North West Passage Expedition

Progress Reports




    Paddy Barry, April 2001                  


            “Why don’t you forget about your Hudson Bay”, said Jarlath Cunnane to me, “and do the North West Passage”? 

            Why not indeed: For lots of reasons! 

            A round trip to Hudson Bay from Dublin could be done in one 3 month Summer.

I had a boat, the old working Galway Hooker ‘Saint Patrick’, well proven on previous arctic trips to Spitsbergen in 1990 and north-west Greenland in 1993; that would be fine for Hudson Bay. 

            That 3-month formula had worked well previously. Identify an area-of-interest-, or better still a circle-of-interest do-able in one Summer, without the expense of laying-up or flights.

            On our first big trip in 1985, across the Atlantic, we had laid up for the winter in Tenerife, before continuing west in 1986. That lay-up had given us a very pleasant cruise south from Ireland, allowing call-ins to Portugal, Madeira and The Salvage Islands. But then came the hassle and cost of boat haul-out, storage, and on our return a complete re-caulking job where the planks of ‘Saint Patrick’ had shrunk. No a round-trip was the way to go.

            However, Hudson Bay had very little going for it, other than that it was there. Singularly dull, foggy and bordered by flat lands, there was none of the vitality of Greenland or the Antarctic about it.

            In 1997 we had followed Shackleton’s route, by small boat and then mountains, of his escape after ice crushed his expedition vessel ‘Endurance’ in 1915. He described that in his book ‘South’. We called our trip ‘South Arís’ – pronounced ‘areesh’, this being the Gaelic for ‘again’. The seas that Shackleton sailed were anything but dull and the mountains of South Georgia rise majestically, straight out of the sea. 

            Some weeks after Jarlaths suggestion, I ran into Frank Nugent at the Irish Film Centre and in the drinking of pints and talking that followed, agreement was made that we should go on a worthwhile trip again. Frank is a climber and expedition-man. From the Wicklows, to the Alps and Himalayas his boots have ever taken him to the high ground, including Everest. 

Frank had been joint-leader with myself on South-Aris, and Climbing Leader. 

            I must presume that the North-West Passage was prominent in our conversation.

Frank works with the Irish Government training board, Fas, and lives in Palmerstown, Dublin with Carol and their younger son. 

            A week of two later, in ‘The Cobblestone’ in Smithfield, Dublin, I said to Jarlath that I would do the Passage with him, going the full navigation season in the first year, and giving it my full 6 weeks annual job-holidays each year thereafter until we got through.

            When and in what and with-who, all remained a clean blank sheet. 

            Jarlath and myself had been good friends since about 1986. We had met after my Atlantic trip. Co-incidentally he too had sailed the Atlantic that year, though in more fraught conditions, his passage being in the northern sector and in Autumn. 

            As a construction manager for a Dublin firm, we shared job interests, I’m civil engineer in the same line. We were never short of things to talk about. Jarlath is a doer. He was on ‘South Arís’. He had built the Shackleton small-boat, we called ‘Tom Crean’. He had built in steel his own Van De Stadt 34 ‘Lir;  and many a smaller boat before that. 

            A year or two after we met, he felt he had to say to me ‘I’m a carpenter you know’. Such was his general technical knowledge, that I’d assumed some far higher formal learning. He was from, and lived in, Knock in County Mayo, with his wife and two grown daughters. But the Irish economy and construction scene was such that rarely did he get to work west of the river Shannon.

            Myself in 1970, as a junior construction engineer had asked my boss where I should base myself. He advised that you could draw a line between Cork and Dublin and the work would never be that far from it. I bought a house in Baile-na-Manach (Monkstown) Dublin and there Mary and I brought up our 4 there and there we still live. 

            Three-days before Christmas of 1999, Jarlath, Frank and I met, and decided that we would investigate all aspects of doing the NWP and two months hence, by March 1st 2000, decide whether to go for it or forget it. 

