North Polar Circumnavigator wins Blue Water Medal
by Barby MacGowan on 22 Jan 2006
Northabout in the Arctic © Rolex/Daniel Forster http://www.regattanews.com
He built the boat and then he sailed it from Ireland via Greenland through the North West Passage, over the northern coast of Canada, via Alaska, across the Bering Straits to the northern coast of Russia, then via Norway and Scotland back to Ireland. No he isn't mad, but he IS Irish, and now he's deservedly won the Cruising Club of America's famed Blue Water Medal.
His name is Jarlath Cunnane, and he's a retired construction manager, boat builder and adventurer from Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland. He made the trip as skipper of the Irish yacht, Northabout, which completed the first east to west polar circumnavigation in October 2005, during a four-year voyage that started in Westport, Ireland in June 2001. The crew of Northabout passed through the Northwest Passage to Alaska and Western Canada where they spent the next two years cruising. In 2004 they sailed to Russia, wintering the yacht at Khatanga, Siberia, where they rescued another boat before being stopped by the ice. In 2005 they completed the voyage to Ireland via the Norwegian coast and the Caledonian Canal. .
He was selected by the Cruising Club of America to receive the prestigious Blue Water Medal at the club’s annual Awards Dinner in New York on January 17, 2006
Upon receiving the news that he was being honored with the Blue Water Medal, Cunnane said, 'I am overwhelmed and nearly speechless.'
The Blue Water Medal was inaugurated by the Cruising Club of America in 1923 to 'reward meritorious seamanship and adventure upon the sea displayed by amateur sailors of all nationalities that might otherwise go unrecognized.' Previous Blue Water Medalists have included such luminaries of the cruising world as Alain Gerbault, H.W. Tilman, Carleton Mitchell, Eric and Susan Hiscock, Sir Francis Chichester and Bernard Moitesssier.
Here's the detailed story of his amazing adventure:
Construction of the 49 ft. aluminum cutter began in Cunnane’s workshop in April, 2000. By February 2001 the hull was finished and on June 1 the boat was launched and taken to the quay at Westport, Ireland for rigging, final fitting out and loading of stores. Meanwhile preparations in the form of charts, weather and ice information and communication with authorities were well underway. On June 23, 2001 with a crew of six aboard, some final details still to be done and sea trials not yet started, the boat departed for Greenland. Seven days later the crew sighted the stark headland of Cape Farewell, Greenland’s southern tip.
During the month of July they sailed up the west coast of Greenland in increasingly icy conditions, while watching the ice maps for indications that Baffin Bay would be sufficiently clear of pack ice to make the crossing to Canada. On July 29 they had reached Qaanaaq, 70 miles north of the Thule Air Base and with ice-free water to the west, they sailed to Lancaster Sound and entered the Northwest Passage. By good fortune, the ice in Peel Sound, the gateway to the inner sections of the Passage, was mostly free of ice at least two or three weeks ahead of normal. From there, they entered and successfully navigated the shallow, rock-strewn, difficult portion of the Passage with only a brief stop at two small settlements.
A final stop for fuel and water and a few repairs at Tuktoyuktuk, at the mouth of the Mackenzie River and they were on their way for the final leg across the top of Alaska. At this point the weather forecasts warned that they could expect colder than normal conditions, and indeed they were. With Point Barrow, the most northern point in Alaska, still 500 miles ahead, the lead between the shore and the offshore pack ice began to close up and new ice began to form behind them. It became a race against time as they rounded the western tip of Alaska, passed through Bering Strait and entered Nome, Alaska on September 2, 2002. With the Northwest Passage successfully behind them, Northabout was hauled ashore for the winter.
Having sailed the Northwest Passage in 2001, Northabout spent the next two seasons cruising Alaska and Canada’s Inside Passage. By 2004 the call of the north tempted them again and they set out from Prince Rupert, British Columbia for the Northeast Passage over the top of Russia. The first challenge was to obtain the necessary permits, a difficult process, which involved several trips to Moscow. On July 7, 2004 they departed Canada for the 2000-mile voyage to Anadyr, Siberia via Dutch Harbor, Alaska with a crew of seven. Once through the tedious but friendly formalities of entering Russia they were joined by Slava, the required Russian ice pilot, and headed for the Bering Strait and the start of the Passage.
The ice reports were favorable as they passed the easternmost tip of Russia on August 4 and headed west. Within four days a white reflection in the sky, known as 'ice blink,' was seen, denoting the presence of sea ice ahead and prompting a course change toward shore to avoid the heavier pack ice outside. They stopped at a pair of depressing and partially deserted towns along the Siberian coast and at Tiksi caught up with a Dutch sailboat named Campina, which was being sailed solo after having been forced to overwinter in this dreary place on the Lena river.
As they were approaching Cape Chelyuskin, the northernmost point on the coast and the halfway location on the Northeast Passage, they received a radio message from Campina that she was disabled in the ice and needed to be towed about 30 miles to deeper water to reach a rescue vessel. This was a very difficult and dangerous operation, but it was undertaken without hesitation by Northabout and carried out successfully in spite of the heavy ice conditions. It was now September 7 and with new ice forming, the navigation season was clearly over. They now retreated up the Kheta River to Khatanga where the boat was lifted aboard a large steel river barge and secured for the winter.
In June 16, 2005 an advance party of two came to Khatanga to oversee the lift-out from the barge, the stepping of the mast and other preparations. The remainder of the crew would arrive in mid-August when the sea ice was expected to break up. On August 21 Northabout departed and once out of the river found herself in heavy ice, which soon brought her to a stop. With help from a large icebreaker nearby she was able to reach open water and proceed past Cape Chelyuskin and on to the west.
The crew’s optimism was soon shattered when they learned that a severe northwesterly gale was imminent and that they would have to retreat to the lee of Bolshevik Island. Four days later the gale ended and they were able to enter the Kara Sea with a convoy of ships headed by two nuclear icebreakers. With the sea now mostly ice free, they made a brief stop at the dreary, nearly abandoned port of Dickson and a short visit ashore at White Island. As they passed the forbidden island of Novaya Zemlya they were warned of an approaching major storm, so they pressed hard to cross the Barents Sea and reach Murmansk.
On September 5 they entered Murmansk where they encountered the 'paper curtain' again, spending 1 ½ days getting their port clearance papers. Now, with the Northeast Passage behind them, Northabout rounded Norway’s North Cape and sailed down the Norwegian coast and across the North Sea to Scotland’s Caledonian Canal. The final leg down the Irish Sea brought them to Donegal Bay and their home port of Westport, Ireland on October 12, 2005.
About Cruising Club of America
The Cruising Club of America is dedicated to offshore cruising and 'the adventurous use of the sea' through efforts to improve seamanship, the design of seaworthy yachts, safe yachting procedures and environmental awareness. Now in its 83rd year, the club has 10 stations throughout the U.S., Canada and Bermuda, with approximately 1200 members who are qualified by their experience in offshore passage making. In even numbered years, the CCA org
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