Progress Report No. 1
Goodbye to the ice, we wrote in September 2001 as we sailed southwards through the Bering Strait leaving the North West Passage behind us. That goodbye was intended to be a forever one. Now it is all in front of us again and we are actually looking forward to it. God only knows why! Having over wintered in Nome, we sailed south in 2002 and spent a leisurely summer cruising through the Gulf of Alaska and the spectacular inside passage, and southwards to the Columbia River. Here we wintered in Oregon's delightful Kerry Marina, Westport (appropriately) awaiting the final passage home through the Panama Canal. However, back home in the autumn conversation over a few pints turned to the North East Passage. The conventional sea routes back to Ireland held little appeal and at a Saturday morning meeting in December, following an Irish Cruising Club meeting the previous day, thoughts of past hardships mellowed and we decided to do it. 6 small(ish) boats have already been through, so we werent going for a first, although it has been pointed out, that no boat has yet completed an Arctic westward polar circumnavigation.
There are several differences between the North East Passage and the North West Passage:
The distance is 50% greater
The lands bordering the passage area are barren and devoid of interest
The prevailing currents flow eastward- against us!
The languages spoken are those of the northern nomads and Russian- we are not fluent in either!
The permit from the authorities was going to be very difficult to obtain
I spoke to Arved Fuchs and to Eric Brossier, both of whom have sailed the North East Passage, about their experiences. The Arctic sailing veteran, John Gore Grimes has been helpful, as always.
The permit process requires that all contact with the authorities be through a Russian partner. Amongst the many conditions to obtain the permit, we will have to take with us an ice-pilot supplied by the Murmansk Shipping Company. It took us a long time to make the connection but last December we met Alexey Zhdanov and Vladimir Bestugin who we are glad to have as our partners. We met the Department of Economic Development and Trade people several times. Alexey has been doing a great job for us. In March, Colm, our Russian-speaking crewman and Alexey met the Northern Sea route
Administration people. In Moscow, as elsewhere, good personal relationships are the key to progress.
Northabout is now in good shape and ready to go. In Summer 2003 Jarlath and friends sailed north again from Oregon to Prince Rupert BC Canada just south of the Alaskan border. Brendan Minish repaired the communications equipment; Tom Moran removed the gearbox and replaced the oil seals and gaskets, which caused the persistent oil leaks on the Northwest Passage. The autopilot having had most of its components replaced was installed again, and at long last steers a course better then the helmsman. We had endless trouble with the autopilot since we passed close to the north magnetic pole in 2001.
John Murray will again be making a film of our voyage for RTE, the Irish National TV station. His film on our North West Passage, In search of Franklin won first prize at Bannf International Film Festival.
We have shipped 3 crates to Prince Rupert containing polar clothing, musical instruments, rations, engine spare parts and equipment. On July 1st we plan to set sail across the Gulf of Alaska and northwards through the Bering Sea to Provideniya, our Russian port of entry and our starting point for the North East Passage. The Russians call this the Northern Sea Route. Depending on permits and weather conditions we will begin the passage proper about August 1st. Next progress report will be in early July
End of progress report no. 1