            Choice of boat was the major matter. Jarlaths ‘Lir’, at 34 foot, we considered too small to carry the quantity of rations that would be needed; though being built of steel it would otherwise have been suitable. ‘Saint Patrick’ would have carried the load, but with an unwieldy gaff rig is most  unsuitable for ocean sailing. In any event I didn’t fancy her being left on the eastern Pacific when the project was over. We looked at a semi state-owned steel yacht which might, with modification have been OK, but considered the practicalities and timing of her return too uncertain.           

            With our friend Terry Irvine, who had been to Greenland on ‘Saint Patrick’ and is a keen Polar-Man and connossier of polar boats we discussed options as between buying and building. 

            For 20 years the French ‘Damien’ class boats have been the vessels of choice for the expedition sailor. Built of steel for strength and ease of repair, they have an easily handled ketch rig.They have retractable center-board and rudder, allowing entry into shoal and uncharted waters, and have a rounded hull form to prevent being pinched by ice-pressure. But where would one be found, and at what cost? 

            In 1993 we had been aboard one in Nuuk, Greenland, owned by a French family on a three-year tour. ‘Northanger’ had been in Tierra Del Fuego when we were there, and was now busy doing an over-wintering in south Ellesmere, a 100 year following of Otto Sverdrup. Jerome and Sally Poncet had Damien II, the best known of them all, based in the Falklands and summering yearly in the Antarctic. 

            We had been aboard ‘Damien II’ in South Georgia. At a Cruising Club of America dinner in Annapolis the following May I had asked Sally whether Jerome was here. “Not a chance” she said. No these are special boats owned by special people, not likely to be found in marinas, or bought through ‘Yachting Monthly’. 

            ‘Pelagic’, which we had employed in 1997 as our expedition support boat might be for sale and would be suitable, but with the dollar so strong against the Euro, would be out of our price range. We dismissed the notion of re-engining a fishing boat. We like to sail and decided to build. But what?

            In the first week of January 2000 Terry, Jarlath, Frank and I met in the North Star Hotel, handy for Terry’s train from Belfast. We decided to buy plans for a French ‘Nadja 15’ from her designer Gilbert Carroff.

            The ‘Nadja’ can be built without curved plates in either steel or aluminium. Our first cut at the cost of materials and fittings was £60,000.

             Jarlath was going to finish up his Dublin-based employment and begin the rest of his life, starting with building this boat. His knees had been giving him trouble, preventing him from doing his site-supervision which required constant jumping down into trenches, climbing of scaffold and walking of sites. With the heavy work being done with local help and ourselves on week-ends, Jarlath would do the building. 

            Where would it be done? Jarlath had a workshop in Knock of adequate size, but he was moving to Castlebar and this was going to be sold with his house in Knock.
We could buy and set up a polythene tunnel shed or there was an empty factory by the sea in Clew Bay which might be rented. 

            As regards Project Title and Publicity our thinking was influenced by our ‘South-Aris’ experience, happy and satisfactory, though much more public than we wished for this one. We now desired a balance between unnecessary publicity and that required for sponsorhip of individual elements. 

            Finance was unclear as yet. In this context we were mindful that for ‘South Aris’ the initial cost forecast was £ 50,000 and it eventually cost about £ 110,000!  The boat would become Jarlaths. 

            The Team, so far were Frank, Paddy & Jarlath. Terry was most interested, but time and job restraints might be unsurmountable. We’d like a musician as well, particularly if he could sail. Mike Brogan was to be consulted. 

            Paddy proposed that Jarlath be Skipper. 

            The four of us agreed to put up £ 350 each, for Jarlath to visit the Designer, buy the plans and if possible to see a built ‘Nadja 15’. 

            I was to talk to Mike Brogan, and I was hardly off the phone when his cheque  came in. I also was to pursue information on logistics and contacts and to source a ‘Building Polytheme Tunnel’. 

            Frank was to prepare a brochure for potential sponsors, to identify ‘land-objectives’ and to research the Irish Connection, McClintock, McClure, Crozier and such.

            We’d meet in about 2 weeks. 

            This was all serious stuff, but I have to say that none of it was entirely new. For years past Pat Colleran, Paul Cooper and I, in the glowing aftermath of Irish Cruising Club Lunches, would set verbal sail for the Passage, usually around mid-night. With their memories of east and south Greenland with John Gore-Grimes on ‘Shardana’ re-kindling their enthusiasm, whipped to a blaze by more recent Hebredian sailing on ‘Saint Patrick, we would sail the North West Passage.

