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North West Passage blocked with ice - yachts caught

by Douglas Pohl/Sail-World Cruising on 30 Aug 2013
North West Passage - showing ice blockages © Environment Canada http://www.ec.gc.ca/
The Northwest Passage after decades of so-called global warming has a dramatic 60% more Arctic ice this year than at the same time last year. The future dreams of dozens of adventurous sailors are now threatened. A scattering of yachts attempting the legendary Passage are caught by the ice, which has now become blocked at both ends and the transit season may be ending early. Douglas Pohl tells the story:

The Passage has become blocked with 5/10 concentrated drifting sea ice at both the eastern and at the western ends of Canada’s Arctic Archipelago. At least 22 yachts and other vessels are in the Arctic at the moment. Some who were less advanced have retreated and others have abandoned their vessels along the way. Still others are caught in the ice in an unfolding, unresolved drama.

The real question is if and when the Canadian Coast Guard(CCG) decides to take early action to help the yachts exit the Arctic before freeze-up... or will they wait until it becomes an emergency rescue operation?

The first blockage area is at Prince Regent Inlet in position 73.7880535N, -89.2529297W which became blocked on 27th August with 5/10 ice concentration with 7/10 ice pushing.

This effectively closes the 2013 Northwest Passage without Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker escorts for transit. The alternative is a very technical and risky southern navigation through Fury & Hecla Strait mostly blocked with sea ice.

Currently there is a commercial cruise ship on a west to east passage which will reach Prince Regent Inlet in another day. It is unknown if there is a CCG icebreaker in the area to provide assistance since government ships do not provide Automatic Identification Service (AIS) to public AIS websites.

Since one of the Canadian Coast Guard’s prime missions is to provide icebreaking for commercial shipping it will be interesting to see if Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Government views this as an opportunity for good public relations to help recreational yachts transiting the Northwest Passage.

Another choke-point stopping marine traffic is on the western Canadian Arctic at Cape Bathurst in position 70.6672443N, -128.2763672W which became blocked on 26th August with 2/10 ice concentration and quickly filled with 5/10 ice on 27th August and today has 8/10 ice pushing towards Cape Bathurst. Latest word is the ice is retreating at an agonizing 1 nautical mile per day northward.


There are a number of yachts known to be in the Cambridge Bay area heading west: ACALEPHE (CA), ISATIS (NEW CALEDONIA), LA BELLE EPOQUE (DE), LIBELLULE (CHE), NOEME (FRA), and TRAVERSAY III (CA). PAS PERDU LE NORD (DE) was ahead by 10 days and has already gone on to Arctic Alaska waters. While BALTHAZAR (CA) departed from Inuvik a month ago and is now on the hard in Nome Alaska.

The following yachts are enroute from the west to the east: ANNA (?), rowboat ARCTIC JOULE (CA), DODO'S DELIGHT (GBR), EMPIRICUS (USA). rowboat FAIRMONT's PASSION (USA), tandem-kayak IKIMAYIA (CA), in Russian sea ice is LADY DANA (POL), POLAR BOUND (GBR), rowboat ROWING ICE (FRA), in Russian sea ice is TARA (FRA), and a group of jetskis known as DANGEROUS WATERS (USA) reported east of Gjoa Haven.

Several updates on known others:
LE MANGUIER (FRA) is wintering over in the ice at Paulatuk. Motor Yacht Lady M II (Marshal Islands) was escorted by CCGS icebreaker HENRY LARSEN through Bellot Strait eastbound on 20130824. ARCTIC TERN (GBR) and TOOLUKA (NED) retreated to the east towards Greenland/Newfoundland away from Bellot Strait on 20130822 with the opinion that the Arctic ice was finished melting and freeze-up would prevent them from reaching the Northwest Passage finish line at the Arctic Circle in the Bering Strait.

Watch this space for ongoing news about the situation.

Douglas Pohl is a USCG licensed ocean master of motor and steam vessels, fifth issue, retired. Doug and Michelle now live their dreams cruising aboard their 55' steel motor yacht GREY GOOSE and provide yacht routing, satcom and wifi communications consulting. He can be contacted by e-mail at: douglas_pohl (at) yahoo (dot) com
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Graphic information in this article was derived from the following sites, with thanks. (Notations on the graphics are by the Environment Canadian Ice Service

C-TechProtector - 660 x 82North Technology - Southern Spars

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