when the wind can push ice together.
'So they might be going through an area of ice, and things are fine,' said Frost. 'Tide or wind turns, suddenly they're trapped, maybe even crushed.'
Frost said that some adventurers don't notify NORDREG, the Arctic ship reporting system, that they are in the area.
'So you don't always know where they are or even that they are there. So sometimes it's kind of hard to know, if they are reported overdue, where do we start looking? Where were they last seen? Where were they planning to go?'
Frost advised boaters to file a sail plan with the Coast Guard and let them know their planned route and destinations.
Teleport has a GPS tracker on board their vessel which plots their position on their website.
At the end of June last year, Teleport began its journey up the coast of Nova Scotia, past Newfoundland and across the open sea passage to Greenland, the latter portion of which ended up taking
about 12 days, five days longer than anticipated.
'We got smashed by some pretty horrendous weather on the way,' said Bray.
Although 2011 year saw some record-setting low levels of ice formation in the Northwest Passage, Teleport encountered many icebergs along the way, especially along the coast of Greenland.
As the icebergs melt, Bray said they break apart into seemingly harmless but incredibly sharp pieces that are difficult to spot.
'Jess would stand on the bow with an ice pole and fend them away so we didn't ding into
them too hard,' he said. 'If you run into one of these bits of ice . . . you'd sink pretty well right away.'
Sharp rocks jutting out of the ocean posed another serious danger.
'Up here, the ocean is not very well charted,' explained Bray. 'Every now and then you see a big rock in the middle of absolutely nowhere with some unfortunate ship's name on it.'
After more than two months at sea, Bray and Taunton arrived in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut on Aug. 31, the midway point of the passage, where they have left their boat, and will return next May to complete the passage..
It had been a wonderful experience. 'We saw plenty of polar bears and seals,' Bray described. 'We even had a pod of killer whales come right up to the boat and dive all around it.'
To follow Teleport's progress, visit www.yachtteleport.com
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