For Paul, overwintering was a ‘must’. No flitting home when the ice froze for him. No sir! The full experience required living and working through the Arctic winter! 

Both would have been first-choice shipmates on this, or any other, expedition. But Paul is busy with young family and work. Pat lost a battle with cancer in July 2000.

May God rest him. 


            By February 20th, matters had moved along. We now had a Plan, no longer a vision, a mission or any of that warm and fuzzy stuff. Our internal Bulletin No 3 set it out.

The Objective, we defined as to sail the North West Passage (NWP), from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, in the track of Irishmen who first explored these regions. 

The Plan was: 

To build a Polar Ice-Strengthened Sailing Boat, a Nadja 15 metre (49 Feet), starting in April 2000, launching in February 2001. 

To sail in late June 2001, departing Westport. Calling to West Greenland three to four weeks later. (Crew changes possible).

Thence to go as far as possible that season, as far as we can get before the sea-ice stops us, in September. 

Once round Point Barrow in Alaska we would continue to Vancouver, leave the boat there and fly home. 

Progress will be determined by sea-ice; about 5 small (less than 60 feet) boats have been through. At that time Willie De Roos is the only one to have got through in one season, two or three seasons being the norm. The seasons vary greatly as to ice conditions;        

a 5 week period beginning in late July being best. 

If closed in by ice we’ll haul up the boat on shore and fly home. There are settlements

with summer air service every two to three hundred miles along the route. 

The following July a Crew will fly out to continue.  

The Team: 

Jarlath, Frank  and Paddy, so far, with invitations sent to Mike Brogan, Adrian Spence and Terry Irvine. 

We need also a further team member who would be Commercial Manager.

We want to get our team finalized in the coming weeks so that:

(a)                Our Brochure will include ‘Mug-shots’ & CV’s.

(b)               We can get our ‘seed’ capital contributions. 

The Boat:

Aluminium  is our preferred material, over steel:


·        It is much easier to work. Woodwork machinery with tungsten tipped blades can be used. Jarlath has the machinery.

·        It does not rust.

·        It does not need external topside and deck painting.

·        It holds its value.


Aluminium is however more expensive.

Steel materials would cost 7 tons @ £600 / ton plus paint £3,000 = £7,200.

Aluminium will be circa 5 tons @ £3,000 / ton plus paint @ £1,500 = £16,500. 

Hull Building time in Aluminium would be about 3 months.

Hull Building time in steel would be about 5 months, with added machining costs by others. 

Lofting of the plans to make framing templates is starting on Monday Feb 21st. in Dublin.                                                                      

From these, preparatory work on framing 75 mm x 60 mm angles, can go on, once we have the material. We’d like it in a fortnight.

Boat Building Location.

The ideal would be an existing shore-side shed near Rosmoney, Westport. We’re talking to the owners.

Alternately Jarlath's Knock workshop. 

Alternately the less attractive option of building a Polythene Tunnel Shed. We have a location for this in Castlebar. 

We would hope that Fãs may be able to help with individual engineered elements. 

Finance / Costs 

Preliminary Boat Build and Fit Out, costs were detailed. 

Other Significant Costs are:

·        Rations and Fuel. We would hope to get significant contributions in this area; though a certain amount will have to be purchased, en route.

·        Clothing. Each arranges his own. Mostly we have.

·        Flights. Each pays his own. These we expect to be about £1,000 a go, whether from Ireland to Greenland, or from Arctic Canada to Ireland.

·        Insurance. Ditto. We do not expect the boat to be insured. 


We (Frank , Jarlath , Paddy) decided that we need funds in order to get this project going, and pay for the hull materials; we also need some funds in hand to purchase other items ahead by opportunity.

We therefore decided that the team-members subscription for the first year of the expedition would be IR £3,350 i.e. £3,000 on top of the £350 if already paid, and that this should be paid in the coming 3 weeks, partly because we need the funds and partly to focus commitment.

This places no obligation to participate beyond the first year. 


We will get out a Brochure, to be used in approaching specific companies for support. Frank is preparing this. 

