FINAL PROGRESS REPORT & LOOK BACK ON OUR POLAR CIRCUMNAVIGATION
Nov 15TH, 2005
Sailing across Clew Bay the Achill Lifeboat coxed by Tommy Kilbane came to meet us. Gerry Casey’s helicopter swung in close and low, Rory and Gary waving and photographing through the open helicopter doors. Croagh Patrick, Holy Mountain, looked resplendent.
We flew again the flags of Greenland, Nunavut, Canada, the USA, the Russian Federation, Norway and Scotland’s flag of Saint Andrew, this time all together.
A great crowd of family, friends and well wishers met us at Westport quay. Julie Langan conducted Gael Scoil Na Cruaiche school band as the youngsters played us in. Maith sibh.
John Gillivan of Towers Restaurant, Westport Urban District Council, Vinnie Keogh of The Helm and Matt Molloy in turn fed and watered us wellthank you All.
The first night home I woke at 3 am (for my watch!), went downstairs, made tea, opened 3 months post and went back to bed about 5 am. It took about a week to return to normality and even then there was a residual fatigue.
I’m sometimes asked if it is hard to settle back to work and domesticity. Not at all.
It’s comfortable to have a stable situation to return to, to get some money coming in again and to have a pint with old friends, without the prospect of heading to sea in the immediate aftermath.
Life is good, the joggers are jogging, dog walkers walking and neighbours saying “Welcome back”. Normality is wonderful.
Looking back. The Team aspect stands out. A journey like ours involves such work and organisation that without a group of able, willing and congenial people it would have been neither possible nor enjoyable. There were 18 crew members in total on the various legs of the Polar Circumnavigation. With Gearóid Ó Riain and Paddy, sailing from Westport to Illulisat, Greenland were Pat Redmond, Harry Connolly, Eoin Coyle and Cathal De Barra.
From Prince Rupert, Canada to Anadur, Russia, Jarlath and Paddy were joined by Eoin McAllister, Joan Burke, Tom Moran and Brendan Minish. Tom was in Khatanga and rejoined with Eoin and Brendan in Norway.
Terry Irvine, Frank Nugent and John Murray were on the North West Passage. Colm Brogan, Gary Finnegan, Rory Casey and Slava Laskevich did the North East Passage. Kevin, Michael, Jarlath and Paddy did both the North West and North East Passages. Eight of the eighteen played a musical instrument, thankfully not all together, although we came pretty close to it at the crew changeover in Anadur.
And there were the many friends who helped build Northabout. And to those many who helped raise funds and to Brendan who kept the communications and this website going from base and particularly to our supportive families, we thank you all.
We engaged with the local people wherever we went. Most travellers take; pictures, information, memories. We tried to give as well as take, mostly through our musicit’s like an Aladdin’s Lamp for opening communication.
The technical reliability of Northabout was fundamental to our success. Isolated areas of the world have no breakdown service. The arctic is demanding on equipment and unforgiving of weakness. Our boat was purpose built by Jarlath, conceding nothing, time or cost notwithstanding, in the vital engineering and sailing functions. It was this confidence in the build that allowed us depart so quickly, 3 weeks, after launching. The maiden passage to Greenland were her sea trialsshe passed, with distinctionseven and a half days from Westport to Cape Farewell. The manner in which she then handled the ice we met on Greenland’s west coast gave us a lasting confidence.
Navigation and communications have changed dramatically in the last twenty years. In 1986 we sailed the Atlantic using a sextant and sights of the sun to give us our position. We weren’t that much better off than Columbus.
We had a radio which gave us infrequent and unreliable communication, better than Shackleton had certainly, but radio was not an integral part of our voyaging 20 years ago.
Such contrast with Northabouts voyage. Every minute of the day we had our position from satellites on the GPSalthough in the North West Passage the charts were at some places up to four miles out and we were glad we could navigate the old way.
Communications, by sat phone and email, photographs flying through the ether, are now the norm, taken for granted. But never forget, this stuff can crash, and it didbut we had the men who could get it going again.
Back to the topic of Crew. We were a mixture of old and young. One of the benefits of being old, or at least older, is that fundraising is easier. The bank manager knows you and among your friends are some who can and do make it possible. The young lads do the heavy hauling and dragging, most of it; in fact when something needs doing everybody jumps to it.
Time flexibility is important. As we’ve said many times, “To travel in the Arctic is to wait”. Crew need to have extra time, ideally be open ended. Northabout was never caught because of crew time, although naturally some of our crew had less time than they would have wished.
And on the subject of Time. We generally, on this trip and previously over the years, have been away for about 3 months or so at a time. This duration coincides with a number of parameters, navigation season in the Arctic and maximum time away from home, work and depth of pocket.
But there is another time feature. I have seen that eight to twelve weeks is the optimum duration for the hard going, keeping resilient, enthusiastic and congenial. After that duration the physical and mental metabolism slows.
The Corinthian Adventurers V. The Professional Expeditioners. There is an age old discourse, and snobbery, on the merits going with each of these two broad types. The Alpine Club in London looked down on the professional Mountain Guides of Chamonoix, and indeed the opposite also is true.
The Lord Dufferins and Gardiners, nineteenth century wealthy yachtsmen with large paid crew, looked askance at working mariners.
Times have changed, but some fundamental differences remain between part timers such as us, with shore jobs, and those who make their living as ‘Expeditioners’.
For those who full time depend on Expeditions for a living there is something of the treadmill, or as a minimum, Shakespeare’s observation
“If all the year were playing holidays
To sport would be as tedious as to work”.
We are the lucky ones.
And once again on the subject of Time.
To go to the Antarctic or the Arctic in former times it was necessary to invest long periods, sometimes years. These days, with flights and communications, one can spend time in these wonderful places in weeks rather than months and years. We are so lucky to have the benefit and enjoyment of adventure without the time ‘investment’ of those of the ‘heroic age’ that we follow.
We never intended on leaving Westport in 2001 to do other than the North West Passage. Our horizon expanded. Northabout dominated our lives for several years from beginning of building in January 2000 to now. Was it worth the effort? Yes, of course! What else would we have been doing?
And to conclude. Jarlath now has Northabout snug in Rosmoney near Westport, where he is continuing the finishing work, so rudely interrupted by our departure on June 23rd, 2001.
John Murray will be making a film, to be out around next Easter, based on Gary’s two seasons of shooting in the North East Passage
There has been some recognition of this, the first ever westward polar circumnavigation, the odd pint comes our way!
Yes we’re glad to be backand no, we have no further plans.