We will confine our approaches for support / funding to corporate groups. 

We were not going to do a pre-expedition lectures, flogging of Tee-Shirts or the like. 

Boat Name

Northabout, dreamed up by Mary Barry, looked good.  


The last week of February brought Terry, Mike Brogan, Kevin Cronin and John Coyle aboard as paid up team members. We now had a full team and funds to get boat-building. There was no formal consideration and decision to go.

The project had its own momentum.

            For the first, and probably only time in the project, we were ahead of schedule!

            We did a who-does-what list.

John and Kevin were the money-men organizing commercial support and banking.

Frank would get out a Brochure and organize rations, with Mike Brogan also in on the Stores. Paddy would Co-ordinate delivery of Boat Materials and Equipment, liase with Authorities and deal with Navigation and Logistics.

Jarlath would only have to build the boat! 

Mike Brogan, apart from owning the Galway Hooker MacDuach, is a fiddle-player, medical doctor, good sea-cook and is all round good company. He was on ‘Saint Patrick’ to Spitzbergen and has sailed his own boat to Norway, backwards and forwards to Brittany and you could run in to him anywhere on the Irish west coast. In his other life he sings madrigals with his wife and about 20 others in the choral group ‘Cois Gladaigh’ He lives in Ballyhaunis, County Mayo with Laura, and his youngsters now in College. 

Kevin Cronin, accountant and long-time friend of mine as we lived nearby in Mount Merrion / Booterstown. Dublin. Our families grew up taking holidays together in France and Spain. The Mammy’s and kids would car and ferry it. Kevin, the lads and myself would sail out in the Hooker. And Kevin has been on and around all the trips since, except Spitzbergen, which I think he has regretted ever since and determined to miss no more of what God gives. It is however as convenor and pacifier that Kevin shines, with his quiet humour you’d hardly know it was happening. He lives in Foxrock, Dublin with Suzanne and his youngest girl still under the family roof. 

John Coyle, Economist and Man of Business in Galway was Mikes friend particularly. None other of us has sailed with him and in that respect is the unknown in the team. Indeed it’s not John who I’d be concerned about. He’s rock solid. It’s the likes of ourselves that he’ll have to put up with! He lives, with Sally and 6 youngsters, overlooking the River Corrib where it flows into Galway bay. 

Terry Irvine, briefly introduced earlier, is a farmer by back-ground. He sails his own boat out of Carrickfergus on Belfast Lough. He has been ocean-sailing by opportunity including ‘Saint Patrick’s’ Greenland outing. As might be expected of any good Ulsterman, he is reliable and knowledgeable. He’s married to Yvonne with one four-year old. 

That’s us, and although Gearoid O Riain did not join the team until a few months later, we’ll introduce him here.

Gearoid is a free-man. If he doesn’t like his boss, he leaves. If he wants to work he works. But on a boat he is the most agreeable ship-mate and is first out of his bunk when action calls. He is a friend from youngest school-days, of my son Cathal and was on ‘Saint Patrick’ to Spitzbergen and Greenland. He’s a school-boy no more, working (mostly) now in Computers. 


Work started on Good Friday 2000. 

We had decided on Aluminium, lofted the frames at night in March in a Dublin engineering site office.

Jarlath had rigged his mig-welding gear for aluminium, and got his own aluminium welding technique up to specification.

Aluminium is clean to work with and can be cut and machined with woodwork tools and machinery. This was all about, as the building was being done in his joinery workshop.

Jarlath may get round to writing a technical Appendix to this. In the meantime I’ll describe it as I saw and helped on it.

The workshop floor was marked out accurately with center-line and frame spacing at 1 metre centers.

Each frame is made of angle 75 mm by 50 mm to take a bottom plate of 12 mm thickness, a lower plate of 6 mm and top plate of 5 mm.

The frames were prefabricated and incorporated extension pieces calculated to allow of upside down construction. Standing the frames in position, the hull shape was evident in full scale. These were accurately plumbed and braced.

The stringers, or lisses, as the drawings described them were next. All the boat-building terms were in French obviously and we needed some help in translation. These are set into slots in the frames and faired up and welded in position only after the plates are put on.

These plates were fabricated in lengths half that of the boat. The bottom plate which rests directly on the frames, was lifted into position by the Knock football team one evening after training.

While this was going on the rudder and center-board and casing were fabricated off-site in Dublin and Galway on a commercial basis.

A Perkins engine was ordered and a Dickenson Stove from Canada.

Lists, Specifications and Quotations were prepared and got for the many items.

I would estimate that I spent 12 hours a week on this alone, throughout the project and another 4 hours a week on logistics. That would be apart altogether from reading NWP exploration history. 

The next ‘milestone’ was turning over the boat. To do this it had to be stiffened up with temporary bracing and hauled out of the shed so that a crane could get at it.

This was done on Saturday September 9th, the engine and center board casing being put in before hauling it back into the workshop. The rudder had been put into position before turning – otherwise a very big hole would be needed from which it could be pushed up! 

At the Southampton Boat Show, the following weekend we placed orders for Spars and Rigging – the single biggest equipment order.

The strength of sterling against the Irish Punt was hurting our budget, but little could be done other than to get on with it. 

Oddly, despite out best efforts to buy in France, these came to nothing; other than Goiot Headsail Furling Gear and Deck Hatches, both through UK. agencies. The mast extrusion also came from France, with finishing work done in the UK.

Our sail order we happily placed with our friend Phillip Watson of Howth. He used a Hood cloth manufactured in Clonakilty, County Cork and had the sail built in Essex, England. 

The deck went on in 4 mm sheets, with plenty of tricky cutting and fitting around the cockpit and wheel-house in particular. 

5.7 ton of scrap lead had been delivered and in 5 or 6 long-day sessions was cast into ingots.

These would later be placed in the ballast-box, located on either side of the center-board case. 

The center-board was lifted by block and tackle and dropped into position on October 21st. Building of fuel tanks (5) and water tank now started in Dublin. And here we were most fortunate to have the active help of our friend Peter Gargan, who not only gave us the run of his precision sheet-metal works, but put his best men at our disposal. And indeed long after the tanks were installed, in early January 2001, continued to help with fabrication of fittings, in stainless steel and aluminium both. 

At a team meeting in Knock on November 18th, a schedule review indicated the necessity for paid help in carpentry. Happily an ex-Beneteau Frenchman now married into Mayo was available. He has done virtually all the woodwork. 

The next milestone was the application of 75 mm of sprayed insulation to the inside of the hull above the floorboards. Before doing this, all welding of fittings to the deck had to be completed, of which there are many, the hatches and surrounds and internal wiring also had to be completed. 

Our March 12th Internal Bulletin No 6 showed Boat Status as being: 


‘Northabout’ is the name of both the boat and the project 

  • All welding is completed, including deck fittings.
  • Hull is insulated, 75 mm.
  • Fuel and Water tanks installed.
  • Floors and Bulkheads are in, by Joiner Francois.

2nd Fix Joinery is in progress. Forward 3 berths and Forepeak are done.

  • Spars, Rigging, Dingy, Outboard and all Equipment and Fittings are delivered, except as below noted. 


  • Terry will do the engine exaust system. (needed in 3 weeks). Its insulation will follow.
  • Joinery to completion – 4-5 weeks.
  • Jarlath reckons that he’ll have ready for a May launching (J.I.T)
  • Gearoid plans full time presence from about June 1st.

Boat Equipment Action Required (A/R)


Radar               Gearoid to organize JRC 1500 EX USA $ 1,000

EPIRB             A/R Paddy

3rd Anchor        Chain Jarlath / Paddy 

The above gives little indication of the content and complexity of work done, and yet to be done. 


Frank and Terry would not be joining until Illulisat, west Greenland. Happily Pat Redmond and Harry Connolly would take their berths.

They are old friends from way back and friends of ours too. Both are climber/sailors. Pat was a man to be reckoned with in championship dingy sailing and makes any boat he’s on go that little bit faster – not always in total silence mind you! He’s been on all the ‘Saint Patrick’ Scottish and Irish cruises over the last ten years. He’s married to Phil in Rathfarnam and have four lively young lads.

Harry, from Walkinstown, Dublin, lives in Luxemburg now with Miriam. He has been on Saint Patrick north to Melville Bay in Greenland, and led me up some pretty ‘airy’ mountain-sides while we were at it. We, ski-climbed last year around Chamonaix and the ‘Haute Route’ He has two teenagers. 

All charts and Pilot Books covering Canadian waters had been to hand since Christmas, largely courtesy of Tony and Coryn Gooch. We had first met in Ushuia, Tierra Del Fuego and subsequently in home waters (Ours, theirs are Victoria, B.C.)

As a result I had spent happy days over Christmas preparing a detailed Passage Plan. Full well I know that all plans for Arctic travel are aspirational. At least it was our starting scheme and as U.S.A. employers I once had would describe it, a Plan-of-Record.

Most of the Greenland charts I already have. 

An article some months ago, by Lorna Siggins, included our email address. From this we got some interesting mail, but none more useful than that from Mal Walsh, an Irish-Canadian with extensive experience of and contacts in the Canadian Arctic Work-boat Fleet. He has put us in touch with just about every Skipper going into the Arctic this Summer. In the coming month they will have their Schedules and we’ll be able to establish radio contact. 

Brendan Minish of Castlebar is setting up our Communications System. We’re going HF Radio without Satellite Communication.

I’m a registered HAM EI 6GH, but not particularly familiar or interested in it. I just want to bop the on-button, the frequency and talk-the-talk.

What Brendan has organized for us in addition to Lap-top reception of weather-fax and ice-reports is an Email facility; Pactor! This originates as a H.F. signal from the boat, but is picked up by Land Stations on an automatic basis, and forwarded onward on the conventional land-line system, and vice-versa.

I’m a doubter!

We’re getting 406 Epirb for when or if real trouble should strike.

Also for this reason we’re setting up a ‘walk-out’ package, for use in the event of shipwreck through ice-crushing. This will be a tented ‘base-camp’ type set up while we go for or await help. We have no intention of pushing ourselves into such, but much of the same gear can be used for climbing or trekking on Greenlands west-coast, and later by opportunity. 

Insurance on the boat cannot be had. Various underwriters convey their best wishes and willingness to provide cover once in the Pacific Ocean. 

Personal Insurances that cover both sailing and climbing are provided by BMC, British Mountaineering Club. These are being availed of on an individual basis, much encouraged, as a problem for one becomes a problem for all, if not properly prepared for.

The making of Power of Attorney and Will, while not having any direct impact on the Project, are encouraged. 


Bill Tilman once disparaged, “eating out of boxes does not make an ‘expedition’ of it”.

But the right gear and food is essential. Our lists, born of our previous ones, are elsewhere on this web-site.

Mike is looking after procuring and packing of Meat and Fish, mostly to be tinned.

Frank is looking after the rest of the grub.

With our Dickenson Stove, we’re hoping to eat well. We will have a propane-burning     2 ring stove as well for the quick brew-up. 

Kevin has charge of galley crockery, pots and pans and Terry has organized the finest frying-pan you ever did see, a heavy rectangular stainless-steel job measured and made to fit the Dickenson, with close fitting lid. I hope it never goes flying!. 

At Easter, on a round call of who’s starting when and where, Frank, Kevin and Terry opted for joining ship 4 weeks after our Westport start. Two of these berths are being taken, as I wrote, by Pat and Harry and now the last one is being taken by Gearoid’s old school pol, and my son, Cathal.

Cathal uses, as do his sisters, the Irish form of his name, De Barra. He’s a big-firm lawyer, who moved his not insubstantial, and very international, Coke Bottle collection out of home to his office. At 31, he has traveled the ‘gringo-trail’ world, or as much of it as taking a full year-out and optimizing holidays allows.

He’s a canoeist and general adventure all-rounder. As last to join, how’s he going to like the bunk in the bow? 

Thus ends our Progress Report No1. I’ve written it on a week ‘break’ in Tunisia. Future ones are unlikely to be as lengthy.

 I’m looking forward to getting back to expedition preparations and particularly to our first day in Clew Bay under sail with ‘Northabout’. 


Paddy Barry

April 28th, 2001


Progress Reports



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